The Role of Gut Health in Managing Hay Fever
By Naturopath, Renee Irvine.
With Spring coming up in a matter of weeks, many hay fever sufferers would be gearing up for a hellish couple of months. If you suffer from hay fever, you know the tell-tale signs as Spring kicks in: runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, throat, nose and face. Some of us will spend the entire season feeling like we are continuously coming down with something as our immune system ‘battles’ these allergens. Hay fever is caused by exposure to environmental allergens such as pollen, grasses, animal dander and dust mites. Initially we are exposed to these seemingly harmless things, our immune system recognises them as problematic causing an immune response, meaning that further exposure elicits the same exaggerated response.
Conventional medicine tells us the only solution is to take anti-histamines, maybe use a nasal spray or decongestant, and to just soldier on, but what if there was another solution?
Gut health plays a major role in our immune system function. An imbalance in gut bacteria, poor digestive function and/or inflammation and damage to our gut lining can contribute to poor immune function or immune overactivity, aka hay fever. Damage to our gut lining and altered gut bacteria are two ways that can set up the perfect scenario for over active immune function. Inflammation caused by illness, poor digestive function or dietary triggers can result in damage to the lining of our gut. The damage can result in our gut becoming more permeable (‘leaky’), allowing partially digested foods and other things into our blood stream causing an immune response. If this gut permeability continues, our immune system becomes more reactive, leading to continued exaggerated response.
Altered gut bacteria may also play a role in the presentation of hay fever. Alterations to our developing gut bacteria can occur in utero from our mothers’ gut bacteria, or in the first few months if we are born via c-section or aren’t breastfed. Antibiotic use in the first year of life, or regular antibiotic use throughout our lives can also affect our gut bacteria composition. Changes to our gut bacteria can result in poor diversity (how many different types of bacteria), and sufferers of hay fever, in particular, have been shown to have low diversity in their gut bacteria.
Whilst we cannot go back in time and undo or change the factors that affected our gut health, there are things you can do to improve your own gut health now, such as eating a diverse and varied diet, consuming pre and probiotic rich foods, and eating foods that reduce inflammation and improve digestive function. For a more targeted approach, a consultation with a naturopath will result in a personalised plan, targeting the individual reasons your gut health isn’t top notch. Naturopaths look at all aspects of gut function in order to improve gut health and reduce immune overactivity, from possible trigger foods that may be damaging the gut, to improving digestive function and restoring balance to your gut bacteria with specific and targeted strains of probiotic bacteria. If you’d like more information about what our naturopaths can do to assist with managing your hay fever symptoms, they offer a free phone assessment which you can book via our online booking system.