Pollen counts are continuing to rise across Europe, predicting months of misery for unprepared hay fever sufferers. A new study has found that pollen counts are rising by around 3% each year in urban areas, and that this rise may be caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (1).
Lead researcher Annette Menzel, from the Technical University of Munich, calls this the “carbon dioxide effect”. Plants use carbon dioxide to thrive, just as we use oxygen. She explains, “we know from experiments in the real world and in climate chambers that CO2 does promote the amount of pollen that trees produce.”
In hayfever sufferers, pollen triggers the release of histamine, an inflammatory chemical that causes sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, and an increase in mucous production. The condition is often treated with anti-histamine drugs and decongestants such as nasal sprays.
For those looking for a more natural way to relieve symptoms, there are a number of nutrients that act as anti-histamines. For example, Vitamin C enhances the action of the enzyme histaminase, which breaks down histamine. Quercetin, a natural bioflavonoid, reduces the activity of mast cells – the cells that release histamine and other inflammatory messengers. It is present in onions, shallots and garlic and is available in supplement form. Quercetin is often taken alongside bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapples that may help reduce the swelling and inflammation associated with hay fever.
A more holistic way of approaching the condition might be to support the immune system, altering the way that your body’s immune cells respond to pollen. This would help to prevent histamine from being released in the first place. Preliminary research suggests that probiotics may be an effective way of doing this.
For example, a recent double-blind study found that probiotics decreased levels of IgE (an antibody that stimulates histamine) in hay fever sufferers. Researcher Dr Kamal Ivory claims that the probiotic appeared to change the body’s response to grass pollen, “restoring a more balanced immune response” (2).
The pollen study suggests that allergic conditions such as hay fever will continue to rise. Indeed hay fever seems to be increasingly common across Europe. In the UK alone, there has been a 33% increase in allergic rhinitis in recent years (3). Taking steps now to alleviate the condition and to support your immune system could help you to avoid unpleasant symptoms and enjoy the summer months ahead.
Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC
1. Ziello et al (2012) Changes to Airborne Pollen Counts across Europe. PLoS ONE, 7 (4): e34076
2. Ivory et al. (2008) Oral delivery of Lactobacillus casei Shirota modifies allergen-induced immune responses in allergic rhinitis. Clinical & Experimental Allergy 38(8):1282-9
3. Hippisley-Cox et al (2007) Primary care epidemiology of allergic disorders: analysis using QRESEARCH database 2001-2006 QResearch June 2007.