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  • Writer's pictureGemma Westfold

Hello May, Hello Hay fever!

Updated: Apr 18

Well Hello May, Hello Hay fever! I really know it’s spring when my itchy, watery eyes and constant sneezing start. Hay fever is the only downside to the end of the winter and it’s here to stay – like an uninvited guest – for the next six months. But while Mother Nature can be cruel, she is also kind. It might surprise you to know that changing what you eat can have a big impact on the severity of your symptoms.

According to Allergy UK, as many as 30% of adults and 40% of children suffer from allergic rhinitis (the medical term for the condition), an allergic reaction to pollen. You might start noticing symptoms in March when the tree pollen season starts. Then there’s the grass pollen season, followed by the weed pollen season, which can go on into September.

If this is you, I sympathise: itchy, red or watery eyes, runny or blocked nose, sneezing and coughing, itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears, loss of smell, earache, headache, and feeling exhausted. Yes, that’s’ right – the allergic response that is hay fever can leave you physically exhausted.

What can you do about it with diet?

There are some foods will make the symptoms of hay fever worse, so try to cut these out or reduce them as much as you can during hay fever season. Other foods are naturally anti-inflammatory, so you’ll want to ensure you’re getting plenty of these in your diet.

Foods containing high levels of histamine can intensify symptoms. These include chocolate (don't shoot the messenger), tomatoes, aubergines and many fermented foods like vinegar, sauerkraut, yoghurt, miso, soy sauce, and canned fish.

There are also foods that, while they are not high in histamine themselves, are ‘histamine liberators’ and can trigger your cells to release histamine. These include strawberries, pineapple, bananas, citrus fruits and egg whites.

Foods containing wheat – like bread and pasta, cakes and pastries – can also be problematic for people with grass pollen allergies.

Dairy products like milk and cheese stimulate the body to produce more mucus, making blocked noses or ears much worse. Matured cheeses also tend to contain high levels of histamine. And sugar, which causes your body to produce more histamine, can further exacerbate your symptoms. Oh sugar, always cropping up as a problem (see my other rants).

Now, I am not saying to avoid these foods, there are too many and it's not feasible, but maybe be more aware of your symptoms when you eat them. There may be one or two that can really trigger your hay fever and avoiding them for the Spring months may give you some relief.

However, as I said, Mother Nature has the answers. Here are some foods to add or increase to combat hay fever symptoms:

Some foods are anti-histamine foods and disrupt or block histamine receptors, helping to reduce allergy symptoms. These include foods that contain the plant chemicals quercetin and beta carotene, and those high in vitamin C (see below).

Local honey also may be helpful because, although it contains trace elements of pollen, over time it may help your body become more familiar with the pollen entering your system and reduce the inflammatory response it makes. Do remember that honey is sugar and use it sparingly.

Quercetin containing foods

Onions, garlic, goji berries, asparagus, all berry fruits, apples, kale, okra, peppers, plums and red grapes.

Beta-carotene containing foods

Sweet potato, carrots, butternut squash, red and yellow peppers, apricots, peas, broccoli, dark leafy greens like kale, and romaine lettuce.

Vitamin C containing foods

Blackcurrants, blueberries, peppers, kale, collard leaves, broccoli, kiwis, mango, courgettes, and cauliflower.

What to drink

Drink plenty of water. Keeping well hydrated is helpful for all aspects of health. In the case of hay fever, it thins the mucous membranes and reduces that ‘blocked up’ feeling.

Green tea is packed full of antioxidants, which are helpful for the immune system generally. It has also been proven to block one of the receptors involved in immune responses.

Ginger tea has been shown to help reduce allergic reactions by lowering your body’s IgE levels (the antibody involved in the specific immune reaction associated with hay fever).

Peppermint tea is worth trying because peppermint contains menthol, a natural decongestant that may help improve sinus symptoms.

Whist we are talking tea, also add nettle tea to your shopping list for its ability to relieve inflammation of the upper respiratory tract and ease nasal congestion, sneezing and


An anti-inflammatory approach

Hay fever is an inflammatory condition and may be further helped by including other types of food that calm the inflammatory response. Top of the list are foods containing anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids, which I often recommend to clients struggling with any inflammatory condition. These include all types of oily fish (like salmon, trout, sardines, halibut and cod) as well as flaxseed and walnuts.

Extra virgin olive oil is another anti-inflammatory oil and can be used in cooking, baking and salads.

As well as adding flavour to your food, herbs like parsley, sage, thyme, oregano and basil have anti-inflammatory properties as do many spices, including turmeric, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, fennel and nutmeg.

While the main problem for hay fever sufferers is the pollen itself, you may also find that hidden food intolerances and poor gut health are making symptoms worse.

Hay fever tends to get worse during the perimenopause (thank you oestrogen wobbles) and with poor gut health, so I see it a lot in my clinic. When I work with clients who have allergies, I concentrate on the gut. This is vital to reduce symptoms and to keep them in check. I offer a range of testing options at my clinic if this is something you would like to explore.

If you would like to discuss your hay fever, gut health or perimenopausal symptoms, then book in for a free 20-minute Reboot your Health session Book your Reboot your Health call

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