Can improving your gut health reduce hay fever symptoms?
The trees are turning green, the flowers are blooming, and the sniffles are starting. Springtime is always bittersweet for hayfever sufferers: much as we’d love to be out celebrating the return of the sun, that blasted pollen is conspiring to keep us indoors with the windows firmly sealed.
And this year it's started earlier than normal, as trees are already releasing pollen after the unusually warm winter. Cue a rush to the local pharmacy to stock up on all the usual tablets, eye-drops, and nasal sprays.
But could there be another way to treat hayfever? Like so many health trends that are emerging, some believe that the fight against seasonal sniffles could be waged in the gut.
That’s because hayfever is the response of an overactive immune system, and it is believed that this immune system is controlled to a large proportion by your gut microflora – healthy bacteria that live in your innards. Therefore, the thinking goes, the healthier your gut, the more effective your immune system.
“The mucosa of the whole body can be seen as one big organ," says Dr Maximilian Schubert, medical director at Austrian gut-health clinic, VIVAMAYR Altaussee, referring to the membrane that lines our skin and organs. "If there is a reaction to a certain entrance point, there are always reactions in other locations as well.
“For a non-human protein to contact the immune system, this protein must pass the mucosa lining. Therefore this lining must be leaky, inflamed, and at least partly destroyed. This problem is known as ‘silent inflammation’.
"The organ with the biggest mucosa skin is the gut. Therefore repairing the gut will improve the strength of the mucosa skin.”
This assertion is backed up by a 2004 study by the University of Michigan on mice. One group of mice were given antibiotic-filled water designed to mess with their microflora. Another group were not. The mice were then exposed to allergens. The group whose microflora was out of whack from the antibiotics showed allergic reactions; the group with healthy microflora did not.
Dr. Schubert and his colleagues have used the idea that gut health and hayfever are linked to create a treatment programme designed to help in the yearly fight.
“We help the gut with a gentle cleansing, a calming diet and very good detoxification process to reach its best healthy levels,” says Schubert. This process requires people to chew every mouthful of food up to 30-40 times, stop eating immediately when full, drink between meals rather than with them, leave a gap of 4-5 hours between meals, and eat nothing raw after 4pm.