It’s a beautiful summer day, the sun is high in a cloudless sky, birds are singing and there is a gentle breeze blowing. It’s time. No, I don’t mean time to break out the barbeque. It’s time to break out the tissues. It’s estimated that 20-30% of adults and up to you 40% of children suffer from hay fever (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4240310/). For most hay fever sufferers symptoms, including itchy watery eyes, sneezing, coughing and headaches, can start in March and continue right through to September.
What is hay fever?
Hay fever, also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, is caused by an allergy to pollen released by trees, grasses and flowers. Pollen count is highest on warm, humid and windy days. An allergy is a reaction by our immune system to something it perceives as a threat (known as an allergen). In hay fever, the immune system thinks that the pollen inhaled is dangerous to the body as a virus and works to eliminate it from the body.
The bad news is that mould, tree spores and warm wet winters have seen this season extend with some experiencing hay fever symptoms all year round.
How do we ‘get’ allergies?
Why does our immune system mistake something as harmless as pollen for a hazardous invader? The surprising answer lies in your gut. In fact our gut and our immune system are very closely linked.
70 to 80 percent of our immune cells live in our digestive tract where they are supported and influenced by gut bacteria. In a healthy gut, there are a diverse range of bacteria. However, if one strain of bacteria starts to take over or there isn’t enough diversity, an imbalance can occur.
This is true for nearly all allergies including food allergies, eczema and asthma. Studies have also shown that gut bacteria of children with allergies is different to those who don’t have allergies even before the first allergy symptom occurs!
Probiotics for Seasonal Allergies & Hayfever
With the right balance of ‘good bacteria’ or ‘probiotics’, you can fight off allergens and infections. Probiotics have been shown to improve the function of the lining of our digestive tract, hinder the growth of ‘bad’ bacteria, enhance the immune system and have a direct influence on immune response.
Probiotics can be found in fermented foods such as live yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso and in supplement form.
Not all probiotics have the same effect, so it is important to introduce the right strain to combat your allergy.
A probiotic that contains lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, a combination of probiotic strains can help to maintain a healthy gut and immune system. A recent study found that combination of bifidobacterium and lactobacillus gasseri to be an effective combination in those with Hay fever. Lactobacillus Acidophilus was also found to be effective.
Supplements for Hay Fever
There are many naturally occurring antihistamines available that help to break down histamine and may prevent the onset of symptoms such as Nettle, Quercetin and Bromelain.
Stinging nettle leaf may be useful in reducing the symptoms of hay fever by acting as an anti-inflammatory. Some research has linked treatment with stinging nettle leaf to relief of symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes. But more well-designed studies are needed to confirm this effect.
If allergic rhinitis brings out itchy skin, bumpy red rashes or inflamed skin you may benefit from nettle. Nettle teas are widely available in health food stores and supermarkets, or you could take a nettle tincture several times daily.
Quercetin is an antioxidant flavonoid found in many plants and foods. Research suggests that adding quercetin to the diet may help to relieve allergy symptoms. Research reports that quercetin can have anti-allergic and antihistamine properties. Supplementation should begin at least two weeks before the hayfever season and continue until the end of the season. It should be taken in the morning on an empty stomach or in between lunch or dinner, in doses of between 500 and 1000mg a day, spread over the day.
Bromelain, an enzyme from pineapple fruit, has been shown to relieve hay fever or sinusitis in a number of human clinical studies by working as a natural antihistamine, anti-inflammatory and decongestant. In one such study 85% of people taking bromelain had complete resolution of breathing difficulties and airway inflammation compared to just 53% and 40% in the placebo group respectively.
A more recent study in children with acute sinusitis found that bromelain reduced the duration of symptoms and sped up recovery compared with usual care.
Apart from people with known pineapple allergy, bromelain is safe and free of any known side effects. For the best results take 750-1,000 mg daily in divided doses between meals.
Many of these supplements are found in combination, Higher Nature for example has a Quercetin and Bromelain supplement.
Food for Hay Fever & Allergic Rhinitis
We all know histamine as the inflammatory substance produced by the body in a typical hay fever reaction, for which antihistamine drugs are the most popular conventional treatment. But not so many people are aware that histamine is also present in many foods and can create a wide range of allergenic symptoms.
Foods high in histamine include:
- Fermented drinks including wine, champagne and beer
- Fermented foods: sauerkraut, vinegar, soy sauce, kefir, yogurt, kombucha
- Vinegar-containing foods: pickles, mayonnaise, olives
- Cured meats – bacon, salami, peperoni
- Dried fruit: apricots, prunes, dates, figs, raisins
- Vegetables: avocados, aubergine, spinach, and tomatoes
- Smoked fish and certain species of fish: mackerel, mahi-mahi, tuna, anchovies, sardines
It is best to stay with a whole food diet including fresh fruit, vegetables, lean protein sources, gluten free grains and leafy herbs and avoid fermented foods, cured, dried or smoked foods.
Stress also plays a role in how we are able to process histamine and in our gut and immune health over all.
This is another great reason to practice breathing techniques when suffering from allergic rhinitis or hay fever.
Breathing Techniques for Hay Fever
The breathing exercises are from the Buteyko system of breath retraining. This system helps to reduce or remove the symptoms of hayfever, asthma and other respiratory problems. The key is to reprogram the body-mind to breathe in less air.
The Buteyko practice itself is more complex than I can explain in a blog. If you have asthma or another serious respiratory condition it is best to go to a teacher – visit : http://www.buteyko.ie/
By combining natural remedies with proper self-care and allergen avoidance (when possible), you can find allergy symptom relief and maybe be able to prevent the recurrence or reduce the severity of your symptoms. Proper diet and exercise can help your immune system operate at its highest levels. A low histamine diet is best during peak allergy season but a diet rich in vegetables, fruit and probiotic foods will improve gut function and overall health.