Natural ideas for hay fever sufferers – Part II

The symptoms of hay fever may well be irritating and even distressing at times.  As I said in Part I I do not suffer from the condition so this may well sound easy for me to say, but trying not to get too upset and stressed about your hay fever could be a great help.  This is important to mention because stress(1) has been linked to the production of inflammatory agents in the body and could hence further aggravate your symptoms thus starting up a vicious cycle.

As discussed previously hay fever is an inflammatory condition.  A natural agent that would be highly useful in mediating the inflammatory reactions in the body is the long chain omega 3 fatty acid, Eicosapentaenoic Acid or EPA.  As well as having a general anti-inflammatory role EPA may actually help to prevent hay fever.  A study in 2003(2) demonstrated that individuals with a high intake of dietary EPA had a 55% reduction in their incidence of hay fever compared with persons who consume low amounts of dietary EPA.

EPA is naturally found in oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, trout and sardines.  As well as aiding the production of potent anti-inflammatory chemicals in the body it is also beneficial to the health of the heart, brain, eyes, nerves, bones, digestive system and skin (and I am sure I will be mentioning omega 3 fatty acids in future blog postings!).  Many of us do not eat these types of fish regularly (two portions per week is usually recommended) and hence a daily fish oil supplement (providing around 300mg of EPA and 200mg DHA) may be very useful for the prevention of hay fever and even to promote optimal health and wellbeing.  For vegetarians and vegans flaxseed oil (1000mg daily) can provide omega 3 fatty acids in the form of alpha linolenic acid which the body then bio-converts to EPA (the long chain form). 

One other natural remedy which can be helpful in the treatment of hay fever is the herb Butterbur (Petasites hybridus). This herb seems to exhibit anti-inflammatory activity and anti-allergic properties.   The British Medical Journal published a study(3) which compared Butterbur supplementation with the conventional antihistamine drug cetirizine (prescribed in the UK under the name Zirtek).  Both treatments were equally effective in reducing hay fever symptoms.  However, the drug cetirizine tended to cause side effects such as fatigue and drowsiness.  The authors of the study concluded that:  “The effects of butterbur are similar to those of cetirizine in patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis…..Butterbur should be considered for treating seasonal allergic rhinitis when the sedative effects of antihistamines need to be avoided”.

As an interesting point antibiotics used in children in their first 2 years of life have been associated with a 2-3 fold increased risk of hay fever(4).  As well as destroying the bacteria that cause illness in the body antibiotics also kill the healthy bacteria that live in the digestive system.  As mentioned in a previous posting these friendly bacteria have been shown to positively affect the immune system, which is responsible for allergic and inflammatory responses in the body, so a prebiotic and probiotic supplement may be useful to anyone who has been recently exposed to antibiotics or as an immune boosting aid (see post dated 19/05/08 for more detail about pre- and probiotics for immune health).

And finally, a study last year (5) found that almost 50% of hay fever suffers seem to be highly sensitive not only to typical allergy triggers like grass, tree pollens, dust and animal hair but also to things like cold air, perfumes, cigarette smoke and household cleaning products.  So, if you find that you often suffer from symptoms like itchy eyes and stuffy or runny nose you may find it useful to take a product containing vitamin C and bioflavonoids (as discussed in Part I) all year around as a preventative, anti-allergic measure.

(1) Maes M et al.  2000.  In humans, serum polyunsaturated fatty acid levels predict the response of proinflammatory cytokines to psychologic stress.  Biol Psychiatry.  47(10):910-920.
(2) Nagel G et al.  2003.  The influence of the dietary intake of fatty acids and antioxidants on hay fever in adults.  Allergy.  58(12):1277-1284.
(3) Schapowal A.  2002.  Randomised controlled trial of butterbur and cetirizine for treating seasonal allergic rhinitis.  BMJ.  324:144-146
(4) Wickens K et al.  1999.  Antibiotic use in early childhood and the development of asthma, hay fever and eczema. Clin Exp Allergy.  29:766-771
(5)Shusterman D and Murphy MA.  2007.  Nasal hyperreactivity in allergic and non-allergic rhinitis: a potential risk factor for non-specific building-related illness.Indoor Air.  17:328-333

Written by Ani Kowal