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How to combat hay fever through your gut

How to combat hay fever through your gut
In the midst of hay fever season, registered nutritionist Claire Barnes shares her advice for combatting hay fever through the gut
Hay fever occurs when your immune system mistakenly reacts to harmless inhaled pollen released from local trees, grasses and flowers. The immune system triggers the release of IgE antibodies and histamine, which increases inflammation of the mucosal lining in the nose, throat and eyes, causing the familiar hay fever symptoms. It is usually worse between late March and September, especially when it's warm, humid and windy, as this is when the pollen count is at its highest.
"Hay fever occurs when your immune system mistakenly reacts to harmless inhaled pollen"
Many with hay fever may notice that others in their close family also suffer with the condition, or other atopic conditions, such as asthma, eczema or food allergies. In fact, a family history of atopic conditions appears to be the strongest risk factor for developing hay fever. Other risk factors include living in an urban area with higher levels of air pollution, exposure to allergens through employment, poor diet and bacterial or viral infections.

How is the gut involved in hay fever?

Whilst the link between the gut and hay fever may not appear all that obvious, increasing evidence suggests that the gut microbiome plays a central role in allergic conditions.
The gut microbiome
Evidence suggests that the gut microbiome plays a key role in allergic conditions
More than 70 per cent of immune cells are present in the gut and are in constant communication with the microbes living there. Therefore, the gut microbiota has an important role in modulating the body’s immune response, not only in the gut, but also all around the body. Unfortunately, alterations in the gut microbiota (with lower diversity, including higher levels of harmful bacteria and lower levels of beneficial bacteria) is associated with chronic inflammatory conditions, such as hay fever.

How to combat hay fever through the gut

The composition of the gut microbiota is dynamic and is influenced by a number of factors such as diet, lifestyle and medications. Below are some tips to support your gut microbiome which could potentially help towards combating your hay fever. Taking these steps both before and throughout the hay fever season may be most effective.
  • Consume fermented foods daily: It is thought that fermented foods containing lactic-acid producing bacteria are able to support and regulate the immune system. Traditionally fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, live yoghurt, miso and kombucha all contain good levels of lactic-acid producing bacteria. Ideally aim to consume different types of fermented food and make them part of your daily diet.
  • Take a daily multi-strain live bacteria supplement: A systematic review of 28 studies published last year showed that live bacteria supplements significantly relieved hay fever symptoms, improved "Quality of Life" scores (measuring functional problems: physical, emotional, social and occupational) and helped to address imbalances in immune cells implicated in hay fever. In addition, a more recent study using a multi-strain formulation containing both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium for 10-12 weeks was shown to be effective in reducing hay fever symptoms, such as runny nose and itchy eyes, with better functionality during the day, better sleep, less tiredness and less irritability. Choose a live bacteria supplement with a diverse range of strains, such as Bio-Kult Everyday which contains 14 different strains (including both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria) and continue to take it daily for at least 3 months.
"The composition of the gut microbiota is dynamic and is influenced by a number of factors"
  • Increase anti-inflammatory foods: As hay fever is essentially an inflammatory condition, following an anti-inflammatory diet, high in antioxidants and phytonutrients from colourful fruit and vegetables, as well as omega-3 fatty acids is recommended. Quercetin: Certain foods high in the flavanol quercetin may be particularly beneficial, due to its anti-allergic activity. The main food sources of quercetin are vegetables such as onions, garlic and broccoli, fruits such as apples, berries and grapes, some herbs, tea and red wine.Vitamin C: Quercetin appears to work synergistically with vitamin C, so eating in combination with vitamin C rich foods is recommended. Vitamin C rich foods include a number of different fruits, such as citrus fruits, melon and strawberries, but also salad ingredients such as bell peppers, spinach, tomatoes and parsley and even vegetables such as kale, broccoli and Brussel sprouts.Omega-3 Fatty Acids: The increased incidence of allergic conditions has been associated with the over-consumption of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids in relation to anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Research suggests that a balanced intake of fatty acids may have a powerful, positive effect in certain patients with allergic conditions. Increase omega-3 fatty acids through consuming oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel and sardines), hemp, flax and chia seeds. 
  • Quercetin: Certain foods high in the flavanol quercetin may be particularly beneficial, due to its anti-allergic activity. The main food sources of quercetin are vegetables such as onions, garlic and broccoli, fruits such as apples, berries and grapes, some herbs, tea and red wine.
  • Vitamin C: Quercetin appears to work synergistically with vitamin C, so eating in combination with vitamin C rich foods is recommended. Vitamin C rich foods include a number of different fruits, such as citrus fruits, melon and strawberries, but also salad ingredients such as bell peppers, spinach, tomatoes and parsley and even vegetables such as kale, broccoli and Brussel sprouts.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: The increased incidence of allergic conditions has been associated with the over-consumption of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids in relation to anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Research suggests that a balanced intake of fatty acids may have a powerful, positive effect in certain patients with allergic conditions. Increase omega-3 fatty acids through consuming oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel and sardines), hemp, flax and chia seeds. 
  • Reduce inflammatory foods: Eliminating or reducing pro-inflammatory foods, such as sugar, refined carbohydrates, hydrogenated vegetable oils and trans-fats from processed foods is also advisable. Avoid consuming ultra-processed foods and instead prepare meals and snacks from scratch. There is also some evidence to suggest high arachidonic acid intake and the development of hay fever and other allergic diseases. You may therefore choose to limit your meat and dairy intake and switch to some healthy plant-based proteins such as lentils, quinoa, beans, nuts and seeds.
Claire Barnes, MBANT, is a registered nutritionist at Bio-Kult
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