During spring a healthy dose of sunshine often includes hay fever. But what if we could reduce our allergies with a simple change in diet? Bridie Kersten* tells us more.
Hay fever is a common affliction among Australians, giving us itchy eyes and runny noses. It is usually associated with spring when the air fills with pollens from trees and bush blossoms and, while many of us look forward to a change in season, for hay fever sufferers it is a hardship we dread. And with good reason—new research indicates that sufferers are at risk of experiencing depressive symptoms, and up to one in five are prone to clinical depression, so this is no small matter.
Hay fever is caused by the body’s defence system against pollens and other allergens such as dust mites. Therefore, it creates antibodies in response to the allergen, whatever it
may be. These antibodies create histamine and this leads to the symptoms we all dread—redness, itchiness and excess mucous production.
Hay fever is similar to eczema, asthma and hives in the way that it is an overreaction of the immune system, and you may have noticed that, often, individuals who experience hay fever have one of these other conditions.
Our immune system is closely connected to our digestive system, particularly what we call the microbiome, the living ecosystem of bacteria that support our health. Due to this, experts have now identified probiotics for the treatment of immune conditions such as hay fever, and we know a gut with the right bacteria in it, supplemented by probiotics if need be, is able to help regulate the immune system. But our gut needs more than just probiotics to fend off inflammation and stay healthy—it also needs fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals. The great news is that we can benefit from all of these with a varied, balanced diet, full of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Commonly, hay fever is treated with antihistamines which counteract the immune response. However, there are also specific foods that can help to temporarily reduce the effects of hay fever when it strikes. Foods high in a nutrient called quercetin such as apples and onions act as a natural antihistamine which counteracts the overreaction of the immune system. Ginger also acts as an antihistamine and vitamin C supports healthy immune function. It is also important to stay hydrated and avoid inflammatory foods such as sugar and dairy products.
There is also fascinating research emerging which may suggest that eating small amounts of honey made in your local area can help you build up a resistance to the pollens as your body becomes accustomed to the ‘irritant’. This research is still in its early days, but it will be important for natural remedies to become more readily available, as relying on pharmaceuticals in the long term for hay fever is not always sustainable.
This spring, supplement your normal dose of antihistamines with a healthy diet rich in fresh fruit and veg. Stay hydrated, and you won’t just survive the season, you’ll thrive in it.
*Bridie Kersten is a registered nutritionist with an interest in holistic and alternative health who blogs at facebook.com/thenutritionistnanny