Can Nutrition Help With Hay Fever?

Can nutrition help with hay fever?

What is hay fever?

Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen, typically occurring when it comes into contact with your mouth, nose, eyes and throat, causing these to become swollen, irritated and inflamed. In the UK, hay fever is usually worse between late March and September, especially when it’s warm, humid and windy.

When an allergic reaction happens, after the body mistakenly identifies a harmless substance as dangerous, IgE antibodies are released which bind to mast cells and trigger the release of chemicals such as histamine, which are part of the body’s inflammatory response. 

How does nutrition play into this?

During the summer months, histamine levels in the body will be higher in hay fever sufferers. Some foods and vitamins have become known as ‘natural antihistamines’ and some actually contain high levels of histamines themselves and chemicals that can block the production of an enzyme called diamine oxidase (DAO), which breaks histamines down. Understanding how to manage your nutrition can therefore help alleviate hay fever symptoms in sufferers.

Histamines in the diet

While evidence is still emerging, avoiding foods high in histamines or DAO-blockers may be helpful for relieving hay fever symptoms – and eating these foods may exacerbate symptoms in some people. Managing the consumption of these foods is likely to be helpful in those who suffer with a histamine intolerance (an impaired ability to metabolise dietary histamine).

Foods high in histamine:

  • Aged cheese
  • Pickled or canned foods such as vegetables or sauerkraut
  • Cured or fermented meats such as sausages or salami
  • Alcohol, but most significantly wine, beer and champagne
  • Canned fish or shellfish
  • Vinegar
  • Fermented soy products such as miso, soy sauce, tempeh
  • Long-stored nuts such as peanuts, cashew, almonds, pistachio
  • Chocolates and cocoa based products
  • Avocado
  • Aubergine
  • Spinach
  • Shellfish

Foods high in DAO-blockers:

  • Alcohol
  • Black tea
  • Green tea
  • Energy drinks

 

Vitamin C 

Vitamin C supports the normal function of the immune system, and is sometimes referred to as a ‘natural antihistamine’. A recent study showed that high doses of vitamin C reduced allergy symptoms when given intravenously, and reported that a deficiency might lead to allergy-related diseases. Foods high in vitamin C include bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries and tomatoes.

 

Quercetin 

Quercetin is an antioxidant found in plants, rich in flavonols and has been reported to have anti-allergic and antihistamine properties. It has been proven effective in some studies on respiratory allergies, but there are not yet enough large-scale clinical studies around hay fever specifically. Nevertheless, as it is present in vegetables, there is no harm in eating more quercetin-containing foods and assessing whether it helps your symptoms! Sources include apples, berries, green tea, broccoli, grapes, bell peppers and red onions.

 

Bromelain

Bromelain is an enzyme found in the core and juice of pineapples, and can be purchased as a supplement. Whilst research is still emerging, specifically in hay fever sufferers, studies have suggested that in mice, bromelain has some anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties and it is a popular natural remedy for swelling or inflammation, particularly following surgery.

 

Zinc 

Zinc is a mineral that supports your immune system and metabolism. Research suggests that deficiencies are associated with a higher occurrence of asthma and allergies, so a diet rich in zinc may be a potential contributor to allergy relief. Food sources include shellfish, beef, chicken, dairy products, nuts such as cashews and almonds, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate and fortified breakfast cereals. If you are vegetarian, the bioavailability (availability of the nutrients for absorption) of zinc is lower than in the diets of people who eat meat, so it may be worth considering a supplement.

 

Gut Health  

Hay fever is an immune response, and we know that 70% of our immune system is located in the gut and intrinsically linked to our gut health, so looking after your gut is an important place to start. I share lots more tips on how to support your gut health in this blog post.

Probiotics can help improve gut health in some people, particularly those with functional gut disorders (such as IBS or IBD), which I explain more in my blog post Gut Health: 6 Top Tips. However they are not necessarily helpful for everyone. If your gut health is in need of support, a likely better place to start would be increasing the diversity of plants you are eating and increasing your intake of fermented foods like live yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, kefir and kombucha as they contain live bacteria (the same way probiotics do!)

Other important factors contributing to gut health include good sleep hygiene, regular physical activity, a diet rich in fibre, a diverse range of plant-based foods and Vitamin D. 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a key role in a healthy immune system, and is one of the many important factors that keeps the microbiome healthy. Deficiency can lead to dysbiosis (an imbalance of bacteria in the microbiome) and there is some evidence that vitamin D can regulate gastrointestinal inflammation.

In the UK, between April and September, the majority of people should be able to make all the vitamin D they need from sunlight on their skin, if spending adequate time outside every day. However, during the autumn/winter months, we are advised to take a supplement of 10 mcg a day due to risk of deficiency. Vitamin D can also be consumed in the diet, such as in oily fish (such as salmon, anchovies, sardines, herring and mackerel), egg yolks and fortified foods.

 

Where do I start?! 

The advice can be a little overwhelming, and much of the research is not quite there yet in humans or specifically for hay fever. Supporting your immune system as well as possible is the best course of action, and this can be done through ensuring you are supporting your gut health.

Working on your gut health through making appropriate lifestyle changes and ensuring you are consuming a wide variety of plants, containing all the vitamins and minerals mentioned above, will be the best nutrition-related course of action to help your hay fever this summer!

 

If you’re interested in working together to optimise your nutrition, transform your health and elevate your quality of life, please get in contact via Consultations or book in for a FREE call

 

A big thank you to Jasmine from @jasminenutrition for her excellent contributions to this article!

Did you find this post useful? If so please share it with others! For more nutrition tips and healthy recipes, check out my Instagram @elibrechernutrition

Check out my other nutrition-related blog posts below:

 

References:

NHS website – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hay-fever/

Vollbrachet et al (2018) Intravenous vitamin C in the treatment of allergies: an interim subgroup analysis of a long-term observational study – https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0300060518777044

Histamine Intolerance website – https://www.histamineintolerance.org.uk/about/the-food-diary/the-food-list/

Mlcek et al (2016) Quercetin and its anti-allergic immune response – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27187333/

Tabatabaeizadeh et al (2018) Vitamin D, the gut microbiome and inflammatory bowel disease – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6116667/#:~:text=Furthermore%2C%20Vitamin%20D%20deficiency%20leads,reported%20to%20cause%20severe%20colitis.

Secor et al (2013) Bromelain inhibits allergic sensitization and murine asthma via modulation of dendritic cells – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3870104/

Healthline – Zinc for allergies: is it effective? – https://www.healthline.com/health/dr/zinc-for-allergies

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