Spring... The time of cherry blossoms and delicate paper thin gouffre leaves, silky grass and shy little flowers picking through it, gazing at the sky in a happy awe. For many, including yours truly, spring is the most wonderful and always much-anticipated season. And then there are others who see it as the idea of hell because for them the rainbow of blooms and intoxicating fragrance of a freshly cut green lawn means one thing and one thing only... the hay fever has just arrived.
After spotting a pile of antihistamines on special offer in my local supermarket yesterday, I promised myself to talk about the subject on the blog as soon as possible, so if you cannot imagine spring without a packet of Benadryl, Piriteze or whatever your drug of choice is, read on to discover how changing your diet and lifestyle habits can provide a natural, and most importantly, long lasting, relief.
WHY SOME PEOPLE NEVER SEEM TO SUFFER FROM HAY FEVER?
It depends on the immune system, which includes the innate one, developed around 500 million years ago, as well as the adaptive, humoral and cell mediated ones - they change from generation to generation as a part of evolution and individual development and vary from person to person - since we are all unique you may develop an allergic response to something your friends are absolutely fine with.
WHY DO YOU GET A HAY FEVER?
Because the immune system recognises something as an allergen, a pathogen that doesn't belong with the body and thus needs to be eliminated as soon as possible. While it's happening, the immune system releases histamine, prostaglandins and leukotrienes that lead to an inflammatory response and numerous symptoms from watery eyes to sneezing, runny nose and rash.
WHAT ARE THE FACTORS THAT ALTER THE IMMUNE RESPONSE?
The way your immune system develops such a violent reaction to something depends on family history and genetic makeup, the way you were born (i.e. natural birth vs caesarian) and nourished (breast milk vs the formula, and the following diet, too) and raised, your past and present diet, any antibiotic treatments you ever underwent, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, gut health and environment you live in (including the air, pollution, particular fondness of antibacterial household products, use of non-organic cosmetics loaded with parabens and plastics and even eating non-organic foods often containing pesticides) - all of which can not only weaken the immune system, but sometimes confuse its response and ability to distinguish between harmless substances and the real pathogens.
HOW CAN NUTRITION HELP?
Eating the right diet will only only put the essential nutrients back into the system, but will also provide a myriad of other compounds required to restore and maintain the protective barriers including phagocytes, enzymes, hormones and hormone-like substances, the mucus membranes and the skin.
WHAT EXACTLY SHOULD YOU EAT AND WHY?
Vitamin A (retinol+beta-carotene) can suppress proinflammatory response and improve communication between the sensory neurons and the immune system preventing the latter from over-reacting and recognising the real danger rather than chasing anything that moves.
Eat: eggs, liver, butter and, if you can tolerate dairy, goats/buffalo/sheep cheese for retinol plus carrots, pumpkin, bell peppers, spinach and other leafy green vegetables, apricots, mango and melon.
Vitamin C is a natural antihistamine that provides additional support to the body during physical stress and illness.
Eat: citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, broccoli, cabbage (including sauerkraut), leafy green vegetables, bell peppers, parsley, baobab powder.
Supplement: our bodies don't have ability to retain vitamin C, and since it's easily lost during cooking and exposure to air and light, taking a supplement is good idea. Go with Solgar as a reliable brand available worldwide, start with 500mg and build up to 2000-3000mg of vitamin C per day taken at equal intervals. Remember that high doses of vitamin C can cause an upset stomach, so take a few days to get to 3000mg. For maintenance 1000mg is good.
Vitamin D is crucial, particularly for asthma and hay fever suffers.
Eat: a little tricky since the best way to get your vitamin D is by getting outside and soaking up some sunshine, however, mushrooms, eggs and oily fish may also provide some.
Supplement: again, since it can be tricky getting out in hay fever season, a good quality multivitamin or simply vitamin D3 supplement can help. Go with Solgar or consult a nutritionist or doctor who may also run a blood test to double-check your current status.
Probiotics support your gut/immune health, increase enzyme activity, maintain healthy mucus membranes, suppress allergy-related inflammatory response and reduce the humber and activity of bad bacteria.
Eat: kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso and yoghurt
Resveratrol protect the gut barrier, may provide anti fungal protection and works as both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent for the immune system.
Eat: berries, grapes, pistachios, raw cocoa and dark chocolate.
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for protecting your gut and mucus membranes, but also reducing the inflammatory response by controlling prostaglandins.
Eat: oily fish, always wild and/or organic, walnuts, flaxseed, hempseed and chia (however, chia may cause an allergic reaction and GI problems in some people, just so you are aware)
Supplements: if you want to take fish oil supplements, go with Solgar. Do not DIY - a lot of fish oil supplements are made with cod liver oil, contain high levels of mercury/heavy metals, or low/unspecified quantities of EPA/DHA. If unsure - ask a nutritionist, not a shop assistant or google.
Quercetin inhibits production of histamines and levels of IgE.
Eat: apples, citrus fruit, parsley, onions, cherries, blueberries, blackberries and tea.
Bromelain may improve the absorption of quercetin into the blood stream and also provide additional anti-inflammatory support by controlling levels of prostaglandins.
Water may sound like a silly addition, but it is vital for supporting the body's natural detoxification and also keeping those mucus membranes properly hydrated.
Also include drink green tea as it blocks production of histamine and use allergy-supressing herbs such as garlic (allicin), turmeric (cucrumin), oregano, sage, basil and marjoram.
Whist it hasn't been scientifically proven, some also believe that eating 1-2 tsp of raw local honey may build up your immune system response and prevent its future reaction to local pollen. Since I've been raised on raw honey and come from a country where natural remedies are passed from generation to generation, I do see a lot of sense in that. However, since the only study results I have are a few trials, I cannot make any firm statement about whether raw honey would work for you.
WHAT ABOUT DAIRY?
For some, dairy can cause a problem as it may lead to overproduction of mucus, both in the gut and nasal passages. Besides, it's worth remembering that milk isn't just a single substance, but something produced by a cow (or goat - feel free to complete the list) that has been grazing on specific grasses possibly containing pesticide residue, and also treated with hormones - all of which your immune system take a strong dislike to.
As the cows milk, particularly the non-organic version, is often the main culprit, I found that many of my clients experienced positive changes by either switching to goats/buffalo/sheep dairy or avoiding the milk whilst still consuming small quantities of buffalo, goats or sheep cheese and yoghurt. As this is individual, you will need to try these options to see what suits you best.
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO TO STRENGTHEN THE IMMUNE SYSTEM?
Live organic, choose local produce whenever possible, reduce or avoid sugar, learn to manage stress, use natural cosmetics, avoid using plastics in your household and bathroom/beauty cabinet (switch to glass containers whenever possible, take the plastic wrappers off the foods you buy as soon as you get them home), quit smoking and spend some time outside for topping up your vitamin D levels.
Because everyone deserves to smell the roses... Including you.