Suffering with Hay Fever this year? Well you are not alone. Around 49% of people recently reported suffering with Hay Fever symptoms, with the UK having a particularly high prevalence. The met office have reported very high pollen counts lately so if you have noticed some Hay Fever like symptoms as a result, then keep reading to find out some natural ways to manage them.
What is Hay Fever?
Hay Fever, or 'Allergic Rhinitis', is a hypersensitive seasonal allergic reaction to pollen, characterised by a runny nose, sneezing, and itchy & puffy eyes - all nasal inflammatory symptoms. Some people experience different symptoms, if yours are severe then get to a pharmacist or doctor asap to help suppress that immune reaction. The last thing you want is to leave it until you are really suffering. But if you want to try a more natural approach for those with milder symptoms (or before your symptoms typically begin), read on.
The immune response
When Hay Fever sufferers come into contact with the allergen (pollen), an antibody-mediated response is triggered which in turn releases histamine, causing the unwanted inflammatory symptoms. Histamine causes inflammation which when a real threat enters the body is a vital response to get the appropriate immune cells to the scene asap to fight the invader. However, with allergens this usually is not the case and there is no real threat to the body, but our immune system has other ideas!
What to do?
The naturopathic approach would be to not only mask the symptoms, but to also take a close look at the underlying mechanisms and driving factors. Why is the immune system behaving in this way if there is no real threat? Let's take a closer look at the immune system, by zooming into the gastrointestinal system where most of our immune cells reside.
The GIT (gastrointestinal tract)
Just behind the gut wall live 60% of our immune cells in an area called gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), this is where most immune cells reside waiting to be called to the scene to fight invadors. If you think about it this is a great location for the cells as many pathogens/foreign materials enter via the mouth and will travel through the digestive system. With many immune cells housed here they can quickly get to the scene to take action on unwanted visitors.
Another thing to note before we move on is that there are 2 types of immune cells (there are more but lets just focus on these 2 for the purpose of explanation)- Th1 cells and Th2 cells, which each have different functions and which also counteract each other's activity. Th1/Th2 need to be balanced to avoid one type becoming over or under active in the body. Th1 consists of the cells which are responsible for fighting intracellular disease in the body such as the natural killer cells which float around the body looking for damaged cells (potentially cancerous or infected with a virus) and by literally puncturing them to make them implode, then other immune cells follow to gobble up the debris and dispose of the waste.
Th2 on the other hand is more to do with responding to allergens and foreign invaders which are outside of our own cells. They produce antibodies which attach to foreign invaders or to allergens and they create an immune response to destroy them. If this branch of the immune system is overactive we would call this 'hypersensitive' such as in the case of Hay Fever sufferers where the immune system over reacts to pollen particles.
There is a 3rd type of immune cell called T-regulatory cells which down-regulate the immune response when the threat has passed or when Th2 cells are getting a bit too rowdy. It is these cells we want to increase in the case of allergy sufferers, which will in turn reduce symptom severity too. Since these are mostly made and housed in the GALT, focussing on the health of the GIT can immensely improve immune hypersensitivity, increase T-regulatory cells, and help to balance the Th1/Th2 ratio, thus reducing reactions and symptoms. But how do we do that?
1. Increase fibre
Fibre is sooooo important! In the case of Hay Fever it will help to reduce inflammation in the GIT (& subsequently reduce systemic immune symptoms), by feeding the beneficial bacteria which directly influence immune cells in the GALT. The more fibre the better (but increase bit by bit each day). High fibre foods are all plant-based, think fruits, vegetables, beans & pulses, grains, nuts & seeds. If you struggle to digest beans & pulses try cooking them for longer or sprouting them to make them more easily digestible.
2. Take probiotics
Probiotics will help to populate the GIT with the beneficial strains of bacteria needed to keep inflammation down in the GIT and throughout the body. They help by regulating the immune system, promoting Th1 activity and reducing Th2 activity. Look for one which is at least 1 billion and contains Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains of bacteria, such as this one (not an ad) and for best results take for more than 8 weeks.
3. Reduce foods which harm the gut wall and increase inflammation
These are foods and other substances which are pro-inflammatory and contribute to the unbeneficial bacterial strains thriving and driving inflammation in the GIT, and include alcohol, smoking, refined sugary foods, animal protein, saturated fat, salty & processed foods. Cut down on these as much as possible to reinstate balance.
4. Check vitamin D levels
We get this vital nutrient from the sun and it helps to modulate the immune system and to reduce inflammation. If it is overactive it will help it to calm down, if it is under active it will help it to speed up. You can get your vitamin D checked via your GP or with private testing, including at home finger prick testing from private companies such as Thriva, Medichecks, or the NHS (not an ad - there are others too).
5. Eat more mushrooms
All mushrooms have an immune modulating effect, similar to vitamin D mentioned above, but they also help to increase the amount of secretory IgA (sIgA) we produce. SIgA resides in the mucous that lines the nasal cavities and gastrointestinal tract and acts as the first line of defense against invaders. It will help to trap and dispose of pollen and other allergens. The medical chaga mushroom also has immune-modulating effects and inhibits IgEs (allergic antibodies).
6. Reduce high histamine foods
Some foods contain higher levels of histamine than others. If you are having a strong histamine reaction it can help to reduce the overall load of histamine in your body by reducing these high histamine foods such as fermented and preserved foods, cured meats, canned fish, processed & smoked meats, wine & beer, spinach, tomatoes & strawberries. There is no need to reduce spinach, tomatoes and strawberries if you are not trying to reduce histamine load - they are very healthy aside from this.
7. Increase anti-histamine foods
Some anti-histamine foods such as red onion, berries, and apples contain Quercetin which helps to prevent the histamine-producing enzymes, reducing the histamine response. Berries and other purple skinned fruits contain proanthocyanidins which also reduce the number of histamine producing enzymes.
8. Drink Green tea or Nettle tea
Green tea contains phytonutrients called catechins & epicatechins which reduce allergic symptoms, act as antioxidants, and are anti-inflammatory.
And nettles, yup that's right- stinging nettles! You can buy a loose leaf or tea bag nettle tea in most good health food shops and drink it like you would any other herbal tea. It acts as another anti-inflammatory and has an anti-histamine effect in the body. Double up with 2 bags per cup for a stronger dose.
9. Include Omega-3 in your diet
This essential fatty acid can be found in hempseed, flaxseed, walnuts, oily fish, and trace amounts in vegetables. It is a well studied anti-inflammatory and has been shown to reduce allergic sensitisation and Allergic Rhinitis. Caution should be taken if you are currently taking blood thinners or have impaired blood coagulation as Omega-3 also acts as a blood thinner- speak to your GP first if you are concerned.
10. Increase antioxidants
These superheroes are found in the highest amounts in berries, fruits, nuts, vegetables and dark chocolate and are anti-inflammatory. These same foods also tend to be high in vitamin C which is another natural anti-histamine.
Try out some of these tips above and let me know how you get on in the comments section below. For a more tailored insight into your personal health and underlying drivers, book in to see me in my Lymington clinic or online. Good luck! Annie x
p.s. I would love to hear your feedback below as this is my first blog post :)
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