Diet and supplements for hayfever

It seems that everywhere I look at the moment there are people with streaming eyes, a snuffly nose and comparing notes on which anti-histamine (or combination of) is working best. We tend to think of hay fever being at its worst in spring and early summer, not mid July – but this year our seasons are later than usual and hay fever is a reaction not only to tree pollen but to grasses or nettles – many of which are in full flow now. It’s entirely possibly that people who are plagued with ‘summer’ colds are actually instead suffering from hay fever. But could nutrition and hay fever be linked?

We take a look at the role of nutrition and hay fever symptoms: 

Vitamin C for some people may help to lessen symptoms – it’s natural anti-histamine. Fresh oranges are a source of Vitamin C, but there are loads of other foods that are as good, or better, sources of Vitamin C – kiwi, papaya, strawberries, broccoli, kale, peppers and lemon juice to name a few. For an anti-histamine effect you’ll need a good quality vitamin C supplement of at least a gram.

The flavonoid quercetin acts as anti-histamine and I use it for anything allergic – hay fever, asthma apples 2and eczema. Quercitin isn’t found in many foods in high quantities (supplements are available) but ones that stand out are apples, onions, sage and parsley. These are easy to get into the diet on a daily basis – an apple a day, onions in tomato sauces and in summer, tabbouleh salads stuffed with parsley are a simple lunch.

Dietary-wise, it’s also important to avoid foods that there may be ‘cross reactions’ with. For instance, if your particular hay fever trigger is birch, you may have worse symptoms when you eat apples. If your trigger is grass pollen, you may also find that you react to foods including wheat, rye, barley, oats and tomatoes. So going grain-free over the summer may make a difference. Many people aren’t aware of this – if hay fever is a major problem, it’s worth getting allergy tested to establish which pollen is the issue, as you can then steer clear of the cross-reactive foods in hay fever season which may make your hay fever worse. Contact us if you’d like more information on cross reactions.

Some foods also contain histamine, so skipping these if you’re sneezing madly may be worth a shot. High histamine foods include cheese, red wine, chocolate, sauerkraut and canned/smoked fish (or fish that is not fresh). Strawberries and citrus fruits also can be high in histamine so if you find these affect you, boost your Vitamin C through other fruits, veggies or supplements.

Dairy foods can thicken mucous – so even if you’re not allergic to those, reducing them over the hay fever season can make a big difference to nasal congestion.

There’s lots of anecdotal (i.e. not scientifically backed) evidence that local honey or bee propolis can help to relieve symptoms. For this to work, in theory the honey should contain very small residues of the exact pollen or grass you are reacting to, in order to build up tolerance – so it needs to be local, unprocessed honey.

Supplements for hay fever include:

  •  probiotics – a supplement over the spring and summer months can reduce severity of symptoms – over 70% of the immune system is located in our gut so addressing gut health with a qualified Registered Nutritional Therapist is a great starting point.
  • Vitamin D  – some of our ‘allergic’ illnesses, including asthma and potentially hay fever have been associated with our generally widespread low levels of this vitamin. Vitamin D levels are easy to test at your gp or with a home test kit, and supplements are cheap and readily available.
  • Vitamin C and quercetin are also available as supplements – a qualified Registered Nutritional Therapist (contact us here) can help you to put together a supportive plan which may also include other anti-inflammatory supplements such as MSM, bromelain and Omega 3 fats.
  • DAO supplements: DAO (Diamine Oxydase) is one of the main enzymes that breaks down histamine in the body. Imbalanced gut flora (see the point on probiotics above) can create excess histamine from foods that contain the amino acid histadine – so even if you’re not eating typical high histamine foods, your body still may be creating too much histamine.

Everybody’s hay fever trigger and causes are different – which is why in our clinic we form a personalised nutrition plan just for you.

But on a general basis, if diet and supplements don’t make a big difference, try the barrier methods. Pollen enters the body through the nose and eyes. Sunglasses are great at lessening the flow to the eyes; for the nose, barrier ointments make perfect sense. I’m not suggesting you smear your nose in Vaseline (although it would probably work) to prevent the pollen from entering, but there are some great trendy little pots of ointments (such as Haymax) specifically designed for this purpose – available in supermarkets and health shops. I’d say they’re worth a try – even if it only reduces the pollen intake by half, that’s still much less for your body to react to.


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