Spring has sprung, the birds are chirping and flowers are blooming. Isn’t it beautiful?
You might be rolling your eyes at me right now, as it's also that time of year when the miserable symptoms of hay fever are at at their peak. If you or a loved one are already itching and sneezing your way through spring, read on for safe and effective ways to heal your hay fever, as nature intended.
Causes Of Hay Fever
Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis is an allergic reaction to pollen from grasses, weeds and trees, but can also be triggered by exposure to dust mites, pets or moulds.
The body of a hay fever sufferer believes pollen (or the other culprit) is an invader and exposure to this substance triggers an allergic reaction involving teamwork between mediators/antigens, immune cells (e.g. T cells, Immunoglobulin E (IgE), Immunoglobulin G (IgG), Immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibodies) and effector cell activation, such as mast cells.
Mast cells are found throughout your body and are activated by your personal 'invaders' where they release the chemical mediators such as histamine. This leads to both a localised swelling of your nasal passages and systemic inflammatory response and you'll be aware of this through your frustrating hay fever symptoms. Hay fever symptoms commonly include:
- Watery eyes
- Excessive mucous production and runny nose
- Itchy nose and throat
Allergic reactions can be divided into immediate and late phase responses. The immediate reaction is due to the activity of histamine, prostaglandins and other rapidly synthesised mediators. These can cause a wheal and flare reaction. The late phase is associated with smooth muscle contraction, sustained oedema and tissue remodelling (e.g. more widespread and prolonged swelling).1
Conventional Hay Fever Treatment
- Antihistamines are widely used, to block the histamine buildup that leads to hay fever symptoms. The problem? If you want to avoid feeling drowsy all day long, leave them on the pharmacy shelf.
- Steriods are another option, which can mask inflammation in the body. Most patients are unaware however, that long term use of oral corticosteroids can lead to more serious side effects including cataracts and osteoporosis.
A much safer approach is looking at making diet, supplementation and lifestyle changes, that can reduce inflammation and balance your immune response to lessen your hay fever symptoms.
Foods That May Worsen Your Hay Fever
First of all, you need to take an individualised approach and eliminate any foods that you are aware cause a reaction in your body. This might be tingly lips, bloating, sinus congestion, heartburn, constipation or diarrhea. These reactions are upsetting your immunity by activating the mucosal and connective tissue mast cells in your gut and skin.2
If you need extra support, ask your Naturopath for an IgG and IgA food intolerance test. My pick is the KBMO test. Investigating your microbiome through a stool analysis and/or a small intestinal overgrowth (SIBO) test may also be beneficial to detect any causes of gut health issues which contribute to immune challenges, such as hay fever.
You may also find an improvement in your hay fever by eliminating these foods:
- Sugar. Foods high in sugar, upset the crucial balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut. As 70-80% of the immune system is found here, sugar intake can cause immune system issues, which will exacerbate hay fever symptoms.
- Gluten. This protein found in wheat, barley, rye and oats causes irritation of the gut lining, a condition of leaky gut, leading to inflammation throughout your bloodstream and contributing to your hay fever symptoms.
- Dairy. Pasteurised milk, yoghurt, cream and cheese, are mucous forming in the body. If you are experiencing common symptoms of hay fever such as a runny nose and sinus congestion, consuming these products may only clog you up even more. The exception is raw dairy which contains enzymes and is nutrient rich.
- All processed foods, including store bought biscuits, cakes, pastries, microwavable popcorn, margarine due to their content of inflammation causing trans fats.
- Cherries, peaches and melons. They are cousins to plants that produce ragweed pollen and unfortunately may worsen your hay fever symptoms.
- If you're having difficulty reducing your hay fever symptoms, consider limiting your histamine producing foods. The list may seem confusing, as some are otherwise recommended.
The good news is, it can be as simple as making some positive additions to your diet!
FOODS TO REDUCE HISTAMINE LEVELS
To target hay fever, it is important to look at increasing foods that can reduce histamine levels. They include:
- Apples, kale, red grapes, onions, garlic and parsley, due to their levels of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory flavanoid quercertin
Vitamin C, bioflavonoid and antioxidant rich foods are important due to their natural anti-histamine, anti-inflammatory and immune enhancing properties, protecting against hay fever and respiratory infections. Up your intake of:
- Kiwifruit , capsicums, broccoli, papaya, guava, mango. Note however that citrus fruits are histamine producing so not recommended.
FOODS THAT REDUCE INFLAMMATION
Anti-inflammatory foods are aimed at reducing inflammation in your respiratory mucous membranes. Include these ones in your daily diet:
- Omega 3 rich fish-wild caught salmon, mackerel, sardines.
- Omega 3’s are also found in chia seeds, flax seeds, green leafy vegetables and grass fed meats.
- Pineapple contains an anti-inflammatory enzyme called Bromelain.
- Turmeric spice contains the powerful antioxidant, decongestant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrient curcumin. Grate the fresh spice into cooking, add into smoothies, and teas. You can make up my turmeric rich Sunshine Milk Smoothie here.
