The immune system is designed to help combat infection and uses a highly complex defense mechanism to identify and deal with foreign invaders. If you are unlucky enough to suffer from allergies, your immune system also responds inappropriately to substances not deemed harmful, (known as allergens). While hay fever is largely confined to the summer months, other allergic ‘triggers’ can be problematic far beyond this and make the life of an allergy sufferer extremely unpleasant.
According to the Mintel survey (Feb 2010), more than 20 million people in the UK suffer from or claim to suffer from, allergies. Of these, 44% are adults, and nearly half of them say they have more than one allergy. However, according to the research, only 49% of allergy sufferers have been medically diagnosed, possibly due in part to the lack of training of GP’s in this area. In fact, misdiagnosis, or non-diagnosis, is thought to be responsible for an increase in admissions to English hospitals for anaphylaxis – the result of a severe allergic reaction (which can prove fatal).
Common allergic responses include nasal congestion, headache, fatigue, coughing and wheezing, itching, hives and other skin rashes.
Common allergens include pollen, mold, dust, dust mites, some metals (like nickel), some cosmetics, animal hair, insect venom, some common drugs (e.g., penicillin and aspirin), lanolin, chemicals found in soap and washing powder, and indeed some foods and food additives.
No one understands why some people have more of an allergic tendency than others, but the trend does tend to run in families. Certain conditions like asthma, eczema, and migraine are mostly allergy linked, and their management is often improved with the implementation of a specific diet and lifestyle changes.
One obvious way of controlling your allergy or hay fever is to avoid coming into contact with the allergen known to provoke the immune response and resulting irritating symptoms. While this may be possible in part, for example by keeping doors and windows shut in the summer if you are a hay fever sufferer, it is not always that simple.
Even if your allergy is not food linked, specific dietary changes may help to improve its management, if only by boosting your immune system. The following guidelines are therefore included:
Ensure your diet is rich in fruits (especially berries) and a variety of vegetables, as they will provide essential nutrients to boost your immune system and support the function of your liver. Fruits and veggies are rich in vitamin C, a natural anti-histamine!
Unless allergic, include raw nuts and seeds for essential fats and other vital nutrients.
Include natural live yogurt in your diet, as research indicates this may reduce the incidence of hay fever attacks. Avoiding all other dairy products (like milk, cream, cheese, butter and ice cream, etc.) may improve your symptoms, as they are both mucus forming and allergy-provoking.
Sugar severely hinders the efficient functioning of your immune system. It is therefore recommended you avoid added sugar, cakes, biscuits, confectionery, soft drinks, white flour products and packaged/processed/junk food.
Limit (preferably avoid) intake of stimulants like coffee, tea, chocolate and cola drinks. Green tea has immune boosting properties, or try dandelion which is excellent for the liver.
Drink plenty of filtered or bottled water.
If you suspect food intolerances, check out the additional information on this site relating to this.