Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
26 Apr

Dear Mark: Seasonal Allergies

allergiesBy numerous accounts, this spring has been the most brutal in years for seasonal allergy sufferers. (Do I see some nodding heads out there?) As much as everyone looks forward to spring, some folks grit their teeth for several weeks or live on a steady dose of allergy pills. I always get questions this time of year from folks who are looking for ways to get through spring a little happier and maybe less medicated. Here’s one such email from reader Joyce….

Dear Mark,

I’m from the Upper Midwest where spring came early this year. No complaining about that, mind you – we earn our warm season! I’ve always had problems in spring, but this year I’ve been in really bad shape (like everybody what I hear). I’m relatively new to your site, and I’m slowly adopting elements of the Primal Blueprint. So far, it’s been going great! It’s got me thinking though about diet and whether what I eat/don’t eat can make any difference. What’s your take on this? I’d love any recommendations that could get me in the garden earlier!

Although the extent of people’s allergies (as well their sources) span a wide spectrum, anyone who spends whole months blowing through Kleenexes can likely benefit from a few adjustments – especially those new to the PB.

First, what to avoid… One of the best strategies to alleviate those miserable symptoms is to steer clear of alcohol and other histamine containing foods. As far as alcohol goes, wine (both red and white) seem to be the worst instigators. Sulfites are part of the issue with these drinks, but histamines that result during the fermentation process also wreak havoc. If you have allergy issues, consider avoiding other foods subject to aging and fermentation like aged cheese, pickles, and sauerkraut. And as for yeast, it’s one more reason to ditch bread. Grapes and ciders can be culprits as well.

Also, if you know the source of your particular allergy, you can further pinpoint foods that tend to trigger what’s called “oral allergy syndrome,” a reaction to allergen-related foods that affects primarily the lips and mouth. Check out the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia information on cross-reactive foods for those with seasonal allergies.

As for what to eat, think anti-inflammatory. It just so happens that the PB delivers just that. Research supports the particular benefits of fresh produce, fish and nuts for reducing both the symptoms of existing allergies as well as the development of allergies later in life. Research on the pregnancy and childhood diets of Spanish children found that a higher intake of certain vegetables (like tomatoes and eggplant) and fish offered protective benefit from allergies and asthma. Another study with Greek children linked high intake of nuts, fruits and vegetables with a lower risk for respiratory allergy. The EPA and DHA in fish and fish oils has been shown to be among the best preventative options for allergic disorders.

Want more? Tea, particularly green or white, offers a big flavonoid boost that reduces inflammation and supports general immune function. For raw dairy enthusiasts out there, farm milk consumption was shown to provide similar protective advantage against allergy and asthma whether or not the children drinking it lived on the farm or not.

Although antioxidants and flavonoids in general offer therapeutic benefit, certain nutrients like vitamin C and quercetin are potent natural antihistamines. An extra dose of magnesium can help alleviate wheezing symptoms. Some folks report success with spirulina as well. As for herbal remedies, butterbur shows good promise, but isn’t for women who are pregnant or nursing.

Another recommendation? Buy some wild – and local – honey. Because bees pick up the pollen of their environment, the resulting honey can offer something of a therapeutic dose for gradual desensitization – much like an allergy shot. It’s important to start small (1/4 teaspoon daily – max) and work your way up to gradually build tolerance.

Last, my own nearly debilitating seasonal allergies literally disappeared when I got rid of grains (and cut the chronic cardio). It may have been related to the autoimmune connection between anti-nutrients/leaky-gut and hypersensitivity to proteins in grass seeds and pollen (grains are grass seeds). Many MDA readers report a dramatic reduction in hay fever or allergy symptoms when cutting grains.

Good luck to Joyce and everyone else who’s laying low for another couple weeks. Let me know your thoughts, and do share any other anti-allergy strategies that have worked for you! As always, thanks for the great questions and comments, and keep ‘em coming. Have a great Monday everybody!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. One thing that has worked very well for me is MSM. I get mine from Trader Joe’s, but it’s a widely available supplement. It took a day or so to kick in, but it works better than an antihistimine for me. I take 1 tablet with each meal.

    Tricia wrote on April 26th, 2010
  2. Mark, it is like you’re in my brain. I don’t tend to have problems with allergies, but my husband has been MISERABLE since spring hit. It is definitely worse this year than in the past! I’ll have to let him know that he might feel better if he gave up the grains- one more thing to entice him over to The Primal Side.

    (Tricia, thanks for commenting- I am going to have to pick up some MSM too!)

