3 Supplements to Help Fight Seasonal Allergies
by Molly Hembree, MS, RD, LD
Ahh-choo! It’s no fun to get a runny nose, itchy throat, red eyes or sneezing fits when blooming flowers, sunshine and longer days greet us in the springtime. Unfortunately, 7.8% of Americans–that’s about 25.6 million–suffer annually from the unpleasant side effects of airborne irritants during allergy season (spring to early fall), leaving them to make a beeline for the tissue box.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis, or “hay fever,” is commonly caused by pollen or mold found in the outdoor air in higher concentrations during certain dryer and warmer times of the year. Alternatively, perennial (year-round) allergic rhinitis can be triggered by common indoor allergens such as dried skin flakes, urine or saliva on pet dander, mold, droppings from dust mites and cockroach particles.
Although we can chalk up most seasonal allergies to our body’s own biochemistry and its way of dealing with perceived allergenic “invaders” in our environment, good nutrition can come in handy when preparing ourselves for this time of year. Please be sure to follow treatment from your allergist or other healthcare provider as appropriate, however; prescribed allergy shots can actually reduce symptoms of allergic rhinitis by about 85%.
Notably, three supplements show promise in helping us prepare as much as we can to combat pesky seasonal allergy symptoms:
It is suggested that vitamin D levels may correlate with allergic rhinitis, although studies are not entirely consistent. A 2017 review by Asia Pacific Allergy reports that a specific form of vitamin D called calcitriol (1,25(OH)2D3), modulates a variety of inflammatory cytokines, which could in turn be protective in some autoimmune diseases. An increasing number of studies have linked vitamin D levels with allergic disorders, particularly asthma. A 2017 cross-sectional study (a type of study comparing a single time-point of data collection) found that only 10% of people in the group with allergic rhinitis, compared to 26% in the control group, had adequate serum levels of vitamin D, but results appear to be statistically insignificant after further investigation.
Besides getting that boost of vitamin D directly from the sun (the preferable method), you can also find vitamin D in fortified foods, fish and egg yolks. Look for fortified drinks like Tropicana No Pulp Calcium + Vitamin D Orange Juice (OptUP Score: 86) or Simple Truth Unsweetened Soy Milk (OptUP Score: 84), each with 25% Daily Value of vitamin D.
The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for vitamin D is 600 IU (International Units) or 15 micrograms for anyone 1 to 70 years old.
A hallmark of the allergic response is an overproduction and release of histamines. It is being explored if vitamin C may reduce our body’s natural production of histamines, therefore leading to better control of symptoms associated with hay fever. A 2013 systematic review included a study that found vitamin C decreases the proportion of participants who had bronchial sensitivity to histamine.
Vitamin C is found chiefly in fruits and vegetables (ahem - foods we already know should be a focus in our diet!) Some top picks for loading up on vitamin C are: bell peppers (OptUP Score: 92), kiwi (OptUP Score: 92), broccoli (OptUP Score: 94), strawberries (OptUP Score: 92), Brussels sprouts (OptUP Score: 96), cabbage (OptUP Score: 92) and cauliflower (OptUP Score: 90). Don’t forget that these produce items don’t have to be purchased from the produce department; frozen, canned or dried varieties without added salt/sugar are a very close match to their fresh counterpart. Throw extra bell peppers on top of that frozen pizza, add cauliflower into your fav stir-fry, turn to strawberries rather than traditional sweets for dessert, or try out crispy Brussels for a different appetizer idea.
The RDA for vitamin C is 90mg (milligrams) for adult males and 75mg for adult females.
Probiotics are living microorganisms which offer benefits to the host and can provide anti-inflammatory effects. Probiotic use may reduce severity of symptoms, decrease the need for medication and improve quality of life in allergic rhinitis. As a 2015 systematic review reports that probiotics showed a significant clinical benefit in 17 of 23 randomized controlled trials in the treatment of allergic rhinitis.
Most probiotic organisms found in food are of the genus Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium. Bifidobacterium seem to fall more into favor in combating allergic rhinitis: nasal symptoms improved and inflammatory markers were better controlled with Bifidobacterium lactis in one 2013 trial, while a 2017 study found that a mixture of Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium infantis and Bifidobacterium breve species achieved significant improvement of symptoms and quality of life in children with pollen-induced allergic rhinitis. Bifidobacterium are also possibly effective in preventing airway infections in otherwise healthy people.
Look to yogurts and fermented foods like tempeh, kimchi and kefir in the grocery store aisles to boost intake of probiotics. Some of our favorites include Silk Plain Dairy-Free Soy Yogurt Alternative and Lightlife Organic Soy Tempeh (OptUP Score: 84).
Probiotics can be effective at varying strengths. Studies have determined health benefits can be found from 50 million to over 1 trillion CFUs (colony-forming units) per day.
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Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.