The arrival of spring brings longer days, warmer weather and blossoming trees – a welcome change from the long dark days of winter for most people. But for the 10 million hay fever sufferers in the UK, spring means suffering! It can be the start of months of misery, including sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, runny noses, headaches, disturbed sleep and fatigue.
Accounting for around 2.5% of all GP visits, and costing us more than £50 million a year in medical costs, hay fever (also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis or pollinosis) is an allergic response to pollen. Symptoms can arrive with tree pollens as early as March, and continue through the summer months with grass pollens. When pollens come into contact with the nostrils, eyes, or throat of an individual with a sensitised immune system, pro-inflammatory histamine is released by the immune system, causing sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, swelling and inflammation of the nasal passages and an increase in mucous production.
There has been a significant increase in the incidence of seasonal allergies over the last 20 years, and current opinion suggests that most people with inhalant allergies such as hay fever are also likely to have food allergies. The health effects of allergies can be so far-reaching that many healthcare practitioners now believe that food allergies are the leading cause of many undiagnosed symptoms.
Conventional treatments for hay fever include anti-histamines, decongestants and corticosteroids, which can be accompanied by various side effects such as sedation, drowsiness and hyperactivity. Fortunately there are also a range of highly effective and safe nutritional approaches you can take to support you through the worst of it, allowing you to enjoy those picnics in the park and such like that may have caused so much misery before!
Nutritional approaches to hay fever
Experts agree that cutting down on foods which encourage mucous production such as wheat and dairy, whilst increasing consumption of foods with anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine properties (berries, for example, which are rich in vitamin C) may help to support symptoms. It’s also advisable to avoid sugar, as it can increase inflammation in the body and reduces the body’s ability to repair, instead, try to consume lots of fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and spices such as turmeric and ginger, which can help to reduce inflammation.
Nutrients to consider:
Vitamin C and Quercetin
Data has shown that a deficiency of vitamin C can result in increased histamine levels1, and it’s thought that vitamin C may help to reduce overall histamine levels. Additionally, studies have shown that flavonoids possess anti-inflammatory, immune- modulatory2 and antioxidant activities. One such flavonoid is quercetin, which has been shown to inhibit production and release of histamine3, making it an important consideration in those with hay fever and allergies.
Bromelain is a proteolytic enzyme derived from pineapple which can help to enhance absorption of quercetin. It has also been shown to possess anti-inflammatory and immune-muodulating properties, helping relieve the pain and congestion of inflamed tissues, especially the nasal and respiratory pathways4,5.
Plant sterols are fats found in plants, sometimes referred to as ‘phytosterols’. They have long been known for their cholesterol- lowering effects, but more recently, research has highlighted their immune-supporting properties, especially for aiding the relief of symptoms associated with hay fever and allergies. By inhibiting the release of certain interleukins (inflammatory substances) histamine production is reduced and allergy symptoms are controlled, meaning plant sterols may have the potential to alleviate some of the symptoms of hay fever6.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids can help to support a healthy balanced immune system. The increased incidence of allergic conditions has recently been associated with the over-consumption of pro- inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids in relation to anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids – an unhealthy imbalance, which is very common in a typical Western diet. Research suggests that a balanced intake of fatty acids may have a powerful, positive effect in certain patients with allergic conditions2, and a good quality fish oil is an easy way to improve this balance. It is important to ensure the oil you are taking is fresh and pure, otherwise it could actually do you more harm than good.
Tips for avoiding exposure to pollen:
• Wear sunglasses outside to prevent pollen getting into your eyes.
• Keep the car windows closed when driving.
• Avoid cutting grass, and playing or walking in grassy areas – particularly in the early morning, evening and at night when pollen counts are highest.
• Avoid drying clothes outside, this helps to prevent pollen coming into the house.
• Keep windows and doors shut to avoid pollen coming into the house
Foods to Include:
• Horseradish (Helps with congestion and mucous)
• Pineapple (A rich source of bromelain)
• Ginger (Supports inflammation)
• Turmeric (Supports inflammation)
• Onion and Garlic (Rich sources of quercitin)
• Nuts and Seeds (Good sources of essential fatty acids)
• Berries (Rich in vitamin C and flavonoids)
Foods to avoid:
• Dairy Foods (Can be mucous-forming)
• Wheat (Can be allergenic and mucous-forming)
• Sugar (Can be inflammatory and can cause increase in mucous production)
• Alcohol (Can cause irritation of mucous membranes)
• Excess Caffeine (Can interfere with absorption of nutrients)
• Red Meat (Can be pro-inflammatory and increase mucous production)
• Refined Carbohydrates (Can cause an increase in inflammation in the body and increase mucous production)
• White Bread, Pasta, Cakes
1. Clemetson. (1980) Histamine and ascorbic acid in human blood. J Nutr 110 (4): 662-68
2. Hagenlocher, Y., Lorentz, A. (2014) Immunomodulation of mast cells by nutrients. Mol Immunol (Epub ahead of print)
3. Park, H.H., et al (2008) Flavonoids inhibit histamine release and expression of proinflammatory cytokines in mast cells. Arch Pharm Res 31(10):1303-11.
4. Secor ER Jr., et al (2005) Bromelain exerts anti-inflammatory effects in an ovalbumin-induced murine model of allergic airway disease. Cell Immunol237(1):68-75
5. Secor ER Jr., et al (2012) Bromelain limits airway inflammation in an ovalbumin-induced murine model of established asthma. Altern Ther Health Med 18(5):9- 17
6. Laidlaw M. (2005) Pilot study conducted at The University of Guelph by the human neutraceutical research unit on a plant sterol supplement.
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