Hayfever & Dietary Supplements
Consuming high amounts of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and vitamin E in the diet may reduce the risk of developing hayfever, according to a study in Allergy (2003;58:1277–84). These findings suggest that making relatively minor changes in the diet can significantly improve one’s allergies.
Hayfever, or seasonal allergic rhinitis, is caused by stimulation of the immune system (specifically IgE) in response to exposure to an inhaled allergen, such as pollen or mold. Studies suggest hayfever may affect as many as 41% of adults in Europe and up to 45% of adults in the United States. Genetic and environmental factors, housing conditions, and lifestyle habits have all been identified as underlying causes. Typical treatment includes antihistamines, such as fexofenadine (Allegra®), loratadine (Claritin®), and cetirizine (Zyrtec®); steroidal nasal sprays, such as beclomethasone (Beconase®), triamcinolone (Nasacort®), and budesonide (Rhinocort®); and decongestants. Incorporating foods high in EPA and vitamin E may reduce the need to use these medications.
In the new study, 334 adults with adult-onset hayfever and 1,336 adults who did not have hayfever completed dietary intake questionnaires. The amount of fatty acids and antioxidants in each diet was calculated based on the responses given. Dietary intake of each nutrient was calculated by quartiles, with the first quartile having the lowest consumption and the fourth quartile having the highest. Dietary questionnaires were completed initially and again after approximately two years.
Those with the highest dietary intake of oleic acid and beta-carotene had an increased risk of developing hayfever, compared with participants with the lowest dietary intake of these nutrients. (Oleic acid is found in animal products, such as red meat, as well as olive oil and other seed oils.) Conversely, adults who consumed large amounts of EPA and vitamin E were at a reduced risk of getting hayfever, although these findings were mainly observed in women and ex-smokers. This suggests that benefits in treating hayfever with vitamin E and EPA may be limited to these two groups. An increased ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids tended to decrease hayfever risk, but these results did not reach statistical significance.
Dietary habits in Western cultures may contribute to the increased prevalence of hayfever observed over the last decade. In a typical western diet, consumption of omega-6 fatty acids from meat and dairy products is significantly higher than the consumption of the omega-3 fatty acids found mostly in fish, nuts, and seeds. Studies suggest that eating more omega-6 fatty acids can lead to worsening of allergy symptoms, while omega-3 fatty acids may have a protective effect. Including more foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E may help reduce the severity of hayfever symptoms. Foods rich in vitamin E include nuts and seeds; whole grains; dark, leafy vegetables; and egg yolks. While the current study suggests this benefit may be limited to women and ex-smokers, these nutrients have other health benefits as well and may be worth trying before starting prescription or over the counter medications.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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