Diet may influence hay fever risk

December 19, 2003 in Allergies & Intolerances, Nutrition Topics in the News

Diet may influence hay fever risk

Getting a healthy dose of certain antioxidants and fatty acids from oils, fruits and vegetables can reduce your risk of developing seasonal bouts of hay fever, new study findings suggest.

Fatty acids and antioxidants have been linked to a number of health benefits, including keeping the heart healthy and preventing cell damage. While these latest findings suggest some fatty acids and antioxidants may also reduce the risk of developing seasonal allergies, the study also showed that other fatty acids and antioxidants appeared to increase that risk.

The findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting diet plays a role in allergies. However, experts say the results are not convincing enough that people should start to avoid certain foods in order to avoid allergies.

Researchers in Heidelberg, Germany asked 334 adults with hay fever and 1336 allergy-free adults about their diets, and calculated the amount of fatty acids and antioxidants they consumed from the amount of each in different foods.

Fatty acids are present in fish oils and vegetable oils, while antioxidants are often found in fortified foods, fruits and vegetables. Results indicated that eating large amounts of the omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid appeared to reduce the risk of hay fever. However, people who consumed the most oleic acid, the predominant type of fatty acid in olive oil, were almost three times as likely to have hay fever as those with the lowest intake of oleic acid.

Similarly, a diet rich in the antioxidant vitamin E appeared to protect people against hay fever, while a high intake of beta-carotene, also an antioxidant, seemed to increase the risk. The influence of antioxidants on hay fever risk was most apparent among women and former or current smokers. Antioxidants act by mopping up potentially dangerous byproducts of metabolism known as free radicals, which studies have linked to hay fever.

Scientists note that some fatty acids become converted in the body into substances that can produce wheezing, sneezing and other allergic symptoms. However, hay fever is only rarely present in adults, and is notoriously difficult to diagnose. Although doctors confirmed each case in the study, many may have mistaken the signs of other conditions for hay fever.

The reasons why certain people develop allergies and others don't are very complex, and involve an interplay of genetics and environment.

To assert that diet in general or certain foods in particular play a role in allergy risk is premature.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.