Springtime is here and with it comes pollen season, which is bad news for hay fever sufferers. Seasonal hay fever or allergic rhinitis 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.
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.
Kiwis contain more vitamin C, gram for gram, than oranges (especially the yellow kiwifruit variety). Vitamin C is an effective natural anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory, and it also supports healthy immune function and protects from secondary respiratory conditions. Kiwi fruit also contain bioflavanoids, antioxidants that complement vitamin C’s effect in the body and are potent anti-histamines and anti-inflammatories.
Try taking a vitamin C supplement with bioflavanoids, at a dosage of around 2g of vitamin C and 1000 mg of bioflavanoids a day. Other good food sources of vitamin C and bioflavanoids include citrus fruits, strawberries, red capsicums, broccoli, papaya, guava and mango.
Pineapple is a rich source of bromelain, an enzyme with strong systemic anti-inflammatory effects, which helps decrease mucosal inflammation and nasal congestion.
Commonly used in Middle Eastern and Asian cuisine, this spice contains curcumin, a phytochemical with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions that are comparable to steroidal and nonsteroidal drugs. Curcumin has been found to have anti-allergy properties, which inhibit the release of histamine.
Turmeric is most often used in dried form, but try fresh turmeric, which looks similar to a small ginger root. Peel a section and grate, then add about two teaspoons to rice dishes, stir-fries or soups. Just make sure you wear gloves as turmeric stains.
Having an onion a day can help keep your hay fever at bay. Onions are packed with the flavanoid quercetin, a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and natural anti-histamine. Eat red onions raw and tossed through salads, or on sandwiches or in cooked dishes. Quercetin is also found in apples, kale, red grapes, berries, cherries and parsley.
Licorice and nettle teas
Studies have shown that nettle tea can help relieve inflammation of the upper respiratory tract and ease nasal congestion, sneezing and itching. Drinking licorice tea can also alleviate symptoms. Licorice root has a soothing effect and helps to reduce irritation of the respiratory system.
Orange and green fruit and vegetables
The vibrant colour of carrots, pumpkin, apricots, mango and papaya indicates high levels of beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body. Green leafy vegetables are also an excellent source (the orange colour is masked by their green chlorophyll content).
Vitamin A is important for healthy mucous membranes throughout the respiratory tract. It also helps promote healthy immune function, prevent secondary respiratory infections and reduce inflammation.
Horseradish and garlic
Horseradish is a pungent root vegetable which acts as a decongestant, helping to clear nasal passages. Grated fresh horseradish root adds a lovely kick to roast meats and vegetables.
Garlic helps clear nasal congestion and its potent antibiotic properties help prevent secondary respiratory infections in chronic suffers. It is also a good source of quercetin, a natural anti-histamine.
Probiotics contain beneficial bacteria, and taking them can help boost our intestinal tract, so a daily dose of probiotics can help hay fever sufferers restore a more balanced immune response to pollens. Without a healthy balance of good bacteria in our gut, our immunity is likely to be compromised, leaving us more susceptible to developing allergies and illnesses.
Taking a probiotic supplement daily is recommended, along with consuming fermented foods such as sauerkraut, pickled sprouts and vegetables and miso.
Make yourself a fresh veggie juice with a good slice of fresh ginger. Ginger is a powerful natural anti-inflammatory that helps reduce nasal swelling and associated hay fever symptoms.
A good juice combo is carrot, celery, beetroot, apple and ginger. You can also add in some green “leafies” such as parsley, mint, kale or spinach. Fresh ginger can be added to curries and stir-fries, and is delicious made as a hot or iced tea.
Avoid certain foods
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.