    Jenna wrote on April 26th, 2010
  3. Ironically, I’m from Ohio, & this is the FIRST year I’ve not had horrible allergies. I don’t know quite what to pin this to, but I’ve made a lot of changes in the last year or so…

    – started daily magnesium & fish oil
    – went fully primal in January
    – started using a neti pot about a month before spring hit

    I’m still a bit sniffley from time to time, but nothing compared to what it used to be. So far, so good!! :)

    Sarah wrote on April 26th, 2010
    • That’s describes me almost to a “T,” too (though I skip the neti pot). My allergies have been vastly better this spring since adopting PB. As happy as I am with the improvement, I kicking myself again and again for not figuring it out sooner. If I’d known it was this easy…..

      Geoff wrote on April 26th, 2010
  4. I have issues with spring tree pollen. What works for me is to mechanically remove the pollen when I’ve been outside on a high-pollen day. Take a shower, washing my hair, face, hands, and eyes out well. Also it helps to let the shower spray go down my nostrils back through my sinuses … probably sounds unappealing to many but it works.

    Nathan wrote on April 26th, 2010
  5. Funny about the fish connection, had a pretty bad bout of allergies this year and had a multi day craving for fish. Does anybody know where to get local honey for Houston?

    Michael Dyer wrote on April 26th, 2010
    • i find that the smaller health-food stores often have local honey. when i lived in Lake Jackson, there was a great one in a strip by the mall.

      tess wrote on April 26th, 2010
    • Kroger has local honey in the Houston area, and check out your closest farmers markets!

      LBrigance wrote on September 8th, 2014
  6. I know Mark has already talked about his position on the sugar/immune system connection, but I find that cutting out sugar works really well for mild allergy symptoms by strengthening the immune system (or more like, not abusing the immune system). Sugar seems to overload the immune system and make it more susceptible to allergy flare-ups.

    Emily wrote on April 26th, 2010
    • I’ve experienced this as well. I can be allergy free, but within 30 minutes of having a significant amount of sugar, I’m sneezing uncontrollably.

      BigNoseDog wrote on February 19th, 2012
  7. There’s a lot of buzz in the news recently about reducing your allergy symptoms by use of intestinal parasites. These worms suppress the immune response for their own survival, but has been observed to have the side effect (first noticed in people living in debatably primal undeveloped conditions) of reduced allergy, asthma, and general inflammation. Found this article which is still available (the original NYTimes article I read is now login only), or just plug ‘allergies’ and ‘parasite’ into Google:

    http://abcnews.go.com/Health/AllergiesNews/story?id=8114307&page=1

    Personally I’m heavily against it. I see this along the same lines as taking cold medicine to suppress the body’s natural defenses. It’s a very extreme measure to intentionally infect yourself, considering these parasites are known to kill in high concentrations.

    Brian wrote on April 26th, 2010
    • Actually, it’s easily defensible by paleo logic. Everyone had hookworms until we all started wearing shoes and using indoor plumbing. Some hypothesize it’s a case of co-evolution; that in our modern life of artifice we have inadvertently eliminated an ancient and crucial biological life partner.

      Having too many is bad, but that doesn’t imply that having some cannot be good, cf. water poisoning.

      Vesna. wrote on April 28th, 2010
  8. I used to live on Sudafed pretty much year-round since I live in Florida and something is always blooming somewhere! And I had real trouble with my sinuses whenever the weather (hi pressure/low pressure/humidity) changed – which it does a LOT in our area. This season has been particularly bad – especially the oak pollen. Within a couple of hours, your car has enough of the yellow stuff that you can write messages in it!

    I went from a really pathetic version of the SAD to low-carb paleo (WITH dairy) literally overnight 4 weeks ago and I have not had to use any decongestants at all since then. Since obviously it wasn’t getting rid of the supposedly “mucus-causing” dairy, then it HAS to be the grains and sugar. Just my 2 cents.

    JCB wrote on April 26th, 2010
    • I have had the exact same experience… recently cut back on grain/sugar, kept the dairy around, and have had absolutely no allergy symptoms this spring! Yay!

      Laurel wrote on April 26th, 2010
  9. I used to suffer from allergies. About 3 years ago I upped my EPA/DHA dosage to somewhere around 7.4g’s. I havent had allergies since. I dont know if its the fish oils that did it or what. Im not taking as much now. Everyone around me at work is dying from allergies, BIG TIME. Must be a bad year or something but thank god im not suffering anymore. *knocks on wood*

    Laszlo wrote on April 26th, 2010
    • I’ve had the same experience – I’m on about 5.4g of EPA/DHA a day, and if I hadn’t heard from other people about seasonal allergies, I would’ve forgotten I had them at all. (Two years ago, when I wasn’t on fish oil, I had horrible, debilitating allergies.)

