What dietary change appears to have cured this man’s hay fever overnight?

I was away for the weekend on a walking trip with a couple of good friends. The proprietor of one of the guesthouses where we stayed knew that two of us were doctors, and at breakfast asked for some friendly medical advice. It was about the medication he was taking for his quite-severe hay fever. Once that was done, my doctor friend asked what might be done for hay fever from a nutritional perspective.

I explained that one strategy I find quite useful here is to eliminate dairy products from the diet. Some people are sensitive to dairy products in a way that can cause mucus and congestion around the nose and throat. There is a thought that even if this is not obvious, for some people dairy products can ‘sensitise’ the tissues around the nose and eyes and make them more susceptible to, say, pollen, house dust mites or animal dander.

Individuals who are sensitive to dairy often had signs suggestive of this in childhood. My experience is that ear, nose and throat issues are often rooted in dairy sensitivity. I asked about this, and our proprietor told me he’d had his tonsils removed as a child. He also said that he drinks a lot of milk. He asked how long it would be before he would know if removing dairy was helping him. I told him people will usually know within a week.

Today, I got an email from the proprietor telling me that he had eliminated all dairy products from his diet yesterday, and today his eyes are not itching and his nose is “totally clear”. He has halved is medication and plans to stop it altogether at the weekend.

Of course, the resolution of his symptoms may not be due to his cutting out of dairy products. Some may argue it is just a fantastic placebo response. However, should this be the case, I don’t think he’ll mind (and neither do I).

However, if this improvement really is because he stopped dairy products (as I suspect), then it does not surprise me. I find that elimination of dairy products brings dramatic improvement in hay fever symptoms in about half of people who try it.

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24 Responses to What dietary change appears to have cured this man’s hay fever overnight?

  1. George @ the High Fat Hep C Diet 4 July 2013 at 7:42 pm #

    Yes, this is me. I have some reaction to dairy, but also eating it sets me up for dust, pollen, mould sensitivity later in the day. there is a dose-response where if I limit it to butter and some cream the effect is bearable, and cooked cream has noticeably less effect.

  2. Mark 4 July 2013 at 11:04 pm #

    Has anyone tried refraining from sweet milk only and keeping fermented milk products in the diet? Would this dietary modification work as well?

  3. Magarietha 5 July 2013 at 7:38 am #

    Oh well what’s good for the goose…. I am so severly allergic and asthmatic, but never for dairy, and it’s never a case of wet congestion. Our asthma is never wet, the lungs simply swell (I think) and we have to grab the ventolin. Same with hay fever – it’s all the other allergens like grass, mites, the whole caboodle, but definitely not dairy. I had a specialist in allergies once tell me the only things I can safely eat are land meat and dairy – I have that very dangerous shellfish allergy too. And then I found out when I was young that I inherited the HFH gene and was told STAY AWAY FROM ALL MEAT AND DAIRY – well, I didn’t, did I… The meat and dairy also to some degree “cured” the cholesterol. Doc Briffa I’m not a know-all by any means but I reckon that there’s a classic asthma with a faulty gene (which includes those super allergens) and a wet, croupy asthma which is probably and intolerance rather than an allergy – you think? I noticed when my children were small that they taught themselves never to cough. Coughing is like exercise and since we have exercise induced asthma the coughing only makes it worse. We can NEVER understand why we get that physio lung slapping people in a hospital sent to us when really we don’t have the sticky stuff. We get adrenaline and it’s fine. In fact, when I get those oral allergies from avo’s, mango’s etc it takes a glass of milk to cure it. I just think our genetics are so diverse. Thanx so much for your newsletter. Extremely insightful.

  4. Hedley Paul 5 July 2013 at 8:16 am #

    As a small child, growing up in the countryside I loved and drank unpasteurized milk, at least a pint a day. I loved cheese, albeit simply Cheddar in those days.

    In hindsight, I realise that, came pasteurisation of milk and I developed severe sinus infections with every ‘cold’. I developed severe tonsillitis which was treated with antibiotics. I still enjoyed milk as before.

    The tonsillitis subsided, the sinusitis did not.

    I now drink lactose free milk in tea, and avoid other dairy products, and am rid of any ‘mucus and congestion around the nose and throat’.

