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Food Allergies – Why We Get Them, and How to Alleviate Them Naturally

Carolina Avendano
Carolina is a Canada-based writer and journalist who enjoys learning and sharing information about how to lead a meaningful life. She is passionate about traditional culture, handmade crafts, the connection between humans and nature, and human rights.
Published: February 16, 2024
Food allergies and sensitivities are our body's reactions to substances it perceives as harmful. Although resorting to medications is quick and easy, there are healthy and natural ways to alleviate allergy symptoms. (Image: NIAID via Flickr)

Food allergies are an increasingly common dietary fret that can make dining out a risky affair.  They occur when our immune system perceives generally-harmless substances as a threat, and  produces antibodies to defend against them. 

Some allergic reactions can be as mild as itchy eyes and a few sneezes, while others can cause swelling, hives and a life-threatening shortness of breath. In some cases hives can persist for several weeks after the allergy has been triggered.

Food allergies can develop at a young age, or later in life. Some children will outgrow them, while some adults develop allergies after many years of regular exposure. Allergens vary from person to person, but having one allergy makes you more likely to develop others. As with many things, if we examine the underlying cause, we may be able to avoid and alleviate our food allergies naturally. 

Increased prevalence of food allergies

Milk, peanuts and eggs are some of the most common food allergies or sensitivities. (Image: NIAID via Flickr)

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, in 2021, about 20 million Americans (approximately 6.2 % of adults and about 5.8 % of children) reported having food allergies.

Milk was ranked as the main allergen for children, followed by eggs and peanuts. Among adults, shellfish was the most common allergen, followed by peanuts and tree nuts. Other major allergens include fish, wheat, soybeans and sesame; the latter being declared the 9th major food allergen in the U.S. on April 23, 2021. 

The recent surge of allergies can be attributed to a combination of conditions our bodies are trying to fight against. 

Exposure to chemicals and environmental toxins

According to the New York Health Foundation, of the 80,000 chemicals used in the US, many are under-tested and potentially toxic. A 2019 study published in the National Library of Medicine found that women expose themselves to around 168 chemicals every day – mostly from self-care products – about twice as many as men. 


When we are stressed, our body increases its levels of histamine – the compound released by cells when exposed to allergens – causing symptoms such as swelling and inflammation. A hectic lifestyle and the inevitable stress that comes with it trigger immune responses in our body.


Our ever-increasing stress on ultra-cleanliness has negative side effects. Antibacterial soaps and sanitizers aren’t selective. Along with harmful bacteria, they eliminate good bacteria important to our microbiome – the microbes that regulate the proper functioning of the body. On top of that, the elimination of all bad bacteria deprives our immune system of building a natural defense against them. Such a confused immune system is liable to become hyper-reactive.

Oversanitization removes both good and bad bacteria. (Image: Cottonbro studio via Pexels)

Ultra-processed foods 

Junk foods and other ultra-processed foods contain artificial additives, fillers, gums and preservatives, which can trigger body responses such as inflammation. According to a 2023 study published in the National Library of Medicine, allergic symptoms such as asthma, eczema, and wheezing have been correlated with a poor diet and the excessive consumption of ultra-processed foods. It is hypothesized that these foods contain more allergens than their less-processed counterparts. 

Food allergies vs. sensitivities

Although these terms are often used interchangeably, food allergies and food sensitivities are different. 

The symptoms of allergies, often severe, may manifest instantaneously. The body’s reaction can be so strong and rapid that, if it jeopardizes vital functions such as breathing, the consequences can be fatal. Other allergic reactions can occur several hours after the allergen has been ingested, and in rare cases, they may take up to 24 hours to take effect. 

In contrast, food sensitivities are usually less severe and more difficult to detect. This is because their symptoms can vary widely and can take up to 72 hours to manifest, making it even harder to identify the culprit.

Foods that commonly cause sensitivity are gluten, dairy, eggs, corn, soy and nightshades. Symptoms include skin rashes, acne, swelling, bloating, headaches, brain fog, mood swings, insomnia, constipation, congestion and joint pain, among others. 

