In these times of us all staying safe and staying at home to protect our NHS, it seems that hay fever is the least of our worries. However, with our one outdoor exercise a day and for those of us who are lucky enough to have gardens, it is important to be able to enjoy time outside without the added worry of hay fever (or Allergic Rhinitis for its correct name). Time outdoors is so important not only to get our sunshine nutrient, vitamin D, but also for our mental health at this time of constant uncertainty. With the recent rise in temperatures and higher pollen levels, we have seen a rise in support requested for this condition that affects around 10-30% of the UK adult population and as many as 40% of children!
Hay fever is an immune system related issue. Our immune system recognises external substances such as pollen as something harmful and then creates antibodies against it. These antibodies are proteins we produce against harmful pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. In the instance of hay fever, each time you come in contact with harmless substances such as pollen, the antibodies will signal to our immune systems to release histamine (and other chemicals), which sets off a stream of symptoms like sneezing, a runny nose and itchy eyes.
Our approach is multifactorial, targeting overall immune support to minimise symptoms. As with many conditions, we start with gut health.
Our gut flora provides the first line of defence against external allergens, and most of our immune cells start life in the gut. So how do we nurture this precious microbiome, which is critical not only for immune conditions but for life itself? Well, firstly, it needs feeding! Dietary fibre is the food for which our gut bacteria need to flourish and function in a desired way for our optimal health. More detailed information on this can be found on our recent blog, Nutrition for Immunity. Functional foods such as fermented foods are also particularly useful here, these traditional fermentation methods are much more accessible these days with kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha all readily available. Whilst we always focus on foods first and try to include these in the diet, probiotics have been widely studied and accepted as a useful adjunct in supporting the symptoms of hay fever.
In hay fever sufferers, the pollen creates an IgE mediated mast cell reaction followed by a late stage Th2 immune response and histamine release. It is therefore important to look at immune modulation and how we can use natural therapeutics in this area. As well as digestive health as we have previously mentioned, quercetin is a notable phytonutrient when it comes to hay fever. Quercetin is a flavonoid and powerful antioxidant which may be helpful to reduce mast cell secretions, thereby having a natural antihistamine activity. Healthiest and easily accessible foods highest in quercetin are apples, onions, and berries. Capers also contain a hefty amount of quercetin, but they also come with a lot of sodium. It can sometimes be difficult to obtain therapeutic amounts of quercetin through foods so supplementing with this nutrient can be helpful at the height of the hay fever season.
One nice and easy way to introduce quercetin into your diet is simple stewed apples. Make up a batch and eat a small ramekin each morning, 10 minutes before food or drink other than water and absorb all the nutritional benefit. Serve this with a little yoghurt or kefir of your choice for a little microbiome love and top with a tsp of raw local honey for a tasty and therapeutic start to the day.
Nettles have also shown natural antihistamine potential and are a gift of nature given that they are currently in season! Nettle can be used in supplement form but for those who love the wild, get your gardening gloves on and pick out the nettle tips before they start to flower to make your own nettle tea! Pick them away from any known dog walking routes and give them a little wash first just in case!
Medicinal mushrooms are well-known immune modulators. For hay fever, one of the most researched mushrooms is Reishi. This is down to its beta glucans content and also specific bioflavonoids called triterpenes that have shown to inhibit histamine release and therefore support a reduction in symptoms. Reishi mushroom is also well known for its anti-inflammatory capacity.
An often-overlooked mushroom is Royal Sun Agaricus. This mushroom has been particularly well researched around tree pollens and has shown great promise at reducing the specific IgE levels during the season with basophils becoming less sensitive to allergen activation.
Pycnogenol, derived from the French Maritime Pine tree also has proven potential but best results are shown when this is taken in supplemental form 7-8 weeks prior to onset of seasonal allergies. It is also worth noting that Pycnogenol also has also shown clinical use for improvement of skin elasticity and hydration, nice!
The word Rhinitis comes from the Greek for nose with the ending 'itis' implying inflammation. Where this inflammation is present in a condition, anything to activate anti-inflammatory pathways may be helpful. One common food, much renowned now for its anti-inflammatory benefit is turmeric but the more accessible ginger is also a potent anti-inflammatory. These foods can be used in your foods, juices or steeped as a tea. Where these foods are less used in the diet, then supplements with stronger extracts and cofactors for absorption may be helpful.
We also should evaluate essential fat balance when it comes to inflammation. Omega 6 fats such as those from animal fats should be moderated due to their pro-inflammatory effect and omega 3 fats such as those from oily fish or flaxseed should be well represented in the diet due to their anti-inflammatory effect.
Black seed (Nigella Sativa) has been used traditionally for immune health by various cultures throughout the world. The ancient Egyptians were known to use black seed and even legend has it that Tutankhamum had a bottle of the oil in his tomb! The oil has also been shown to be effective in reducing hay fever symptoms such as nasal congestion through its anti-inflammatory effects in our body. It is also thought to improve our immune response with antihistamine activity to support a reduction in symptoms such as itchy eyes and sneezing.
Bromelain is a digestive enzyme found in pineapples and has good anti-inflammatory and anti-swelling properties, especially for sinuses. Pineapples originate from South America and are enjoyed by most people all over the world. Bromelain reduces sensitivity to allergies and can stop increased inflammation in our airways and therefore seems to act as a good overall immune modulator. Bromelain is found in all parts of a pineapple but most of it is within the core. So instead of discarding the core, add it to a juice or a smoothie!
Raw local honey
Lastly, but by no means least is yummy raw local honey. Studies on its efficacy are limited, potentially because local beekeepers wouldn't have the money to invest in such research yet anecdotal evidence based on feedback from our customers would suggest good efficacy. However, one small scale study did show promise using a birch pollen honey for birch pollen allergy with a 60% reduction in the total symptom score of sufferers, showing promise for further research in this area.
Most importantly in current times, stay home and stay healthy to help protect our NHS. But for those that can enjoy a little outdoor space, we hope you find this useful to make any time you do have outdoors a little more enjoyable.
Jackie Coldwell is co-Director of Therapy Organics, and leads the Nutrtional Therapy Team.See more Articles by Jackie
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