    When available, I eat unpasteurised cheese, (both had and soft) and suffer no congestion. Occasionally I regress and indulge in (unpasteurised) natural yoghurt, which within hours generates congestion.

    For me, there is no question regarding the ill effects of pasteurised dairy milk products. Interestingly, goat’s cheese has the same effect, but sheep’s cheese does not.

    While off-topic, may I add that by eliminating wheat products from my diet, I have alleviated a whole range of ill effects which accompany my type 2 diabetes, Giving up statins and metformin etc has improved no end my feeling of well being.

    Thank goodness for the internet and Dr Briffa et al for exposing the erroneous ‘expert’ advice frequently served up by most GPs.

  5. Nigel Kinbrum 5 July 2013 at 8:19 am #

    Am I right in thinking that a rapid reaction to “X” means that there are antibodies to “X” in the body and that those antibodies were produced in reaction to unwanted peptide chains passing from inside the gut to the circulation?

    If so, does this mean that just about everyone who has food allergies, has excessive gut permeability?

  6. chris 5 July 2013 at 8:52 am #

    so this man who gave up all dairy, started eating margarine instead of butter? and soy milk instead of milk?
    I am a nutritionist and firmly believe against the tide that all dairy is essential for so many things involved in our health/well being.
    If I get a patient like this one or who says they are lactose intolerant – well all my patients in fact I ask to try UHT goats milk.
    I am aware that raw milk is invaluable ( sadly not always appropriate for all ) but believe it is the bacteria that I find in pasteurised milk that causes the allergic reactions, rhinitis etc. Once on the goats milk I have not had a problem with them and their bones stay good too.
    Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water – remove the bugs, up the quality of the milk ie goats milk or indeed boil all milk before using ( use only cheese that you cook), and the problem disappears. It seems our food is plain dirty now-a-days.
    I love your site and have cuttings on you right back, from the start of your career ie the hospital man on selenium.
    Thanks again, Chris

  7. Xenia 5 July 2013 at 9:13 am #

    When milk is pasteurized, homogenized and full of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, chemical fertilizers from the unnatural feed, as well as hormones, antibiotics, vaccines and other stuff that the cows get, it is not milk anymore. All these things do not only cause hay fever, they unfortunately cause much more. Even cancer, in the long run. Furthermore, the animals who spend their whole life standing in dark stables, hardly ever moving, and being fed with soy to fatten them up more quickly, are not healthy. Sick animals clearly cannot produce healthy milk.

    So the problem, over 98% of the time, is not the milk/dairy itself, it is in the ways it is “produced”,and processed.

    People who have problem with milk most of the times do not have such problems with fermented milk products. Fermentation works if the problem is lactose intolerance (because it eats up most of the lactose). Try the following steps (not necessarily in the same order):

    1. If sensitive to milk, try eating only fermented dairy products. Also, never eat anything “low fat” or “no fat”.
    2. If this does not work, switch to raw milk (since store-bought products are all pasteurized) – buy it from a farmer and make sour milk and kefir by yourself. (Sour cream and whipping cream are sometimes ok but you probably won’t make them by yourself so you should test if store-bought ones are OK for you or not.).
    3. Do not eat yogurt*.
    4. If it still doesn’t work, switch to organic milk, and make sure it’s from pastured animals too.

    Most people can tolerate milk products if they try some or all of these steps. On YouTube you can then find plenty of recipes, how to make various soft and hard cheeses, from feta to cheddar or parmezan and from cream cheese to ricotta, yourself, from naturally produced, uncompromised raw organic milk. .

    * Avoid yogurt because it is heated/cooked. So the benefit of raw milk is lost. Cooking/pasteurizing kills both good and bad bacteria. Then you add new bacteria (= the culture). Yet the killed bacteria are still present in that milk(yogurt. It is these dead bacteria that often cause allergies and intolerances. They may even cause autoimmune reactions/diseases in some sensitive individuals. Namely when bacteira in the milk is alive our body recognizes it perfectly well – it knows wheter they are friend or foe, and above all it knows whether this is ‘self’ or ‘not self’.So it knows how to react to them. But when bacteria die, their cell membranes are not kept intact by the electric charge anymore and the bacteria proteins flow out into the milk. These proteins are not recognized by our immune system anymore and it is this that causes reactions.

