Natural Health Perspectives: Causes & Treatments For Hay Fever

Tuesday, January 30, 2007 - 3:08pm

By Wendy Hodsdon, ND

Asthma and allergies, specifically hay fever, develop in similar ways and benefit from similar treatments. Both asthma and allergies are caused by the body’s inappropriate immune response. The immune system’s job is to recognize and react to dangers to the body by creating antibodies, which lead to histamine production. However, in the case of asthma and allergies, the body reacts to something that is not dangerous, such as pollen.  From a naturopathic perspective, the treatment for both asthma and allergies consists of a multi-pronged approach that calms the immune system and reduces its over-reactivity. 

Causes of asthma and allergies (hay fever)

The recent increase in asthma and allergies in children is alarming. The reason for the increase is unknown, although theories suggest that the human immune system is under greater stress than ever before. This stress comes from greater chemical pollution in the air, water and food; food additives; genetically modified foods; lack of breast feeding; and the earlier introduction of solid foods to infants. Immunizations may also play a role in creating the increased prevalence of allergic conditions. One study in Britain suggests that children who receive the pertussis vaccine are more likely to develop asthma. 

The physical cause of hayfever is usually pollens. Ragweed pollen is the most common allergen, with tree and grass pollens close behind. The trigger for asthma is either an allergic reaction with an attendant increase in antibodies and histamines; or exposure to chemicals, cold, infection, exercise or emotional upset. Increased inflammation occurs in the lungs, and mast cells release histamines and leukotrienes, causing bronchial constriction and difficulty breathing. 

Avoidance of potential allergens

Avoiding all potential allergens is impossible. However, it is possible to avoid controllable allergens to reduce the body’s production of allergic antibodies. Factors that increase antibody production include eating a refined diet, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and feeling stressed. Food allergies also contribute to the overall allergic load and increase symptoms. Avoiding food allergens and avoiding airborne allergens, where possible, decreases inflammation in the body and helps to calm the immune system. 

Toxins and the immune system

Reducing the toxic load in the body also calms the immune system. A calmed immune system produces fewer antibodies. Reducing toxins decreases inflammation in the intestines, which helps the body and the immune system react less vigorously to potential allergens. Certain coloring agents commonly used in food and drugs, along with many synthetic preservatives, cause non-specific inflammation because they are dangerous and the body needs to eliminate them. The amount of work the immune system has to do is reduced when it is exposed to fewer synthetic food additives, such as artificial dyes and preservatives. 

Specific nutrients that reduce symptoms

Specific nutrients will reduce inflammation in the body and stabilize mast cells so they are slower to release histamines. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in cold water fish, help to improve respiratory function by reducing the amount of inflammatory leukotrienes the body produces. Antioxidants, including flavonoids, carotenoids, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E, as well as many minerals, protect the lungs and stabilize mast cells. These vitamins and minerals are abundant in vegetables and fruits. Magnesium, also found in whole foods, prevents smooth muscle tissue from an over-tendency to spasm. Increased consumption of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and decreased consumption of synthetic chemicals can be helpful in reducing asthma and allergy symptoms.

Conclusion: for asthma and allergies avoid allergens, toxins and eat a healthy diet

The multi-pronged approach to treating asthma and allergies includes avoiding potential allergens as much as possible, avoiding toxins in the diet that the immune system has to eliminate, and eating a healthy diet with cold water fish, vegetables, fruits and whole grains. All of these recommendations work to calm the over-reactive immune system and reduce the severity of symptoms associated with these allergic conditions.