A diet high in (free) sugars can alter the amount of “good” bacteria in our gut. Free sugars are sugars added to packaged foods. They also include sugars that are naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices (but not whole fruit).
Our “good” bacteria are kept busy in our gut digesting the fibre in fruits, vegetables, nuts and wholegrains turning them into molecules that protect the lining of our gut and feed other “friendly” bacteria. The greater the variety of wholefoods we consume, the more “workers” we have looking after our gut.
Too much sugar in our diet can reduce the diversity of bacteria in our gut leaving room for disease-causing bacteria to dominate.
If we continue eating too many refined foods, packaged foods and sugar, go through periods of high stress, or party too hard, these “workers” are put out of work and leave the gut. This opens up space for less friendly, potentially pathogenic bacteria to take-over and dominate.
The result? Over time, this imbalance of bacteria in the gut can increase risk of gut symptoms such as:
What sugars should we avoid?
Sugar can be hidden amongst the ingredients list without you even realising. This is because sugar has a variety of code names. Although some may sound more “natural” they are still classified as sugar.
Some common alternative names for sugar include:
I have included artificial sweeteners on this list even though they are calorie free as they often also stimulate insulin production and interfere with satiety.
Best Sugars for Gut Health
What you’re looking for in a healthier sugar is:
Table of plant based sugars and their Glycaemic Index (GI).
The lower the GI the better for our health, specifically our energy levels, anxiety and mood. Find out more about the link between sugar and anxiety here.
As you’ll see, honey is very close to castor sugar in terms of its impact on blood sugar so it’s helpful to be mindful of how much we use each day.
Ultimately these are all still sugars and should be used in moderation for good health. Too much sugar can increase our risk of anxiety and impact our mental wellbeing.
Wondering how to read a food label for sugar?
Check out my other post on how to work out how many teaspoons of sugar are in a product just by looking at the label - How to read a food label for sugar.
For 1-1 support check out how we can work together here.
Ask yourself honestly:
Certain foods including:
Shortly afterwards, our blood sugar levels can rapidly crash which is usually when we start to feel hungry again or our sweet cravings kick-in.
You may be familiar with the term, "hangry", which describes a person who is hungry and angry, usually from prolonged fasting and low blood sugar. Perhaps you experience it first-hand yourself, or know somebody who does? This is a classic sign of low blood sugar and will have a very negative impact on mood and anxiety.
How to recognise when you're blood sugar is crashing
When your blood sugar crashes, your body produces "fight or flight" hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. At this point you may start to experience:
These stress hormones send alarm signals around your body warning that the foods are “shocking” and “scaring” and to "please eat something again" in order to get blood sugar levels back to normal. Cortisol and adrenaline can lead to feelings of anxiety and “jitteriness”. The long-term effects may include panic attacks.
How to avoid sugar crashes
To minimise our risk of low mood, depression and anxiety our aim is to focus on eating foods that keep our blood sugar stable such as good quality protein, like eggs, and healthy fats such as almonds and avocados.
Could your anxiety or low moods be symptoms of blood sugar imbalance?
I’ll explain step-by-step how to avoid this from happening in my upcoming online masterclass: Nutrition, Anxiety and your Gut on 8th September 2020 at 7pm. Grab your ticket here.
Did you know that hidden in the walls of our digestive system, we have a second brain called the gut-brain-axis and it is transforming our understanding of the links between good gut health and mood?
The gut-brain-axis (GBA) consists of a two-way communication between our brain and our enteric nervous system, (neurons in our gut that control the function of our gastrointestinal tract).
This system of nerves in our gastrointestinal system has over 100 million neurons!!! This system has so many nerves our gut has earned the nickname “the gut brain” or “the second brain”.
Stress, anxiety and depression can have a direct impact on our “gut brain” and how well our gut works, and vice versa.
Our “gut brain” is influenced by our sympathetic (“fight or flight”) and parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) modes and sends signals along the vagus nerve (an information highway) to our brain, relaying important messages about what’s going on.
This can influence how well our gut functions and helps explain why during times of worry, anxiety and stress (fight or flight) we may experience:
This two-way communication between our brain and our gut brain influences how we feel and think on a daily basis. A prime example of this in action is the feeling of butterflies in our stomach when we feel nervous or anxious before an important meeting or exam.
Probiotics and good gut bacteria support anxiety, mood and mental health
The balance of our gut bacteria matter when it comes to mental health. Recent advances in gut health research has highlighted the importance of certain gut bacteria in this bi-directional communication.
