Well, spring is approaching fast and with a small taste of spring weather in Melbourne yesterday, I thought it would be good to give some foods and tips on how to combat hay fever (also known as allergic rhinitis).
Did you know that 1 in 5 people in Australia are affected by allergic rhinitis? This condition occurs when your immune system mistakes a non-toxic substance for a harmful invader, and releases a substance called histamine. High histamine levels cause inflammation and swelling of the mucus membranes and can produce one or more of the following symptoms:
- Runny, itchy, congested nose
- Irritable, itchy and watery eyes
- Itchy ears and throat
- Rashes, eczema or other skin eruptions
- Respiratory congestion including asthma
Some common triggers of allergic rhinitis can include mould, dust, pollen (tree, grass or flower), poor diet and digestion, nutritional deficiencies and stress!
Here in Melbourne, pollen numbers are elevated due to high winds from the north carrying pollens from the northern grasslands. Pollen levels are lower along the east coast of Australia due to the prevailing winds coming from the sea.
A website called Melbourne Pollen Count and Forecast is a service running between October and December. It provides you with daily pollen counts and forecasts grass pollen in the air around Melbourne for the next 6 days. You can also download a mobile app. So handy!
Here are a few suggestions for reducing the symptoms of hay fever.
1. Increase flavonoid-rich foods
Flavonoids reduce inflammation and boost immune defences. Most flavonoids are found in fruit and vegetables such as berries, onions, broccoli, spinach, parsley, celery, cherries, apples, grapes, pears and citrus foods. But did you know that coffee, cocoa, chocolate and black and green tea contain some flavonoids. What a good reason to eat chocolate – but of course in moderation J Quercetin is a common flavonoid and is useful in treating some inflammatory diseases, infections, allergies, and asthma. Foods containing quercetin include red onions, capers, apples, blackberries, buckwheat, broccoli, parsley and citrus fruits.
If your following at low FODMAP diet limit or avoid - onions, apples, blackberries, pears, grapes
2. Add turmeric to meals
Curcumin the active ingredient in turmeric contains polyphenols which can reduce inflammation and improve immune function. Not only can it help with hay fever but current research has revealed promising results at improving the quality of life in people with autoimmune disorders, type 2 type diabetes and gastrointestinal issues. Turmeric isn’t well absorbed, so adding a pinch of black pepper may help absorption. Add turmeric to curries, soups or try this recipe - turmeric tea golden milk
3. Increase omega-3 rich foods
The health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are well-documented. They aid in suppressing inflammation and promote immune-modulating activity. Healthy dietary sources of omega-3 include fish sources (such as wild salmon and sardines), as well as flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, chia seeds, olive oil and walnuts.
4. Increase Vitamin B6 rich foods
Vitamin B6 is an important cofactor of the enzyme diamine oxidase which is needed to reduce histamine. Some foods high in B6 include wholegrains (such as oats, legumes such as chickpeas, lentils), animal sources (such as pork, beef, chicken and fish), sunflower seeds, sweet potato and bananas.
If your following at low FODMAP diet limit or avoid – legumes, oats.
5. Increase Vitamin C rich foods
Like Vitamin B6, vitamin C is also important for the enzyme diamine oxidase. Sources of vitamin C include rose hip, papaw, berries, kiwi fruit, rockmelon (cantaloupe), capsicum, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chives, mustard greens, green leafy vegetables and tomatoes.
If your following at low FODMAP diet limit or avoid – cabbage, cauliflower.
6. Avoid histamine-promoting foods
I know fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut have benefits (especially in gastrointestinal health) but if you are struggling with hay fever they can contribute to your symptoms. Other foods which are high in histamine and should be avoided are leftovers, processed or smoked meats, matured cheeses, pickled or canned foods, alcohol, artificial additives and preservatives, and shellfish.
Lifestyle tips include:
- Salt water nasal douches using a neti pot can help reduce nasal symptoms
- Try to avoid going out on windy days or after thunderstorms
- Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes
- Don’t picnic in the park on high pollen days
- Keep windows closed both at home and particularly when in your car
- Don’t dry clothes, sheets on outside line during windy days (I know the best days to dry clothes) as pollens can be transferred to clothing, sheets etc.
Lastly, it’s important to know that allergies like hay fever could be a result of poor gut health. Taking steps to heal and repair the gut can also assist in reducing allergy symptoms and let you smell the roses again :)
Nicole Jones - BHSc (Nutritional Medicine), ANTA