  8. Jayney Goddard 5 July 2013 at 9:51 am #

    Hi John, I can vouch for this approach too, I have taken many patients off dairy in an attempt to deal with the conditions you outline above – with huge success. I have found, in practice, that it takes about two to three days (if not fewer) for the patient to gain huge relief. I have also found that eczema is also ameliorated following dairy elimination, where eczema appears as a concomitant symptom.

  9. Christine 5 July 2013 at 10:19 am #

    I can relate to this (also my 3 children). Now in my 60s, I had chest and sinus problems (including hay-fever) from just months old. About 20 yrs ago I had the good fortune to find an excellent allergy clinic. At that time I was on various inhalers and quite overweight with arthritic type pains. Milk, wheat, sugar and yeast etc was removed from my diet and within a few months I had left off all medication and of course lost weight! My lung damage was obviously not going to completely go away but I was fine. About a year ago I was aware of a few problems again – inflammation in lungs and otherwise. At this time I was becoming aware of the carb free diet and felt it was right for me. It is. So, I live on fish, meat, veg, salad and a little fruit. Not a problem and certainly worth it. I am in no doubt that I am intolerant to carbs as well as milk etc. and am pleased/surprised to have reached the age I am.

  10. emnesia 5 July 2013 at 11:12 am #

    I’ve started taking whey protein to aid muscle development and I’ve noticed that my nostrils fill with mucus 10 – 15 after having a shake. It’s not a nice experience and needless to say I shall be switching to Hemp once the tub is empty.

  11. Keith Scott-Mumby 5 July 2013 at 11:24 am #

    Hi John,
    Nice piece but you slightly missed the target.
    I was broadcasting and advizing people to give up GRAINS (on the BBC!) as long ago as 1983. Classic hay fever, of course, is a grass allergy, so makes more sense.
    You were lucky your guy was dairy allergic. I suggest you go wider in future, even a full exclusion diet. Potato is not rare as a cause of severe rhinitis!
    Keith Scott-Mumby MD, MB ChB, PhD
    http://www.dietwisebook.com
    [we have a mutual friend in Hazel Courteney, she did an audio for me last spring)

  12. Liz Smith 5 July 2013 at 11:38 am #

    My two sons have hay fever – oddly only in UK – they never had it when working overseas. One son never drinks milk or only eats cheese cooked when the enzymes are stopped, does not like honey so can’t try that cure. So has anyone a suggestion what he can take out of his diet that will help his hay fever. He cannot tolerate synthetic perfumes so no perfumed candles or heavy perfumed soaps and conditioners.

    I’ve never liked milk or cheese since I was a baby, I’ve been tested for goats and sheep milk and I hate that too. I bump up my alternative sources of calcium and my dentist told me that my bones are good and to keep doing what I am doing. I have read in many places that we are the only mammals who injest other mammals milk after we are weaned!

  13. Donna 5 July 2013 at 11:47 am #

    I really appreciate the information and comments here each week. Yet, personally-speaking I can’t help feeling that I will soon be ‘afraid’ to eat anything with confidence. I have (mostly) cut out dairy products since a bout with ovarian cancer, not on the advice of my doctors, but based upon the research I have done subsequently. I had a hysterectomy which took me into early – age 48 – menopause and was then told to eat a lot of dairy because it was good for my bones – I have slided into osteopenia since the surgery. But I can’t eat dairy I say to my doctor because it might encourage the cancer to make a return. No answer… So then I look to green vegetables, chickpeas etc…for my calcium but must only eat Organic or I might become ill because of some pesticide issue. I live in a small seaside town where organic produce is not always possible. So then I don’t know what to eat. I must also avoid sugar. I think that I probably am oversensitive and suggestible because of having been ill…but I worry more about eating now than I ever did previously, and what was once a pleasure is now anxiety-making. The NHS cannot help me a great deal with nutritional guidance. Can anyone advise me how to go forward. Should I follow Michael Pollan’s dictate to ‘eat food, not too much of it, mostly plants?’ I have two daughters and I don’t know what I should tell them …Yours thankfully and hopefully :)

  14. Jenny 5 July 2013 at 12:26 pm #

    My hayfever to grass has disappeared since I have stopped eating all gluten, but the reactions to tree pollens remains.

