Watery eyes, itchy throat, runny nose? For some people, the start of summer is a double-edged sword. Yes, it’s warmer and gardens are blooming, but… the blooming can trigger the annoying symptoms of hay fever.
HOW DOES IT HAPPEN?
Hay fever is a relatively common ailment afflicting many people each spring / summer.
Hay fever is essentially an allergic reaction and is most commonly triggered by grass or tree pollen, but other types of pollen can also be problematic.
The symptoms are a reaction of the immune system to the pollen, resulting in the inflammation of the nasal passages and eyes.
When a person with sensitivity to pollen inhales the allergen, the immune system reacts, producing the antibody IgE. IgE binds to white blood cells called mast cells and basophils, and these cells release histamine resulting in the physical symptoms of the reaction. These include: runny nose; sneezing; itchy watery eyes; fatigue; coughing and sinus congestion.
CAN FOOD HELP WITH HAYFEVER?
Yes, what we eat can have a positive impact on how the body reacts to allergens.
From a nutritional therapy perspective, intervention focuses on two key aspects:
- Addressing a sensitive immune system. In some respects, this is the root cause of hay fever. Not everyone produces antibodies to pollen, so suffering from hay fever, suggests that your immune system may be ‘overreacting’.
- Promoting a diet that is anti-inflammatory. Most symptoms of hay fever are inflammatory in nature. By favouring foods that have anti-inflammatory actions, your body is less predisposed to inflammation, which could calm down the system’s response to any allergens.
TOP FOOD TIPS FOR MANAGING HAY FEVER
Follow these tips to help strengthen your immune system and reduce your hay fever symptoms:
- Eat foods rich in quercetin.
Quercetin is the plant sterol with the most research connected to hay fever. Studies suggest that the body uses quercetin to prevent the release of histamine (i.e. it is a natural anti-histamine). Quercetin has also been shown to reduce the production of inflammatory compounds (prostaglandins and leukotrienes).
Bromelain is another phytonutrient that may be beneficial. You’ll find it in pineapples. It helps the body absorb quercetin and also has anti-inflammatory properties. Because it is helpful in digesting protein, bromelain may help break down mucus, a symptom of hay fever.
Green tea, apples, onions and kale are great sources of quercetin.
- Feed your gut with fermented foods.
Most of your immune system is located in the gut, so ensuring that it is in balance is essential. It is important that you have the right balance of gut bacteria for a healthy immune system. A 2014 study indicated that hay fever sufferers given certain strains of beneficial bacteria saw significant improvement in quality of life, in particular a reduction in runny eyes1.
Including fermented foods into your diet is the easiest way to start getting the balance of bacteria right. Sauerkraut, kimchi, whole plain yoghurt*, kefir and kombucha are excellent sources and are becoming more commonly available. Supplements of beneficial bacteria may also be helpful.
- Enhance your vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D helps to keep the immune system balanced and also has anti-inflammatory properties.
It is quite difficult to get enough vitamin D through the diet, but oily fish, egg yolks and dried mushrooms are the best food sources. Ideally, get responsible exposure to sunlight when you can or you might want to consider a good supplement.
- Eat plenty of omega-3 rich foods.
The EPA and DHA found in omega 3 oils help the natural production of anti-inflammatory mediators in the body.
Oily fish like wild salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring are good sources. Aim for 2-3 portions per week. Flaxseeds/linseeds and chia seeds are also good sources, but you will need to eat them in larger amounts.
- Incorporate turmeric and ginger into your diet.
Curcumin, the active compound in the spice turmeric, is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Its plant cousin, ginger, also provides anti-inflammatory actions. As such, they may be helpful in reducing some hay fever symptoms.
Curries are a perfect way to incorporate turmeric and ginger into your diet. You could also try ginger tea or ‘golden’ tea (turmeric, coconut milk, black pepper and honey). TIP: turmeric is MUCH better absorbed if it is taken with a source of fat and black pepper.
ANTI-HAY FEVER MEAL IDEAS
- Marinate fillets of salmon or mackerel in a mix of soy sauce, local honey, turmeric, ginger and garlic. Cook as you prefer and serve with a large helping of kale.
- Brew a cup of green tea, add a squeeze of lemon and grate in a little fresh ginger. Make in bulk and refrigerate for a cooling, anti-inflammatory summer drink.
- Grate fresh green apple onto your breakfast porridge. Add milled flax and chia seeds for extra omega 3.
- Scramble eggs (add a pinch of turmeric), and serve with sautéed kale and onion and a side helping of smoked salmon.
- Salmon and Sweet Potato fishcakes. Made with ginger, add 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric for an extra boost.
*Some people may find that dairy increases mucus production.
1D J Costa, P Marteau, M Amouyal, L K Poulsen, E Hamelmann, M Cazaubiel, B Housez, S Leuillet, M Stavnsbjerg, P Molimard, S Courau and J Bousquet, “Efficacy and safety of the probiotic Lactobacillus paracasei LP-33 in allergic rhinitis: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial (GA2LEN Study)”, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2014) 68, 602–607