Hay fever, also referred to as allergic rhinitis, is an immune system related issue which is dominated by a Th2 response. 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 system to release histamine (and other chemicals), which sets off a stream of symptoms like sneezing, a runny nose and itchy eyes. Additional common symptoms of hay fever are headaches and an itchy or sore throat. Tree pollen tends to be in spring and grass and weed pollen is usually in the summer and the severity of people’s hay fever will depend on which factor aggravates their immune system the most.
It all starts in the gut
As hay fever is an immune system disorder, supporting gut health is a vital place to start when it comes to nutrition, given that the digestive system houses a huge proportion of our immune system[i]. There are three key areas to consider here when it comes to supporting digestive health and in turn, immune system homeostasis, as follows:
If the diet is lacking in the above foods to support the health of the microbiome such as the fermented foods then specific probiotics may be of use here having been studied for their beneficial clinical and immunological effect in the treatment of hay fever[v]. The word ‘probiotic’ itself, comes from the Latin meaning ‘for life’ which is interesting for those suffering from this condition that can really impact upon life during their hay fever season.
Quercetin is a flavonoid and powerful antioxidant which has been shown to inhibit histamine release, decrease proinflammatory cytokines, improve the balance of the Th2 to Th1 dominance and restrain IgE antibody formation. It is for these immune modulating reasons that it has been shown to be useful in the treatment of hay fever[vi]. It is for this reason that quercetin is usually the main ingredient of nutritional formulas that have been developed to reduce the symptoms of hay fever. Healthiest and easily accessible foods highest in quercetin are apples, onions (especially red onions[vii]), and berries. Preparation of these foods is also important for example, cooking onions seems to release the quercetin so you get over a 50% higher concentration of quercetin[viii]. Even preparing an onion can alter the amounts consumed as there is more of the compound in the layers closest to the skin[ix] so be careful not to remove too much when peeling. Even with the best preparation and consumption of this phytonutrient, it can be difficult to obtain therapeutic amounts of quercetin through foods at the time of year when you need it and short term supplementing may be useful.
Nettles have also shown great potential to reduce the symptoms of hay fever with their ability to down regulate the pro-inflammatory pathways relating to the symptoms[x]. For those who love the wild, get your gardening gloves on and pick out the nettle tips in Spring before they start to flower to make your own fresh nettle tea or nettle soup. For those who prefer to get the benefit in a simpler way without having to brave the outdoors and the pollens, nettle tends to be a key ingredient in supplements designed for hay fever. It can also be taken on its own as a herbal tincture or via a nice cup of nettle tea.
Medicinal mushrooms are well-known immune modulators. For hay fever, one of the most researched mushrooms is Reishi[xi]. 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[xii].
Agaricus blazei mushroom has also 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[xiii].
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[xiv]. It is also worth noting that Pycnogenol also has also shown clinical use for improvement of skin elasticity and hydration through the increased synthesis of hyaluronic acid and possibly collagen[xv] which is a nice additional benefit to supplementing with this particular extract.
The word Rhinitis comes from the Greek for nose with the ending 'itis' implying inflammation. Where this inflammation is present in a condition, any foods that 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. One particular study assessing this correlation confirms that a high intake of margarine and omega 6 fats in comparison to omega 3 fats was positively associated with hay fever symptoms[xvi].
Black seed (Nigella Sativa) has been used traditionally for immune health by various cultures throughout the world. Consumption of 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[xvii]. One study also looked at the use of the oil via nasal drop application which showed an improvement in tolerability of allergen exposure by 55%[xviii].
Interestingly a study on lifestyle factors also identifies aerobic exercise as a key factor in the reduction of hay fever symptoms[xix]. As always a healthy lifestyle as well as a healthy diet are both important factors when it comes to the successful management of conditions.
We have other blog articles written about managing hayfever naturally. Please see links below:
Nutrients For Balancing Hayfever: Nutrients for Balancing Hay Fever
Nutrition For Hayfever: Nutrition for Hayfever
Using The Bowen Technique prior to the start of your Hayfever season, to reduce symptoms: Hay Fever & Seasonal Rhinitis with Bowen Therapy
[i] Vighi, G., Marcucci, F., Sensi, L., Di Cara, G. and Frati, F., 2008. Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clinical & Experimental Immunology, 153, pp.3-6.
