When I ask “what surprising food aids allergy sufferers?” you may think of green tea or some other food that is well-known for its immune-balancing effects, but you probably don’t think of sauerkraut when the runny nose and itchy eyes of allergy season strike. But a growing body of shows that maybe you should enjoy naturally-fermented sauerkraut on a regular basis, particularly before and during allergy season.
Research in the journal Current Sports Medicine Reports found that probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut can reduce allergic conditions and balance immune function. In this study at the Division of Sports Medicine at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu, researchers found that fermented foods like sauerkraut reduced allergy symptoms while also enhancing athletic performance. That’s a nice bonus: I’m not aware of any allergy medications that also boost athletic ability.
Other research in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that fermented cabbage regulated the immune systems of animals and even reduced or prevented allergic reactions altogether. In this study at the National Teipei University of Education researchers concluded that fermented cabbage offers promise for the treatment of allergic diseases.
The researchers still aren’t clear on the mechanism involved in preventing or reducing allergic reactions but it is likely a couple of things at work:
1) Many probiotics have a natural gut-healing and anti-inflammatory effect, and we now know that many diseases begin with gut inflammation and damage to the delicate mucosal lining in the gut.
2) As probiotics are being discovered and categorized, we are learning that many offer specific health benefits. So it is possible that there are specific probiotics that simply help to reduce allergy symptoms or allergies altogether. The research is still in the early stages, so perhaps over time and as more studies are carried out we’ll better understand how the probiotics in sauerkraut can help us deal with allergy season.
But not just any sauerkraut will do. Most commercial varieties are actually made with white vinegar instead of the natural fermentation process needed to encourage probiotic development. And, it’s the probiotics that offer the therapeutic allergy-reducing benefits.
Additionally, most store-bought sauerkraut has been pasteurized, a process of using excessive heat to bottle sauerkraut to increase shelf-life, but one that also kills all of the probiotics linked to allergy-reduction. The best way to ensure that the sauerkraut you eat is full of beneficial microbes is to make it yourself, which is much easier than most people think.Alternatively, purchase sauerkraut in the refrigerator section of your health food or grocery store, making sure that the label indicates “unpasteurized” or “live cultures.”
While little research has been done on other fermented foods to see if they offer anti-allergy effects, preliminary studies also indicate that kefir (a beverage that is similar to yogurt, only a thinner consistency), miso and yogurt also offer immune-regulating, anti-histamine and respiratory-boosting effects. Ideally, eat at least one fermented food, but preferably more, each day. Be sure to choose only unsweetened options that contain live cultures.