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Hay Fever

A vegan guide to remedies and prevention

Hay fever is a common allergic condition that affects as many as one in five of us. For some the symptoms are mild, while for others they can be utterly dreadful, almost ruling out the possibility of venturing outdoors at certain times of the year. The basic symptoms are a blocked and runny nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes – but the list of complaints can include coughing; itchy throat, nose, and mouth; tiredness; headache and earache; and even the loss of your sense of smell. Hay fever is caused by an allergy to pollen, the fine powder released by plants as part of their reproductive cycle, so hay fever strikes in the spring and summer months when grass and tree pollen is released. Weed pollen is usually less of an issue, but for those, it affects the problems can occur as late as autumn.

Remedies

There are all sorts of over-the-counter remedies and treatments for hay fever including tablets and nasal sprays. However, for vegans, this can be a problematic area due to the use of animal ingredients in several products and medicines, as well as the fact that UK law states any new drug must be tested on at least two different species
of mammal. For anyone suffering from an illness or health complaint concerned about animal rights and welfare, it’s important to remember that veganism is about avoiding animal products as far as possible providing it’s practical and, most importantly, safe. While the law dictates that animal testing remains a necessity, you cannot beat yourself up for resorting to a treatment that conflicts with your ethics when no other options are realistically possible. You matter too, and it’s important to take care of yourself. No medicine will technically be 100% vegan because, as it stands legally, they have to be tested on animal subjects. Fortunately, as far as hay fever is concerned, we have
the option to choose products with no (or minimal) animal ingredients, and some good non-medicinal vegan remedies.

Many people report a noticeable improvement in their health when they switch to veganism, and it’s well documented that completely plant-based diets can help with all sorts of illnesses including asthma, IBS, and arthritis – and many find that it even helps with hay fever.

Veganism vs. hayfever

But why does veganism seem to alleviate the symptoms of hay fever for so many sufferers? Some think that it’s just a case of mistaken identity; that what people previously thought was hay fever was, in fact, an allergy to animal products, and switching to veganism simply eliminated that problem. At least as likely though, it’s that dairy (any
product made from or containing cow’s milk) causes congestion and increased levels of mucus, and can even lead to heightened sensitivity of the areas around the nose and eyes – which makes them more susceptible to irritation from animal hair, dust mites, and (you guessed it) pollen. Therefore hay fever may just be one of a number of allergies
that are triggered or exacerbated by a diet that includes dairy.
But what about those suffering from hay fever whose symptoms have not been so successfully stamped out by the switch to a vegan diet? What about those wishing to avoid medicine altogether who are looking for a natural remedy? Almost everyone that suffers from hay fever will have been told to try local honey, and it’s no doubt the most quoted dietary solution to the problem.

The honey debate 

Of course, honey isn’t vegan, but some hay fever sufferers trying to follow a vegan diet may consider making the exception when they hear claims about local honey’s hay-fever-fighting powers. You will often hear people say that a regular intake of local honey is one of the best cures out there, but the simple fact is the science doesn’t back this theory up. A University of Connecticut study from 2002 titled ‘Effect of ingestion of honey on symptoms of rhinoconjunctivitis’ set out to prove whether or not honey – local or otherwise – had any effect on the symptoms of hay fever. Thirty-six hay fever sufferers took part and were split into three groups: one received locally collected, unpasteurised, unfiltered honey; the second were given nationally collected, filtered, and pasteurized honey; and the third just got honey-flavoured corn syrup. The study found that not one group experienced any significant relief from their symptoms, meaning there’s very little evidence, if any, to suggest that honey is the wonder-cure for hay fever that so many people say it is.

The principle behind the belief is that if you eat local honey then you’re putting local pollen into your body – like we do with viruses when we introduce small or harmless quantities into our bodies so our immune systems can create antibodies. Pollen is not a virus though, so consuming a small amount of pollen will probably just give you very mild hay fever symptoms.

Alternatives 

More importantly, there’s actually almost zero chance of honey containing any pollen, and there’s generally such a delay between the local plants releasing pollen and the honey getting to the shelf, that even if there was a good reason to take stock in that particular cure, this time difference would essentially make it ineffective. The other fact to take into account is that hay fever is caused by wind-blown pollen, which almost always means it’s from different plants and flowers than the ones bees visit. Of course, if you believe that local pollen definitely helps with your hay fever but want to avoid honey, you can try sourcing or making a tea made with local plants and flowers instead.
For any hay fever sufferers looking for some vegan solutions, here’s a handy list of products, remedies, and tips to combat the problem. Remember to always seek the proper advice before taking anything – it’s important to know what you’re taking, and it’s always better to consult a qualified person than it is to self-diagnose.

 

Taken From May 2015 (Issue 5) Vegan Life Magazine

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