The health of our gut and the variety of our gut microbes influence how we think and how we feel.
Addressing leaky gut or any other gut imbalances is an essential step when it comes to supporting mental wellbeing, such as:
How does the gut brain and our actual brain communicate?
Our gut bacteria chat with our brain and vice versa and use different modes of communication, including:
The health of our gut has an effect on our brain and how we feel from day to day. Inflammation, a lack of microbial diversity and even specific species of gut bacteria have been linked with poor mental health including anxiety, low mood and depression. Research shows that altering bacteria in the gut through specific dietary changes may help to treat stress-related mood disorders and anxiety.
Contact me now to find out more about my 90-day personalised 1:1 support package to nail your nutrition and solve your anxiety and gut symptoms for good.
Hay fever can be really miserable, especially as it's often at its worst during summertime when it’s so nice to be outside.
But there are a few things you can do to help reduce the severity of your symptoms and keep annoying symptoms like a runny nose, sneezing and itchy eyes to a minimum.
How can you stop hay fever symptoms naturally?
Reducing the risk of hay fever and the severity of hay fever symptoms can be approached from a few different angles:
Certain nutrients and foods can be really helpful in achieving these goals and I’ll take you through each step below.
But first, I've popped a very simplified explanation of how some of these foods may help balance the immune response (addressing the root of the issue). The link between gut health and certain types of allergies, like hay fever are closely intertwined.
How come some people are more "allergic" than others?
Picture the T-cells of your immune system as a see saw. On one side of the see saw you have T-Helper 1 cells (TH1), and on the other side of the see saw, T-Helper 2 cells (TH2). In an ideal world we want this see saw to be balanced.
With high levels of inflammation in the body, TH2 goes up and TH1 comes down. This increase in TH2 cells leads to inappropriate immune responses, with some people becoming more “reactive”.
People with certain types of allergies, including:
What causes this heightened reaction in the first place?
Regulation of the immune system takes place largely in the gut so supporting gut health in general and reducing the risk of leaky gut would be helpful here.
Probiotics are helpful for supporting the lining of the gut wall and may be a helpful adjunct to the hay fever nutrients discussed below in this blog post. I cover all areas of gut health and gut healing at my Learn to Love your Gut event and you can read more about leaky gut here.
Be mindful that anti-histamine medications, (especially steroids) while essential at times, deepen this imbalance in the natural see saw system.
What foods and supplements help hay fever symptoms?
1. Reishi Mushrooms
Reishi is a Japanese mushroom shown to suppress the inflammatory TH2 response and support balance in the immune system.
This is great news because by dampening down the TH2 response, we are addressing the symptoms of hay fever (inflammation), as well as addressing the underlying issue of hay fever - the immune imbalance.
The mushroom polysaccharide extracts move the immune balance away from TH2 and towards TH1, overall supporting a balanced immune response.
And the benefits of reishi don’t stop there. Reishi mushrooms also contain a bioflavonoid (triterpene) which inhibits histamine release.
Reishi is also rich in antioxidants which help mop up inflammation debris, minimising damage to nearby healthy cells.
Powell, M, 2014, Medicinal Mushrooms A Clinical Guide. 2nd edition, Mycology Press, UK.
2. Red Onions
Red onions contain quercetin, a flavonoid found in certain fruits and vegetables. Quercetin acts as a natural anti-histamine because it helps stabilise the cells that release histamine in the first place. (Histamine is what triggers the hay fever symptoms – runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing).
What foods contain quercetin?
The core of a pineapple contains a plant based enzyme called bromelain. Quercetin (mentioned above) is often found alongside bromelain in supplement form because bromelain has shown to support the effectiveness of quercetin. Together they may reduce the inflammation associated with hay fever.
What foods contain bromelain?
Bromelain is found inside the core of a pineapple. So not the nice fleshy, juicy part of a pineapple unfortunately but the actual core (the hard part at the centre of a pineapple).
If you have a high speed blender you could pop the pineapple core in the blender with some ginger and make a lovely anti-inflammatory smoothie, for example.
Pineapple is also a fantastic source of vitamin C – another potent anti-histamine nutrient.
Vitamin C prevents the secretion of histamine and may increase the elimination of histamine from the body. Other sources of vitamin C rich foods to include are a kiwi, broccoli, bell peppers and cabbage.
Thornhill, S., & Kelly, A. (2000). Natural treatment of perennial allergic rhinitis. Alternative Medicine Review : A Journal of Clinical Therapeutic, 5(5), 448-454.
