Itchy, watery eyes? Constantly sneezing? Feeling heavy headed? Hello hayfever!
With spring in full swing, many people find themselves suffering with itchy watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, and experiencing other symptoms associated with hayfever. While over-the-counter medications can provide temporary relief, they often come with side effects and don't address the root cause of the problem.
However, did you know that your diet can play a significant role in managing hayfever symptoms? In this blog post, we'll explore the relationship between hayfever and nutrition, and provide tips on how to eat your way to a more comfortable allergy season.
Hayfever, like an unwelcome annual guest, emerges with the arrival of tree pollen season in March, followed by grass pollen season in May, and finally weed pollen season, which persists until September. Unfortunately, this means that individuals affected by hayfever endure symptoms for over six months every year
Seasonal allergic rhinitis (the proper term for hayfever) is the most common allergic condition in Ireland affecting 26% of people.
An allergy is the immune systems response to a normally harmless substance such as pollens, foods or even house dust mites.
While unoffending to most, certain substances can trigger an allergic response in some individuals. In such cases, the immune system mistakes these typically innocuous substances as a threat and produces an inappropriate reaction.
In the case of hayfever these tend to be:
Sneezing, blocked/runny nose
Watering, red eyes (allergic conjunctivitis)
Headaches, blocked sinuses
Shortness of breath
The sensation of mucus running down the back of the throat, which can also be a symptom, and is called ‘post-nasal drip’.
If I can’t get rid of it, how can I manage it?
The general consensus to eliminate the symptoms of hayfever is to avoid the allergic triggers themselves i.e. pollen. However staying indoors from March to September is hardly a working solution.
Most people will try to manage symtpoms through allergy medication such as antihistamines. These are readily available from a pharmacy without prescription.
While antihistamines are a godsend for sufferers they don’t cure the allergies — they just treat the symptoms. In fact, many antihistamines are not recommended for people with high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney or liver disease, glaucoma, thyroid problems, or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Why are more people getting hayfever?
There are several reasons why more people than ever are experiencing hayfever symptoms. Some of these can be attributed to diet and the gut microbiome.
Changes in microbiome
While it may not be commonly considered, there is a clear and important relationship between gut health and allergy symptoms. The gastrointestinal system is known to play a central role in the immune system, as a significant number of immune cells reside in the gut. Therefore, the health of the gut can have a significant impact on the immune system's ability to respond appropriately to allergens, making it an important consideration in the management of allergies.
Early-life environmental influences that are known to disrupt the microbiota, such as antibiotic use, caesarean birth and formula feeding, are all associated with increased susceptibility to asthma and allergies later in life.
The histamine connection
Histamine is considered an important compound in the body. It acts as a neurotransmitter and regulates production of stomach acid, blood vessel permeability, and contraction of skeletal muscle. It is also a major component of the immune response and thus a key mediator in allergic reactions.
Although histamine is necessary for many physiological processes, some people may experience histamine intolerance, which means their body produces too much histamine or lacks diamine oxidase (DAO), the enzyme responsible for breaking it down. When this occurs, histamine can then be absorbed and be transported to various sites of the body, exacerbating allergic symptoms.
There are many possible causes of histamine intolerance including:
high consumption of histamine-rich foods
genetic factors which mean that you don’t have enough DAO enzyme activity
and SIBO (small intestine bacteria overgrowth).
So fundamentally a disturbance in the gut biome plays a significant role in creating histamine intolerance.
restoring a healthy balance of gut flora is regarded as the most effective long-term solution to address a histamine issue.
Taking probiotics that contain histamine-degrading strains such as Bifidobacterium infantis, Bifidobacterium longum and Lactobacillus rhamnosus is recommended for those with histamine intolerance.
Research has shown that there is a strong connection between the health of the gut and the severity of allergy symptoms. Thus, it is no wonder that restoring a healthy balance of gut flora is regarded as the most effective long-term solution to address a histamine issue. (See my recent blog post for further information Your Hormones & Histamine Intolerance).
Recent studies have revealed that vitamin D has important functions in the immune system. Lower vitamin D levels have been associated with more allergic disease and elevated serum IgE.
Magnesium is an essential nutrient that plays a crucial role in the metabolism of vitamin D. Recent changes in agriculture and dietary habits have led to decreased magnesium consumption from natural foods. Consumption of ultra-processed foods and foods high in refined flours, unhealthy fats, and sugar have further lowered magnesium levels in the general population. In addition, high consumption of coffee, fizzy drinks, salt, alcohol, and stress can also contribute to lower magnesium status, making it an important nutrient to consider for overall health and wellness.
