Hay fever getting you down? Part 1
Try these Natural Approaches.
Part 1: Nurturing a healthy gut
One in four people in the UK suffer from hay fever and the number is rising. Back in the 19th century, it was practically unheard of. So what has changed in this timeframe? And what can we do to minimize the risk and overcome the symptoms?
Most people only take action when symptoms strike, but for better results, you need to take action long before the hay fever season begins.
This two-part article explains both the short-term and the long-term naturopathic and nutrition advice to help keep symptoms to a minimum.
What is it?
Hay fever — or seasonal allergic rhinitis — is experienced from early Spring through Summer and affects people according to the release of different types of pollen.
It can cause immense discomfort and inconvenience. Typical symptoms are Itchy eyes/ throat, sneezing, blocked/runny nose, watery eyes, blocked sinuses, headaches. This is coupled with difficulty sleeping which then causes tiredness and irritation. It’s no wonder people will resort to whatever over the counter medications are available.
What causes the symptoms?
It is an immune response whereby mast cells in the respiratory tract release a compound called histamine in response to IgE antibodies. These antibodies are triggered in susceptible individuals by certain pollens which are seen as an irritant and threat to the body.
When the pollen is inhaled and histamine is released it triggers an inflammatory response. This causes the mucus membranes that line the inside of the airway to swell, commonly affecting the nose, eyes, throat and ears. The body does this as a protective mechanism because of the perceived threat.
Unfortunately, the immune response is not switched off, more histamine is released creating more discomfort.
Why is hay fever so prevalent today?
70% of our immune system starts in the gut.
For hay fever and other allergic reactions, the overly clean and sterile environment into which we are born and raised coupled with a Western-style diet has had a detrimental effect on creating and nurturing a diverse and healthy gut microbiome. Residing in our gut are trillions of microbes but not all are beneficial. If we don’t pay attention to supporting the growth of the beneficial ones, more harmful pathogenic types can multiply. It is the population of these microbes that plays an essential role in supporting, regulating and protecting our immune system.
There is a phenomenon known as the “hygiene hypothesis”. Exposure to microorganisms in early life supports the development of a healthy immune system, but a lack of exposure to microbes can impair a healthy immune response. The gut of babies is sterile at birth but over the following three years it should colonise a diverse gut bacteria.
The new Sterile era…
But think of all the advertising encouraging new parents to use sterile wipes on just about everything. And as it is considered “dirty”, mothers avoid sitting babies and small children on the ground to play. Yet soil contains its own diverse microorganisms. And the world around us is rich is microbes. And not all of these are unhealthy.
Add into the mix the historically high use of antibiotics that destroy the delicate balance of gut bacteria and you have a potential recipe for disaster.
This early-life exposure to bacteria helps develop a strong and flexible immune response. One that responds when it needs to but also knows when to switch off or not to overreact.
So what can you do?
Starting now and through the winter months take a proactive approach with your diet. And you should see benefits come the following Spring.
You can start to take care of the gut flora by increasing your intake of vegetables. Different gut bacteria are fed and nurtured by different plant fibres. Forget “5 a day” we need more like “10 a day”. And it is important to increase the diversity and types of vegetables you eat. “Eat the rainbow” has become a popular expression because we should try to do just that with vegetable colours and types every week. And when you look at your plate — half should be vegetables.
Look at your diet…
Take a long hard look at your diet. Is it high in sugary foods or simple carbohydrates (still sugars!)? Is it high in processed foods, trans fats or saturated fats? These foods are a sweety shop for more damaging pathogenic bacteria. Start to cook more wholesome foods with complex grains like brown rice, nuts and seeds, pulses alongside proteins and fats from oily fish.
Many people buy sugary yoghurt drinks that contain some probiotic bacteria. But sugars feed the “bad” bacteria and the good bacteria may not withstand the highly acidic stomach environment.
Instead try eating a little bit of fermented food every day like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and the drink kombucha. This helps keep the gut healthy.
But if you’ve taken antibiotics or your diet is poor and your lifestyle is stressful, take a high dose probiotic supplement for at least one month. A good health food shop can advise you as there are many brands and products to choose from.
If you have digestive and bowel concerns, seeking expert advice is recommended. It’s a sign that all is not healthy in the gut. Your ability to overcome distressing hay fever symptoms may be limited.
In Part 2 I’ll discuss approaches to support immediate symptom relief in the height of the hay fever season.
If you need any help, advice or would like to book a consultation click here
Thanks for reading…