Thursday, March 13, 2014

Natural seasonal allergy relief

I used to have horrible allergies to grass pollen that lasted through all of June and most of July, requiring me to begin with pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) for the early weeks, then adding loratidine (Claritin) when the sudafed alone was no longer enough. (Beginning with claritin meant having it lose its effectiveness just when I needed it most.) I am not a doctor, but that is my experience over many years of being miserable.

Two years ago, I had no allergies beyond a manageable sniffle on a couple days. Last year I had one bad allergy day (down from the normal 50 days) when I made the mistake of eating lots of chocolate (and a few other things, like cheese, and oil-and-vinegar salad dressing), but I knew that I was going off the list and, sure enough, the allergies did come back with a vengeance, just for that one day.

If you are tired of pounding down medication for weeks at a time for your seasonal allergies, there is another alternative. You can just not have allergies in the first place.

I found this out when, for other reasons, I had to follow a low-histamine diet for a time. If I made the mistake of eating something that was high in histamine, like an English muffin (yeast), or Grape Nuts (yeast), my heart would race, so I had a built-in histamine detector. Rather than rely on stressing my heart, however, I looked for information on foods to avoid in order to keep my histamine levels low. There are a few lists out there, but many are incomplete, confusing, or vague, which caused me to restrict my diet unnecessarily or just left me confused about whether I might be able to eat something.

The best list was one I found at this website: ( It lists close to 400 ingredients and individual foods along with their likely effects on your histamine levels (0-3 scale).

The unpleasant thing about a low-histamine diet is that it means completely eliminating an unbelievable number of your favorite foods, at least for the duration of allergy season, such as hard cheeses, almost any canned food (no vinegar, no flavor enhancers, almost no preservatives), yeast breads, tomatoes, avocados, alcoholic beverages, chocolate, black tea, coffee, citrus (oranges, lemons), most nuts, shelled beans, mushrooms, soy sauce, mustard, tofu, sausage, smoked or dried meats, pizza, etc. In effect, any food that is made by allowing or inducing something to spoil in some way (fermentation, drying, curing, preserving). It still leaves a lot of food you can eat, but you will definitely feel the loss of your favorites, it will be close to impossible to find foods you can safely eat at restaurants, and it will seem like 80% of the grocery store is suddenly off limits. To be fair, you can probably eat a certain number of items marked with a number "1" on the list without much trouble (with the possible exception of most yeast breads). The trick is always to keep your histamine levels low enough that you avoid having your histamine "cup" running over when allergens provoke your immune system. (Again, that is my non-medical understanding. For medical questions and advice, consult your doctor.)

Following a low-histamine diet is a sacrifice, but to be allergy free and medicine free (and side-effect free!) is worth the effort! Your friends and family will also find you kind of annoying during allergy season, but just do your best to supply your own food needs, and to not talk about it much (steer the conversation away from it), and they may just be able to tolerate that you are not joining them in whatever they are eating (or drinking) at the time.

My own diet during grass pollen season consists of:

  • Whole grains (oatmeal, white rice, brown rice, whole grain cereals with vitamin E as the only preservative)
  • Quick breads (muffins, pancakes, waffles, cake donuts), heat-and-serve flour tortillas (without preservatives)
  • Apples, potatoes, blackberries, blueberries, grapes, carrots, celery, cucumbers, melons (not watermelon), yams, fresh artichokes, broccoli, corn (maize), bok choy (pak choi), green beans (all vegetables fresh, not canned)
  • Milk, butter, water, and dulce de leche ice cream
  • Instead of my usual hot beverages at the coffee shop, steamed milk or hot apple cider (non-alcoholic)
  • Occasional eggs or chicken
It is not an exciting time of year culinarily, but I am not miserable, I can be outside, I can take walks, I can garden, I can open the window on hot days (coincidentally high-pollen days); in short, I can actually enjoy some of the best days of our short summer in this land of nine months of clouds and rain that is western Washington (state). And I don't have allergy symptoms or—not any better—allergy medication side effects. It does take some sacrifice, but it is worth it to be able to enjoy the summer!