Food sensitivity testing is a simple way to find the cause of these reactions. Alternatively, adopting strategies such as rotational eating – varying food choices while still having a balanced meal – or the elimination method – removing certain foods from the diet altogether – can give us an idea of which foods are good for our bodies and which are better to do without. 

Natural allergy remedies

Determining your allergen and avoiding it is the best way to prevent an allergic reaction, but there are also natural ways to reduce the symptoms. 

For immediate relief: nettle leaf

Nettle leaf. (Image: Blickpixel via Pixabay)

While fresh stinging nettle can cause a painful rash on contact, this herb is a natural antihistamine when ingested. Brought to the Americas from Europe, nettle has anti-inflammatory properties and anti-allergic effects and has long been considered to have many health benefits.

Nettle powder capsules can be taken to relieve hives as well as seasonal allergies. Dried nettle leaves can also be used to make a hot tea, or a wash to apply externally.


Garlic is rich in quercetin. (Image: Nick Collins via Pexels)

Quercetin is a plant compound known to inhibit asthmatic reactions due to its role in decreasing histamine release and inflammation. Its effectiveness in controlling allergic reactions with almost no side effects makes it a common ingredient in allergy relief products.

You can obtain quercetin naturally by consuming foods like apples, asparagus, beans, berries, broccoli, garlic, grapes, onions and kale. 

Vitamin C

Peppers have a high vitamin C content. (Image: Evgeniy Alekseyev via Pexels)

Vitamin C is both an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory compound, making it effective in protecting and supporting the immune system. According to a 2018 study published in Sage Journals, intravenous high-dose vitamin C can reduce allergy symptoms, even when no other allergy-related medication is taken. These effects have earned vitamin C the title of natural antihistamine.

Enjoy the benefits of vitamin C by increasing the consumption of foods like fresh peppers, citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts and potatoes – all a good source of this vitamin.


Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish consisting of salted and fermented vegetables. (Image: Macafood via Pexels)

Probiotics are microorganisms such as bacteria and yeasts that live in our bodies to keep us healthy. These microorganisms have been found to increase the percentage of T-cells, a type of white blood cell that is part of the immune system and protects the body from infection. 

By improving the body’s immunological response, probiotics can reduce inflammation and other allergic symptoms with no side effects. Foods rich in probiotics include kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, sourdough and miso. Be sure to avoid any probiotics that are made with your specific allergen. 


Chia seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, protein, and a variety of minerals and antioxidants. (Image: ValeriaLu via Pixabay)

Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids can alleviate allergy symptoms by accelerating the relief of inflammation without compromising the body’s immune response. 

Some foods rich in omega-3 are cold water fatty fish such as mackerel, trout, salmon, sardines and tuna; seeds and nuts such as flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts; and oils such as canola oil and soybean oil. 

Children and allergies

While suffering from allergies can be painful and frustrating, having a child with allergies can be a constant worry; yet the long-held pediatric recommendation to avoid exposing young children to common allergens may have been a mistake. Some doctors now say that this is more likely to contribute to, rather than prevent allergic reactions. 

If your child has an allergy, you may look into an emerging therapy to gradually reduce sensitivity to allergens. Immunotherapy desensitization calls for a certified allergist to administer a dose of the allergen sufficient to produce antibodies, yet too small to induce a reaction. After continued daily treatment, the antibodies for the specific allergen get “used up,” and the body is then able to tolerate a larger amount. Eventually, one can consume normal amounts of the allergen without any daily dosage.

Traditional take on allergies

Studies have revealed that our emotions and thoughts are closely related to our physical health. (Image: Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels)

According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), food allergies are a symptom of weak digestive energy in the kidney, spleen and stomach. Excessive “damp-inducing foods,” stress, and a hectic lifestyle all contribute to this digestive weakness. 

Damp foods – including alcohol, dairy, cold drinks, sugar, caffeine, and refined flour – should be replaced with wholesome, warming foods – such as black beans, bone broth, mushrooms, seafoods, black sesame, and walnuts – to boost digestive function.  

Even more important, resolve any persistent fear or anxiety that may be weakening your digestive qi, sit down to enjoy a proper meal, and make time each day for relaxing exercise or meditation to relieve stress. 


Ila Bonczek contributed to this report.