Antioxidants are critical to our health for a number of reasons. One is that they directly reduce the risk of oxidative radicals. And oxidative radicals are the cause of many degenerative diseases.
But now we find that antioxidants also play an important role in immunity. Especially among children. Research from Sweden has found that children who consume more antioxidants have a reduced incidence of allergies.
Antioxidants vs. Allergies
Researchers from Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute teamed up with scientists from Harvard Medical School to study the relationship between antioxidants and allergies. The researchers examined the diets and health of 2,359 Swedish children over an eight-year period.
The children were first examined and tested at the age of 8 years old. Their diets were examined for the previous 12 months, and their IgE antibodies were tested. IgE antibodies indicate a person’s allergic sensitivities.
Then the children were tested again at age 16. The children were again examined and questioned for the prevalence of allergies, asthma and rhinitis.
The scientists divided the children into three groups according to their dietary antioxidant intake. Allergies among the highest antioxidant group were compared to allergies among the lowest antioxidant group.
The researchers found that children who ate more antioxidants had more than a quarter less incidence of allergies. And those who had more antioxidants in their diets had a 43 percent reduced incidence of allergic asthma by age 16.
“Higher total antioxidant capacity of the diet in early school age may decrease the risk of developing sensitization to inhalant allergens from childhood to adolescence. These findings indicate that implementing an antioxidant-rich diet in childhood may contribute to the prevention of allergic disease.”
During an early phase of this research, the researchers found children who consumed higher levels of beta-carotene had a third less incidence of allergic rhinitis (hay fever).
They also found that higher magnesium consumption resulted in more than a third less incidence in asthma.
Other studies confirm this effect
This is not the first study linking antioxidant consumption with allergies among children. Research from Italy’s University of Verona found that higher consumption of fruits and vegetables among pregnant mothers – and their children during infancy – were related to significantly reduced incidence of wheezing and asthma.
They found that foods containing higher levels of vitamin C and selenium reduced risk of wheezing, and serum levels of these were also associated with less wheezing. The research also indicated that a lack of zinc and carotenoids (such as beta-carotene) in mothers increased the risk of asthma and allergies in their children.
Another study from Sweden studied multivitamins and children at or under four years old. Multivitamins reduced the incidence of allergies by nearly 40%. This study followed 2,423 Swedish children, and also measured their IgE levels to specific allergens. Interestingly, however, this study showed little relationship between multivitamin use among 8-year-olds and current allergy conditions.
Why do antioxidants reduce allergies?
Antioxidants perform a number of important tasks in the body. These include reducing the immune load on the body. How is that? By neutralizing oxidative radicals and oxidative stress, antioxidants allow the immune system to go after more important invaders. When the immune system is freed up, it can break down potential allergens before the body becomes sensitized.
Antioxidants also can directly neutralize some allergens. Especially when those allergens have oxidative potential. Antioxidants are produced by plants to directly perform many functions of immunity. This includes reducing infective organisms such as fungi and bacteria.
In younger children, research has found that antioxidant intake reduces the risk of wheezing. Wheezing in younger kids is linked to more allergies later on. The connection is likely the immune system, as described above.
Easy ways to increase antioxidant intake
The easiest way to increase antioxidant intake is to simply eat more fruits and vegetables. These foods provide the highest levels of antioxidants when compared with other food types. This doesn’t have to be raw fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants in the form of tomato sauce or squash can be part of main dishes to maximize antioxidant intake.
However, some fruits and vegetables contain more antioxidants than others. For example, Acai fruit, cherries, berries and grapes will typically contain more antioxidants than say, apples and oranges. Read this for a list of the highest antioxidant foods, and the healthiest diet known to humans.
Some of the highest antioxidant levels can come from spices. Spices like basil, turmeric, black pepper and others contain extremely high levels of antioxidants. That is, assuming they are dried properly and not over-exposed to sunlight. (This is why it’s better to keep the spices in a dark cupboard.)
Learn more natural strategies to combat allergies:
Gref A, Rautiainen S, Gruzieva O, Håkansson N, Kull I, Pershagen G, Wickman M, Wolk A, Melén E, Bergström A. Clin Exp Allergy. 2017 Feb 21. doi: 10.1111/cea.12911.
Rosenlund H, Magnusson J, Kull I, Håkansson N, Wolk A, Pershagen G, Wickman M, Bergström A. Antioxidant intake and allergic disease in children. Clin Exp Allergy. 2012 Oct;42(10):1491-500.
Marmsjö K, Rosenlund H, Kull I, Håkansson N, Wickman M, Pershagen G, Bergström A. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Dec;90(6):1693-8.u