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Foods to Reduce Hayfever

Lady with hayfeverWhile many of us are enjoying the mild and pleasant weather this time of the year, for some people spring can be a time of suffering. Some of the symptoms of hayfever include

  • sneezing attacks
  • a runny or blocked nose
  • itchy, red or watery eyes
  • coughing
  • sinus pressure
  • itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears
  • loss of smell
  • pain around the temples and forehead
  • headaches
  • earaches
  • tiredness or fatigue

Basic Causes

When you have hayfever, your immune system sees a harmless airborne substance as potentially harmful. Your immune system then produces antibodies to this substance. The next time you come in contact with it, these antibodies signal your immune system to release chemicals such as histamine into your bloodstream, which cause the symptoms of hayfever.

So the most common treatments for hayfever are antihistamine medications.

What is Histamine?

Histamine is a chemical produced by your body to

  • help your immune responses
  • help your stomach digest food
  • assist your central nervous system to function correctly

(As a neurotransmitter, histamine communicates important messages from your body to your brain.)

However, histamine’s main role is to cause an immediate inflammatory response. It serves as a ‘red flag’ to your immune system, notifying it of any potential attackers.

Histamine causes your blood vessels to swell, or dilate, so that your white blood cells can quickly find and attack the infection or problem. The build-up of histamine may give you headaches and leave you feeling flushed, itchy and miserable. This is a part of the body’s natural immune response, but if your body doesn’t break the histamine down properly, you could develop what is termed a histamine intolerance.

Because it travels throughout your bloodstream, histamine can affect your gut, lungs, skin, brain, and the entire cardiovascular system, contributing to a wide range of problems in the body. (Due to the many areas affected and the diverse symptoms, it can often be difficult to pinpoint and diagnose the cause of the problem in these cases.)

The body controls histamine levels by producing an enzyme called diamine oxidase (DAO). But if too much histamine or not enough DAO is produced, allergies will occur.

Foods can have a major influence on histamine levels, by containing histamine themselves, by causing the body to release histamine, or by blocking the release of DAO by the body.

Foods to Avoid

Histamine-Rich Foods

  • Fermented alcoholic beverages, especially wine, champagne and beer
  • Fermented foods: sauerkraut, vinegar, soy sauce, yogurt, kombucha, kefir, etc
  • Vinegar-containing foods: pickles, mayonnaise, olives
  • Cured meats: bacon, salami, pepperoni, luncheon meats and hot dogs
  • Dried fruit: apricots, prunes, dates, figs, raisins
  • Most citrus fruits
  • Soured foods: sour cream, sour milk, buttermilk, soured bread, etc
  • Aged cheese including goat cheese
  • Nuts: walnuts, cashews, and peanuts
  • Vegetables: avocados, eggplant, spinach, and tomatoes
  • Smoked fish and certain species of fish: tuna, anchovies, sardines, mackerel, mahi-mahi

Histamine-Releasing Foods

  • Alcohol
  • Bananas
  • Chocolate
  • Cow’s milk
  • Many artificial preservatives and dyes
  • Nuts
  • Papaya
  • Pineapple
  • Shellfish
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Wheat germ

DAO-Blocking Foods

  • Alcohol
  • Energy drinks
  • Black (regular) tea
  • Green tea
  • Mate tea

However, there are a number of foods that can help to reduce your histamine levels. Please note that freshness is the key with these foods when you have a histamine intolerance.

Foods to Have

Low-Histamine Foods:

  • Fresh fruits: mangos, pears, watermelon, apples, grapes, kiwifruit, cantaloupes
  • Fresh vegetables (except tomatoes, spinach, avocado, and eggplant)
  • Freshly cooked meat, poultry (frozen or fresh)
  • Freshly caught fish
  • Eggs
  • Leafy herbs
  • Herbal teas
  • Gluten-free grains: rice, quinoa
  • Pure peanut butter
  • Dairy substitutes: coconut milk, rice milk, hemp milk, almond milk
  • Cooking oils: olive oil, coconut oil

Raising your DAO levels is also important in combatting hayfever.

