Seasonal Sniffles

Top tips for helping hay fever naturally

It is estimated that nearly 18 million people have hay fever in the UK – that’s around one in four of us. Hay fever, or seasonal allergic rhinitis, is an allergic reaction to airborne substances such as pollen which can get into the upper respiratory passages of the nose, sinuses, throat and eyes. This can then cause the body to produce antibodies and release histamine, which irritates the upper respiratory passages. This results in the common symptoms of sneezing, a runny or blocked nose and itching inside the nose and eyes. The conventional medical approach is to use antihistamine tablets or nasal sprays. However there are plenty of natural approaches that can be taken too.

Try supplementing with pycnogenol

Steroid nasal sprays and antihistamines are typical treatments for hay fever. But did you know a natural solution grows on trees? “Pycnogenol is a natural plant extract obtained from the bark of the maritime pine tree, found in the south west of France,” explains Dr David Mantle from preventative nutrition experts Pharma Nord (www.pharmanord.co.uk). “The extract contains a unique combination of flavonoids, a large family of compounds responsible for the red, yellow and orange colours of many fruits and vegetables. Flavonoids have been found to be of benefit in the diet and their presence makes pycnogenol a powerful antioxidant, protecting cells from oxidative damage caused by free radicals. In fact, the antioxidant activity of pycnogenol is around 50 times that of vitamin C. Pycnogenol also has anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine properties, meaning that it can help with symptoms such as sneezing, blocked or runny noses and itchy eyes. A clinical study has shown that pycnogenol is most effective when taken at least five weeks before the start of the hay fever season. Only 12 per cent of hay fever sufferers needed antihistamines during the study, compared to 50 per cent of those not taking pycnogenol.”

Reduce inflammation with a nasal rinse

“Rinsing out your nasal passages with salt water (morning and night) could help reduce inflammation and remove stray pollen grains that might be causing irritation,” explains Joannah Metcalfe, consultant aromatherapist at Base Formula (www.baseformula.com). Joannah recommends adding 1tsp of salt and 1tsp of bicarbonate of soda to either 500ml of lukewarm distilled water or tap water that has been boiled for three to five minutes then cooled. She adds: “Standing over a bowl or sink, tip some of the solution into your cupped hand and sniff up into one of your nostrils. The water will run through the nasal passages and into the back of your throat. Try not to swallow the solution and spit out as much as you can! Repeat at least three times for each nostril. You could also buy a nasal irrigator or neti pot from your pharmacy (or online) which often includes sachets of saline solution.”

Ease sniffles with an aromatherapy inhalation

“Several factors exacerbate hay fever,” says Julie Silver, author of Food Awakening: Nutrition for NOW (www.juliesilver.co.uk). “These include a weakened immune system, poor diet, dehydration, an overload of chemicals and toxins, plus stress. The liver has to cope with filtering chemicals. Any excess chemicals will make this more difficult and cause hay fever and allergies.” Julie recommends finding natural, healthy alternatives to wheat, dairy, sugar, alcohol and caffeine, as these may cause stress. She advises choosing gluten-free whole grains such as brown rice and millet, quinoa and buckwheat instead as they are more hydrating than processed and refined carbohydrates.

She adds: “Vegan proteins such as beans, pulses, tempeh, nuts and seeds are less acidic and more hydrating than animal proteins.” Julie also recommends replacing black tea with rooibos/redbush tea as it is naturally caffeine-free and contains antioxidants. “Take natural supplements such as quercetin, vitamin C and bromelain to boost the immune system and prevent allergies,” she says.

Try a barrier balm

“There are an increasing number of natural remedies available for hay fever which have more and more evidence behind them to give you confidence that they can make a difference,” says airborne allergens expert, Max Wiseberg (haymax.biz). “Organic, drug-free allergen barrier balms have been shown to trap all sorts of airborne allergens, and in a study during the summer of 2014, 78 per cent of participants found they helped with some or all of their hay fever symptoms. So people have been able to use these and stop using the pharmaceutical treatments.

Trials have also shown that acupressure bands worn on the elbow which act on the Qu-Chi point are effective in relieving the symptoms of hay fever. The best thing about all these is that they can be used alongside the pharmaceutical remedies and in conjunction with each other. Where doctors used to prescribe more and more powerful drugs, the attitude seems to be changing now and doctors are suggesting that people use several complementary solutions together to get the best possible results.”

Eat some local honey

“Many allergies, such as asthma or hay fever, are caused by pollen introduced into the respiratory system,” explains James Hamill, master beekeeper and head of development for HayfeGUARD® Local Honey (www.thehivehoneyshop.co.uk).

“But scientists have found that there is a difference between inhaled pollen and the bee pollen from beehives found in honey. Allergies are caused generally by breathing in the anemophilous pollens which are carried by the wind. To help build a form of natural immunity, your body requires a supply of entomophilous pollens (bee pollen gathered by the bees from a variety of different blossoms) that will act as a barrier or shield against the wind-borne and inhaled pollens responsible for allergic reaction.”

James recommends that hay fever sufferers consume some raw, unpasteurised, local UK honey which has not been clear filtered as this process removes most of the pollen. He advises against supermarket honey as this generally tends to be heat-treated, which kills the pollen, and is often sourced from outside the UK. “If you suffer from hay fever in the UK then a particular plant here is producing pollen that is upsetting your body,” says James. The key is therefore to consume a honey that is local to your area to help desensitise the body to the pollen. “Start in the winter before the pollen season,” says James. “The longer you consume local pollen the better.” Eat it straight from the jar or on food, but don’t add it to hot drinks as this harms the pollen.

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