Could gut health hold the key to 'curing' hay fever symptoms?

Hay fever season is here, pictured woman blowing her nose. (Getty Images)
Hay fever season is upon us but could your gut health help to improve symptoms? (Getty Images)

The sun has finally got its hat on. And while we're definitely hip, hip, hip hooray-ing, the hay fever sufferers amongst us (20-25% of Brits) will know the spring-like weather will signal the start of runny noses, watery eyes, uncontrollable sneezing and a general feeling of congestion.

Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is an allergic reaction that occurs when the immune system overreacts to allergens present in the air. It is one of the most common allergic conditions, with an estimated 10 million sufferers in England alone.

With symptoms peaking between late March and September, hay fever season is most definitely upon us, but before you reach for the anti-histamines, like the four-fifths (85%) of those who experience symptoms, it could be a good idea to look to your diet first.

That's because numerous studies have established a connection between gut health and the development and severity of allergies.

"In recent years, the relationship between gut microbiota and allergic rhinitis/hay fever has drawn wide attention," explains Dr Edel Duffy, Head of Medical at FUSION™ Allergy.

Woman enjoying the summer sunshine. (Getty Images)
Could your gut hold the key to improving hay fever symptoms this summer? (Getty Images)

"Given that 70-80% of the immune system is based in the gut, hay fever/allergic rhinitis is, like many other conditions, closely related to gut health. This is one of the big root causes of allergies."

It follows, therefore, that it could be possible to help alleviate the symptoms of hay fever by introducing good bacteria into your diet and improving your overall gut health.

"Poor gut health can impact our body in various ways, including how we respond to potential allergens like pollen," Dr Duffy continues.

"Latest research shows that people with a more diverse range of good bacteria in their gut are less likely to experience allergies, compared to those with a less diverse range.

"A diverse gut microbiome plays a crucial role in the development of the immune system, especially in its ability to differentiate between harmful pathogens and harmless substances, thereby reducing the risk of allergies."

Hay fever season is upon us. (Getty Images)
Hay fever season is upon us. (Getty Images)

But our gut isn’t the only area of the body with its own microbiome, our nose does too.

"There’s lots of interesting research demonstrating a difference between the nasal microbiome of people with and without hay fever, with hay fever sufferers having a less diverse mix compared with those without the allergy," Dr Edel continues.

While more studies are needed to fully understand this, Dr Edel says maintaining optimal gut health may help to reduce hay fever symptoms and increase tolerance to pollen over time.

With that in mind, here are some simple steps you can take to improve your gut health and hopefully help keep those pesky hay fever symptoms at bay.

Incorporate fermented foods

Eating fermented foods rich in probiotics will help to populate the gut with beneficial bacteria, which can support immune function and reduce inflammation associated with allergies.

"Fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, sourdough and tempeh are excellent for maintaining, restoring and improving the health of the gut," explains Dr Edel. "These foods are rich sources of probiotics, including beneficial strains like Lactobacilli, which have shown promise in alleviating hay fever symptoms."

Studies suggest that consuming fermented foods can increase the abundance of Lactobacilli in the intestines, potentially enhancing the body's resistance to infection and mitigating allergic responses like those seen in hay fever.

"Therefore, incorporating fermented foods into the diet may be beneficial for hay fever sufferers by promoting a healthier gut microbiome and potentially reducing the severity of symptoms," Dr Edel adds.

Eat a diverse diet

Consuming a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and legumes will provide a range of nutrients and fibre that support a healthy gut microbiome.

"Research indicates that a more diverse gut microbiome is associated with a lower risk of developing allergies," Dr Edel explains.

"A diverse gut microbiome plays a crucial role in the development of the immune system, especially in its ability to differentiate between harmful pathogens and harmless substances, thereby reducing the risk of allergies."

Woman eating a diverse diet. (Getty Images)
Increasing the diversity in your gut microbiome could help tackle hay fever symptoms. (Getty Images)

Limit processed foods and sugars

High intake of processed foods and sugars can negatively impact gut health by promoting the growth of harmful bacteria and increasing inflammation.

"Opting for whole, minimally processed foods is key," Dr Edel says.

Include Prebiotic Foods

Prebiotic foods contain fibres that nourish beneficial bacteria in the gut. "Examples include garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, bananas, and oats," Dr Edel advises. "Including these foods in your diet can help support the growth of beneficial bacteria."

Manage stress

Maybe easier said than done but chronic stress can disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut and weaken the immune system, potentially exacerbating allergy symptoms.

"Practicing stress-reducing techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or spending time in nature will help to combat this," Dr Edel advises.

Stay hydrated

Adequate hydration is essential for maintaining a healthy digestive system. "Drinking plenty of water throughout the day will allow for proper digestion and nutrient absorption," Dr Edel explains.

Woman drinking a glass of water. (Getty Images)
Staying hydrated is another way to improve your gut health and therefore potentially improve hay fever symptoms. (Getty Images)

Increase protein intake

Protein supports gut barrier strength, which is essential for preventing allergens and pathogens from entering the bloodstream. "Proteins are also composed of amino acids, some of which are important for gut health," Dr Edel adds.

Up the anti-inflammatory foods

Eating foods such as fatty fish, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, ginger and turmeric support gut health by reducing inflammation in the digestive tract, promoting a balanced microbiome.

Watch: Hay fever: How it can affect your mood