Hay fever: using foods as medicine

Pollen: delicious for bees but not so delicious when you have hay feverAre you suffering from seasonal allergies? You’re not alone. Hay fever is now believed to affect over 400 million people worldwide, mostly in Western countries[1]. Many scientific studies have found an association between what we are eating and the severity of hay fever symptoms. The good news is that they have found a link between dietary antioxidant intakes, omega fat intakes and managing symptoms of hay fever.

Several antioxidants appear to have properties that help kerb our response to stressors such as pollen allergens, which cause hay fever symptoms. Flavonoids (also called bioflavonoids) are natural biological compounds found in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, bark roots, plant stems and flowers, tea and wine.  There have now been over 4000 varieties of flavonoids identified, and they are categorised (according to their chemical structure) into flavonols, flavones, flavanones, isoflavonones, catechins, anthocyanidins and chalones…don’t worry, even my spell check can’t keep up!    Basically, we now know that plants offer much more nutrition than just vitamins and minerals.  Flavonoids have anti-inflammatory properties that help the body fight off the worst effects of allergies, so very supportive if you suffer from hay fever.

Quercetin is one of the flavonoids believed to help dampen down the response to seasonal allergies[2]. Quercetin is found in many foods easily available at this time of year, so it shouldn’t be hard for you to make sure you are getting enough in your diet every day during hay fever season.

Quercetin rich foods include:

Fruits: Apples,  citrus fruits,  all types of berries (e.g. blueberries and blackberries)
Vegetables: Onions (higher levels in red and yellow onions and lowest in white onions),

Brassicas such as cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli

Herbs: Parsley
Drinks: Cocoa powder and tea (without milk)[3].

Studies have found that eating a diet rich in good fats helps you to absorb quercetin and also helps to keep it in your system for longer.  Bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapple, also can enhance the body’s absorption of quercetin.  So eating a breakfast of blueberries and pineapple sprinkled with a tablespoon of nuts and seeds such as walnuts and pumpkin seeds, both rich in good fats, would enhance absorption of quercetin and help the body hold on to it for longer.

For more individualised diet and lifestyle advice, book in to see Lucy at her clinics in Bath, Frome or the Isle of Wight.  Skype appointments are also available.


[1] Rosenkranz et al (2012) Dietary factors associated with lifetime asthma and hayfever diagnosis in Australian middle-aged and older adults: a cross sectional study.  Nutrition Journal, 11: 84.

[2] Pal et al (2013) Flavonoids: a powerful and abundant source of antioxidants. International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, 5 (3), 95-98

[3] Lakhanpal & Rai (2007) Quercetin: a versatile flavonoid.  Internet Journal of Medical Update 2 (2)


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