Not so long ago, we were discussing the arrival of spring, and the fact that it is not necessarily everyone’s favourite time of year. Well, the daffodils have come and gone, the lambs are growing up and looking towards an uncertain future and the sound of lawnmowers assails our ears when we venture out into suburbia of a weekend.
Hay fever season is here
There’s no doubt about it, we are heading full steam ahead into summer, and while we enjoyed the warmest May Bank Holiday in years, the pollen levels went through the roof. If you are a hay fever sufferer, there will be little respite between now and September. However, according to research from the National Yang-Ming University of Taiwan, we could have more than a runny nose and itchy eyes to worry about.
Hay fever linked with depression
The scientists assessed 10,000 subjects with hay fever and 30,000 without, in the largest study of its kind ever. They found that hay fever sufferers are four times more likely to develop severe depression.
This is not just a case of the symptoms of hay fever making people “feel down,” there is something more fundamental at play. The researchers believe that inflammation in body tissues and blood vessels brought about by the sufferer’s allergic reaction to pollen can have a harmful and long-lasting effect on the brain.
This inflammation is a natural response to any allergy symptom – it is essentially the body’s way of trying to expel the cause, by flushing it out through the eyes and nose or by making you sneeze. The problem is that when you have sustained exposure to this type of low-level inflammation for long periods of time, it can have psychiatric consequences in later years.
The study in Taiwan was carried out over several years, and built on previous research by Aarhus University in Norway back in 2010. That study had concluded that allergy sufferers had a 30 percent higher suicide rate than non-allergy sufferers.
Again, the root cause is nothing so simplistic as people being depressed because they are in some degree of physical discomfort. During an allergic reaction, the brain releases proteins called cytokines. These are pro-inflammatories, but the latest research suggests they also cause a drop in serotonin, the so called “happiness chemical.” This is the strongest causative link yet between hay fever and depression.
Reducing the misery of hay fever
The good news is that with this increased understanding of the root causes, we are in a better position to do something constructive to counter the effects. Serotonin can be boosted through natural supplements and shrewd dietary choices.
Researchers also believe that simple over the counter anti inflammatories such as ibuprofen could help reduce the effects of the cytokines. Research is still continuing, with the latest study recently getting underway at Kings College, London. However, the signs are positive and it appears that in combination, anti inflammatories and serotonin boosters could make the summer months a far happier time of year for hay fever sufferers.