      I’m guessing the fish oil is playing a large part in it, although I also am off grains now as well, and have been for a while.

      Adam Kayce wrote on April 26th, 2010
  10. In addition to what many have said already, I’ve had great success with Sting Nettle, taken orally in capsule form. It has worked wonders for me as a natural antihistamine. It’s pretty easy to find if you live near a decent health food store or Whole Foods or Vitamin Shoppe.

    Bob wrote on April 26th, 2010
  11. I find I can control my allergies better when I up my intake of fermented foods: yogurt, miso, fermented cod liver oil and pickled vegetables.

    sb wrote on April 26th, 2010
  12. You say vitamin C helps with allergies, ya?

    Yellow bell peppers are LOADED with Vitamin C. One pepper has 569% according to nutritiondata.com.

    I feel blessed that I have never had problems with allergies… and now that I am 100% primal – I shall never experience this problem :)

    Primal Toad wrote on April 26th, 2010
    • Hey don’t be so sure, I didn’t start having allergies until I was in my mid twenties!

      Now I’ll have to stop everyonce and a while and blow my nose when I’m mountain biking.

      Mike wrote on April 26th, 2010
    • Peppers of any sort are inflammatory by nature so its better to look for other sources for vitamin c.

      Amit wrote on May 7th, 2010
      • Really?

        B wrote on May 4th, 2011
  13. I had mild allergic reactions generally anytime I mowed or worked outside, generally a day or two of sneezing, itchy eyes, etc. Adopted PB last spring, and had almost zero problems all of last summer and haven’t had any this spring either, even after several hours of clearing out overgrown brush/weeds. Losing 40 lbs in about 4-5 months certainly sealed the deal for the Primal Lifestyle for me as well!

    Mark wrote on April 26th, 2010
  14. I used to live on Claritin-D from the end of March through October or whenever the first hard frost occurred. Here it is nearly May and I have yet to require allergy or sinus meds. The only difference is my diet.

    I have a full box of Claritin-D sitting in the cupboard and my inhalers have been lying around unused ever since changing my diet/lifestyle. The other day the weatherman was speaking about the ridiculously high pollen counts we’ve had these past few weeks and I laughed because my typical hay fever symptoms haven’t kicked in even a little bit.

    Beth wrote on April 26th, 2010
  15. I live in the tropics and have lived for most of my life with a box of Kleenex and anti histamines near by. Then one day I started to use a product called “Body Mint” and an interesting benefit has been my allergies disappeared. Body mint is made with concentrated Chlorophyll and twice a day for me has kept all my allergies at bay. Aloha

    Beachdog wrote on April 26th, 2010
  16. What about fatigue from allergies? I have tried green tea and am eating the primal diet but nothing seems to help. Any advice?

    Dee wrote on April 26th, 2010
  17. My allergies drastically improved when I started severely limiting grains, specifically wheat products. My asthma disappeared as well.

    However, I still require allergy shots on a weekly basis. I tried going without for 3 months and it was NO BUENO!

    BUT, my allergies overall have improved dramatically since ditching grains (I have them in very small amounts every so often) and wheat products.

    Sterling wrote on April 26th, 2010
  18. I have had no seasonal allergies whatsoever since going Primal about a year and a half ago.

    SerialSinner wrote on April 26th, 2010
  19. After 15 years of serious seasonal allergies, and no luck with conventional drugs, I cured them with local honey, pollen, and sinus rinse (neti pot.) I started ingesting local, non-processed bee pollen along with a small amount of local wild honey. I would put 3-4 little kernels of pollen in the honey and eat it everyday and rinse every night. I am now up to a tablespoon of pollen and have had no issues, except for a little itchy eyes this year (none last year) do to the overwhelming amount of allergies. I did all of this before going primal with my diet this year.

    Shanon wrote on April 26th, 2010
  20. In addition to being a proven anti-inflammatory agent, hot peppers (capsaicin) also acts a natural decongestant.

    fireandstone wrote on April 26th, 2010
  21. I wondered if anyone else had relief from allergies once they stopped grains. I did, BIG TIME!! I used to suffer most of the year with what I thought to be seasonal allergies. Since stopping grains, my allergies are 80-90% better.
    Could I stop the other 10% by giving up alcohol? Don’t know? Not sure I want to find out!!!

