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Independent health store advice on hay fever

Looking for advice on natural health and wellbeing? Your local independent health store can offer a wealth of expertise. This month we talk to Keren Brynes MacLean, a medical herbalist and owner of Health Food and More in Kirkcaldy, Fife

April is the time of year when many people begin to experience the typical symptoms of hay fever: sneezing, a runny nose, itchy throat and itchy eyes. Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, occurs when a person has an allergic response to an allergen such as tree or grass pollen. The body's mast cells release chemicals such as histamine which is part of an inflammatory response. If we can find ways to calm down that inflammation, then that can reduce the severity of symptoms.

Why do some people suffer with seasonal allergies while others don't? It's an interesting question. Some people might have a family history of hay fever or other atopic conditions like asthma and eczema so there can be a genetic predisposition. Another reason could be gut dysbiosis (an imbalance of the gut bacteria). There's a real correlation between heightened allergic response and digestive issues. Nutritional deficiency is another factor. Being low in things like zinc can increase your tendency towards allergies. Herbalists and nutritionists up and down the country are seeing much more people with allergies in our clinics. It's not just hay fever either; it's also an increase in things like urticaria skin rashes and food intolerances and sensitivities.

Depending on the severity of symptoms, we can recommend over-the-counter remedies which may help with mild hay fever, or we can look at supporting the gut and the immune system in cases where the allergy is more severe.

Medicinal mushrooms

One of the key remedies that we recommend both in the shop and in my clinic is Reishi mushroom. You want an immune system that reacts to allergies when it needs to, but not to be in a heightened state all the time. Reishi is good at normalising that. If an individual is in a heightened allergic state, Reishi mushroom tends to pull them back from that into the mid ground where they are neither too allergic nor too vulnerable to viral infections. In my clinic I have found that when people use Reishi mushroom year on year they become less severely allergic.

Nettle is a natural antihistamine which you can buy in supplement or herbal tincture form as well as teabags. Elderflower is another great herbal remedy which has an anti-inflammatory effect on the mucous membranes. You can buy it in supplement or tincture form. Elderflower is also a natural source of quercetin, which is a compound that is incredibly well researched for treating allergies. The way that quercetin works is that it stabilises the mast cells, which release histamine and cause the symptoms of hay fever. If you can stabilise those mast cells and make them a little bit less reactive, then you can really calm down the allergic response. The latest research shows that quercetin increases zinc absorption and zinc is really important for dampening down allergies. So it seems to have a double-pronged approach in benefiting symptoms like hay fever. There is quite a lot of research indicating that quercetin may reduce the severity of COVID symptoms as well, which is caused by inflammation running amok in the body.

Another herb to look at is plantain. It's an anti-inflammatory and it's a restorative for the mucous membranes. If the mucous membranes are too dry it works as a mucilaginous remedy. If they're too wet, it helps to dry things out. So it has a normalising effect. Again it's available in tincture form.

Chamomile is very useful too. If you have itchy, inflamed eyes then using a chamomile wash or placing chamomile tea bags on your eyes can really help to reduce inflammation.

Good gut health Gut health plays a huge part in a person's allergic responses, so I would recommend taking a good probiotic. Making sure that our gut has a good bacterial balance can help to dampen down allergic immune responses. I specifically recommend Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, which is a specific strain of probiotic that has been shown to reduce allergies and histamine overdrive. You can get it in capsule form for adults and in powder form for children.

In terms of dietary changes, if a person is producing a lot of mucous, with a very runny nose and lots of catarrh, then I would suggest cutting down on dairy as this can help. Reducing wheat can help to calm the allergic response too.

Other helpful things include barrier creams that you smear around your nostrils to capture some of the pollens and stop them from going up your nose. Saline nasal washes can help too, as can wearing sunglasses. Local honey is another popular remedy with our customers during hay fever season. What I understand is that you're getting a microdose of local pollens, and therefore you are training your immune system not to overreact to them.

One last point worth mentioning is oral allergy syndrome, which is an associated condition that can go hand in hand with hay fever. It occurs when an individual experiences an allergic reaction to certain fruits, vegetables and nuts that have similar protein structures to airborne pollens. The symptoms tend to be itching around the mouth, lips and throat. The most common foods involved are apples, peaches, kiwi fruit, hazelnuts and almonds.

I would suggest to anyone who knows that they have a specific pollen reaction to try cutting out these cross-reactive foods because they might find that their hay fever symptoms improve.

Health Food and More

Health Food and More is based at 132a St Clair Street, Kirkcaldy, KY1 2BZ.

Owned by medical herbalist Keren Brynes MacLean, it combines an independent heath food store with a herbal health clinic. The shop stocks a wide range of supplements and natural remedies as well as dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan foods.

Opened just after the millennium, Health Food and More merged with the long-established Kirkcaldy Herbal Clinic in 2007 offering a range of clinical services with a team of NIMH Registered Herbal Medicine Practitioners.

For more information, call the store on 01592 566 446 or visit
Follow them on Facebook at: healthfoodandmore and kirkcaldyherbalclinic