Reduce hayfever misery through diet
Hayfever is a widespread issue, being estimated to affect around 1 in 5 people at some point in their lives. Symptoms often arrive without warning and can cause summer misery for many, but the good news is that changes to the diet have been shown to help.
An understanding of what is going on in the body is a key factor in creating a dietary programme for any condition. In the case of hayfever, the immune system over-reacts to the presence of pollen and produces an allergic response. The allergen (in this case, pollen) activates an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE) which leads to the release of histamine. This in turn causes inflammation, which is responsible for the symptoms of hayfever. Following a diet which supports the immune system, reduces the levels of histamine, and has an anti-inflammatory effect would therefore be a good approach. There are also certain substances found in food which can block the histamine reaction within the body; a good example is the flavonoid quercetin (found in high levels in onions and garlic.
A study in the medical journal Thorax found that consuming a Mediterranean style diet (rich in antioxidants, garlic and anti-inflammatory Omega 3 fats) was beneficial to some hayfever sufferers, while eating margarine seemed to make things worse. Other studies have found links to wheat and dairy consumption, and excellent results can be had by replacing these with suitable alternatives.
Some of the key foods indicated in hayfever are:
Foods to include:
Garlic and onions boost the immune system and provide a good source of quercetin
Blueberries are rich in vitamin C and quercetin, and make a great addition to an anti-inflammatory diet
Orange coloured fruit and veg (e.g. carrots, pumpkin, apricots, mango) support the immune system with high levels of beta carotene and vitamin C
Omega 3 fats (found in flaxseed and oily fish like salmon and mackerel) have anti-inflammatory properties
Ginger reduces levels of IgE which slows the production of histamine
Turmeric is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Curcumin (the active substance in turmeric) inhibits histamine release
Foods to Avoid:
Foods naturally high in histamine, such as alcohol, walnuts, mature cheeses, chocolate, fermented foods, canned foods and smoked meats
Refined sugar causes the release of adrenaline into the system which stimulates histamine production
Meat can exacerbate inflammation, but can be replaced by fresh fish
Dairy foods increase production of mucus so can make symptoms worse
Wheat should be avoided by those who are allergic to grass pollen
Caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands, and when the adrenals are overworked the symptoms of hayfever can become much worse
People respond to dietary modification in different ways - so if you do make any changes, keeping a food and symptom diary is a useful way to identify what works for you. If you need further support, a nutritional therapist will work on an individual basis to tailor a programme specific to your requirements, and will provide support while you make the necessary changes.
If you are interested in learning more about the properties of different foods and their effect on the body, have a look at our latest courses in Nutrition here.