Spring has arrived, and with it comes the season of allergies. Hay fever symptoms can be quite bothersome and can significantly impact your daily life.
However, antihistamine medication isn’t for everyone. Remember, they don’t address the root causes of hay fever — they just treat the symptoms. In fact, many antihistamines are not recommended for people with high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney or liver disease, glaucoma, thyroid problems, or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Below explains how some of the natural nutrients, as well as dietary considerations that may help to support those who suffer with symptoms of hay fever.
Oxidative stress, defined as “an imbalance between oxidants and antioxidants in favour of the oxidants, leading to a disruption of redox signalling and control as well as molecular damage”. When the level of oxidants overwhelm our antioxidant defence mechanisms, the molecular damage that can ensue is thought to be, to some degree at the heart of most disease states. In allergic rhinitis, one potential contribution of oxidative stress is a dysfunction of the barrier function in the nasal epithelium which is thought to contribute to the uptake of allergens and harmful exogenous particles.
Vitamin C contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress during allergic responses. It also supports immune system function by stabilising cell membranes and helping to reduce the release of histamine.5
Furthermore, the adrenal glands are one of the organs with the highest concentration of vitamin C in the body and need this important vitamin to help synthesise hormones. During hay fever, the adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol, to counteract the inflammatory effects of histamine in the body.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin and is quickly used up in the body, especially by smoking, alcohol, stress, exercise and certain medications. Vitamin C is also quickly depleted during times of inflammation. Many people simply do not get enough vitamin C from their diets due to a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables. If supplementing, to maximize effectiveness, vitamin C is best taken with bioflavonoids — the natural pigments in fruits and vegetables that help to increase bioavailability.
Vitamin D is produced when the skin is exposed to UV radiation (from sunlight), hence giving rise to its name ‘the sunshine vitamin.’ Few foods naturally contain adequate amounts of vitamin D, so supplementation, particularly in the autumn and winter months, is important. Traditionally seen as a nutrient to support calcium homeostasis and bone health, its essential role in immunity and allergy is now well researched.
Vitamin D is an important regulator of the immune system, acting directly on immune cells to promote an anti-inflammatory state. Vitamin D signalling has been shown to boost innate immunity against pathogens of bacterial or viral origin, but it also suppresses inflammatory immune responses that underlie autoimmunity and regulate allergic responses. These findings have been bolstered by clinical studies linking vitamin D deficiency to increased rates of infections, autoimmunity, and allergies.6,26 Vitamin D deficiency can also contribute to microbiome dysbiosis, which has in turn been linked to extra-intestinal immune disease states such as atopic conditions and allergies.7
It should be noted that all of the enzymes that metabolise vitamin D require magnesium as a co-factor – and it is therefore essential to ensure that adequate magnesium levels are assured to obtain the optimal benefits of vitamin D.8 As well as activating vitamin D, magnesium has a protective role against oxidative stress and a deficiency in the mineral increases endothelial cell susceptibility to oxidative stress and promotes endothelial dysfunction.
Dietary support for hay fever
Some foods are particularly high in naturally occurring histamine and can create a similar response in people who are sensitive to these foods. This is not necessarily an allergic response but more as a result of a high intake of histamine, coupled with a compromised ability to break-down histamine, which results in similar symptoms. A low-histamine, anti-inflammatory diet can often reduce the severity of allergy symptoms.
Foods high in histamine include: fermented foods, aged cheese, citrus fruits, fish, shellfish, avocados, spinach, cocoa, leftover meat or fish, fermented alcohol like wine, champagne, and beer.
Foods low in histamine include: freshly cooked meat, poultry (frozen or fresh), freshly caught fish, eggs, rice, quinoa, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables (except tomatoes, spinach, avocado and aubergine), olive oil, coconut oil, leafy herbs and herbal teas.
Certain foods can make symptoms much worse, so knowing those triggers is an important part of an overall plan. Recommendations are to include lots of anti-inflammatory, immune supporting foods such as:
Blueberries, blackberries, purple grapes, blackcurrants, raspberries – these contain anthocyanins which are considered powerful antioxidants and possess anti-inflammatory properties. They also contain high quantities of vitamin C and quercetin, making them an excellent anti-inflammatory agent.
Garlic and onions: garlic is a great source of quercetin. It can also help to boost the immune system and is a good source of vitamin C and potassium. Onions are another source of quercetin. Onions also contain high amounts of vitamin C and biotin.
Ginger is known to slow down histamine production by reducing IgE levels.21
Omega-3 rich foods are known to have anti-inflammatory properties. Sources include wild salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds.