Does hay fever season make you want to wrap your head in a protective layer?
What exactly is hay fever?
Seasonal hay fever is a type of allergic rhinitis, with 'rhin' from the Greek for nose and anything ending in '-itis' indicating inflammation.
So already we can see that this is an inflammatory response to an allergen. The main allergens at this time of year are various types of pollens, with pollen from grass, trees and weeds making the season last from March until October, causing misery for millions. The NHS calculate that at least 1 in 5 of us will suffer from seasonal hay fever at some point in our lives and now with an increase in air pollution as well these numbers are on the rise, with the UK having the highest percentage of allergy sufferers in Europe.
If you look for advice online you will likely be met with conventional medical advice to take anti-histamines, decongestants both topical and oral and sometimes corticosteroids. These have their place in the short term, by treating the symptoms and not the underlying cause, but like most pharmaceutical agents are not without their side effects including sedation, impaired learning and memory and cardiac arrhythmias. In fact oral decongestants are contra-indicated in people with heart disease, over active thyroid and diabetes.
Histamine plays an important role in the mediation of allergic rhinitis, causing symptoms such as sneezing, itching, runny nose, scratchy throat and watering eyes. It is a neurotransmitter, essentially a chemical messenger, that communicates messages from your body to your brain.
Its role in the body is to cause an immediate inflammatory response. This causes blood vessels to dilate allowing room for white blood cells to find the pathogen/allergen and mount an attack against it. Therefore it is the histamine build-up that causes the symptoms and sometimes it can be hard to break down.
Fortunately nature has provided us with natural anti-histamines with the main one being Vitamin C.
Vitamin C has been found to exert a number of effects on histamine namely by preventing the secretion of histamine by the white blood cells and also by increasing its detoxification from the body. It can also support the immune system and may have a protective effect on allergic rhinitis by dampening down the reactions and research suggests supplementing 2g daily is effective.
Foods high in Vitamin C:
Green leafy Veg
Urtica Dioica or the common Stinging Nettle, a medicinal and culinary plant, has been used around the world to treat asthma, allergies, coughs, rheumatism, and the symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). It has been given as a diuretic and an antispasmodic and is traditionally known to treat the joint pain from chronic osteoarthritis. It can also reduce production of inflammatory cytokines in rheumatoid arthritis. Its active compounds, which when freeze-dried, work in the same way as conventional anti-histamines and some research suggests that it can inhibit the inflammation that can trigger seasonal allergies. Maybe Nature has provided us with a treatment in Spring......so get the rubber gloves on and forage for nettles! They are high in vitamins, minerals, all the amino acids, beta-carotene, lutein and other carotenoids. My Mum gathers them each spring to make nettle soup. NB pregnant women need to avoid taking nettle.
Bromelain is a proteolytic enzyme found in the stem of the pineapple plant and is an effective mucolytic agent, that is breaking down mucus, thereby helping to ease the nasal congestion that can be so troublesome. Bromelain also has anti-inflammatory mechanisms of action and is well documented in the literature for healing, especially for gastric ulcers. I made a pineapple smoothie this morning, but remember to use the stem!
Adaptogens are very much having their moment...and so they should. Plants, herbs and mushrooms have been used for thousands of years by traditional healers and medics all over the world from India to Japan. There is a clue in the name...they adapt, they have different pharmacological actions in the body depending on which system needs them and are best know for stress reduction, fatigue, immune support and hormone balancing.
However, one of the most studied plants on earth is a mushroom, Reishi, which has been used in Chinese and Japanese medicine for centuries as a tonic for longevity. It is a great all-rounder actually; it can strengthen the liver, aid in detoxification, support the immune system, balance hormones and promote good sleep. Furthermore, a compound in Reishi, Ganoderic Acid has been found to inhibit the release of histamine so thereby promoting an anti-inflammatory response, meaning it may help alleviate those pesky symptoms.
There are many more helpful foods and nutrients but as I was researching this article I faced a conundrum!
Many of the foods and nutrients that are super healthy and anti-inflammatory and that alleviate the symptoms are naturally high in histamine or are histamine releasers! Such as citrus fruits, walnuts and cashews, oily fish, avocados, pineapple, strawberries, papaya.
So, I kept on searching for an answer until I came across an interesting read. Like most things in life, including histamine, too much of a good thing can have consequences. We all need histamine as I explained earlier it is a neurotransmitter plus it also has a role to play as a component of stomach acid.
A person with histamine intolerance will typically experience a constant fluctuation in the signs and symptoms of histamine excess in response to changing conditions. For example, when a person is experiencing allergy to air-borne allergens such as seasonal pollens, the histamine released in the allergic response alone might put them into the symptom range. In such a case, avoiding histamine-associated foods will no longer relieve their symptoms because their total level of histamine will remain above their limit of tolerance. This explains the observation that during their “pollen allergy season” many people find themselves reacting to foods (usually histamine-rich foods) that they could normally eat with impunity." Dr Janice Joneja, Ph.D., RD, world expert on histamine intolerance.
The build up of histamine is not an instant thing in the body, it has a cumulative effect and some people will be more susceptible to this than others.
So if your diet is high in high histamine foods and drinks as below:
Fermented alcohol- beer, wine and champagne
Fermented foods- sauerkraut, yoghurt, vinegar, kombucha
Cured foods-meat, bacon, salamis
Dried Fruits-raisins, figs, dates,
Walnuts, cashews, peanuts
Avocado, aubergine, spinach, tomato
Smoked fish and anchovies, sardines, mackerel
.......and maybe your liver has a high toxic load due to medications, polluted environment, illness, nutrient poor diet, hormonal imbalances.
......and maybe you have an imbalance in the gut microbiome, then you may get hit harder with the seasonal allergies.
It is becoming clearer now, that the symptoms of seasonal allergies are not simply as a result of the pollens but it is very much an individual response to the environment.
My takeaway from all the research then is to :
Eat an anti-inflammatory diet where possible and remove or reduce pro-inflammatory foods and drinks such as red meats, cheeses, cows milk, chocolate, cured foods, champagne ( very high in histamine).
Support the liver by reducing toxic load, increasing intake of water to at least 2L a day to support toxin removal from the body.
Restore immune balance: Allergies reflect a dysregulated immune system. The medicinal mushroom Reishi , as discussed earlier is effective at restoring the balance of immune cells (T helper 1/T helper 2) to a less allergic state.
Support good digestion by optimising the gut microbiome. Probiotics support a healthy gut microbiome, having profound effects on tipping immune balance from reactivity to a state of calm. Lactobacillus Rhamnosus LGG and Lactobacillus Paracasei Lp-33 help regulate the immune system and promote an anti-inflammatory environment.
And remember that we are all individual and what will work for one may not work for another.
In conclusion, if we follow the healthy lifestyle tips as described above we can hope to survive if not reduce the impact of whatever symptoms the pollens throw our way.....if not, book a consultation with your friendly nutritional therapist who will advise and design a personalised protocol for you.
Thank you for reading,
In good health,
Note: If you take any prescribed medications please consult a health professional such as myself before supplementing specific nutrients as there may be contra-indications.
Powell, M., 2006. The use of Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi) in the management of histamine-mediated allergic responses. Townsend Letter: The Examiner of Alternative Medicine, (274), pp.78-82.