Thursday, May 16, 2013

It's (s)not true--allergy edition.

Ah, allergy season.  Nothing like having itchy, watery eyes, sneezing like crazy....and having everybody and their mother tell you what their favorite remedy is for avoiding allergies.  But do these remedies have any evidence?

One piece of advice is to avoid dairy to limit increased mucus production, and I have already covered how this is not an evidence-based recommendation here.   Of course, you will get a lot of anecdotal evidence related to avoiding dairy, but let me state once again that anecdotes does not equal evidence.  We do also want to consider that there are other factors at play here.  First of all, if you are already nice and phlegmy, the creamy texture of milk/ice cream/yogurt will probably make you "feel" more phlegmy even if you aren't producing more mucus.  Second of all, when people say they cut out dairy in any way, shape, or form--in the United States that encompasses a lot of foods, not all of them healthy, including, but not limited to, processed cheeses (more added omega-6 oils and starch fillers than protein), yogurts and ice cream (usually added sugar, depending on the type), milk chocolate (added sugar), cheese puffs (refined carbs and omega-6 oils), white bread, tons of pasta, etc.  If you are overweight/obese and you cut out those foods and lose weight, that by itself can ease your breathing.  If you have diabetes/pre-diabetes and you eat so that you stop having blood glucose swings, you will feel better overall and not feel as miserable even if you do experience seasonal allergies.  Third, some people already have an underlying condition, like lactose intolerance, autoimmune problems, irritable bowel syndrome, etc, that requires a limitation and/or avoidance of dairy and/or wheat anyway, to which I remind them that they need to be avoiding things that make them sick anyway!

The local honey remedy is another one that usually starts making the rounds at this time of year as well, and once again I have already covered that before. (The answer is no).

One of the more odd remedies I've seen is taking wormwood to "detox" the system.  Of course I have written about detoxing/cleansing before (like here--the answer is still no), and the reason I find this recommendation odd is that wormwood/sagebrush/mugwort is one of the pollens that actually causes allergic reactions in people.

And here is a new area of research that I am both fascinated and repulsed by, the use of parasitic worms in treating allergies (Link).  That is one that I am going to wait for more research on.

Is there anything that allergy sufferers might be able to try to eat or need to avoid to help relieve symptoms?  Some foods can be given a qualified maybe, particularly if you know what you are actually allergic to.
1) Foods rich in omega-3 fats like salmon or flaxseed.  Unfortunately, we don't really know how much omega-3 a person needs to help alleviate allergy symptoms, but since omega-3s are an essential fat and may reduce inflammation, it's not a bad idea to work this in as part of a healthy diet.
2) Warm liquids like tea and soup.  Drinking these won't prevent allergies, but they might thin out the mucus and help you feel better.
3) If you are allergic to grass--you might have a reaction to foods that are in the grass family, such as corn, wheat, and even rice.  This is likely why some people who go on carbohydrate controlled plans find a reduction in allergy symptoms. If you have diabetes/pre-diabetes you might be needing to reduce your intake of these anyway, and you may not have to avoid these all the time if you monitor how much/when you eat them.  People who are allergic to grass have also reported reactions to celery, peaches, tomatoes, melons, oranges, and figs--keep in mind that these are mostly reports.
4) If you are allergic to ragweed you might also have a reaction to bananas, cucumbers, melons, artichokes, zucchini, and camomile tea.  Now, I know some of you are already weeping at the thought of cutting out these foods and wondering if this is really necessary.  The best method you have available to help determine this is to keep a food diary for at least two weeks and note any reduction in symptoms, then try introducing each food one at a time to see if you experience an increase in symptoms.
5) If you who were eating spicy foods to "clear your sinuses," you might want to rethink that.  Spicy food consumption also can trigger a runny nose, watery eyes, and even sneezing, so if you are already miserable with those symptoms you might not want to make it worse.
6) If you like to have a "hot toddy" as part of your warm liquid regimen, you might want to reconsider that as well.  Since alcohol causes blood vessels to dilate your might feel a little bit more "stuffed up."  Alcohol also contains some naturally occuring histamine as a result of fermentation, and depending on how your body processes that, you might have more symptoms after drinking.  (Side note/disclaimer: As someone who takes full advantage of "alcohol in moderation" guidelines I have not noticed any issues, but you might need to include alcohol in your food diary)

Once again, keep a food diary and keep track of symptoms in the same log book/spreadsheet/app, etc.  You will probably have some people tell you to "listen to your body,"  but I know I will usually forget what my body "tells" me after a day or two, let alone two weeks, so keep track of your data in the way that works best for you.

Take home message--if possible, see an allergist to determine what seasonal allergies you have.  This will help you evaluate which foods you might be eating that are "botanically related" to what causes your allergies.

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