As a hypothyroid allergy sufferer, 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, on May 1st, 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 lack of focus. Pollen especially affects my throat and sinuses, triggering violent bouts of sneezing, frequent nose bleeds and back-of-the-throat post-nasal drip. It has not been fun!
My first course of action? Adjust my diet.
If you suffer from seasonal allergies—like hay fever—know that your food choices matter. This is especially true if you have hypothyroidism or 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.
The Allergy-Food Connection
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
Aged and fermented foods 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 and tomatoes.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
I am one of the lucky ones [eye roll] who has 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.
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 8 eating tips to ease spring allergy symptoms.
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