Allergic diseases are no joke, and yet they have long perplexed scientists and medical professionals. In the past several decades, the prevalence of allergic diseases, including asthma, allergic rhinitis, and atopic dermatitis, has increased dramatically worldwide.

In a new study published in the journal Nutrients, Zhang Ping, a researcher from the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has shed new light on the intricate relationship between allergic diseases and diet. 

Notably, the findings indicate that a plant-based diet may hold the key to treating severe allergic diseases, especially those associated with obesity. 

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The research offers a comprehensive overview of how nutrients and dietary components can influence the prevention and treatment of allergic diseases through their impact on gut microbiota. 

“Apart from diet and nutrition, gut microbiota has recently been linked with allergic diseases,” the study notes. “Diet and food components play critical roles in shaping the gut microbiota, which is essential in maintaining the integrity of the gut epithelial barrier and gut immune homeostasis.”

How diet affects allergies

For the study, Ping developed a comprehensive review of recent advancements in the understanding of how diet and food components contribute to the development and severity of allergies. 

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By combing through an array of relevant scientific articles published between 2013 to 2023, the researcher unearthed crucial insights into the molecular mechanisms at play, pinpointing specific dietary factors that either exacerbate or alleviate allergic reactions.

The study found that the Western diets—typically made up of convenience foods, refined grains, processed meats, and high-fat dairy—are an environmental risk factor for developing allergic diseases, while a plant-based diet is protective. 

“In allergic diseases, a complex interaction between genetic and environmental factors leads to abnormal immune responses at barrier sites in the body,” the study notes.

“The Western diet is recognized as an environmental risk factor for developing allergic diseases, whereas the Mediterranean diet has been found to be protective.”

The literature review illuminated the pivotal role that diet and nutrition play in regulating tissue and immune homeostasis, significantly influencing the trajectory of allergic diseases. 

Among the noteworthy dietary factors associated with an increased risk of allergies were high-calorie diets, rich in protein and saturated fat, an overabundance of omega-6 fatty acids, a lack of dietary fiber, low intake of vegetables and fruits, and excessive consumption of simple sugars and processed foods. Deficiencies in essential minerals such as zinc and iron, and vitamins A, D, and E, were also associated with increased risks. 

These factors, the study found, could trigger the host’s immune system, priming it for heightened allergic reactions. This revelation underscores the importance of maintaining immune tolerance to allergens through a balanced diet that includes an adequate intake of dietary fiber and essential macronutrients.

Benefits of a plant-based diet

Importantly, the study also suggests that plant-based diets can help treat severe allergic diseases. 

These findings propose an alternative dietary approach that could significantly impact the lives of individuals grappling with allergies.

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A previous study highlighted in the literature found that a vegan diet has a pronounced favorable effect on bronchial asthma. 

“After following the diet therapy for one year, patients became more tolerant of various environmental stimuli, such as dust, smoke, and flowers,” the study says. “A significant decrease in asthma symptoms and improvement in clinical variables resulted in reduced needs for medication.”

In contrast to the Western diet, which contains high amounts of pro-inflammatory nutrients, plant-based diets are enriched with micronutrients and dietary flavonoids associated with potent anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy effects.

“A plant-based diet may be particularly useful for the treatment of severe allergic diseases associated with obesity,” the study notes. “Further clinical studies are required to validate the speculation.”

Ping’s research provides a valuable roadmap for both medical practitioners and individuals seeking to better understand and manage allergic diseases. 

By recognizing the profound influence of diet on these chronic conditions, it paves the way for more tailored and effective nutritional interventions, potentially offering relief to those afflicted by allergic disorders worldwide.

Plants and air quality

In addition to the benefits of eating plants, recent research from the University of Technology, Sydney showcased the remarkable air-cleansing capabilities of indoor plants when it comes to allergens and cancer-causing contaminants. 

The inhalation of gas fumes has been associated with a range of adverse effects, including persistent headaches, lung irritations, and nauseous sensations. Prolonged exposure to these fumes has been linked to the onset of asthma, escalated cancer risks, and a host of chronic diseases that collectively contribute to diminished life expectancy.

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The study underscores the capacity of indoor plants to eliminate an astounding 98 percent of the organic compound alkane and an impressive 86 percent of the cancer-causing benzene compound. 

“We also found that the more concentrated the toxins in the air, the faster and more effective the plants became at removing the toxins, showing that plants adapt to the conditions they’re growing in,” Associate Professor and lead researcher Fraser Torpy said in a statement.

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