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Nasal Polyps & Diet: How to Eat to Prevent Nasal Polyps

This section of's Guide to Preventing Nasal Polyps outlines the cornerstones of the anti-polyp diet. However, before getting into details about how to eat to prevent nasal polyps, let's take a quick look at what nasal polyps are:

Nasal polyps are small outgrowths of inflamed mucous membrane that occur on the lining of the nose or sinuses (the small, air-filled cavities located within the bones of the face and around the nasal cavity). These outgrowths can make it harder to breathe if they grow large enough or if they grow in a cluster. In addition, they can reduce the sense of smell by preventing air of reaching the sensitive areas in the roof of the nose that are responsible for controlling smell.

Nasal polyps are fairly common, with about one percent of people developing nasal polyps at some point in their life. They occur often alongside respiratory conditions such as asthma, hay fever, and chronic sinusitis. Nasal polyps are also very common in people with cystic fibrosis (CF): it has been estimated that about a quarter of people with CF also have polyps.

The most common treatment for nasal polyps is the use of nasal steroid sprays. However, if the polyps are large, and if a steroid nasal spray has not worked, a surgery may be used to remove the outgrowths. However, neither of these treatments addresses the cause of polyps and therefore they tend to grow back.

The majority of evidence points to allergies as the cause of nasal polyps. Thus, the most effective way of controlling nasal polyps is identifying allergens (including certain foods or inhaled substances) and limiting exposure to them. In addition to avoiding allergens, a diet high in certain nutrients can help maintain the health of mucous membranes.

The following paragraphs highlight 7 diet tips that can help prevent nasal polyps. Note: the information provided below does not constitute a substitute for professional medical or health advice.

Red onions
The flavonoid quercetin, which is found for example in red onions, is a potent antioxidant.

#1: Eat Foods That Contain Quercetin

Flavonoids (also referred to as bioflavonoids), a group of compounds that occur naturally in plants, give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors and protect them from microbes and insects. Some of these compounds contain structural elements that allow them to act as antioxidants and scavenge free radicals, therefore contributing to the prevention of nasal polyps. The molecular structure of quercetin, one of the most abundant flavonoids in the nature, is particularly well suited for scavenging free radicals. Good dietary sources of quercetin include capers, yellow and red onions, apples, lovage, broccoli, red grapes, cherries, citrus fruits, tea, red wine, and many berries, including raspberry, lingonberry, and cranberry.

#2: Reduce Omega-6 Fatty Acids in Your Diet, Increase Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-6 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids (EFAs), and a certain amount is necessary to maintain the proper functioning of the human body.

The omega-3s in salmon have strong anti-inflammatory properties.

However, excessive amounts of these fats can be harmful to people susceptible to polyps. Excess omega-6 fatty acids can increase inflammation in the body by producing substances like inflammatory prostaglandins. Omega-3 fatty acids, on the other hand, have anti-inflammatory effects.

Many experts believe that our ancestors consumed omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in roughly equal amounts. Today, most modern diets in Western countries contain too much of the potentially inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and not enough anti-inflammatory omega-3 acids. Simply consuming less refined vegetable oils like corn oil and safflower oil that are high in omega-6 fatty acids and consuming more fats high in omega-3 fatty acids (e.g. flaxseeds, walnuts, soybeans, and cold water fish like salmon, cod, and halibut) can help with nasal polyps.

#3: Eliminate Food Allergens

As food allergies and intolerances are believed to be the underlying cause of nasal polyps, the most important dietary principle in fighting against nasal polyps is the elimination of food allergens. What causes an allergic reaction in one person, however, may not cause the same reaction in another person. Nevertheless, it is possible to point to some foods that are more likely to trigger allergic reactions. These foods include soy, dairy, eggs, yeast, and gluten-containing products such as wheat.

Other common allergens include certain food additives and preservatives such as benzoates, tartrazine, monosodium glutamate, and sulfites. Benzoates are antimicrobial preservatives that used in various products, particularly in soft drinks. Tartrazine is an artificial food coloring used in many processed foods in varying proportions. Products that may contain tartrazine include canned vegetables, confectionery, candy, soft drinks, chips, cereals, instant soups, sauces, some rices, some pastas, butter, cheeses and pickled products. Monosodium glutamate or MSG is a flavor enhancer commonly used in Chinese restaurants and in many processed foods. Sulfites are used as preservatives in many packages foods and alcoholic beverages. The best way to avoid artificial substances in food is to go for unprocessed, organic foods.

An elimination diet can be used to identify which foods and substances may contribute to the formation of nasal polyps in an individual. This diet involves removing any food or substance that is suspected of causing an allergy or intolerance from diet for a period of two to four weeks. If, after the elimination period, symptoms have cleared or improved significantly (i.e. shrunk polyps), the suspected foods and substances can be re-introduced to the diet, one food or substance at a time (the so-called "challenge" phase of the elimination diet). During this phase, the dieter systematically goes through all the suspected allergens, one by one, by consuming a suspect food or substance several times a day and then returning to the elimination diet for a few days. If symptoms re-occur or worsen during these days, the dieter may be allergic to the food or chemical that was re-introduced.

Although an elimination diet is fairly simple to complete, the whole process can take several months. An alternative way to go about finding out which foods may contribute to the formation of nasal polyps in an individual is to have an allergy test performed.

Beta-carotene provided by spinach helps protect sinuses.

#4: Eat Foods High in Vitamin A and Beta-Carotene

Vitamin A helps protect the membrane linings of the sinuses. In addition, it is a potent antioxidant which can combat chronic inflammation. Beta-carotene, which is found yellow/orange and green vegetables and fruit such as spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, mango, melon and apricots, also plays an important role in the fight against nasal polyps due to its anti-oxidant properties as well as its role as a precursor to vitamin A.

#5: Eat Foods Rich in Vitamin C and Vitamin E

Activated oxygen molecules, known as free radicals, have been linked to tissue damage in nasal polyposis. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant which helps to protect the body from free radical damage. Studies have also shown high levels of vitamin C help reduce histamine release in the body and make histamine break down faster. Histamine, a chemical produced by the body, is involved in many allergic reactions and can increase inflammation. Vitamin E is another antioxidant that can help with nasal polyps. Vitamin C and vitamin E protect each other and are more effective when consumed together.

#6: Drink Plenty of Fluids, especially Water

Water moistens the mucous membranes, which helps keep allergens out.

#7: Step Up Your Selenium Intake

Improving dietary intake of the trace element selenium through foods such as Brazil nuts, crimini mushrooms, cod, shrimp, and halibut may help prevent or treat nasal polyps. The potential beneficial effects of selenium on nasal polyps are based on the role of this trace element in the antioxidant system of the body: selenium is a key component of several enzymes involved in antioxidant defense. To get the most out of selenium's health benefits, combine selenium rich foods with foods high in vitamin E (selenium boosts the effectiveness of vitamin E).

More on Nasal Polyps

For more diet-related information and tips on how to prevent and treat nasal polyps, see: