The Seasonal Allergy-Food Connection

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As an allergy sufferer, who also has Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, I dread spring.  So, I have to confess that I enjoyed what proved to be a temperamental, mostly cool (even cold!), spring in New York.

Then, the other shoe dropped.  As if on cue, the temperature shot up to the high 70s (even low 80s)….and stayed there.

Everything was abloom. Flower petals floated through the air, dusting city streets.  Suddenly, it was spring!  My allergies kicked in with a vengeance, manifesting as full-on hay fever symptoms: headaches, itchy eyes, exhaustion and brain fog.  Pollen especially affects my throat and sinuses, triggering violent bouts of sneezing, frequent nose bleeds and back-of-the-throat post-nasal drip.  Welcome misery!

The Problem with Allergy Meds

If you’re an allergy sufferer, you likely reach for antihistamines, decongestants or inhaled corticosteroids for relief. I sure did—for years: Benadryl, Zyrtec and Claritan were my trusty go-to’s.

While an antihistamine can help reduce or suppress allergy symptoms (itchy eyes, runny nose, congestion, etc.), it does not get rid of the allergen itself. Nor, do antihistamines stop your body from being allergic to whatever triggered your symptoms. In fact, taking antihistamines can actually suppress your immune system so effectively that your immune system will not work properly when you need it most.  This leaves you vulnerable to pathogenic invaders in certain parts of your body, like, the throat or sinuses.

Most of us who have taken antihistamines are familiar with their side effects: dry mouth, headaches, drowsiness, stomach cramps or pain.6

Less known, are the adverse health effects associated with chronic or long-term use of allergy medications. For example, antihistamines, like Benadryl, belong to a class of medications with anticholinergic effects that block acetylcholine, a brain neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory.7  Long-term use of anticholinergic medications, like Benadryl, are linked with increased risk of dementia, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.8  Chronic or long-term inhalation of nasal corticosteroids (e.g., Flonase) for allergies or asthma can contribute to the development of osteoporosis, skin thinning, oral candida and lack of growth in children.9, 10

The Seasonal Allergy-Food Connection

These days, instead of reaching for an antihistamine during allergy season, I adjust my food choices.

If you suffer from seasonal allergies—like hay fever—know that your food choices matter.  This is especially true if you have an autoimmune disease, like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis, because you will, in all likelihood, already have multiple food sensitivities.1, 2  And, the seasonal allergy-food connection adds another layer of heightened sensitivity and inflammation.  If you feel absolutely miserable from the intensity of your allergy symptoms, this is sign that you need to pay attention to your liver and digestive health.

An allergy is a hyperactive response of the immune system to substances called “allergens”—including (but not limited to) food, pollen, dust mites, mold, medications and insect stings—that your body perceives as “foreign”.

Once an allergic response is activated, histamine is released.  Histamine is a neurotransmitter that acts as a chemical messenger for different parts of the immune system. High histamine levels trigger symptoms that are typically associated with allergy symptoms, such as a runny nose, itchy eyes, coughing and sore throat.

High Histamine Foods

It makes sense then that eating high histamine foods can be like pouring gasoline on the fire. In other words, increasing your body’s histamine load can cause diarrhea, headaches, flushing, congestion, hives and/or worsen existing allergy symptoms.3

The worst culprits are aged and fermented foods, which contain high levels of histamine.4  These include (and are not limited to): alcoholic beverages (wine, champagne and beer); fermented foods (sauerkraut, vinegar, kefir, kombucha); cured meats (salami, pepperoni, sausage); and aged cheeses (cheddar, Parmesan, camembert).  Take note: You’ll really want to watch your red wine and cheese intake!  That said, even foods considered “healthy” contain high levels of histamine—or stimulate the release of histamine—such as tree nuts, citrus fruits, spinach, tomatoes and cocoa/chocolate.5

Pollen-Food Syndrome or Oral Allergy Syndrome

Many people who are allergic to pollen can also have oral allergy syndrome (OAS)— also called, pollen-food syndrome—triggered when certain foods are eaten raw. Because the proteins in some fruits, vegetables and nuts are similar to the proteins found in pollen, the immune system gets confused and attacks the “invader”, causing a “cross-reactivity” allergic reaction, such as redness, swelling or itchiness of the lips, mouth or throat.6

Unfortunately, I have both hay fever and oral allergy syndrome.  I am highly allergic to tree pollen, especially maple, oak and birch.  I am especially sensitive to birch pollen. This means that if I eat foods containing similar proteins found in birch pollen—such as raw fruit (e.g., apple, pear, any kind of stone fruit, like cherries, plums, peaches, nectarines); raw vegetables (e.g., celery, carrots, green pepper, fennel); tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts); or peanuts, beans and lentils, which contain similar proteins found in pollen—my lips will swell, and both my mouth and throat will itch mercilessly!  So, I avoid eating these foods in the spring, at least through end-June.

The good news? Cooking the offending food can denature the protein cross-reacting with the pollen to which you are allergic.  For example, if eating raw celery or raw carrots triggers an allergic reaction, you may be able to eat cooked celery or roasted carrots without consequence. It will depend on your level of sensitivity and tolerance.
So, when even “healthy” foods cause your immune system to go haywire, what can you eat?!  I know…it can get confusing.

A whole foods detox, like my 7-Day Body Reset Cleanse, can help jumpstart your liver and digestive health, and ease the intensity (or even eliminate) the worst of your allergy symptoms.
Here, too, are 11 tips to ease spring allergy symptoms.

Continue Reading About Allergies (see below):

Spring Allergies? Love Your Liver (Part 1)
11 Tips to Ease Allergy Symptoms (Part 3)


1  Journal of Clinical and Cellular Immunology, 2015 Mar 22
2  Allergy Asthma Proceedings, 2015 Sep-Oct;36(5):99-103
3  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007, May 1; Vol. 85, Issue 5
4  Oral Allergy Syndrome, Canadian Medical Association Journal | Journal of the Association of the Medical Canadian, 2010 Aug 10; 182(11): 1210-1211
5, 6  Histamine Elimination Diet, July 7, 2017

Hi, I’m Kathryn Matthews. As a Board Certified Functional Health Coach, I help clients reclaim their energy, vitality and well-being. I want you to feel empowered about taking charge of YOUR health! To learn more, see About Kathryn.

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