Why is your diet affecting your seasonal allergies?
Do you live in the US, Western Europe or Australia? If so, you have up to 60 times the risk of suffering from allergies. People from countries like Russia and India have a much lower risk. Allergies are much more prevalent in countries where fried food is consumed in abundance. America consumes 4x more vegetable oil than Russia or India. But how could vegetable oil be causing allergies?
Vegetable oil is the main source of linoleic acid in our diet. Linoleic acid is a type of fat used by the body to produce cytokines, which are one of the chemicals responsible for controlling your immune system. The cytokines produced from linoleic acid act on the immune system to both increase the body’s awareness of an allergen (via IgE). These cytokines also increase the inflammatory response associated with allergies (via the arachidonic acid cascade).
To control IgE levels and reduce your inflammatory response, you need to limit your body’s capacity to produce theses cytokines. And reducing your intake of vegetable oil does just that.
Studies show you can cure your allergies
How much research has been done on the topic of diet and seasonal allergies? Luckily, a ton.
In regional studies, people in areas of England with a higher intake of vegetable oils are more likely to suffer from asthma. This also holds true when comparing different areas of Germany. And this was even demonstrated by testing the fat content in blood of people in different areas of Finland, where it was found that people who suffered from asthma were more likely to consume higher levels of n-6 polyunsaturated fat (the kind found in vegetable oils).
One study comparing what foods children ate at home found that those consuming margarine doubled their risk of seasonal allergies and wheeze. In another large study, teenagers who ate a lot of deep fried foods doubled their risk of asthma. Three other large studies found that kids consuming margarine at home instead of butter were more likely to suffer from eczema, asthma, rhinitis (traditional allergy symptoms like nasal congestion, sneezing, red eyes), wheezing, and even food allergies.
Even the diets of pregnant and nursing women can affect their children’s risk of allergies. In the same rural area, children raised on farms, where their mothers consumed more dairy and saturated fat during pregnancy and lactation, had 1/8 of the odds of suffering from seasonal allergies than kids born to mothers whose diets were higher in margarine and oils. Likewise, a larger study found that the offspring of women consuming margarine while breastfeeding were twice as likely to suffer from asthma.
What is interesting is that these studies compared people living in developed countries, where vegetable oil use is wide-spread. The kids who ate butter instead of margarine at home were probably still consuming fried food. And yet, just choosing butter over margarine halved their risk of allergies. The results might be even stronger if these studies were able to find a group of kids who didn’t consume any vegetable oil at all.
How to eliminate seasonal allergy symptoms
I am allergic to our family’s two cats. This meant that every morning I would wake up congested and with a sore throat, forcing me to take a nasal steroid spray every. single. day.
I was at a healthy weight but wanted to lose a few pounds, so I decided to go small and cut out fried foods. This meant no french fries, no nuggets, no donuts, no chips. I didn’t feel like this was a huge part of my diet, and frankly, this change didn’t cause me to lose any weight, but within two days, I wasn’t waking up with allergy symptoms. I quit using the allergy meds, and months later when dreaded cedar season hit, I was still fine.
Of course, I’m not especially vigilant, so when I falter during holiday feasts or when bad habits return, I have to pull out the medication once again.
If you want to be allergy free, try cutting out processed oils. Switching from margarine to butter and eliminating fried foods like chips and french fries is a good place to start. If you are still having symptoms after a few days, you may need to remove processed foods made with excess vegetable oil.
Your body does require a small amount of linoleic acid: anywhere from 6 grams to 17 grams, depending on the authority. Coincidentally, this is roughly the amount consumed in countries with low risk of allergies. It may be that once this limit is reached, allergy symptoms begin to appear. Regardless, it is much better to obtain linoleic acid from nuts that processed oils. Nuts are associated with fewer seasonal allergy symptoms (their other phytonutrients may have an anti-inflammatory effect that outweighs their linoleic acid content). Just one 1 ounce serving of sunflower seeds contains 10 grams of linoleic acid.
Keep in mind it will take a day or two for your body to process the oils currently in your system. You should see a change within 24-72 hours. I know several people who have found relief by making this simple dietary change.
5 tips for conquering seasonal allergies through diet
- Choose sides that aren’t deep-fried in oil. You can find tasty ones even at fast food restaurants. Wendy’s offers baked potatoes with sour cream. A side salad isn’t too miserable if you get to pair it with a burger. And there are often unlooked sides like beans or fruit that can add variety.
- Replace fried chicken and fried chicken sandwiches. They are delicious, but they are fried in vegetable oil. Switching to hamburgers probably isn’t the best idea for overall good health, but it was associated with fewer allergy symptoms in one study.
- Don’t use vegetable oil to fry food. Subbing an equal amount of water actually works great for sautéing vegetables. Baked french fries are still pretty good.
- If you must use oil, choose olive oil. Olive oil has one of the lowest levels of linoleic acid of the vegetable oils, at just 10% (vs. 21% for canola and 59% for corn oil). So it should be the least likely to aggravate your allergies.
- You may not have to go all the way. Just using butter instead of margarine made a big difference in the populations studied. I still eat vegetable oil in baked goods; cutting out deep fried foods has been enough to do the trick for me.
Could cutting out fried foods cure your allergies?
Give it a try! Surely, it can’t hurt to quit eating fried foods and margarine! We’d love to hear whether it works for you and how diet has affected your allergies. Let us know in the comments.
The prevalence of allergic disease and linoleic acid in the diet
Dietary fat and asthma: is there a connection?
Dietary lipids and the inflammatory response
Essential fatty acid intake recommendations
Protective effect of fruits, vegetables and the Mediterranean diet allergies and asthma among children in Crete
Margarine consumption and allergy in children
Diet, serum fatty acids, and atopic diseases in childhood
Fat intake and breast milk fatty acid composition in farming and nonfarming women and allergy development in the offspring.
Effects of dietary habits and risk factors on allergic rhinitis prevalence among Turkish adolescents
Margarine consumption and allergy in children