Hay Fever season is upon us and poor sufferers will be experiencing a range of symptoms and severity which in extreme cases will cause (apart from the sneezing, streaming eyes and irritations) significant ‘debilitation’. And it’s no surprise as hay fever triggers an excessive immune response in the body and this can cause varying levels of fatigue and weakness.
There are of course literally hundreds of ‘products’ both pharmaceutical and natural based which are offered as potential preventatives and to reduce symptoms of hay fever. Then there are the ‘traditional cures’ such as a regular ingestion of local honey prior and during the prime hay fever season; or using a Vaseline type product to line the inside of the nose to act as a barrier to block pollen intake.
In this article we will look at some natural nutrients – available in both foods and/or supplement form, and to be taken as such orally – that may be of benefit to hay fever sufferers. It is a topic that may also be of relevance and interest to those who sufferer a wider range of year-round allergies such as to dusts, dust-mites and moulds.
The medical term for hay fever is ‘allergic rhinitis’ and is caused by our immune system ‘attacking’ airborne pollens from plants, trees, grass etc. This excessive reaction in sufferers causes the immune system response to produce the antibody ‘IgE’ (immunoglobulin-E). The IgE binds to white blood cells and this causes the release of the chemical histamine. The histamine is then responsible for the classic symptoms of sneezing, irritation etc.
Below are some natural nutrients that research suggests will support the fight against hay fever:
1. Beta Glucan 1 3, 1 6
Beta 1 3, 1 6 Glucan is a natural nutrient derived from the cell wall of baker’s yeast. Supplements of a sufficiently pure extraction will not contain enough yeast protein to cause any allergic reactions (e.g. for those with yeast sensitivities). Beta 1 3, 1 6 Glucan should not be confused with other forms of oat based Beta Glucan that seeks to reduce cholesterol.
Beta 1 3, 1 6 Glucan is best known for its immune support properties with extensive research indicating it may boost the immune system and as such help to support against colds and flu. Put simply Beta 1 3, 1 6 Glucan ‘primes’ the immune system alerting the body to help defend itself against viral and bacterial invaders.
In respect of fighting hay fever Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan is uniquely capable of binding to receptors on the surface of innate immune cells and this action is suggested as playing a role in reducing the symptoms caused by IgE production, especially the histamine release; and less histamine means less inflammation.
Research indicates that Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan helps to ‘switch off’ the IgG reactions which is the body’s response to an allergen (by changing the Th1 Th2 ratio). And this is the action that reduces the IgE response. Effectively Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan desensitises the individual, as an allergic reaction is an over response from the immune system to something normally tolerated, the nutrient ‘down-regulates’ sensitivity and immune over reaction.
Researchers are excited about the applications of Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan as it is an affordable and natural nutrient (as opposed to pharmaceuticals) and that its action of activating the immune system throughout the whole body means it may have multiple beneficial effects.
There are no common food sources that contain good levels of Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan although mushrooms and specifically certain varieties of mushrooms (e.g. Shiitake) are a good natural source. Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan supplements either come as part of a multivitamin or as a dedicated product. As previously mentioned you need to look for a supplement with a high level of refinement or purity in respect of Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan (70% or more).
Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to hay fever and hence taking a Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan supplement prior to the onset of hay fever will maximise the effect of reducing symptoms, whilst taking it having suffered hay fever and it will take time to help you. Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan can be taken throughout the year to help fight a wide range of allergies and for overall immune support.
2. Vitamin C and Bioflavonoids
Vitamin C has been widely discussed as helpful in reducing the symptoms of hay fever and divides opinion. Some people consider Vitamin C supplementation prior and during the hay fever season as invaluable whilst many who have trialled it note no improvements in symptoms. Specific research to date has been similarly divided and more in-depth research in the future would be invaluable. The key element may be to take a supplement of Vitamin C with Bioflavonoids and more on this later.
It is reported that Vitamin C has natural antihistamine properties and it certainly has proven antioxidant properties and hence its beneficial role in fighting free radicals may be of benefit in respect of allergic reactions. Vitamin C also contributes to the normal function of the immune system.