Practical steps to reduce hayfever symptoms
As noted avoiding pollen obviously helps, so monitoring daily pollen forecasts and staying indoors with the windows closed when the count is high is best, although not much fun. Pollen count is generally high on warm dry days. Rain washes pollen from the air so counts are normally lower on cooler, wet days.
Avoid drying washing on a clothes-line outside when pollen counts are high.
Use barrier balms around the nostrils to trap pollen. There are also hayfever wipes available which can be very handy to have.
However if you are looking for ways to manage your hayfever symptoms and enjoy the warm sunny days with comfort, then here are some of my top tips to help you out.
Nutrient and Supplement Support
As more people turn to natural remedies for their health concerns, the use of nutrition and supplements to support hayfever sufferers has gained popularity in recent years.
Quercetin is a flavonoid found in certain foods and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. It can also inhibit the release of histamine and other inflammatory compounds, which can help reduce allergic symptoms.
Quercetin containing foods include:
All berry fruits
Bromelain is a digestive enzyme from pineapple and has been shown to relieve hayfever and sinusitis in a number of human clinical studies by working as a natural antihistamine, anti-inflammatory and decongestant. Bromelain also helps the absorption of quercetin.
Vitamin C is a powerful promoter of a strong immune system, calms allergic reactions and is also anti-inflammatory. In one study, the lowest intakes of vitamin C were associated with more than fivefold increased risks of bronchial reactivity.
Vitamin C rich foods include:
Vitamin C is a crucial component of the DAO enzymes also and the above foods are also high in powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents.
Ginger is also a vitamin C rich food and is known to slow down histamine production by reducing IgE levels.
Pro tip – play around with combining some of the fruit and veg from the above lists to make a delicious summer smoothie. Consider blending together a refreshing medley of kale, apple, and blueberries for a tasty start on days when you know pollen count will be high!
Spirulina is a nutrient-rich, blue-green algae that has been associated with a wide range of interesting health benefits. A small number of studies have revealed very convincing anti-histamine effects of spirulina and have found that regular consumption of spirulina significantly reduces allergic rhinitis symptoms such as nasal discharge, sneezing, nasal congestion and itching.
Omega 3 rich foods
Omega-3 rich foods are known to have anti-inflammatory properties. Sources include wild salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds. These also have added benefits of healthy fats that support overall health.
Many people swear by the benefits of consuming local honey to help manage hayfever symptoms. Although it contains trace elements of pollen, over time it may help your body become more familiar with the pollen entering your system and reduce the inflammatory response it makes.
Support the gut microbiome
It has been shown that the microbiota of children with allergies tend to have higher levels of Staphylococcus, Clostridium, and Escherichia species, while numbers of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria were significantly reduced compared to kids with no allergies. Our Intestinal microbiota regulates the immune system, in particular to rebalance the T helper cells (TH1/Th2) ratio. In a well-functioning immune system, both groups of these T helper cells work together to keep the system balanced.
Using a probiotic product that contains the histamine degrading strains as mentioned above and/or having a comprehensive stool analysis to identify specific elements of your microbiome that need support can help.
Zeolite binds to histamine in the gut and eliminates it via the bowel movements. It can be a very powerful way to address the root cause of allergies in my clinical and personal experience. This is available in supplement form and the brand I like is called Toxaprevent.
Avoiding very high histamine foods
Foods high in histamine will likely worsen hayfever symptoms so avoiding or reducing them during high pollen season will help. These include:
Leftover meat or fish
Fermented alcohol like wine, champagne, and beer.
Remember, everyone is different
My son used to suffer really badly with hayfever. We have tried EVERYTHING over the years with varying levels of success. For us, using a histamine binder coupled with quercetin and the odd anti-histamine when and where needed is a strategy that seems to be working.
Like with many health concerns we are all very different, we can have the same condition but it may present in slightly different ways with a different root cause. The key is to try to understand what might be driving your symptoms. Working with a nutritional therapist helps to solve the puzzle and we take a detailed medical history along with asking you about your current diet and lifestyle. There are also excellent tests that we draw upon if needed, many of which I use in my clinic to help clients break free of troublesome allergy symptoms.
Hayfever can indeed be a debilitating condition for many, but with the right nutrition and supplement support, it is possible to manage symptoms effectively. Consuming anti-inflammatory foods, such as those containing quercetin and omega-3 fatty acids, and incorporating natural histamine-reducing supplements such as zeolite clinoptilolite, can provide relief for hayfever sufferers. Additionally, maintaining a healthy gut and balanced immune system through proper nutrition can help to reduce the severity of symptoms and improve overall well-being. By taking a holistic approach to hayfever management, it is possible to enjoy the warmer months in comfort and ease.
Let us know, if you suffer from hayfever each year what have you found works best to manage the symptoms. Do you use antihistamines or prefer a more natural approach, or perhaps mix of both?