Hay Fever and The Gut: Is There A Link?

What is hay fever?

Hayfever season is fast approaching, so we thought it was about time to share some useful information on how it can relate to gut health. Hayfever is a seasonal allergy that impacts 1 in 5 people in their lifetime. 

A hay fever reaction commonly occurs when pollen enters the body, commonly through the mouth, nose, and eyes. Hayfever is usually worst through late March to September, particularly when it is warm, humid and windy. The higher the pollen count, the more extreme the symptoms.1 

The symptoms of hay fever, otherwise known as allergic rhinitis, commonly mimic the symptoms of a cold. A runny nose, sore throat, headache and itchy, swollen eyes can all occur when someone with hay fever comes into contact with pollen.1 Skin contact with pollen can also cause rashes or hives.2

Recent research has indicated a link between poor gut health and susceptibility to seasonal allergies - including hayfever.3 Here, we will explain just what that link is and what you can do to help limit hay fever symptoms this year. 

The Gut-Immune System Connection

The immune system is intricately connected to the gut microbiome. In fact, 70% of the cells that make up the immune system are within the gastrointestinal tract. The immune system is fundamental in keeping you healthy and protecting you from foreign invaders. 

The immune system comprises various organs, cells, and proteins. We don’t even notice the immune system when it’s functioning well as it fights illness behind the scenes, ensuring we are healthy. If the immune system is compromised, you begin to notice its absence.4 

When there is an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in our gut, it can cause an inflammatory response. Our immune system then spends its time fighting this inflammation instead of targeting foreign invaders, making us more likely to suffer illness. Inflammation can be caused by a whole host of factors, such as stress, eating highly processed foods, or overuse of antibiotics.5

Maintaining a healthy, balanced and diverse gut microbiome can help the immune system to function optimally. A study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that people with allergic rhinitis (hay fever) had an altered gut microbiota compared to healthy controls. The study concluded that the gut microbiota might play a role in the development of allergic rhinitis.

The Role of Gut Microbiota in Hay Fever Symptoms

When a susceptible person is exposed to an allergen such as pollen, the immune system causes the body to produce a particular type of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies which are very similar to the allergen. This means the next time the person is exposed to the allergen they will have an allergic reaction.6

Hay fever can occur at any age - symptoms don’t necessarily begin in childhood. Many factors can affect the development or severity of allergies, including hormones, stress, smoke, perfume or environmental irritants.6 

Given that the gut plays a crucial role in regulating our immune system, it raises the question of how this relationship may impact hay fever symptoms. In fact, while the exact mechanisms are still being investigated, there is growing evidence to suggest that the gut microbiome plays a role in hay fever symptoms. 

The role of the gut microbiota in hay fever symptoms can be defined via two means: 

  1. Studies have shown that alterations in the composition of the gut microbiome, such as a decrease in beneficial bacteria, can lead to an overactive immune response, which can trigger allergic reactions like hay fever.
  2. Certain bacterial strains have been found to be associated with a lower risk of developing hay fever and other allergic diseases.

Furthermore, research has also suggested that probiotics and prebiotics may help to alleviate hay fever symptoms by modulating the gut microbiome and immune system.

So, when you reach for those trusty antihistamines on your next pilgrimage to the health store, why not take a detour to the gut health section and pick up some probiotics alongside your usual remedies? Or better yet, check out our collection of gut health supplements.

Gut-Brain Axis and Allergies

The gut-immune system connection isn’t the only relationship that plays a role in hay fever and other allergies. For a little context, The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional communication pathway between the gut microbiome and the central nervous system. 

In simpler terms, the gut-brain axis is a communication pathway that links the gut and the brain, which allows our gut microbes to talk to the brain and tell it how they’re doing. At the same time, the brain can send messages back to the gut. These messages go back and forth through a network of nerves and chemical messengers, and they help the gut and brain work together to keep us healthy. 

Interestingly, some studies have shown that alterations in gut microbiota composition can lead to changes in brain function and behaviour, which may play a role in the development and progression of allergic diseases.

While this early evidence suggests there is indeed a link, more research is needed to understand the relationship between the gut-brain axis and allergies fully. Watch this space!

Strategies for Improving Gut Health and Reducing Hay Fever Symptoms

After all that we have discussed in this article with the gut-brain and gut-immune system connections and how this can all be linked to the potential causes and symptoms of hay fever and other allergies, what can we take away from this in a practical sense? How can we translate your new-found knowledge into strategies for improving your gut health, thus reducing hay fever symptoms? Here are some of our top tips!

  1. Get rich in fibre, a key nutrient for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. This includes boosting your fruit and veg intake and whole grains to help promote a diverse and healthy gut. 
  2. Consider a probiotic supplement: Packed with beneficial bacteria that can help populate your gut; this one is simply a no-brainer! 
  3. Avoid food allergens: If you have food allergies, consuming those foods can cause inflammation in the gut and potentially exacerbate hay fever symptoms.
  4. Reduce stress: We know it’s easier said than done! But chronic stress can negatively impact gut health, as it can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria and compromise the gut barrier function. Engaging in stress-reducing activities such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises can help to improve gut health and potentially reduce hay fever symptoms. At worst, it can take your mind off having an itchy throat and a runny nose.
  5. Stay hydrated: This is one of the basics of survival, but there are also some additional benefits to maintaining proper hydration, including promoting healthy bowel movements, which can help to flush out toxins and maintain a healthy gut microbiome. 

Good luck!

References → 1

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