    Recently I stopped drinking tea (don’t drink coffee anyway) so I will watch with interest what my tree reactions are.

  15. Nigel Kinbrum 5 July 2013 at 1:33 pm #

    @Donna: My Lumbar spine density went from -2SD (osteoporosis) in 2003 to 0SD (normal) in 2006, using the following supplements:- 1 Adcal-D3/day (600mg/day Ca + 400iu/day Vitamin D3), ~4g/day of Epsom Salts (~240mg/day Mg) & 1/day VRP Ultra K2 (15mg/day Vitamin K2).

    I refused to take Fosamax. I started Testosterone Replacement Therapy in 2005, which may have helped.

    Nowadays I don’t take any Ca supps, but I take 5,000iu/day Vitamin D3, ~4g/day of Epsom Salts (~240mg/day Mg) & 1/day Vitacost Ultra Vitamin K with Advanced K2 Complex (~1.4mg/day Vitamin K2).

  16. Rita 5 July 2013 at 3:25 pm #

    GIving up dairy provided me with immediate relief from years of chronic congestion, bloating and gas. I know several people who minimized the effects of asthma by going dairy-free. My sister reported that when she lived in Japan and ate an essentially dairy-free diet, her airborne allergies went away and she was congestion-free.

    Many people seem to be able to handle dairy with no problem, although who knows how many of them have chronic symptoms that they don’t correlate with their diets? Definitely, if one is experiencing respiratory, joint or digestive symptoms, I recommend that they lose the dairy for 30 days and see how they feel. (And yes to the others posting here about the beneficial effect of giving up grains.)

  17. Lee 5 July 2013 at 7:19 pm #

    Is this a lot to do with A1 casein, whereas A2 would be fine. My daughter gets ill on A1 I.e. standard cow’s milk but is fine on A2 cow’s milk, ewe’s milk and goat’s milk.

    I’m on the ASD spectrum and if you read “The devil in the milk”, it may have had something to do with me being bottle fed (I have read other stuff with other potential causes, so I’m not pointing the finger with any certainty). I do get a bit of phlegm and drink A1 milk at the moment but my hay fever is much reduced this year after ditching wheat last year.

    My next step is to join my daughter and switch to A2 cow’s milk, which I intend to start next week.

  18. Christopher Palmer 7 July 2013 at 11:07 am #

    At age 16 my son showed signs of sensitivity to milk as it seemed to provoke facial acne. The acne, mild by many standards, does come and go in relation to the quantity consumed. We seem to have identified that the troublesome faction resides in the aqueous aspect of milk, and so, while he tries not to overdo the milk, he still enjoys double cream. This is the first year he has been troubled by hay-fever.

    My son sleeps with and ESD wristband slipped over his foot so he is ‘earthed’ while sleeping, but at the time the hay-fever first emerged he confessed he had relaxed his habit of ‘earthing’ at night. In the last week he identified a suggestion on’t t’interweb that grapefruit may offer some relief – and that’s not something I had heard before.

    I have suffered mild hay-fever for two decades, but in the last three years I have noticed a marked improvement – quite why I cannot identify. However this coincides with the time I have turned low carb and low polyunsaturates. I eat liberal amounts of cream, but not much in the way of milk. I was trending to think that wheat and cereals could have been the trigger, since I now consume much less of these.

    Thinking systemically and logically an allergy or sensitivity equates to a mild (or even quite severe) immune response to environmental factors, and by ‘environmental’ I mean anything that the body and its physiology may encounter and have to process or defend from. My guess is that analysis of exhaled breath condensates (EBCs) could be a seam worth mining. The pH of severe asthma sufferers drops up to two log orders below normal in the course of a severe asthma attack and is restored after treatment with anti-inflammatory therapy [1]. In an asthma attack, then, the hydrogen ion concentration in the balance of biochemical species being issued via the airways rises, the pH falls, and the EBCs trend to acidic. EBCs in healthy parties are generally mildly basic. My guess is that the pH of EBCs would alter (drop?) as a detectable accompaniment to hay fever symptoms, but the subject seems not to have been clearly studied.

