It’s almost invisible, causes misery to thousands of people and bees love it. What is it? Pollen. The culprit that causes one in five people to suffer hay fever symptoms every year, with more and more people succumbing to its effects. It’s estimated that by 2030 around 45% of the UK population will suffer with hay fever, so what can be done - NATURALLY - to help relieve and guard against those irritating symptoms and get us back outside enjoying the sunshine, rather than hoping for rain?
What is Hay fever?
In order to understand how certain foods and specific nutrition can help in the fight against hay fever symptoms, it’s important to first understand what hay fever actually is and how it affects our body. Hay fever, otherwise known as allergic rhinitis, is an inflammation of the nose, nasal passages, sinuses, throat and eyes which results in the characteristic symptoms of sneezing, runny nose and itchy eyes. It occurs when pollen in the air enters our body through our nose and mouth when breathing. In people who have hay fever, the body recognises this pollen or allergen as a foreign invader and releases a chemical called histamine which is part of the body’s natural immune defence and triggers an inflammatory response. This results in the symptoms we associate with hay fever. As stopping breathing is not really an option, I suggest adding the foods below to your shopping basket!
Foods and Histamine
This heightened histamine level in our body caused by pollen, is why many people take antihistamines during hay fever season. We can however help reduce our histamine levels naturally too by reducing foods which are high in histamines and eating more foods which are naturally high in antihistamines.
Foods High in Histamines
Foods which are considered high in histamines are best avoided or reduced, before and during hay fever season so as not to further increase histamine levels in the body. These foods include fermented foods such as cheese, wine, vinegar and soy sauce. Over ripe fruit and vegetables also contain high levels of histamine as histamine levels increase as these foods ripen. Dried fruit, shellfish, processed meats and alcohol are also high in histamine and spinach, tomatoes and bananas can actually stimulate the release of histamine in the body, so again are best avoided or reduced.
Foods High in Antihistamines
These foods should be eaten daily to help reduce histamine levels in the body. Vitamin C is our greatest friend here, as any foods high in this are a great antihistamine. Contrary to popular belief, oranges are not our highest source of Vitamin C, but are still a good source along with other citrus fruits. The highest food source of Vitamin C comes from fresh chillies (mild or hot) and peppers (especially yellow) which can easily be added to a variety of recipes. Kale, broccoli, kiwis and berries should also be on the shopping list!!
Vitamin C is our greatest friend here, as any foods high in this are a great antihistamine
Reducing the inflammation in your body is key when it comes to hay fever. Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect and are found in oily fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and fresh tuna, as well as nuts and seeds (walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds containing the highest amounts). Along with honey’s anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant properties it is also a good anti-inflammatory! Quality over quantity is key here though, so choose carefully. Fresh ginger is a potent anti-inflammatory, so why not add it more to your cooking or make a fresh ginger tea with a dash of honey which will also aid your digestion. The active compounds in green tea have also been shown to offer a good anti-inflammatory effect, so get the kettle on and get drinking!
Mucus Inducing Foods
As hay fever can already aggravate mucus membranes found in the nose and throat and therefore cause increased mucus production, it is best to avoid foods which can also have this effect. Although research is minimal in this area, some people have noted that some foods can seemingly increase mucus production, but usually only if they have a food intolerance to it. Caffeine found in tea, coffee and other caffeinated drinks was thought to increase mucus production, however research shows it is more likely that caffeine causes dehydration which then results in thicker mucus being produced. Therefore keeping hydrated with lots of water is vital to ensure mucus secretions remain thin.
Despite the fact dairy products have been associated with increased mucus production, research has not shown this to be the case. Instead, what studies have shown with dairy is that it can, in some cases, increase the thickness of mucus but not the amount produced, unless there is a specific intolerance to it. Unlike cows’ milk, goats’ milk is non-mucus forming so if your hay fever is troubling you, try cutting out cows’ milk and substituting it with goats’ milk to see if it eases your symptoms. Another tip for hay fever sufferers whose throat is affected, consuming ice cream can be helpful in soothing the area and reducing the irritation!
There are many published studies that indicate that probiotics are beneficial in treating allergic rhinitis. Probiotics are ‘friendly’ bacteria and yeasts which are required for good health, especially of the digestive system. There are many strains of probiotics which all have different effects, but the most researched and proven one is called Lactobacillus acidophilus. This has been shown to improve the quality of life of hay fever sufferers by reducing allergy symptoms and enhancing immunity. This probiotic can be found naturally in most yogurts containing live bacteria (including goat’s yogurts), and you can get also get probiotics in supplement form too.
It’s never too late to implement the dietary changes discussed above, but it’s better to make these a lifestyle choice rather than to just change your diet over hay fever season. This will ensure you give your body the best chance at trying to build up a better resistance to pollen and minimise your symptoms when pollen counts are high during the different seasons. Good luck with making the changes and hopefully your tissue usage will soon reduce!