[ii] Cross ML, Stevenson LM, Gill HS. Anti-allergy properties of fermented foods: an important immunoregulatory mechanism of lactic acid bacteria?. Int Immunopharmacol. 2001;1(5):891‐901. doi:10.1016/s1567-5769(01)00025-x
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[v] Güvenç IA, Muluk NB, Mutlu FŞ, et al. Do probiotics have a role in the treatment of allergic rhinitis? A comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Rhinol Allergy. 2016;30(5):157‐175. doi:10.2500/ajra.2016.30.4354
[vi] Mlcek, J., Jurikova, T., Skrovankova, S. and Sochor, J., 2016. Quercetin and Its Anti-Allergic Immune Response. Molecules, 21(5), p.623.
[vii] Gorinstein S, Leontowicz H, Leontowicz M, et al. Comparison of the main bioactive compounds and antioxidant activities in garlic and white and red onions after treatment protocols. J Agric Food Chem. 2008;56(12):4418‐4426. doi:10.1021/jf800038h
[viii] Juániz I, Ludwig IA, Huarte E, et al. Influence of heat treatment on antioxidant capacity and (poly)phenolic compounds of selected vegetables. Food Chem. 2016;197(Pt A):466‐473. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2015.10.139
[ix] Slimestad R, Fossen T, Vågen IM. Onions: a source of unique dietary flavonoids. J Agric Food Chem. 2007;55(25):10067‐10080. doi:10.1021/jf0712503
[x] Roschek B Jr, Fink RC, McMichael M, Alberte RS. Nettle extract (Urtica dioica) affects key receptors and enzymes associated with allergic rhinitis. Phytother Res. 2009;23(7):920‐926. doi:10.1002/ptr.2763
[xi] Mizutani N, Nabe T, Shimazu M, Yoshino S, Kohno S. Effect of Ganoderma lucidum on pollen-induced biphasic nasal blockage in a guinea pig model of allergic rhinitis. Phytother Res. 2012;26(3):325‐332. doi:10.1002/ptr.3557
[xii] Bhardwaj N, Katyal P, Sharma AK. Suppression of inflammatory and allergic responses by pharmacologically potent fungus Ganoderma lucidum. Recent Pat Inflamm Allergy Drug Discov. 2014;8(2):104‐117. doi:10.2174/1872213x08666140619110657
[xiii] Mahmood F, Hetland G, Nentwich I, Mirlashari MR, Ghiasvand R, Nissen-Meyer LSH. Agaricus blazei-Based Mushroom Extract Supplementation to Birch Allergic Blood Donors: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Nutrients. 2019;11(10):2339. Published 2019 Oct 2. doi:10.3390/nu11102339
[xiv] Wilson D, Evans M, Guthrie N, et al. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled exploratory study to evaluate the potential of pycnogenol for improving allergic rhinitis symptoms. Phytother Res. 2010;24(8):1115‐1119. doi:10.1002/ptr.3232
[xv] Marini A, Grether-Beck S, Jaenicke T, et al. Pycnogenol® effects on skin elasticity and hydration coincide with increased gene expressions of collagen type I and hyaluronic acid synthase in women. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2012;25(2):86‐92. doi:10.1159/000335261
[xvi] Trak-Fellermeier MA, Brasche S, Winkler G, Koletzko B, Heinrich J. Food and fatty acid intake and atopic disease in adults. Eur Respir J. 2004;23(4):575‐582. doi:10.1183/09031936.04.00074404
[xvii] Nikakhlagh S, Rahim F, Aryani FH, Syahpoush A, Brougerdnya MG, Saki N. Herbal treatment of allergic rhinitis: the use of Nigella sativa. Am J Otolaryngol. 2011;32(5):402‐407. doi:10.1016/j.amjoto.2010.07.019
[xviii] Alsamarai AM, Abdulsatar M, Ahmed Alobaidi AH. Evaluation of topical black seed oil in the treatment of allergic rhinitis. Antiinflamm Antiallergy Agents Med Chem. 2014;13(1):75‐82. doi:10.2174/18715230113129990014
[xix] Tongtako W, Klaewsongkram J, Mickleborough TD, Suksom D. Effects of aerobic exercise and vitamin C supplementation on rhinitis symptoms in allergic rhinitis patients. Asian Pac J Allergy Immunol. 2018;36(4):222‐231. doi:10.12932/AP-040417-0066
Please note that the information contained within this website does not and should not replace medical advice, and is not intended to treat or diagnose. We always recommend you consult with your doctor. Our Nutritional Therapy team is highly trained and we offer one to one Nutritional Therapy Consultations, which are designed to be complementary to any medical treatment from a functional medicine approach, as well as offering a preventative & optimal health focus.