- Nettle and licorice tea are anti-inflammatory and soothing.
- Horseradish is a decongestant.
- Ginger added to juices, smoothies, curry, stir-fry and steeped into a tea).
FOODS THAT BOOST THE IMMUNE SYSTEM FUNCTION
Some foods are immune enhancing, therefore helping the respiratory system health and lessen the likelihood of hay fever symptoms. They include Vitamin A rich foods.
Vitamin A plays an important role in promoting healthy mucous membranes in the body, for healthy respiratory, digestive and immune function. Anti-inflammatory to reduce hay fever symptoms and immune enhancing to help prevent secondary infections.
True vitamin A comes from sources such as egg yolks, meat, poultry, fish, cod liver oil and beef liver. Limited Vitamin A is sourced from the conversion of betacarotene rich foods, which include green leafy vegetables, broccoli, carrots, pumpkin, tomato*, grapefruit*, papaya, guava, capsicums and squash. *Note: high histamine producers
Garlic also support the immune system, by acting as a natural antibiotic and therefore preventing any secondary infections.
Raw local honey is a potent source of immune factors and includes small amounts of pollen from local plants that can play a healing role with an acute bout of hay fever. The small amounts of pollen can help train your immune system to tolerate the environmental allergen, if your trigger is pollen.3 Take 1 teaspoon off of the spoon, up to four times over the day, or add into this herbal tea recipe:
Herbal Tea To Ease Hayfever4
2 parts Elder Flowers
1 part Ephedra
1 part Eyebright
1 part Golden seal
Steep and drink 1 cup, 2-3 times our day while hay fever symptoms are present.
Foods to support gut health, will also offer immune support. Your microbes teach your immune system to tolerate environmental allergens, so encouraging a healthy microbiome is paramount. Fermented vegetables such as sauerkruat and homemade coconut yoghurt and kefir are my favs, however you may have issues with these too, if you have a strong histamine intolerance.
Natural Medicine To Improve Hay Fever
If your hay fever is stubborn and you need extra support, these are some of my favourites.
Improve breathing and lung health:
- Cod liver oil, for natural Vitamin A levels.
- Rub a 2-3% dilution of peppermint essential oil or a peppermint containing breathing blend of essential oil, onto your chest and back of neck, every 2-4 hours.
- Curcumin has shown through research to reduce hay fever symptoms of sneezing, itching, runny nose and nasal congestion, by 70%.5
To reduce effector cell activation (mast cells, basophils and eosinophils) and histamine:
- Quercetin is worth adding into your hay fever treatment. In a study of 123 allergic rhinitis patients aged between 8-38 years, the histamine release (through nose scrapings) was shown to drop by 46-96% through quercetin supplementation.6
- Herbs Terminalia myrobalan, Albizia, Myrobalan, Emblic, Long pepper, Ginger, Black pepper. If you're seeing a Naturopath, the product Metagenics Allergeeze may be available to you, which contains these herbs plus quercetin and bromelain.
- Amino acids methionine and N-Acetyl Cysteine can both reduce histamine levels in the body.
Reduce inflammatory mediators:
- Bromelain, Quercetin and the above herbs
- Turmeric (curcumin)
- Pure fish oil, if needed on top of cod liver oil
Target swelling and oedema:
- Systemic enzymes, containing the anti-inflammatory enzyme, Bromelain
Balance Immune system:
- Probiotics, particularly the strain LGG (TM)
- Vitamin D. Learn how to optimise your levels here.
If your hay fever symptoms are severe, it is best to consult your Naturopath for an individualised approach to treatment. A qualified natural health practitioner can offer you the best quality supplements and the best quality supplements.
Lifestyle Tips For Hay Fever Sufferers
Chlorine is a strong airway irritant. In addition to the tips listed throughout, limiting your exposure to chlorinated pools and bathing in chlorinated waters may also reduce the severity of your hay fever symptoms.
Interestingly, growing up in an environment where you are exposed to pets7 and a farm environment8,9 have been shown to lower incidence of allergies, due to the exposure to a wide range of beneficial bugs in your environment. Just another reason to get your hands dirty in the garden.
Reach For What Nature Intended
Nature has provided incredible healers. Some foods, nutrients and herbs have the ability to improve hay fever symptoms by acting to:
- reduce histamine and inflammation levels
- supply nutrients to protect and improve respiratory health
- improve gut health and balance the immune system
Before you reach for the drugs, prevent the nasty side effects and beat your hay fever head on, with what nature intended.
ps. Having optimal vitamin D levels is fundamental for a balanced immune system. Find out how you can have tip top levels, here.
2) Janeway C, Travers P, Walport M. Shlomchik M. Allergy and hypersensitivity. In: Immunobiology the immune system in health and disease. 6th ed. New York: Garland Science Publishing. 2005:517-556.
4) David Hoffmann. Holistic Herbal A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies. London: Thorsons. 1990, pg 46