Spring is slowly showing its face, but it is never too early to think about hay fever, especially for those – about one in four of the adult population, who are quietly praying for rain as pollen counts rise in the warm spring weather. Start early, and you can reduce or even prevent symptoms “springing up”. There are plenty of over the counter drugs available to reduce the symptoms of hay fever, but their side effects can be numerous also. Our body use these signs to tell us there is something wrong. Simply suppressing them can lead to further complications down the line.
The Root of the Problem
But why is it that some people are affected while others aren’t? Well, genetics might play a part – but believe it or not, it is mainly down to what is in your gut. Over 70% of our immune cells reside in our digestive system and the gut microbes are responsible for the fine balance between our cellular and humoral immunity. Cellular immunity takes care of faulty cells and invaders inside the cells, while the humoral immunity fights off larger invaders and all the enemy before they get inside the cell, namely in our mucus membranes, blood and lymph. In hay fever – as in any allergies, the humoral immunity is overactive, resulting in large amount of histamine release against a harmless compound such as grass pollen.
This hypersensitivity can be related back to the first months of life when our immune system is established. 1,2 In pregnancy, the cellular immunity is suppressed naturally – so the mother’s body wouldn’t reject the growing foetus. Neonates therefore are biased toward humoral immunity dominance and require cellular immunity through the microbes of the birth canal, breastmilk and their environment. Research shows that if the mother lacks good amounts of beneficial bacteria, or the infant is caesarean born, bottle fed and grows up in an over-hygienic environment, the cellular side of the immunity has little chance to mature, leading to all sorts of allergies and immune disorders in childhood, or later on in life.3
Antibiotics and other medications further interfere with the natural flora; it has been shown that a single week of broad spectrum antibiotic can reduce our diversity and set the balance out for over a year!4 Stress, bad dietary choices and alcohol are all play a part in interfering with the bowel flora and our immunity.5 Lack of Vitamin D3 so common in Ireland has been also linked to immune problems6 – so make sure you get your GP to test your levels and supplement with a good quality cod liver oil.
The best way to tackle hay fever therefore is to balance the two sides of the immune system; supply the body with beneficial bacteria and create an environment for them in which they can colonise and work for our benefit. Several clinical trials have been conducted in the last decade using probiotics as treatment with mostly positive outcomes.7-10 Most of these studies supplemented different types of single strains for between 4 weeks to 6 months during hay fever season and found reduction in clinical signs as well as the need for medications. Only one study looked at supplementing all year round, which reduced the overall episodes.15 Unfortunately, only a few studies looked at the effect of a diverse multi-strain probiotic on hay fever as of yet,13,14 which have been found more beneficial in fighting pathogens16 and other conditions, such as IBS,17 whilst researchers agree that the altered diversity of the microflora seem to be a crucial factor in allergies.18
All allergy symptoms are the result of inflammation, the natural response of the immune system, therefore eliminating pro-inflammatory foods like sugars, alcohol, trans fats is a good start. Replace these with anti-inflammatory essential fats and antioxidants from oily fish, avocado, soaked nuts and seeds, strong coloured vegetables and fruits, herbs and spices. Bromelain from pineapple (the tough part in the middle is especially rich) is a natural enzyme to reduce inflammatory messengers.19
Support the mucous membrane lining of the respiratory tract by introducing gentle herbal teas with anti-histamine properties such as nettle20 or soothing and immunomodulatory licorice and peppermint.21, 22 Carotene-rich foods like dark green and orange colored vegetables can help to strengthen the mucus membranes covering the respiratory system.23
Quercetin; found in red onion, red apple, red cabbage and vitamin C from lemon, orange, tomatoes, peppers, and parsley are both natural anti-histamines to help ease the symptoms without side effects.24,25 These antioxidants can also be taken in supplement form – alongside the diet, 2-4 times a day between meals to bring great relief. The combination of methionine – an amino acid from fish, meat and Brazil nuts along with the vitamins B6, Folate and B12 are needed for the methylation pathway – a process that clears up excess histamine.26
Certain eye drops form a barrier in front of the eye, preventing pollen to get access, while nasal rinses with saline solutions can remove aggravating trapped allergens. Practice these several times a day during hay fever season.
Remember – it is better to work on prevention than struggle with the symptoms! So, optimise your Vitamin D levels and the diversity of your gut flora throughout the year and enjoy next springtime to the full! Contact me to find Your ‘root’ to better health!
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