Does the sight of wattle fill you with fear? Or perhaps you dread the arrival of spring? For
those that suffer, hay fever can be absolutely unbearable. Itchy, watery eyes; constant sneezing and runny nose; a scratchy or sore throat: it’s enough to make anyone want to stay inside, shut the windows and rue the departure of winter despite the gorgeous spring sunshine.
For most, anti-histamine drugs become the ritual way to start the day and whilst they’re effective for some, they leave others drowsy and fatigued. Surely there’s a better way?
Using food as medicine is not a new concept, and it’s one that can be successfully applied to reduce the experience of hay fever and the reliance on anti-histamines and strong window seals.
The core of pineapple contains the enzyme Bromelain. Bromelain is a proteolytic enzyme, which more or less means that within the body, its main job is to assist with the breaking down of proteins. As such is commonly used as a digestive aid.
In regards to hay fever, bromelain may help to thin mucus, assisting with the clearance of a blocked nose or stuffy sinuses. Bromelain is also anti-inflammatory, helping to reduce the redness, swelling, itching, and pain associated with hay fever and other allergies.
Mint, such as that which you might have growing in your garden, contains the powerful antioxidant, rosmarinic acid. Rosmarinic acid stops the production of factors directly associated with allergies, including histamine, but also another category of cells, leukotrienes. Leukotrienes are produced by white blood cells and can trigger contractions within the lungs, associated with asthma as well as hay fever.
Apples are a fantastic source of the bioflavonoid, quercetin. Quercetin is a compound found in plants that is largely responsible for the colours of many fruits and flowers, and is anti-inflammatory, as well as anti-oxidant. In the case of hay fever, quercetin is able to modify the body’s response by strengthening the cells that release histamine when provoked by allergens (i.e. grasses and pollens). This means that the tolerance to allergens may be increased, and the symptoms of hay fever reduced.
Spinach is positively bursting with vitamin C which has a myriad of functions within the body, some of which have to do with histamine. Vitamin C, also found in oranges, kiwifruit and strawberries, appears to prevent the secretion of histamine, and also speed up the rate at which it is cleared from the body. This means that the response to an allergen may be reduced and short-lived. It has also been shown that with lower levels of vitamin C in the body, levels of histamine rise.
Sauerkraut is a great source of dietary probiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are essential for the health of the digestive system. It is common to hear a naturopath say ‘all disease begins in the gut’, and there’s good reason. More and more emerging evidence substantiates that the bacterial makeup, or microbiome, of the gut must be well-balanced in order to support a multitude of factors, including the immune system. Fundamentally, hay fever (and other allergies) points to an over-reaction by the immune system, where there is a response to a threat (i.e. pollen) that is not necessarily harmful. The heightened immune response sees the body begin a series of events to remove the ‘threat’ which commonly results in itching, redness, pain, swelling and general discomfort – as is experienced by hay fever sufferers on exposure to pollens and grasses. You can easily find good quality sauerkraut in your local health food shop, just add a forkful to any of your meals (it’s also really easy to make yourself, but that’s another blog post!)
Whilst implementing these dietary inclusions might not be enough for everyone, it’s certainly a great way to start supporting the immune system to reduce the experience of hay fever naturally. If you are interested in other ways to reduce the sniffling, sneezing, itching, and misery associated with this time of year, don’t hesitate to get in touch and we can work together. In the meantime, try out this delicious smoothie I’ve created to get yourself started!
No-sneeze Smoothie (serves 2)
Juice of half a lemon (I like to just take the peel off and throw the whole half in)
A small nub of ginger, peeled (optional – I love ginger in green smoothies: it adds a warming, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory boost)
1 cup chopped pineapple (make sure you leave the core in, that’s where all the bromelain lives!)
1 handful of mint leaves, washed
2 handfuls of baby spinach, washed
Place all the ingredients into your blender and whizz!
Murray, M. & Pizzorno, J. (2012). The Encyclopaedia of Healing Foods. USA: Piatkus.