Hay-Fever, those who suffer from this affliction will know it’s effects all too well. Runny noses, incessant sneezing, red eyes, airways so blocked you can hardly breathe and feelings of exhaustion. YUP hay-fever is real-fun, so in this post we’re going to explore it in an attempt to understand exactly how it’s caused and how we can naturally persuade it to leave us the f#%*k alone. Spring has sprung in sunny South Africa so we thought now would be the perfect time to delve into this topic seeing as pollen abounds in dastardly abundance around our mountains and fields, with levels highest between September and December.
WHat Is Hay FEVER?
Having nothing to do with either hay, or fever, one questions what type of confused doctor came up with this name. Hay fever is in fact an allergic reaction caused by your body falsely-identifying miniscule plant/animal proteins as invaders, resulting in a false immune response which triggers all of your unpleasant symptoms. There are many complex types of hay fever caused by a variety of animal, fungi/mould spores and plant pollen, however the most common is Pollionosis (or allergy to pollen) which is what we will be focussing on in this post.
How Exactly is Hay Fever caused?
Hay Fever is caused when your body falsely identifies airborne substances (in this case pollen) as invaders and starts trying to defend you. Signals are sent to ‘mast cells’ which start releasing ‘histamines’ causing your eyes to water, skin to itch (making you scratch), nose to run and throat to cough, all in an attempt to get rid of the particles causing the problems. Histamines also cause an inflammatory response, triggering other chemicals in the immune system to come along and do the repair work. Once a particle has been falsely identified as a harmful substance your body will continue to react against it each and every time it’s presence is felt, causing the same unpleasant reaction despite it’s harmless nature. Hopefully this knowledge helps you have more compassion for your body as you realise that it really is trying to protect you, it’s just a little confused.
How Does Someone ‘Catch’ Hay fever?
No one is really sure why some people’s immune systems miss-identify allergens and others don’t, but it has been discovered that up to 30% of hay-fever is hereditary (thanks mom & dad). Other theorists suggest that your immune system may have already been compromised when you first came into contact with certain particles causing a false identification. However you may have ‘caught’ hay fever, doesn’t really matter, what’s important now is what you can do about it so that you don’t end up weeping or snotting all over yourself in social situations.
Natural Cures For Hayfever
Although there is no sure-fire way to banish the sniffles for good, there are some super helpful ways to help your body relax and respond with a little more leniency towards the harmless substances it is so intent on destroying, here’s a lekker little list of how you can naturally dispel your hay fever:
1. Eat Honey and Bee-Pollen:
By eating small amounts of honey and pollen daily you begin exposing your body to tiny amounts of the allergen, thereby desensitising it to the substance, helping your immune system to realise that it’s not that harmful after all. This method is part of a school of medicine called Immunotherapy which has been used to treat everything from Cancer to Flu (1).
In 2011 a paper was published by the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology which found that eating honey from hives surrounding birch trees reduced birch-pollen allergies by 60% (2).
This is promising news however it means that you have to be specific, it’s not as easy as just slurping down any old honey off the shelf (WHY CAN IT NEVER BE EASY?!?). In order for this method to work you need to make sure that the pollen in your honey is the same as the pollen that you’re allergic to, and seeing as the Cape Floral Kingdom is more diverse than the Amazon Rainforest, this means finding a seriously local source of honey. Ideally you would also want the honey to contain pollen from springtime blooms, which would mean tracking the date of it’s production back to September last year.
Alternatively if you’re able to track down a local source of pollen this is absolutely top prize as honey only contains a fractional percentage of pollen whereas pollen contains, well, pollen. I think we’ve said pollen enough times, now moving on.
2. Eat Adaptogens
Adaptogens do exactly what they sound like they do, they help you to adapt to stress by intelligently assessing your state of health and then making whatever changes are necessary to create internal harmony, they really are remarkable foods, and guess what? They can help you with your allergies too. By modulating the immune system’s production of histamine’s and calming down the inflammatory response adaptogens will banish your sniffles in no-time! Here are some of our favourites in the Nourish’d kitchen:
Reishi & Chaga Mushroom
3. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a natural antihistamine helping to provide fast-acting relief from allergies of all sorts. The magical vitamin clears our congested airways and increases lung-capacity by inhibiting the production of histamines and aiding anti-inflammatory responses. Multiple studies have proven its effectiveness at reducing allergies in both humans and mice (3).
Although oranges may have been the go-to for vitamin C in the past there are now many superior sources of the sought-after substance. Baobab fruit powder is an incredibly dense source of the vital nutrient containing 6x the amount of Vit C than your average orange (3).
4. Stinging Nettle
Turns out that awful weed that leaves you itchy and stinging for hours may actually have some use! Research published in the annals of asthma, allergies and immunology revealed that the wild growing wonder was an effective treatment for a wide-range of ailments including hay fever and other allergies (4). Doctors discovered that powdered extracts of the plant act as natural antihistamines and suggest beginning a daily regime one month prior to allergy season for greatest effect. Some people even stroke themselves with the violent leaves for what they claim provides fast-acting relief, although no studies have found proof that this works.
5. Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Inflammation is at the root of many diss-eases we’re seeing in the world today and by eating nutrient dense, alkalising foods you’re providing your body with the best possible chances of preventing allergic reactions. If a reaction has already been set in motion by histamines you can help sooth the inflammation by dosing yourself with dark green leaves, veggie juices, cruciferous vegetables and superfoods. Here are some of our favourite anti-inflammatory, alkalising foods:
Dark leafy Greens – Kale, Spinach, Rocket, Collard and Watercress are all incredibly high in flavonoids, antioxidants vitamins and minerals which work together to cleanse toxins and bring down inflammation.
Turmeric – Turmeric is incredibly high in a compound called Curcunim which has chemoprotective properties and has shown effectiveness against a number of Cancers including breast and melanoma (5). This has put the plant on the world health map as one of the most potent anti-inflammatory foods out there. If you can find fresh Turmeric root (we get ours at Organic Zone) then this is first prize, but organic powdered Turmeric will work too. We like to grate our turmeric root up very finely and then have it in tea with a crunch of black pepper, which increases its bioavailability, a tsp of raw honey and a squeeze of lemon.
Raw Cacao – Not only is this incredible plant utterly delicious but it’s also absolutely PACKED with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. In fact raw cacao powder has 40x the antioxidants of blueberries absorbing inflammation-causing free radicals better than pretty much any other food on earth. The chocolatey goodness is also the highest plant source of Iron and is also abundant in Magnesium which will help you to sleep like a baby.
6. Fermented Foods
An increasing number of research papers are pouring in providing evidence that the gut is not only important for digesting food, but it also has a huge influence on our mood levels, hormonal health and potentially even allergic reactions (6). The gut is home to over 450 species of mutualistic beneficial bacteria which help you to digest food and regulate immune function (7). Think of it like your very own party of friends constantly cheering you along, they depend on you for a warm snuggly place to live, and in return provide nutritional gifts that help you stay alive, kinda cute right? But sometimes we don’t treat our bacterial friends so well, killing them with antibiotics and starving them of the prebiotic foods they depend on to survive.
When this happens we need to replenish and replace those lost bacteria through fermented foods such as Kimchi, Sauerkraut, Kombucha and Kefir (coconut options available if you’re vegan). By eating these probiotic rich foods we help maintain a healthy and balanced immune system, which naturally reduces our allergic reactions (8). Scientists have even discovered that woman who regularly take probiotics during pregnancy are much less likely to give birth to children with allergies (9), it’s all about head-starts in life isn’t it.
7. Aromatherapy Oils and Humidifiers
Those of us who suffer from Hay Fever or Asthma will know that it tends to get worse in dry or very windy environments which irritate airways and whip pollen grains up into a fury. In a study conducted in Swedish Hospitals researchers found that introducing humidifiers into the various wards reduced symptoms of Asthma and Hay Fever by more than half (10), an astounding result. Other studies have also found that essential oils such as Eucalyptus and Frankincense are powerful anti-inflammatories, so adding them to your diffuser could help provide extra relief.
8. Things To Avoid
We’ve talked a lot about what you should be doing to reduce your hay fever, but what about what not to do? Besides the obvious recommendations like not rolling yourself around in long grass there are a few more subtle suggestions up our old Nourishing sleeve. We’ve been talking a lot in this post about the immune system’s integral role in allergic reaction and so it would make sense not to act in foolhardy ways that may compromise and confuse it. What are the primary culprits which may harm your somewhat fragile immunity? Well this is actually pretty obvious too… Alcohol, cigarettes, fast food/highly processed food, canned meats, refined sugar, little to no exercise, fizzy drinks (besides that bubbling Kombucha YUM), refined oils and too much caffeine. If you find yourself swayed towards these unhealthy habits it’s time to step up, take charge and start loving yourself from the inside out, your hay fever will thank you for it.
Alright, now that may seem like a pretty long list, but you don’t have to do everything at once, in fact you should definitely not do everything at once. As will most things in life, slow and steady wins the race, so try and implement one of these suggestions at a time, be mindful of the changes you experience and perhaps keep a diary to track a timeline of your hayfever journey. Here’s a quick breakdown of the foods and lifestyle habits which will help you bring your hay fever under control:
Eat Raw Local Honey and Bee pollen – To desensitise your body to those pesky pollen grains.
Eat Adaptogens – Maca, Brahmi and Ashwaganda will help your immune system adapt to whatever molecules might be causing you problems.
Vitamin C – Eating high doses of Vitamin C will help inhibit the production of histamines and clear congested airways.
Stinging Nettle – Eating powdered stinging nettle or drinking nettle tea will reduce the production of histamines.
Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods – Foods like Kale, Cacao and Turmeric will help reduce the inflammatory reactions caused by histamines.
Fermented Foods – Eating fermented foods will help to balance and replenish your microbiome which will help your immune system respond with more kindness towards allergens.
Humidifier and Essential Oil Diffuser – Studies have shown that humidifiers can reduce the symptoms of hayfever by half and adding essential oils into the mix will provide added anti-inflammatory benefits.
What to Avoid – Try and avoid environments with lots of pollen and foods that may aggravate an already upset immune system.
We hope that this information has been helpful and if you’ve enjoyed it please share the post with any of your friends who may be suffering with the spring sniffles.
Calderón, M.A., Casale, T.B., Togias, A., Bousquet, J., Durham, S.R. and Demoly, P., 2011. Allergen-specific immunotherapy for respiratory allergies: from meta-analysis to registration and beyond. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 127(1), pp.30-38.