Now that the days are longer and the evenings are lighter, you may be keen to plan for a summer full of gardening, BBQs and other outdoor activities. You may however be included in the 49% of people that Allergy UK say suffer from hay fever symptoms.1 If this is the case, I would understand if you are less enthusiastic about this time of year. Hay fever is sometimes called seasonal allergic rhinitis and inflammation is said to be a key component.2 You may agree that 49% is a huge proportion of the UK population thought to be battling out these symptoms every summer, but the prevalence has trebled in the past 20 years,3 so this percentage hasn’t always been so high.
One possible reason for this rise could be due to something called the ‘bio-diversity theory’. This theory talks about how we have lost so much bio-diversity from the natural environment and moved away from traditional ways of living. The changes in the way we live (mostly indoors, with little exposure to animals, grass and dirt!) is suggested to mean that we don’t get as much contact with all the different microorganisms (or bugs) that come from the outside world.
So, what has this got to do with hay fever you ask? Well, the bio-diversity theory suggests that the drop in exposure to outside microorganisms, impacts how our immune system works.4 As we grow up, our immune system learns how to react, whether to initiate an immune response (attack) or to stay quiet and dormant (tolerate). The way that it learns, is through being exposed to microorganisms in the environment. Now this used to be easy, as these bugs cover every surface out there; and yes, even on you. The problems begin when there are fewer and fewer microorganisms to bump into – such as the reduction in environmental bio-diversity. Meaning that our immune system hasn’t had as many ‘conversations’ with the outside environment as it would probably like. So, the default reaction that our immune system may have instead, is to react or attack. The way that it does this is by interpreting pollen as dangerous and so we start to get itchy and watery eyes, a sniffly nose, coughs and sneezes. This would be an attempt to ‘wash’ out the pollen from the system. Each time we are exposed to pollen, we get the same reaction, and then again and again each year.
There is some good news here however, you can give your immune system a helping hand by introducing it to some beneficial bacteria. This could be thought of as putting back in what has been lost over the years of modern living. Our gut is where the majority of the body’s microorganisms are and there are trillions of them, all in differing concentrations.5 In fact two-thirds of your gut bacteria are completely individual to you – and no one else! There is a constant communication going on between your gut bacteria and your immune system,6 so it makes sense that the gut is the place where most microbes flourish.
Beneficial bacteria can be obtained through eating a range of traditionally fermented foods and drinks, you can find these in most health food stores or make them at home. Examples include kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and tempeh. Kombucha can be a great alternative to sugary drinks throughout the summer, they are quite fizzy and are available in a range of flavours.
Taking live bacteria supplements is another option, as they might be easier and provide a standardised dose per serving. They can also be studied for their possible benefits in a range of health issues, including hay fever. You may be interested to know that taking live bacteria supplements were found to bring down inflammation and improve hay fever symptoms, which included nasal congestion, sneezing, eye redness, watering and itching.7–10
One study found that supplementing with a multi-strain for 8 weeks, helped to relieve hay fever symptoms and it also improved quality of life during allergy season.11 So I encourage you to support your gut microbiome this summer and hopefully have fewer days you’d rather forget, due to hay fever.
About The Author
Kim is a qualified Nutritional Therapist having graduated at Masters Level at University of Worcester in 2013. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Health, Nutrition and Fitness, and is registered with the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine.
Kim has a background working in Community Pharmacy in the UK and Australia where she gained insight into the relationship between complementary and allopathic medicine. She worked as a Nutritional Advisor at ADM Protexin, manufacturers of Bio-Kult and Lepicol, for 4 years, before moving on as a Technical Advisor. Kim takes part in corporate events and school education programmes as part of her nutritional therapy business, focussing on topics such as stress, sleep and sports performance.
If you are looking for a supplement that may be helpful in supporting the immune system at this time of year, I would recommend Bio-Kult. It contains 14 different strains of live bacteria and doesn’t need to be refrigerated, so you can take it with you on holiday, without having to worry about where to store it. It is also what is known as a multi-strain (including many types of beneficial species).
Visit Website: https://www.bio-kult.com/
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8 Kang M-G, Han S-W, Kang H-R, Hong S-J, Kim D-H, Choi J-H. Probiotic NVP-1703 Alleviates Allergic Rhinitis by Inducing IL-10 Expression: A Four-week Clinical Trial. Nutrients 2020; 12: 1427.
9 Singh A, Hacini-Rachinel F, Gosoniu ML, et al. Immune-modulatory effect of probiotic Bifidobacterium lactis NCC2818 in individuals suffering from seasonal allergic rhinitis to grass pollen: An exploratory, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Eur J Clin Nutr 2013; 67: 161–7.
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11 Dennis-Wall JC, Culpepper T, Nieves C, et al. Probiotics ( Lactobacillus gasseri KS-13, Bifidobacterium bifidum G9-1, and Bifidobacterium longum MM-2) improve rhinoconjunctivitis-specific quality of life in individuals with seasonal allergies: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr 2017; 105: 758–67.