Many argue that higher than normal doses of Vitamin C are required during hay fever season and some of these arguments seem logical. ‘Adrenal exhaustion’ is cited as a problem for hay fever sufferers – and for sufferers of a broader range of allergic reactions too. The adrenal gland is one of the organs with the highest concentration of vitamin C in the body, and it needs Vitamin C to help synthesise the hormones it produces.
Unfortunately, Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin and quickly used up in the body, especially by smoking and alcohol, stress and exercise and the use of certain medications such as aspirin. Many people simply do not get enough Vitamin C from their diets due to a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables – or a loss of the nutrient through overcooking and processing Vitamin C rich foods. Fruits and vegetables are the richest sources of Vitamin C; however it is advised not to eat certain fruits excessively.
A natural food based Vitamin C supplement can offer an easy way to bolster Vitamin C levels and for hay fever sufferers such a supplement also comprising Bioflavonoids is recommended. Indeed Bioflavonoid foods and supplements attract a great deal of interest in respect of alleviating hay fever symptoms.
3. Bioflavonoids, Flavonoids and Carotenoids
Bioflavonoids and flavonoids are sometimes known as Vitamin P and are natural compounds giving colour to fruits and plants. Vitamin C is best absorbed in the presence of bioflavonoids as they help reduce Vitamin C depletion and improve absorption; most bioflavonoids are citrus derived.
Quercitin, found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, is probably the most talked about Bioflavonoid in respect of hay fever. Quercitin has both antihistamine and membrane stabilising properties and it inhibits the release of histamine which is part of the allergic reaction inciting inflammation.
Quercitin also has membrane stabilising properties such as an anti-inflammatory effect on the mucous membranes. Examples of fruits which are high in bioflavonoids are strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.
Flavonoids and carotenoids are contained in all fruit and vegetables. Flavonoids serve as protective nutrients in plant tissue to protect the plant (and, in particular, it’s DNA) against external threat, and once consumed by humans they act in the same way. Flavonoids come in a variety of different colour pigments, and each has a different protective action.
Flavonoids help to stabilise our membranes by acting as a shield for DNA to protect against the allergens, virus and bacteria that incite the arachadonic acid cascade which is the nucleus of an inflammatory process.
Most people ingest on average 140mg flavonoids per day, against a recommended level of 600mg for optimum health; likewise with carotenoids, the average intake is 5mg daily, against recommendations of 20mg.
For both flavonoids and carotenoids the levels are much higher in organic produce, as the nutrients serve as protection against pests and other external threats in the plants. If a plant is protected by herbicides and pesticides, it has less need to produce its own protection in the form of flavonoids and carotenoids, and hence the levels are significantly lower in non-organically-farmed produce. This is the main reason for many of us being short of these protective nutrients in our diets.
As with Beta 1-3, 1-6 prevention is always better than cure when it comes to hay fever and hence taking Vitamin C and/or Bioflavonoid supplements prior to the onset of hay fever will maximise the effect of reducing symptoms.
We would recommend that you always look for natural food based supplements to aid absorption and utilisation by the body. Formulations are available that contain a broad range of flavonoids/ bioflavonoids.
4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
We eagerly await further research into the potential benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in reducing hay fever symptoms. Early research indicates that these essential fatty acids may play a beneficial role for hay fever sufferers. The best natural sources of Omega-3 are fish and shellfish particularly oily fish such as mackerel and sardines.
Omega-3 nutrients bestow a wide-range of proven health benefits and the reduction of fish consumption means that people have turned to suitable supplements such as fish oil, krill oil and flaxseed oil and seeds. Suitable Omega-3 levels are of importance throughout life and none more so than in the early years of development.
Research has indicated that increasing the dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids can help to reduce the production of inflammatory prostaglandins and inflammatory cytokines. If our cell membranes are made up of Omega 3 fatty acids and phospholipids, as opposed to omega 6, they are more stable and less prone to inflammation.
If you have any questions regarding Hay Fever, Allergies or any other health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time.