29 Jun 2021

What's the link between allergies, hormones and menopause?

Are you suffering with itching, sneezing, sore eyes and perhaps even hives? Jenny Carson, from the ethical vitamin company Viridian Nutrition explains why your allergies might just be a symptom of perimenopause and menopause.

Around 75% of all women experience the ‘classic’ symptoms of menopause, such as hot flushes and mood swings.

But less commonly, perimenopausal and menopausal women also experience symptoms you’d usually associate with allergies -   such as itching, coughing, and sneezing.

These symptoms can also extend to skin sensitivity and bloating, and can trigger unexplained stomach pain, indigestion, inflamed skin, and water retention. 

According to Allergy UK, at least 30 million people suffer with allergies annually in the country.

And, perhaps surprisingly, allergies can be one of the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause.

So why do we get allergies and what does that have to do with menopause?

It’s all to do with histamine. Within the body, a specific form of our immune cells release histamine as part of the allergic response.

The histamine is responsible for generating inflammation and itching.

And as oestrogen and progesterone go down during menopause so does the immune cell activity.

This  can increase the body’s inflammatory response and trigger itching, sneezing, sore eyes, skin sensitivity and hives.

Since most of these symptoms will also be triggered in response to contact with pollen, trigger foods, perfumes, or cleaning agents it can be a challenge to work out exactly what your own triggers are, whether perimenopause and menopause has led to an increase in your symptoms and what to do next.

Using symptom tracking to identify your allergies

A simple way to identify whether the allergic response is linked to menopause is to keep a symptom diary.  You can use The Latte Lounge’s free downloadable symptom tracker to get started with this.

Record your symptoms and their severity each day.  This will help identify symptom frequency and severity and gives you the information to help with the management of the symptoms.

You might also want to consider allergy testing (as either skin prick or blood sample testing) by consulting your healthcare professional to find the right one for you. 

How can I treat these allergies?

The conventional treatments for allergies include topical preparations, antihistamines, and steroids.  Some of these may leave you feeling drowsy so always review any prescribed medication with your GP. 

In the meantime there are also several dietary tweaks that may offer relief:

Diet and allergies

Once you’ve identified your trigger foods in your symptom diary, it is essential to remove those foods. It’s also best to remove highly processed foods from the diet. 

After 4-6 weeks, you could then reintroduce one of the foods in a ‘food challenge’ to test your tolerance levels.

Next, you can look to increase the amount of foods that you eat that might dampen the allergic response.

Apples and onions are rich in quercetin for example, which is an antihistamine, and vitamin C rich foods such as citrus and berries, each provide natural antihistamine qualities too. 

Finally, foods that exert an anti-inflammatory effect can be useful, such as oily fish, turmeric, and flaxseeds, besides fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut.  Plus, it’s always good to include a range of vegetables and fruits to bring a rainbow of colour and nutrients to your plate.

Lifestyle

In addition to your diet, there are lifestyle tweaks you can make to improve allergies.

You could try using hypoallergenic laundry, and cleaning products, as well as hypoallergenic body care and make up. 

If pollen is your trigger, avoid the early morning and evening when the pollen is at its highest. 

Wearing sunglasses and long sleeved and long-legged casual wear stops pollen from irritating the skin and eyes. 

And while we all love our pets, the tiny skin particles they shed can cause havoc with allergies so regular cleaning and airing your home can help reduce this.

Nutrients

Food supplements can help you pack in a larger amount of antihistamine compounds and might help with allergies. 

Look out for:

