Hay fever (also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis), is a skewed immune reaction to inhaled pollen released from local trees, grasses and flowers. It is a common condition affecting between 10 per cent and 30 per cent of adults and as many as 40 per cent of children. It’s usually worst between late March and September, especially when it's warm, humid and windy, as this is when the pollen count is at its highest. While antihistamines and decongestants may help to alleviate symptoms, as with many medications, they can cause side effects, so many are looking for a more natural alternative.
Hannah Braye, nutritional therapist from Bio-Kult, offers five vitamins and minerals you could consider taking to keep itching, coughing and sneezing at bay.
Many people don’t realise that vitamin D is actually a hormone, which has immune regulating effects, said Hannah.
She added: “An increasing number of studies have linked vitamin D levels with allergic disorders such as hay fever. Although the results aren’t always consistent, they suggest a potential association between low vitamin D and the risk of seasonal allergies.
“Those with hay fever, who may avoid spending time outdoors due to aggravation of their symptoms, may be particularly susceptible to deficiency. Interestingly, our gut flora balance appears to have an effect on vitamin D levels, and supplementation with live bacteria has been shown to help increase levels.”
The phytonutrient quercetin is known for its anti-allergic properties, and is therefore a useful addition to any anti-allergy protocol, according to Hannah.
She explained: “Quercetin is thought to possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine properties. The main food sources are vegetables such as onions, garlic and broccoli, fruits such as apples, berries and grapes, some herbs and green and black tea and it can also be taken in supplemental form.”
Quercetin appears to work synergistically with vitamin C, so topping up on lots of vitamin C rich foods such as broccoli, kiwi, strawberries, peppers and parsley is a good idea, advises Hannah.
She said: “Vitamin C is also an anti-oxidant which protects cells against free-radicals in allergic inflammatory responses and studies have found that children with increased vitamin C consumption had fewer hay fever symptoms.”
Around 70 per cent of our immune cells reside in the lining of the digestive tract, and are supported and influenced by a diverse range of gut bacteria.
Hannah said: “Research suggests that live bacteria supplements, such as Bio-Kult Advanced Multi-Strain Formula may benefit hay fever sufferers via interactions with the immune system, which modify the natural course of allergic disease. For example a 2017 study found that supplementing with a multi-strain live bacteria formula for eight weeks, helped to alleviate hay fever symptoms and improved quality of life during allergy season in hay fever sufferers.
“The precise mechanisms for the beneficial effects are not entirely clear. However it is thought that it might be down to an increase in certain immune cells which help to keep the immune system in balance and boost tolerance to hay fever symptoms. Although beneficial effects have been shown even when supplementation is commenced at the height of allergy symptoms, it is hypothesised that they may be even more effective, when taken for a period prior to hay fever season as a preventative measure.”
A further way to increase beneficial species of bacteria in the gut is by eating traditionally fermented foods.
“Over the last decade there has been accumulating evidence that the consumption of fermented foods,” said Hannah. “Particularly fermented dairy foods such as kefir and live yoghurt, can alleviate some of the symptoms of atopy and may limit allergy development.
“This is thought to be due to the lactic acid bacteria (LAB) they naturally contain, which help to regulate the immune system. Dietary studies have suggested that long-term consumption of fermented milk products may reduce some of the clinical symptoms of allergies such as hay fever in both adults and children.”
Some hay fever sufferers said their symptoms were triggered in February by the spell of warm weather.