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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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April 26, 2010

Dear Mark: Seasonal Allergies

By Mark Sisson
112 Comments

By 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!

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112 Comments on "Dear Mark: Seasonal Allergies"

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Tricia
Tricia
6 years 5 months ago

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.

Jenna
6 years 5 months ago

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!)

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Sarah
6 years 5 months ago

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!! 🙂

Geoff
Geoff
6 years 5 months ago

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…..

Nathan
Nathan
6 years 5 months ago

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.

Michael Dyer
6 years 5 months ago

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?

tess
tess
6 years 5 months ago

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.

LBrigance
LBrigance
2 years 19 days ago

Kroger has local honey in the Houston area, and check out your closest farmers markets!

Emily
6 years 5 months ago

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.

BigNoseDog
BigNoseDog
4 years 7 months ago

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.

Brian
Brian
6 years 5 months ago
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… Read more »
Vesna.
6 years 5 months ago

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.

JCB
JCB
6 years 5 months ago
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… Read more »
Laurel
Laurel
6 years 5 months ago

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!

Laszlo
Laszlo
6 years 5 months ago

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*

Adam Kayce
6 years 5 months ago

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.

Bob
Bob
6 years 5 months ago

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.

sb
sb
6 years 5 months ago

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.

Primal Toad
6 years 5 months ago

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 🙂

Mike
Mike
6 years 5 months ago

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.

Amit
Amit
6 years 4 months ago

Peppers of any sort are inflammatory by nature so its better to look for other sources for vitamin c.

B
B
5 years 4 months ago

Really?

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Mark
Mark
6 years 5 months ago

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!

Beth
Beth
6 years 5 months ago
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.
Beachdog
Beachdog
6 years 5 months ago

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

Dee
Dee
6 years 5 months ago

What about fatigue from allergies? I have tried green tea and am eating the primal diet but nothing seems to help. Any advice?

Sterling
6 years 5 months ago

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.

SerialSinner
SerialSinner
6 years 5 months ago

I have had no seasonal allergies whatsoever since going Primal about a year and a half ago.

Shanon
Shanon
6 years 5 months ago
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… Read more »
fireandstone
6 years 5 months ago

In addition to being a proven anti-inflammatory agent, hot peppers (capsaicin) also acts a natural decongestant.

Clint White
Clint White
6 years 5 months ago

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!!!

chris a
chris a
6 years 5 months ago

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.

Kumar
Kumar
1 year 5 months ago

what do you mean by grains, does it include rice.

tpmjr42
tpmjr42
6 years 5 months ago

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.

carol
carol
6 years 5 months ago

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…

MD
MD
6 years 5 months ago

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.

Jeanie
Jeanie
6 years 5 months ago

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!

Trevor
Trevor
6 years 5 months ago

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.

MD
MD
6 years 4 months ago

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!

Ben
6 years 5 months ago
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… Read more »
camilla
camilla
6 years 5 months ago
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… Read more »
George
George
6 years 5 months ago

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.

rarebird
rarebird
4 years 7 months ago

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.

Carolyn
Carolyn
1 year 10 months ago

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

Primal K@
6 years 5 months ago

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.

Julie Aguiar
Julie Aguiar
6 years 5 months ago
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… Read more »
Christine M.
Christine M.
6 years 5 months ago

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.

Chris- ZTF
6 years 5 months ago

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.

andrew
6 years 5 months ago
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… Read more »
Brian
Brian
6 years 5 months ago

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

greg
greg
6 years 5 months ago

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.

AirForcePB'er
AirForcePB'er
6 years 4 months ago

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!

Dakkon
Dakkon
6 years 5 months ago

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.

Marc
Marc
6 years 5 months ago

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.

Deanna
Deanna
6 years 5 months ago

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.

mikehell
mikehell
6 years 5 months ago

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

Vesna.
6 years 5 months ago

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.

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thomasthomas
thomasthomas
6 years 5 months ago

Funny. I’m allergic to nuts – the things that are supposed to help me not not be allergic to other stuff. Damn! lol.

thomasthomas
thomasthomas
6 years 5 months ago

just one *not* was intended, by the way.

underwaterer
underwaterer
6 years 5 months ago

strangely, this year, I’m doing pretty good…
I have sneezed, had some itchy eyes and nose, but other than that I have felt good. Other years I get down pretty bad with a sinus infection. So far so good!!

Richard, Personal Development Author

You definitely see my nodding head. It’s been quite bad over here in the UK so I presume you guys over there have had it bad too.

akwesi
akwesi
6 years 5 months ago

My former wife called an mentioned about the cost of my 14yr old son’s medication for his allergin, 120 bucks. I will look into the children hospital tip as well as honey source, thanks alot.

Patty
6 years 4 months ago

I used to have terrible allergies. Sinus and migranes were often. I started taking raw honey with my tea, about six years ago. Every year since then the symptoms were less and less. This year, I didn’t even get a stuffy nose.

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