  • Apple polyphenols: derived from apples but the sour taste means that they are a far cry from the type you’ll find in the supermarket. In a study with hay fever sufferers it was discovered that even a low dose of apple polyphenols had an antihistamine effect and significantly reduced sneezing and nasal swelling. 
  • Black seed (Nigella sativa):  This seed has been used for a myriad of therapeutic benefits which included anti-allergenic effects for thousands of years - the Prophet Muhammed once said “The black seed can heal every disease, except death”. It is rich in a unique compound, thymoquinone, which is considered to play a primary role in the antiallergenic benefits.  These effects are supported in research when hay fever patients were given black seed and their symptoms monitored.  Black seed was shown to reduce all nasal symptoms by day 15 of supplementation which suggests black seed may provide a natural alternative to antihistamine medication.
  • Vitamin C: Important for a variety of body functions,vitamin C is found in citrus fruit, vegetables, and salad items. It’s commonly used to help fight infections such as the common cold or flu.  However, what is lesser known, is that several studies have shown that vitamin C in your diet can help drive down histamine. 
  • Nettle Leaf: Accidentally touching a Nettle Leaf can be an uncomfortable experience, however nettles are highly nutritious and are often used in soups, teas, and supplemental preparations. Better still for allergies,  nettles contain several beneficial compounds that can reduce histamine and the inflammation that is characteristic of allergies.
  • Quercetin:  This is a plant-derived flavonoid rich in apples, onions, and some teas. Quercetin is popular for its antihistamine effects which have been investigated in research and shown beneficial for several allergic conditions. One investigated the effect of quercetin on hay fever symptoms and reported that quercetin supplementation that started 4 weeks prior to pollen release produced a reduction in hay fever-induced itching and watering eyes.

Conclusion

The links between menopause and allergies are beginning to be investigated. If you’re suffering with these symptoms then several lifestyle and dietary tweaks might help. Start with eliminating contaminants and allergens and focus on a diet that is whole-food based with additional Quercetin, Vitamin C, Nettle leaf or Black Seed. This should help provide you with a sustainable option to manage menopause-associated allergies.

Author: Jenny Carson, MRes, BSc (Hons) is a Senior Nutritionist at ethical vitamin company Viridian Nutrition. She has over 5 years’ experience supporting people with nutritional health advice. She recently completed a Master of Research(MRes) in Public Health, giving her a wide understanding of public health nutrition. Her other focus areas include ageing, dealing with stress, peri and post-menopause, detox and mood.

For more information visit www.viridian-nutrition.com

This article is for information purposes and does not refer to any individual products. The information contained in this article is not intended to treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a health practitioner. Please consult a qualified health practitioner if you have a pre-existing health condition or are currently taking medication. Food supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet.

References

Ali SA, Parveen N, Ali AS. Links between the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) recommended foods and disease management: A review in the light of modern superfoods. Int J Health Sci (Qassim). 2018;12(2):61-69.

Clemetson CA. Histamine and ascorbic acid in human blood. J Nutr. 1980 Apr;110(4):662-8.

Enomoto, T., Nagasako-Akazome, Y., Kanda, T., Ikeda, M., Dake, Y. (2006). “Clinical effects of apple polyphenols on persistent allergic rhinitis: A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled parallel arm study.” Journal of Investigational Allergology and Clinical Immunology, Vol. 16, 283-289 (2006).

Hirano T, Kawai M, Arimitsu J, Ogawa M, Kuwahara Y, Hagihara K, Shima Y, Narazaki M, Ogata A, Koyanagi M, Kai T, Shimizu R, Moriwaki M, Suzuki Y, Ogino S, Kawase I, Tanaka T. Preventative effect of a flavonoid, enzymatically modified isoquercitrin on ocular symptoms of Japanese cedar pollinosis. Allergol Int. 2009 Sep;58(3):373-82.

Johnston CS, Solomon RE, Corte C. Vitamin C depletion is associated with alterations in blood histamine and plasma free carnitine in adults. J Am Coll Nutr. 1996 Dec;15(6):586-91.

Keselman A, Heller N. Estrogen Signaling Modulates Allergic Inflammation and Contributes to Sex Differences in Asthma. Frontiers in Immunology, 6, 2015: 568

Mittman P. Randomized, double-blind study of freeze-dried Urtica dioica in the treatment of allergic rhinitis. Planta Med. 1990 Feb;56(1):44-7. doi: 10.1055/s-2006-960881. PMID: 2192379.

Nikakhlagh S, Rahim F, Aryani FH, Syahpoush A, Brougerdnya MG, Saki N. Herbal treatment of allergic rhinitis: the use of Nigella sativa. Am J Otolaryngol. 2011 Sep-Oct;32(5):402-7.

Roschek B Jr, Fink RC, McMichael M, Alberte RS. Nettle extract (Urtica dioica) affects key receptors and enzymes associated with allergic rhinitis. Phytother Res. 2009 Jul;23(7):920-6. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2763. PMID: 19140159.

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