Learn which foods and nutrients reduce histamine and improve immune function
Hay fever (also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis) is a common condition that occurs in spring and early summer due to the pollen from trees and certain grasses. Ragweed in late summer, early autumn can also trigger hay fever. Symptoms vary in severity from person to person, including itchy eyes, nose and throat, watery eyes, sneezing, congestion, sinus pressure and discharge from the nose. Some people also experience, headaches, coughing, wheezing, swollen eyes and irritability. Learn how to relieve hay fever naturally and which foods and nutrients reduce histamine and improve immune function. Use diet, naturopathic remedies and herbal medicine to banish your hay fever symptoms.
What causes hay fever?
Hay fever is caused by an immune system reaction that is triggered when a person comes into contact with airborne particles such as pollen or dust mites as the immune system deems these substances harmful to the body. The immune system then produces antibodies which signal the release of histamine, a natural chemical produced by the body to rid itself of harmful substances. Histamine causes sneezing, watery eyes and itching; the same symptoms experienced when someone has hay fever.
Only some people suffer with hay fever (and other allergies) due to an imbalance in the immune system. Allergies are often triggered (or the result of) drugs such as antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs. They cause inflammation in the gut and diminish beneficial gut bacteria; the gut plays a key role in immune health and the way the body responds to allergens.
The immune system and allergies
The immune system is made up of lots of different types of immune cells which all play a role in keeping the body healthy. T-helper 1 (Th1) cells help to fight off viruses, bacteria and other pathogens that enter cells, as well as eliminating cancer cells. T-helper 2 (Th2) cells protect the body from foreign bodies that are outside of cells.
When the immune is healthy and regulated, Th1 and Th2 cells and pathways are equally balanced. However, when there is an imbalance, a person can become either Th1 or Th2 dominant. Those who suffer with allergies (asthma, sinusitis, eczema) and hay fever are considered to be Th2 dominant.
Inflammation causes Th2 to increase (and Th1 to decrease) which leads to over-reactive immune responses. Immune system health is largely regulated by the gut so healthy gut function is key in order to control allergies and regulate the Th2 response.
What makes hay fever worse?
As hay fever causes inflammation in the lining of the nose, eyes, throat, sinuses and lungs,it can make you more sensitive to other airborne irritants such as smoke, air pollution, aerosols, fragrances and strong odours. Wind and changes in the temperature or levels of humidity can also make hay fever symptoms worse. Learn more about the dangers of fragrances.
Ways to relieve hay fever
Improve gut function and reduce inflammation to the gut lining by:
- Avoiding foods that damage the gastrointestinal system, including sugar, refined carbohydrates (bread, pasta, pastries, pies), gluten-containing foods, pasteurised dairy, fried foods and processed foods.
- Supplement with probiotics, especially the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains of bacteria, as they help to repopulate your gut bacteria and reduce an overactive immune response which is linked to allergies and hay fever.
- Eat more fermented foods like sauerkraut or kimchi as they are rich in beneficial gut bacteria. Learn more about fermented foods.
- Drink freshly squeezed lemon in warm water upon rising as it helps to increase stomach acid production which is important as low stomach acid has been linked to allergies and hay fever.
Optimise your diet and nutrient intake by:
- Eating plenty of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables that are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C. Vitamin C acts as a natural antihistamine and also helps reduce inflammation in the body.Broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, citrus fruits, kiwifruit, tomatoes and strawberries contain lots of vitamin C.
- Increase your intake of anti-inflammatory foods including garlic, onions, ginger, leafy greens, omega-3 (avocado, flaxseeds, chia seeds, flaxseed oil, sardines, mackerel), walnuts, almonds, lentils and chickpeas.
- Bromelain is an enzyme (naturally found in pineapple) known to reduce hay fever symptoms as it decreases inflammation and swelling in the sinuses. Bromelain also comes in a supplement form as a capsule or tablet.
Boost your immune function by:
- Checking your Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to poor immune function and allergies as it helps to regulate T-helper cells and rid the body of allergy symptoms.
- Supplement with quercetin which is a key antioxidant with anti-allergic and antihistamine properties thathelps to balance the immune response and prevent it from overreacting to allergens such as pollen. Food sources of quercetin include apples, berries, broccoli, grapes, peppers and red onions. Green tea and black tea also contain quercetin.
- Medicinal mushrooms contain a substance called beta-glucans which stimulate the immune system to work more efficiency and promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Reishi mushroom in particular helps to reduce the release of histamine and calm down an overactive immune system. Medicinal mushrooms come as a fresh whole food, as a powder (which can be added to food or drinks) or in a capsule.
- Bee pollen is an excellent immune booster as it contains anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antimicrobial and antifungal properties. It’s also rich in Vitamins A, C and E, and powerful antioxidants including resveratrol and lycopene. Bee pollen is sold as natural granules which can be added to foods or smoothies, or eaten on its own.
- Homeopathic remedies are highly effective for treating hay fever and reducing symptoms. They are safe to use in children and during pregnancy and lactation. Remedies specific for hay fever include Allium cepa, Arsenicum album, Arundo, Euphrasia and Natrum muriaticum. Learn more about using homeopathy for hay fever.
- Use a humidifier as they help to put moisture in the air which when inhaled provides moisture to the airways, relieving itchy eyes, congestion and coughs.
- Essential oils can help reduce allergy symptoms such as congestion, sneezing, runny noses and itchy eyes. Lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint, lemon and tea tree oil are all great oils to use in a vaporiser, steam bath or spray.
- Consult with a Nutritional Therapist or Naturopath who can work with you to manage your hay fever naturally. They can advise you on the most appropriate treatment plan and prescribe the correct dose of supplements for you.
Herbal remedies for hay fever
Herbal medicine is very effective at preventing and relieving hay fever symptoms. Here are some ways to use herbs:
- A liquid herbal or tincture containing herbs like Golden seal, Nettle leaf, Marshmallow, Eyebright, Elderflower, Ginger and Plantain.
- A herbal nasal spray with Aloe vera helps to soothe mucous membranes in the nose and reduce inflammation.
- A herbal eyewash (which a herbalist can make up for you) using herbs like Golden seal, Eyebright and Fennel.
Consult with a qualified herbalist or naturopath who can prescribe the correct form of herbs and dosage for you once assessing your case history.
Banish hay fever symptoms naturally
Hay fever is a distressing condition which affects many people from spring right through to early autumn, causing red, itchy eyes, sneezing and congestion. It is largely caused by an overactive immune system which triggers the release of histamine when it comes into contact with pollen. In order to manage hay fever naturally and reduce symptoms, improving gut function and boosting your immune system are key. You need to increase your intake of antioxidants and nutrients like bromelain and quercetin by eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and avoiding sugar, gluten and dairy which only negatively impact immune function. Probiotics, bee pollen, medicinal mushrooms and herbal medicine also boost immune function and reduce histamine production.