What is hayfever?
Known as allergic rhinitis, this seasonal allergy is very common and for some, extremely unpleasant. Sufferers experience itchy eyes and nose and a watery nasal discharge. Inhaled allergens such as pollen set off a histamine reaction making life can very difficult over the summer months with a choice between constant anti-histamines or avoiding your neighbour’s barbecue and staying indoors!
Who does it affect?
Frequently starting in childhood, it can start at any age, sometimes even coming and going over the years. Moving house to a new area with different local flora can cause allergies to go away naturally. As in all things, stress can trigger onset and severity. Interestingly, atopic conditions seem to go hand in hand and evidence now shows a link between increased food allergies and intolerances and hay fever. Overdoing alcohol, sugars and perhaps unwittingly food allergens can mean that if you’re stressed out, reaching for comfort foods and overdoing things you might just experience your first episode of hay fever. At risk groups are known to be those who have had severe stress, a recent illness or trauma, pregnancy and those with other allergies and intolerances. Interestingly, tackling your food intolerances head on can lead to a reduction in symptoms as multiple food (and chemical) sensitivities can reduce the ability of the liver to break down chemicals and proteins in the detoxification’s normal pathways. This affects the histamine response hugely, therefore we highly recommend anyone with hay fever to identify other food intolerances or allergens to reduce the allergenic load on the body. (We offer both kinds of testing at our clinic).
How can I help myself?
Apart from tracking the pollen count and becoming a hermit with all doors and windows tightly shut, there are some practical steps you can take. Showering pollen off your skin and hair before bed can be a big help as can washing your sheets and towels on a 60 degree hot wash (non-bio!). Nasal irrigation with a neti-pot or using a saline solution to wash nasal passages can both be very helpful.
If you do find yourself staying indoors and avoiding the sunshine, remember that your vitamin D levels will be at risk so you would be wise to supplement and to have your levels checked occasionally to protect immune and bone health. Vitamin D is also important for immune balancing and especially so in those with allergies and intolerances and autoimmunity. If you would like to check your vitamin D levels we offer a simple pin prick test which goes off to a lab to check. Contact us to book one.
Are there any foods that make my symptoms better or worse?
Foods that can worsen symptoms are caffeine and alcohol and foods that contain histamine e.g., red wine, cheese, chocolate, and tomatoes. Wheat based foods can add to the inflammation for some and dairy products can increase mucus production as can sugar and excess starchy foods. Then there are those foods which are individual to you and these can be tested for via IgG Food Intolerance. Reducing our allergenic load by removing foods we are intolerant to can make a significant difference in terms of symptom reduction during the season. In fact, it's a very nice side effect of food intolerance testing that people aren't expecting to happen!
Foods that support hayfever sufferers are those that reduce inflammation. Oily fish which increases our omega 3 fatty acids is anti-inflammatory. Aim to eat at least 3-4 times a week at either breakfast, lunch or dinner. We can also supplement with this especially over the season. Other forms of omega 3 are flax seeds, chia, hemp and walnuts. Incorporate ginger, rosemary and thyme into your cooking. Make teas from fresh ginger and nettle. These foods will help counteract a runny nose and itchiness.
Raw honey bought from local farms and bee keepers has been spoken about for a while and many have found taking a spoonful a day to be extremely helpful during pollen season. Propolis can also be helpful.
Did you know that vitamin C is a natural anti-histamine? Supplementing during the season can be helpful. Most important is ensuring a rainbow diet with lots of flavonoids and a good range of nutrients. Encourage children to help you choose a wide variety of coloured fruit and vegetables when shopping at the supermarket.
Another natural anti-histamine is quercetin found in foods such as red onion, peppers and citrus. This can be supplemented but if you are on medication, please contact a Nutritional therapist as it does have some drug nutrient interactions. Quercetin is one f our go to's for hay fever in clinical practice. We tend to combine this with nettle which is another natural antihistamine and some of the best supplements combine both together. Nettle can also be added as a tea.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recently published a study where they gave 173 sufferers, during hayfever season, either 2 capsules of probiotics providing 3 billion units of bacteria or a placebo in this randomised controlled placebo trial. At the end of 8 weeks those taking the probiotics had improved (less symptoms) by 68%, compared to the placebo group who reported 19% improvement. The strains of bacteria used were Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria which are found in a range of supplements.