Stinging nettles are maybe not the most appealing leafy green that springs to mind but yes this common garden weed is a priority when it comes to reducing the severity of hay fever symptoms. And it's free and ready to pick in spring, perfect timing!
Nettles prevent the production of prostaglandins (inflammatory chemicals) by blocking two inflammatory pathways in the body, COX-1 and COX-2. This has shown to prevent allergy symptoms including: sneezing, nasal congestion, itchy and watery eyes and related discomfort.
This is my favourite hay fever food because it is natural, it grows wild and organic (so it costs nothing) and aside from helping with hay fever, it is a fabulous source of iron, calcium and vitamin C.
Roschek, B., Fink, R., McMichael, M., & Alberte, R. (2009). Nettle extract (Urtica dioica) affects key receptors and enzymes associated with allergic rhinitis. Phytotherapy Research, 23(7), 920-926.
How do I cook nettles?
Nettles need to be cooked in order to eat them, or at least blanched (e.g. added to boiling water to make tea).
I would recommend using them in any dish as a replacement for spinach. They also work really well added to a traditional potato and leek soup.
Favourite Nettle Recipes:
Here's a delicious nettle pesto recipe I would recommend. It's so good on pasta, or as a dip. It contains parmesan which is also a source of probiotics for gut health. And for a vegan or dairy-free nettle pesto try this one.
It goes without saying, but make sure you wear rubber gloves when you cut, wash and prepare the nettles to avoid getting stung. They lose their sting once cooked or blanched.
Go for the nettle tops, where the younger leaves are, and avoid nettles growing on the verge of busy roads to reduce risk of contamination. Like all fruits and vegetables, wash them before use.
How much nettles do I need to eat for hay fever?
If you have hay fever, aim to eat some nettles daily as well as drinking nettle tea, at least three cups per day. Nettle teabags are also readily available to buy for convenience.
Dose and consistency is really important in order to see an actual improvement in hay fever symptoms. Taking these foods sporadically won't work. If cooking and eating nettles is not convenient or realistic for you (totally understandable), do consider a nettle supplement for a stronger, more therapeutic dose. Drop me a message if you are unsure what to order.
Milani, Duranti, Napoli, Alessandri, Mancabelli, Anzalone, . . . Milani, Christian. (2019). Colonization of the human gut by bovine bacteria present in Parmesan cheese. Nature Communications, 10(1), 1286.
5. Bee Propolis
Bee propolis is an adhesive substance produced by honeybees and stored inside their hives to protect them from rain and bacterial infections (so clever!!)
Bee propolis has been found to effectively regulate the immune response without over stimulating it. The combination of these actions may be helpful for hay fever sufferers.
You'll often find it added to hay fever supplements in combination with reishi, vitamin C and other nutrients to help support the immune system and reduce the risk of hay fever symptoms.
Bachiega, T., Orsatti, C., Pagliarone, A., & Sforcin, J. (2012). The Effects of Propolis and its Isolated Compounds on Cytokine Production by Murine Macrophages. Phytotherapy Research, 26(9), 1308-1313.
So what supplements should I take for my hay fever?
Get in touch with me if you need help choosing the right hay fever supplements for you or a loved one. I can provide a comprehensive hay fever supplement plan as part of a consultation.
For best results you want to get ahead of allergy season. So start before hay fever symptoms flare-up with pollen exposure. Try to incorporate these natural approaches for hay fever in January, and use them daily leading up to the spring and throughout allergy season.
If you suffer from allergies or if you are on medications, as with other supplements, always seek professional advice before supplementing. Get in touch with me here and find out how we can work together.
Tried everything for hay fever and nothing works?
If you experience chronic, year-round hay fever or sinusitis, it's maybe time to rule out histamine intolerance and work on gut health.
The next steps could be to start a low histamine diet for four weeks and reduce your histamine intake by eliminating the following foods for a month – aged foods e.g. cheese and fermented foods like sauerkraut, alcohol, sausages and other processed or cured red meats.
If this resonates with you please get in touch with me or check out the various packages I offer as there's lots we can do to help.
Hello! Welcome to Stellar Health.
Want to know what foods best support the immune system? Get my top 5 tips here.
Please check your email inbox for my Top 5 Foods for Immune Support now. I hope you find it useful. Mary x
Think you’re too busy to eat well? Grab my FREE Store Cupboard Essentials guide and find out how!
Follow me on Instagram @stellar_health_mary