Springtime is just around the corner and with it comes pollen season, which is bad news for hay fever sufferers. Seasonal hay fever or allergic rhinitis is one of the most common chronic respiratory conditions in this country, affecting three million Australians.
Hay fever is typically a reaction to pollen from trees, grasses and weeds that makes the immune system believe pollen is a harmful invader, triggering production of the antibody immunoglobulin E. This stimulates release of histamine, causing inflammation and swelling of the nasal passages, along with excessive mucus production and other symptoms such as sneezing, itching nose and throat, watery eyes and a clear, runny nose.
However, before you reach for anti-histamine medications this spring, there are a number of foods, nutrients and herbs that are extremely beneficial for alleviating hay fever symptoms.
Quercetin inhibits the production and release of histamine, which is involved in allergic reactions. As well as being an effective hay fever remedy it also has lots of other benefits - it is also an effective support for cardiovascular health and acts as a non-drug anti-inflammatory. It can help prevent thickening of the arteries.
Food sources of Quercetin include capers, onions, apples, red grapes, citrus fruits and broccoli. A study found that organically grown tomatoes had 79% more quercetin than conventionally grown ones. (1, 8)
Increasing your intake of foods rich in quercetin could well help reduce hay fever symptoms, but if you’re in the middle of the season taking a quercetin supplement would probably be highly beneficial too. A typical dose for allergies and hay fever is between 200 and 400 milligrams three times a day.
Vitamin C is an effective natural anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory, and it also supports healthy immune function and protects from secondary respiratory conditions. Vitamin C mat help to reduce bronchial constriction, improve lung function and reduce airway sensitivity too. (9)
Try taking a vitamin C supplement with bioflavonoids, at a dosage of around 3g of vitamin C and 1000mg of bioflavonoids per day. If hay fever strikes, take 1000mg vitamin C hourly until you have reached saturation point (this is when you get a loose bowel movement), then reduce the dosage to 3000mg daily.
Horseradish and Garlic
This is a traditional combination of herbs which is used to ease congestion. Horseradish is traditionally known as a decongestant and may help to provide relief from a blocked up nose. Garlic has anti-inflammatory properties which may be useful for inflamed nasal passages. It also has an immune enhancing effect. In spring time I take this combination every night and it really helps ease morning congestion.
Probiotics have been found to be helpful for hay fever. Probiotics are more commonly associated with digestive problems, but research has shown that probiotics help to strengthen the immune system and so can be very beneficial for hay fever sufferers. Probiotic drinks are sold with a lot of hype but these often contain a lot of sugar and are an expensive way to get the good acidophilus and other bacteria you need. I recommend you take a high quality probiotic formula instead. The strain lactobacillus rhamnosus is particularly helpful for those who suffer from allergies. (2)
Omega 3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil)
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of essential fatty acid that we must obtain through our diet. Research suggests that they may reduce the production of inflammatory chemicals in the body (prostaglandin E2 and inflammatory cytokines). (3)
Although there are no randomized controlled trials showing that omega-3 fatty acids are effective allergy remedies, a German study involving 568 people found that a high content of omega-3 fatty acids in red blood cells or in the diet was associated with a decreased risk of hay fever. (4)
Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids are:
• Fish oil capsules - providing 1 to 1.2 grams of EPA and DHA per day.
• Flaxseed oil - 1 tablespoon two to three times a day.
• Walnuts - 1 ounce (14 halves) a day
The herb Perilla can be thought of as nature’s very own anti histamine. In studies Perilla extract, a component regularly used in herbal hayfever preparations, was shown to inhibit the body’s production of histamine providing a similar result as pharmaceutical anti-histamines (6). Perilla can be found in many common, herbal, hayfever preparations in health food stores.
Stinging nettle is showing promise as an effective hayfever treatment in many recent studies. In one study Stinging nettle was thought to be as good as, or better than, previous hay fever medications by half of the patients tested. The dose used was two 300 mg capsules taken whenever the symptoms were experienced. This is not a conclusive study, but it does suggest that stinging nettle might be a useful treatment. (7)
• Minimize your exposure to pollens and moulds where possible.
• Avoid going outside on windy days, especially during spring when the pollen count is high.
• Use essential oil inhalations. Combine essential oils such as tea tree, eucalyptus or lemon myrtle with boiling water in a bowl. I find this fabulous for sinus pain caused by pollens.
• Place your head over the bowl and inhale the steam. This can help to loosen up the mucus and get you breathing easier.
• Limit or avoid cow’s milk and other dairy products as they can increase the production of mucus in the respiratory tract and exacerbate hay fever nasal congestion. Try alternatives such as rice, almond, quinoa and coconut milks.
As you can see there are lots of things you can do to help minimise the effects of hayfever this coming spring. I think being prepared and starting on products to help the immune system now before spring is here is a smart move and then managing symptoms as they appear.
Written by Lea McIntyre - Naturopath - ND BHSc
Lea has had many years of professional experience as a naturopath working with her patients and clients both in her clinic and as a senior retail naturopathic adviser. When Lea is not helping people stay well and enjoy a healthy lifestyle, she is busy caring for and nurturing her two young children.
1. A. E. Mitchell et al, J. Agric. Food Chem. 55 (15): 6154–6159, 2007.
2. Piirainen L1, Haahtela S, Helin T, Korpela R, Haahtela T, Vaarala O.Effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG on rBet v1 and rMal d1 specific IgA in the saliva of patients with birch pollen allergy. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2008 Apr;100(4):338-42. doi: 10.1016/S1081-1206(10)60596.
3. Kitz R1, Rose MA, Schubert R, Beermann C, Kaufmann A, Böhles HJ, Schulze J, Zielen S. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and bronchial inflammation in grass pollen allergy after allergen challenge. Respir Med. 2010 Dec;104(12):1793-8. doi: 10.1016/j.rmed.2010.06.019. Epub 2010 Jul 15.
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5. Guo R1, Pittler MH, Ernst E. Herbal medicines for the treatment of allergic rhinitis: a systematic review. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2007 Dec; 99(6):483-95. doi: 10.1016/S1081-1206(10)60375-4.
6. Takano H1, Osakabe N, Sanbongi C, Yanagisawa R, Inoue K, Yasuda A, Natsume M, Baba S, Ichiishi E, Yoshikawa T. Extract of Perilla frutescens enriched for rosmarinic acid, a polyphenolic phytochemical, inhibits seasonal allergic rhinoconjunctivitis in humans. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2004 Mar; 229(3):247-54
7. Roschek B Jr1, Fink RC, McMichael M, Alberte RS. Nettle extract (Urtica dioica) affects key receptors and enzymes associated with allergic rhinitis. Phytother Res. 2009 Jul; 23(7):920-6. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2763.
8. Sakai-Kashiwabara M1, Asano K. Inhibitory action of quercetin on eosinophil activation in vitro. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013; 2013:127105. Doi: 10.1155/2013/127105. Epub 2013 Jun 6.
9. Kompauer I1, Heinrich J, Wolfram G, Linseisen J. Association of carotenoids, tocopherols and vitamin C in plasma with allergic rhinitis and allergic sensitisation in adults. Public Health Nutr. 2006 Jun; 9(4):472-9.
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