Including mushrooms in your diet is another great way to help modulate your immune system. Mushrooms contain powerful Beta-glucans which stimulate natural killer cells to fight off invading antigens. Beta-glucans also stimulate the growth of bone marrow megakaryocytes and progenitor cells which turn into platelets, blood and immune cells. If you just can’t get over the taste or texture of them, supplementing may be a convenient way to boost your immune system in easy to take capsule form.
Watercress has been the subject of some very interesting research as it contains flavinols which can inhibit the release of histamine by 60%! Definitely add this to your salads at this time of year.
Moringa has also been shown in studies to inhibit all histamine by an impressive 72% and it is available in supplement form as a powder or capsule. Get in touch for the best options.
Holy basil is one of my favourite adaptogen herbs to modulate the stress response and studies have shown it also conveniently has anti-anaphylactic, antihistamine and mast cell stabilising properties. Available as a tea (Pukka Tulsi) it can make a nice addition during hay fever season.
Does detoxing the liver help?
These days our livers are a little overwhelmed with all the extra environmental toxic exposure due to everything from pesticides to toiletries and cleaning fluids to caffeine and alcohol. Many people, as a result, notice a worsening of symptoms during periods of stress which may have them reaching for more caffeine or following a weekend of increased alcohol. Therefore giving the liver a helping hand as you go along especially over the summer months can be hugely beneficial. Dietary tips are to eat more cruciferous vegetable (cauliflower, broccoli, sprouts etc) which support your liver detox enzymes as does green tea and garlic. A great way to start the day is to have half a lemon squeezed into warm water and some grated ginger for added anti-inflammatory benefits. I used to suggest to people that buying garlic in supplement form was not as good as dietary but there is now a supplement called Allicin max which uses 100% stabilised allicin which is the active ingredient and has rapid absorption. Other well documented herbal favourites to support the liver detox pathways are milk thistle and dandelion.
Do barrier products work?
There is a simple product called Hay Max which works as a barrier to pollen, dust and pet allergens before they enter the body. Very simple idea which some find helpful. But for most people a combination of the above would be the best way forward.
Is there anything I can do about excess mucus production?
Avoiding dairy certainly makes a difference but if you are doing this long term, speak to a registered Nutritional Therapist (NT) to ensure you are fully compensated for all nutrients.
You may have read that amino acid N-Acetyl Cysteine is effective at reducing mucus. It is! However, it does have some drug nutrient interactions so please speak to an NT to find out if this is appropriate for you.
What happens when you take long term anti-histamine meds?
Getting to route cause is essential and working through gut and immune system imbalances as when we take long term antihistamines it can lead to a real problem where we develop histamine intolerance, symptoms of which can range from hives to anxiety, sleep problems, abdominal cramps, migraine , itchy eyes and more.
Histamine intolerance is what happens when the body can't break down histamine properly due to a lack of 2 enzymes Diamine oxidase DAO and HNMT histamine N-methyltransferase. DAO is produced in the intestine and if there is damage to the gut this enzyme can be reduced. This can happen in leaky gut and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. In addition certain medications can cause this reduction in DAO. They are NSAID's eg ibuprofen, Fluoxetine, H2 blockers like ranitidine and antihistamines. This is where is gets complicated and in clinical practice we work with many people who have developed this problem. However, working on gut health ultimately is the way forward to correction along with some helpful key supplements.
What is interesting is that in clinical practice we always find that our clients who have been working on gut and immune health in the previous months or year find that when the following hay fever season comes along their symptoms are either significantly reduced or gone completely. Then what they always say without fail is 'I wish I had done this years ago!'
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