    Clint White wrote on April 26th, 2010
    • my allergies have decreased significantly with a primal diet. I think that nasal cleansing with a neti pot ( ….or better yet, a squeeze bottle) has helped too.

      chris a wrote on April 26th, 2010
  22. As someone who basically got a sinus infection every quarter, changing my diet has been amazing. For flare-ups, I have been using Xlear Nasal Spray, which has been terrific. Thanks for the advice on raising my Omega 3’s.

    tpmjr42 wrote on April 26th, 2010
  23. NO seasonal allergies at all for 2 years now…no grains, dairy or legumes…good dose of quality fish oil and D3 daily…I REALLY used to suffer…amazing…

    carol wrote on April 26th, 2010
  24. I’m loaded on cetirizine as I type this…diet has given a mild improvement to my allergies. They’re severe so any improvement is good. I’ve tried every natural remedy I’ve read about and none offers the relief of a prescription. I don’t like taking it but otherwise I’d be stuck inside and absolutely miserable.

    MD wrote on April 26th, 2010
  25. I was just saying to my husband earlier today that I haven’t had allergy symptoms yet this year! Hooray! I just KNOW it from going primal!

    Jeanie wrote on April 26th, 2010
  26. I’ve just started eliminating grains and legumes. My seasonal allergies have already dropped in strength. This information today may help me eliminate them. I think I need to keep a food log to monitor my allergies and see what the connections are. Does anyone know how this works with Dustmites? That’s my number one allergy.

    Trevor wrote on April 26th, 2010
    • As for assistance with dustmites – I recommend vacuuming more frequently with a quality, bagless vacuum cleaner. I have a Dyson. Oh my has that thing drastically improved the air quality in our home!

      MD wrote on April 29th, 2010
  27. I’ve basically had no sense of smell or taste for the past 12 or 13 years, except for inexplicable periods which would last ‘minutes’ not days. Way in the past I was given steroid medications to ameliorate this and they worked, but only while I was on the meds. I’ve also used an anti-allergy inhaler for all of that time because giving it up at any time of the year always resulted in sneezing fits and constant runny nose; enough so that it would almost drive me insane.

    Since going primal just before Christmas ’09 my sense of smell and taste returned to some extent and I’ve given up the inhaler completely. Interestingly, I’ve noticed over the past few weeks (Autumn/Fall here in Oz) that the sneezing is creeping in (though nowhere near like it was before, only a few times a day – and always when I wake up in the morning) and the smell/taste senses are dulling again! I’m pretty strict with my diet (Primal 95% at least!) and do include dairy, and have since the beginning.

    A post above reminded me I used to take bee pollen just before I started on primal and then I stopped. I think I’ll start again and see if it solves the problem.

    Ben wrote on April 26th, 2010
  28. I have had allergies year-round for years. For a while, I was on Zyrtec, Singulair, and shots all at the same time. I gave up the Singulair due to bad side effects, and I gave up the shots because after four years of them I wasn’t getting much relief. Now I pretty much avoid grains, and am not having many issues (although if I do slip up, the repercussions are severe and almost immediate). On occasion (usually after a slip up), I will take a Zyrtec (no more than once a week, usually).
    I suggested to several coworkers who have allergies to give up the grains – one actually did and he is not having his usual allergy issues. Unfortunately, he’s the only one who has taken the advice. Oh well, let them suffer…

    camilla wrote on April 26th, 2010
  29. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the south to protect you, it was like nuclear Armageddon this year with the amount of pollen the pine trees put up.

    Flying (my job) around, pollen was up to 4,000 feet in the sky, and plumes were coming up from the trees like fallout. There is nothing you can do about it, just live through it down here and hope next year isn’t as bad.

    George wrote on April 26th, 2010
    • I know what you mean about the pine pollen in the south – lived with it for much of my life. However, strange as it may seem, pine pollen does NOT cause allergies. The grains are too large to trigger receptor sites. What DOES cause allergies are the other pollens that have a season that coincides with pine.

      rarebird wrote on February 19th, 2012
      • nope that’s been disproven. Pine pollen causes allergy big time – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19573163
        I am an unfortunate sufferer due to the vast number of radiata pine plantations around australia. Here’s hoping megadosing on fishoil helps

        Carolyn wrote on November 26th, 2014
  30. I used to get seasonal allergies something. Ragweed was always my kryptonite.

    I have experimented in the past with removing breads and pastas and found the my symptoms had diminished significantly. This year should hopefully be a breeze with Primal eating.

    Primal K@ wrote on April 26th, 2010
  31. I’ve had a lifetime of seasonal allergies and several sinus infections per year. Since becoming gradually more and more committed to eating primally, I have not had any problems this year. Hmmm.
    I am allergic to fish (just fish I can eat shellfish) in the last 10 years or so, so I have been hesitant to supplement with fish oil. I also have not eliminated dairy, although I do not drink milk or consume dairy regularly. I do havea glass of wine most nights. So, it seems to be the grains! Is it wheat especially? I don’t know and don’t care to experiment with that! LOL..thanks for the timely post that gave me yet another reason to pat myself on the back!

    Julie Aguiar wrote on April 26th, 2010
  32. Given the number of things I’m allergic to, diet alone will likely not grant me much relief. However, I hope to see more improvement than I would with immunotherapy alone.

    Christine M. wrote on April 26th, 2010
  33. I would put down a lot of problems with allergies to inflammation which obviously avoiding gluten could help with but the main culprit seems to be a omega 6 overload. You can either remedy this by taking fish oil or just steer clear of Omega 6 especially refined sources such as veggie oil. Since reducing my Omega 6 allergies have somewhat disappeared. Fingers crossed it will stay that way as my hay fever was pretty bad a few years back.

    Chris- ZTF wrote on April 26th, 2010
  34. Great thread! I stopped eating grains / pulses / potatoes in November 09 (stopped milk and cheese years ago) and also cut back entirely on vegetable oils so I could balance omega 3 / 6 better with fish and fish oils.
    Not only have I had NO seasonal allergies this spring; my asthma has virtually gone and I have stopped steroid inhalers for the first time in years. Next thing to cut out will be wine – which I do enjoy!
    People are actually commenting on how well I look – and with asthma gone, I’m able to take much more exercise.
    Call it paleo or call it primal – it works for me!

    andrew wrote on April 27th, 2010
  35. If you have allergies, its your triple warmer meridian activating your system defenses against whatever it be, pollen, dust etc. Your triple warmer meridian is the part of your immune system responsible for defending you against anything it sees as ‘the enemy’. Good news is you can learn to control it and de-activate it. Google ‘sedate triple warmer’ and its the first link, a 2 minute exercise, it saved my arse on numerous occasions.

    Also, I would recommend looking into EFT for allergies. Google that too!

    B

    Brian wrote on April 27th, 2010
  36. eliminating gluten has done wonders for my wife’s allergies. she can now spend time around cats. if you have a gluten intolerance and continue eating it anyway, your immune system has nothing left in the tank to fight off other allergens.

    improving gut flora through probiotics and fermented vegetables isn’t a terrible idea either.

    greg wrote on April 27th, 2010
    • Good point, Greg. Google “intestinal candida” or “candidiasis” and you’ll get a good idea of how bad yeast can wreak havoc on our digestive systems (another reason I ditched grain products). Only one month into the diet change, but I already feel like I’ve received a stomach-lining transplant!

      AirForcePB'er wrote on May 1st, 2010
  37. Honey, apple cider vinegar and roobios work well for me. I never have pollen allergic problem until last year. I tried Zyrtec.. it works, but bad side effect (rashes). I stopped taking it and gave honey and apple cider vinegar a try. It works. Allergic reaction disappeared. Woot.

    Dakkon wrote on April 27th, 2010
  38. I live in Austin, TX where we have terrible allergens.

    Elimination of grains and sugars has totally cured my allergies. I am off all Allergy medications, even while we are having a record bad Allergy season.

    Marc wrote on April 27th, 2010
  39. I am ridiculously thankful that I’ve never had a problem with allergies. The closest I’ve ever had was staying at my MIL’s for a week, sleeping on an air mattress on the floor. She’s been living in her house for four years, and at the highest point owned three cats, three dogs, and no vacuum. I ended up mildly congested, but the worst part was the sleep I lost because of my husband’s allergies!

    However, my mom and my brother are allergic to absolutely everything. I wonder if some of these tips will help.

    Deanna wrote on April 27th, 2010
  40. What all of us allergy sufferers need is a good case of hookworms! No kidding. It’s the “hygiene hypothesis” that explains the prevalence of auto-immune disorders in developed countries. There are businesses that will ship a dose of worm eggs to inoculate yourself with. There is strong evidence that this works to cure allergies and asthma among many other auto-immune disorders.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hygiene_hypothesis

    mikehell wrote on April 27th, 2010
    • One hypothesis is that hookworms and humans co-evolved, and that a moderate colonization by hookworms keeps our own immune systems from becoming so good at attacking that they actually harm us. Immune system self-attack is the problem in dozen of diseases, including MS, Crohn’s, and, of course, common seasonal allergies.

      WNYC’s Radio Lab did a great segment on that in their episode “Parasites” from Sept. 2009. The section on the beneficial aspects of hookworms begins during minute 31.

      Vesna. wrote on April 28th, 2010

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