Causes of Low DAO

  • Gluten intolerance
  • Leaky gut
  • Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth(SIBO)
  • DAO-blocking foods: alcohol, energy drinks, and tea
  • Genetic mutations (common in people of Asian-descent)
  • Inflammation from Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and inflammatory bowel disease
  • Medications:
    • Antihistamines (Allegra, Zyrtec, Benadryl)
    • Histamine (H2) blockers (Tagamet, Pepcid, Zantac)
    • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, aspirin)
    • Antidepressants (Cymbalta, Effexor, Prozac, Zoloft)
    • Immune modulators (Humira, Enbrel, Plaquenil)
    • Antiarrhythmics (propanolol, metaprolol, Cardizem, Norvasc)

Although histamine blockers seem like they would help prevent histamine intolerance, these medications can actually deplete DAO levels in your body, so will make the hayfever worse in the long run.

Treating Hayfever Naturally

Basic Level

Try to remove as many of the ‘Foods to Avoid’ and increase the ‘Foods to Have’ as much as you can, starting 1-3 months before the hayfever season. But most importantly, find the root cause for the histamine intolerance. If you are on a medication that is causing the intolerance, check with your doctor if you can be weaned off this medication.

If you have a histamine intolerance, you may not have to try to avoid these foods forever. It can be a short-term solution until your histamine or DAO levels return to their optimal ranges. (Depending on your unique make-up, you may find that you tolerate some foods better than others.)

Advanced Treatments

We have covered how different foods can affect your histamine levels, but why do some people have hayfever and others don’t? Almost any over-reaction by the immune system (such as allergies, food intolerances, or auto-immune disorders) has its origin in the digestive system. The two most common causes are

  • Incorrect gut bacteria. You may have heard of taking probiotics to help your immune system. Recent research shows that the correct bacteria in our bodies provides vital help with many of the body’s basic functions, including growth, digestion, and self-defence. The probiotic strains Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG and lactobacillus paracasei (LP-33TM) both help to stimulate the production of anti-inflammatory chemicals. They also stimulate the production of regulatory T cells, which can reduce IgE levels, the antibodies produced by your body when you have an allergy. (For example, one double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial on 425 subjects with allergic rhinitis compared the effects of LP-33TM or placebo over a five week period. The LP-33TM group demonstrated significant improvements in their Rhinitis Quality Of Life (RQLQ) score, nasal and ocular symptoms.)

These probiotic strains are not normally available over the counter; instead they must be prescribed by a qualified therapist trained in this area, such as a registered naturopath.

  • Leaky Gut Syndrome. This is another very common cause of allergies and food intolerances. Under normal circumstances, the epithelial cells that line your small intestine are joined tightly to each other. This makes the lining of your intestine nearly leak-proof, and only fully digested food molecules are allowed to pass through. If there are strong stresses on these delicate structures, these tight joins may start to separate, creating gaps between the cells. These gaps make your gut ‘leaky’, and then large, undigested food molecules can pass through into the body, where they are collected by the bloodstream and lymph vessels of your intestine.

When your immune system spots these large molecules, it decides that they are too big to be digested food, so it must be a foreign invader into the body, such as a virus or bacteria, and it attacks them. If your immune system over-reacts every time you eat something, eventually it may start reacting to other proteins it becomes exposed to, such as those in pollens, dust, etc., and then allergies such as hayfever develop.

(There are other causes for hayfever, but they are less common.)

Free Assessment Offer

If you are suffering from hayfever and would like to treat the real causes of the problem, we suggest booking in for a Comprehensive Assessment at our clinic. We can then have an in-depth look at what is happening in your body, what is causing the problem, and what can be done to sort it out. (Terms and conditions- the Assessment is a completely free service, with no obligations whatsoever.) Most people find their assessment very helpful, interesting and informative.