    I can embrace the ‘milk’ theory because I can see plausibility in the triggering factors being troublesome proteins that our bodies can find difficult to manage and process, and that this could lead to oxidative stress in the cascade of redox dealings and proteins are processed. They are ‘troublesome’ because they are new and novel in evolutionary terms; a feature of modernity that the long run of human past hasn’t really equipped all people to deal with. The novel (or mutant) proteins to be found in cows milk (casein perhaps) or bovine hormones (bovine IGF for instance), may be triggers for sensitivity, and likewise in wheat and other cereal grains. Perhaps the redox cascade results in reactive oxygen species (free radicals) that provoke inflammation, sensitivity, and allergy, that are not easily countered by anti-oxidant biochemical species.

    It crosses my mind that ‘in the wild’, when humans spent more time outdoors, vitamin D status ought to be rising and high about the same time the pollen count does the same. With vitamin D ( D3 – or ‘cholecalciferol) being a top-trumping antioxidant and anti-inflammatory I wonder if this miracle hormone could ease symptoms of hay fever, as could, say, vitamin C or other antioxidants.

    Modern allergies and auto-immune disorders don’t make much sense unless they are tested against an evolutionary model, and within that model is the prospective notion that novel factors a body may be exposed to can raise physiological duress in the case when troublesome cationic species cannot be adequately pacified by antioxidant anionic species of biochemicals. The factors that result in sensitivity or that trigger allergies, perhaps, have more disruptive potential when the background levels of oxidative stress are generally ‘elevated’.

    Treating an inflammatory condition requires a two-fold approach: First is avoid or minimise the ‘triggers, then second is to maximise the arsenal of ‘counters’.

    Hence if my son wants to trial the grapefruit ‘remedy’ it fits with reason, and I’ll also direct a short trial of multivitamins with a short and therapeutic emphasis upon a highish dose of C and D and see what transpires. He’ll continue ‘earthing’, go barefoot in the great outdoors or when camping, and perhaps we’ll put A2 milk to the test too.

    It would be interesting to see what alterations to Exhaled Breath Condensates (EBCs) arise when hay fever strikes, although a quich search did’nt return much in the way of established research or results. The pH of the EBCs of severe asthma sufferers can drop by two log orders in the course of an attack, while pH is restored with anti-inflammtory therapies [1].

    1, Determinants of Exhaled Breath Condensate pH in a Large Population With Asthma

  19. richard 8 July 2013 at 11:02 pm #

    I was given the advice to eliminate dairy from my diet to combat hay fever 50 years ago. I have followed it seasonally until recently when I stopped consuming dairy at all. The seasonal quiting worked, but not as well as I would have liked. I have not rid myself entirely of hay fever, but my sever case is just a mild one now. My “no dairy at all’ is hopefully going relieve even more symptoms. rm

  20. Peter Crump 16 July 2013 at 12:08 am #

    Interesting suggestion. My wife, at the age of 48, has just begun getting hayfever symptoms, (confirmed by the doctor). We’re surprised as we haven’t changed her diet or anything else that we can identify. Most unusual.

    She is lactose intolerant so drinks lactose free milk. So we’ll try cutting this out and see how she goes. The cheese might be a little more of a problem, she loves cheese so we’ll need to do a little research on cheese. Goat’s cheese maybe? I suppose it will all be trial and error

  21. Melanie Ryan 20 July 2013 at 5:36 am #

    Yes, I found the same thing in my personal experience (and by accident). I suffered from severe hay fever for 18 years and never enjoyed summers much. When I went vegan in my twenties, I first watched the eczema on my leg disappear (which had been there for years), and in the next summer waited in vain for my hay fever.

    I wondered whether dairy might have anything to do with it, researched it and found that it had. I am now no longer vegan, but know to avoid dairy during the summer. As you say: It doesn’t take long. My symptoms usually go away within 5 days.

    This experience triggered my interest in nutrition and eventually I went on to become a nutritional therapist.

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