What this means for youIf you’re one of the 40–60 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies, this information probably doesn’t provide much comfort. After all, you can’t go back in time. (However, if you do have young children or grandchildren, I suggest giving them supplemental omega-3s every day to bolster their fight against allergens in the future. Supplementation certainly can’t hurt and more than likely will benefit them in countless ways.) But there is a bit of good news. Omega-3s, in particular, are excellent anti-inflammatories. And allergies are basically an inflammatory event—they’re the body’s response to harmless foreign invaders (pollen, grasses, dander, etc.) When allergens such as these enter your tissues or lungs, your body reacts by launching billions of antibodies. The antibodies combine with mast cells, which activate the release of histamine, leukotrienes, and prostaglandins. These substances launch the inflammatory response and are to blame for the itchy, watery eyes, congestion, runny nose, sneezing, wheezing, and general misery you experience with allergies. Omega-3s have been found in many studies to alleviate the inflammation associated with allergies. When taken as an adult, omega-3s won’t necessarily prevent allergies, but they can soften the bothersome effects. In a study out of Germany, researchers measured the amount of omega-3 present in the red blood cell membranes of 568 adults with allergic rhinitis. They also checked if these people had antibodies against pollen in their blood, which indicated that they were “sensitized.” This means that their immune systems were on high alert. Their bodies already considered pollen a dangerous foreign invader, thus beginning the inflammatory process that leads to allergy symptoms. The results showed that the more omega-3s these participants had in their cell membranes, the less sensitized they were. The researchers concluded that, “A high content of [omega-3] fatty acids in in red blood cell membranes (EPA) or in the diet (alpha-linolenic acid) is associated with a decreased risk of allergic sensitization and allergic rhinitis.”
Supplementing Omega-3sI hope I’ve convinced you of the value of omega-3s for allergy prevention (in kids) and relief (in adults). If that didn’t do the trick, then the fact that omega-3s are instrumental in heart and brain health, blood sugar control, and all-around healthy aging should seal the deal. As far as supplements, there are several different types of omega-3s on the market. Choose a product that is sourced from small freshwater fish, as these have the lowest risk of being contaminated by mercury and other heavy metals and contaminants. Another great source is a short lifecycle marine animal like squid. Because they’re harvested so quickly, they don’t have time to accumulate toxins in their tissues. (Be sure that the bottle indicates that the product has been tested for heavy metals.) Also keep in mind the ratio of DHA to EPA in your omega-3 supplement. The ideal ratio is two parts DHA to one part EPA. Most supplements are not formulated this way because EPA is less expensive than DHA, so manufacturers include more EPA than DHA. A good starting dose is 1,000–3,000 mg total omega-3 EFAs daily, with a ratio of two parts DHA to one part EPA. But be sure to look closely at your product labels, 1,000 mg of fish oil is not the same as 1,000 mg of omega-3s.
- Magnusson J, et al. Polyunsaturated fatty acids in plasma at 8 years and subsequent allergic disease. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2017 Nov 29. pii: S0091-6749(17)31589-0. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2017.09.023. [Epub ahead of print.] Last accessed April 17, 2018.
- Miles EA and Calder PC. Omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and allergic diseases in infancy and childhood. Curr Pharm Des. 2014;20(6):946-53. Last accessed April 17, 2018.
- Hoff S, et al. Allergic sensitisation and allergic rhinitis are associated with n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the diet and in red blood cell membranes. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2005;59:1071-80. Last accessed April 18, 2018.