Just as the sun comes out, so does the bloody pollen. While we can’t promise a hay fever cure, there might be a way to reduce the severity of your symptoms – starting in your gut.
Ahh, spring. The days get longer, the sun comes out and suddenly you’re sneezing and wheezing like there’s no tomorrow. Hay fever is a cruel mistress. Even when you’re carrying half a pharmacy in your handbag, the discomfort of watery, itchy eyes is enough to put you off park drinks and outdoor events.
If you’ve been living with hay fever for years, you probably think there’s no way out of a pollen allergy. It’s a choice between taking antihistamines or staying indoors with the windows closed until August. But there are some nutritional experts who believe we have more power over our symptoms than we might believe.
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Jessica Sepel, clinical nutritionist and founder of JSHealth, says that hay fever sufferers can “absolutely” reduce the severity of their symptoms via their diet.
“Hay fever is all about supporting your immune system, so ingesting vitamin-rich foods can be really helpful,” she tells Stylist.
It’s also important, she says, to take care of your gut health, “as 70-80% of our immune system lies in the gut. So eating foods or taking vitamins to support gut health is key to a healthier immune function.”
That might sound odd, given the way hay fever presents itself in symptoms seemingly unrelated to digestion. But Sepel goes on to explain that the condition occurs when your immune system is triggered by air particles (usually pollen). Your body mistakes those particles as being harmful and that’s when your antibodies kick in and release a chemical called histamine. It’s the histamine that causes all those annoying symptoms.
Which nutrients can help reduce irritation?
Sepel says that the herb andrographis (you can get it in supplement form from Pukka) “relieves common symptoms such as a cough, throat irritation, nasal congestion, ear irritation, tiredness, weakness and headaches” –the kinds of symptoms that hay fever sufferers may experience.
“Research has also shown that vitamin C plays a vital part in the function of your immune system, and a vitamin C deficiency can actually lead to impaired immunity and a higher risk of infection,” she continues. In fact, a study published in the journal Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Research, found that eating foods rich in vitamin C may reduce the severity of allergic rhinitis (irritation of the upper respiratory tract) caused by plant pollen. Think about starting your day with a bowl of kiwis or strawberries, drizzling salads with lemon juice or eating stuffed red peppers for dinner.
If you eat it, oily fish like salmon and sardines are a great staple for anyone struggling with inflammation. “Essential fatty acids play an important role in the regulation of the immune response in health and disease, and they are also incredible at targeting and relieving any inflammation,” Sepelexplains. Omega-3 has tons of benefits in general, from improving eye health to reducing the risk of heart disease, but studies have continuously found a connection between higher omega 3 and reduced inflammation.
Gut health and hay fever
And given the link between gut health and immunity, it’s also worth thinking about how diverse your plant intake is. You don’t have to stuff yourself with fibre, however, fermented food might be better for gut health and immunity than fibre. With that in mind, prioritise probiotics such as live yoghurts, kombucha, kimchi and miso.
Finally, when asked why not everyone gets hay fever, Sepel suggests that it’s all down to the strength of our immune systems. “It usually happens when your immune system is low,” she says. And while allergies can be a symptom of weakened immunity, they can also be a sign of an overactive immune system. Allergies are caused by the immune system pouncing on a harmless substance to attack the allergen by producing immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies.
You might not be able to cure yourself of it, but by making little tweaks to your diet and stress levels you may be able to reduce the severity of your symptoms. Improving your gut health has so many benefits to your energy, sleep, mood, fitness and, yes, potentially allergy resistance. Studies have found, for example, that those probiotics we mentioned can play an important role in the prevention of allergic rhinitis and that they can help to moderate our immune responses. Someone pass the kimchi… and the Kleenex.
For more gut health tips, visit the Strong Women Training Club.
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