Most of us have welcomed the last few days of better weather after the Lockdown winter that we’ve had. But while we start to think about restrictions easing along with the temperatures, millions of us are already starting to dread the onslaught of Hay fever that occurs from early spring onwards.
According to Allergy UK, as many as 30% of adults and 40% of children suffer from allergic rhinitis (the medical term for the condition), an allergic reaction to pollen. You might start noticing symptoms in March when the tree pollen season starts. Then there’s the grass pollen season, followed by the weed pollen season, which can go on into September.
If this is you, I sympathise: itchy, red or watery eyes; runny or blocked nose; sneezing and coughing; itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears; loss of smell; earache; headache; and feeling exhausted.
So why am I writing about this so early in the year? Because if you want to have a go at addressing the problem naturally, and avoiding antihistamines, you need to start NOW. Hay fever in adults is often caused by a weakened immune system, and strange as it may sound, the first thing you need to do is sort out your digestive system.
What’s the gut got to do with it?
Chronic constipation can double your chances of getting hay fever. Constipation causes a build up of toxins in the gut, which can then be absorbed into the bloodstream, taking up the immune system’s precious time. It might surprise you to know that by working on your digestive system, supporting your immune system and changing what you eat, you can have a big impact on the severity of your symptoms. Results won’t happen overnight, but you should see your symptoms improve as your immune system strengthens.
Food, food, food
There are some foods will make the symptoms of hayfever worse, so try to cut these out or reduce them as much as you can before and during hayfever season. Other foods are naturally anti-inflammatory, so you’ll want to ensure you’re getting plenty of these in your diet.
Start by including some raw foods with plenty of antioxidants. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant and found in colourful fruits and veg – carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, watercress, spinach and spring greens are all good sources, as well as apricots and mangoes. Choose good quality protein such as organic chicken, and eat organic as much as possible to reduce your exposure to foods that may have been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.
Hayfever is an inflammatory condition and may be further helped by including other types of food that calm the inflammatory response. Top of the list are foods containing anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids, which I often recommend to clients struggling with any inflammatory condition. These include all types of oily fish (like salmon, trout, sardines, halibut and cod) as well as flaxseed and walnuts.
Coconut oil is another anti-inflammatory oil and can be used in cooking and baking or added to smoothies.
As well as adding flavour to your food, herbs like parsley, sage, thyme, oregano and basil have anti-inflammatory properties as do many spices, including turmeric, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, fennel and nutmeg.
It’s not you, it’s me…
You also need to eliminate some foods. Mucus forming dairy foods should be first off your list, closely followed by wheat products and sugar. Foods containing wheat – like bread and pasta, cakes and pastries – can be particularly problematic for people with grass pollen allergies.
Dairy products like milk and cheese stimulate the body to produce more mucus, making blocked noses or ears much worse. Matured cheeses also tend to contain high levels of histamine. And sugar, which causes your body to produce more histamine, can further exacerbate your symptoms.
Foods containing high levels of histamine can intensify symptoms. These include chocolate (sorry about that), tomatoes, aubergines and many fermented foods like vinegar, sauerkraut, yoghurt, miso, soy sauce, and canned fish.
There are also foods that, while they are not high in histamine themselves, are ‘histamine liberators’ and can trigger your cells to release histamine. These include strawberries, pineapple, bananas, citrus fruits and egg whites.
Stress can also affect the immune system, by weakening the adrenal glands on which the immune system depends. Pantothenic Acid (vitamin B5) is sometimes known as the ‘anti-stress’ vitamin, and can nourish the adrenal glands. Food sources include poultry, fish, liver, soya beans and yeast extract. As a food supplement it is best taken as part of a quality B-complex.
Once the hay fever season arrives, the puffy eyes and nasal irritation can be inhibited by quercetin, a natural flavonoid antihistamine, found in onions, black tea, broccoli and red cherries. Vitamin C enhances its effectiveness; and can also help the body to detoxify histamines and ease bronchial constriction.
Hay fever is particularly responsive to Homoeopathic treatment. Sabadilla, for instance, is great for bouts of sneezing. For a runny nose and crying eyes try Allium Cepa, or Euphrasia (eyebright) if your eyes are itchy and swollen.
“Sugar.., aww honey, honey..”
And finally, buy some raw, local honey! Seek out a local pot with a piece of honeycomb. It may be an old wives’ tale but it seems to work for many people. Take two large teaspoons twice a day, starting at least 4 weeks before the season hits and continue right the way through. The idea is that over time it may help your body become more familiar with the pollen entering your system and reduce the inflammatory response it makes. One product we especially love is Hayfeguard, which works brilliantly in the UK. You can buy yours here
It may not completely stop a hay fever attack but in most cases will substantially protect against the full blown symptoms.
Foods to add in or increase when you have hayfever
Quercetin containing foods
Onions, garlic, goji berries, asparagus, all berry fruits, apples, kale, okra, peppers, plums and red grapes.
Beta carotene containing foods
Sweet potato, carrots, butternut squash, red and yellow peppers, apricots, peas, broccoli, dark leafy greens like kale, and romaine lettuce.
Vitamin C containing foods
Blackcurrants, blueberries, peppers, kale, collard leaves, broccoli, kiwis, mango, courgettes, and cauliflower.
What to drink
Drink plenty of water. Keeping well hydrated is helpful for all aspects of health. In the case of hayfever, it thins the mucous membranes and reduces that ‘blocked up’ feeling.
Green tea is packed full of antioxidants, which are helpful for the immune system generally. It has also been proven to block one of the receptors involved in immune responses.
Ginger tea has been shown to help reduce allergic reactions by lowering your body’s IgE levels (the antibody involved in the specific immune reaction associated with hayfever).
Peppermint tea is worth trying because peppermint contains menthol, a natural decongestant that may help improve sinus symptoms.
Add nettle tea to your shopping list for its ability to relieve inflammation of the upper respiratory tract and ease nasal congestion, sneezing and itching.
How Can We Help you?
If you suffer from hay fever, we can help you work through all the possible factors together, using testing, food plans, supplements and homeopathic remedies. While the main problem for hayfever sufferers is the pollen itself, you may also find that hidden food intolerances are making matters worse. We offer a range of testing options at my clinic if this is something you would like to explore.