Spring has arrived in full force! It’s time to clean up the lawnmower. Many people experience watery eyes, runny noses, and itching as the smell of freshly cut grass fills the air.
Speaking of smelling the grass… Did you know that some people can’t smell the odor of freshly-cut grass? A genetic variant (not covered by 23andMe data) prevents some people from experiencing that wonderful summertime smell.
Grass Allergies and Genetics:
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Allergies are often due to a mix of genetic susceptibility and exposure to certain triggering molecules. Several different gene variants have ties to an increased risk of grass pollen allergies.
Allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to an allergen, such as seasonal pollens. This hypersensitive immune reaction causes the release of proinflammatory cytokines. T cells are activated, producing IgE, which activates mast cells. Mast cells then degranulate, releasing histamine and other inflammatory molecules. Histamine causes the runny nose, watery eyes, and itchiness associated with allergies.[ref]
A study found an upregulation of MC1R in the noses of people with grass pollen allergies.[ref] If that gene sounds familiar, it is the same gene that codes for the melanin receptor, in which variants cause red hair.
Human leukocyte antigens (HLA) are part of our immune system and help the body recognize foreign invaders. People have many different variants of these genes, giving rise to protection against different pathogens. Different HLA types lead to an increased ability to fight off diseases and increased susceptibility to autoimmune diseases and allergies.
Check your genetic data for rs7775228 (23andMe v4, v5):
- C/C: more likely to be allergic to grass pollen (OR=1.33)[ref]
- C/T: slightly more likely to be allergic to grass pollen
- T/T: typical (most common genotype)
Members: Your genotype for rs7775228 is —.
Filaggrin, a protein encoded by the FLG gene, increases epithelial integrity. It is vital to keep the skin (and nose) cells tightly together so that allergens can’t cross the barrier.[ref] Variants that decrease filaggrin have ties to different types of allergies, including pollen allergies and contact dermatitis.
Check your genetic data for rs61816761 R501X (23andMe v4, v5):
- A/A: (rare) more likely to be allergic to grass pollen[ref]
- A/G: more likely to be allergic to grass pollen
- G/G: typical (most common genotype)
Members: Your genotype for rs61816761 is —.
Interleukin 2 (IL2) is involved in the body’s immune system response to foreign invaders. It is a cytokine produced by Th1 cells when stimulated by, in this case, an allergen.
Check your genetic data for rs2069762 -330T/G (23andMe v4, v5):
- A/A: typical (most common genotype)
- A/C: normal risk of grass allergy
- C/C: 2.6x increased risk of grass allergy[ref]
Members: Your genotype for rs2069762 is —.
Interleukin 33 is involved in the body’s immune system response, also. IL-33 drives the production of Th2 cytokines, acting on mast cells (among others). It is thought to be responsible for itching sensations from allergies.[ref]
Check your genetic data for rs928413 (23andMe v4, v5):
- A/A: typical
- A/G: increased risk of hay fever, allergy
- G/G: increased risk of hay fever[ref]
Members: Your genotype for rs928413 is —.
A study on children with seasonal pollen allergies compared the effects of 1,000 IU of Vitamin D daily vs. placebo.[ref] The study found that the vitamin D group had reduced allergy symptoms compared to the placebo group. Another study looked at vitamin D combined with Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (probiotic) on children’s allergies and found the combo effective.[ref]
Nasal rinsing is effective for grass pollen allergies.[ref] The easiest way to nasal rinse is by using a sinus rinse kit or a neti pot.
If you normally take antihistamines for pollen allergies, this study suggests that taking the antihistamines for three days before the exposure prevented the histamine 1 (H1) receptors from increasing expression in the nose. In an allergic response, your body releases histamine as a signaling molecule, and then the receptors for histamine cause the reaction to occur. H1 receptors are involved in your typical seasonal allergy reaction with a runny nose and itchy, watery eyes. So the study showed that without the increase in histamine receptors, there were few allergy-type symptoms. The antihistamine prevented the body from upregulating the H1 receptors.[ref]
Low Histamine Diet: Reducing the amount of high histamine foods you consume during allergy season may help with decreasing your allergy symptoms. (More on this in the member’s section below)
Related article: Histamine Intolerance genes
Supplements for Hay Fever:
The rest of this article is for Genetic Lifehacks members only. Consider joining today to see the rest of this article.
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Deng, Ruitang, and Te-Jin Chow. “Hypolipidemic, Antioxidant and Antiinflammatory Activities of Microalgae Spirulina.” Cardiovascular Therapeutics, vol. 28, no. 4, Aug. 2010, pp. e33–45. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1755-5922.2010.00200.x.
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Kleiner, S., et al. “Regulation of Melanocortin 1 Receptor in Allergic Rhinitis in Vitro and in Vivo.” Clinical and Experimental Allergy: Journal of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology, vol. 46, no. 8, Aug. 2016, pp. 1066–74. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1111/cea.12759.
McRae, Jeremy F., et al. “Genetic Variation in the Odorant Receptor OR2J3 Is Associated with the Ability to Detect the ‘Grassy’ Smelling Odor, Cis-3-Hexen-1-Ol.” Chemical Senses, vol. 37, no. 7, Sept. 2012, pp. 585–93. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1093/chemse/bjs049.
Nieters, A., et al. “Association of Polymorphisms in Th1, Th2 Cytokine Genes with Hayfever and Atopy in a Subsample of EPIC-Heidelberg.” Clinical Experimental Allergy, vol. 34, no. 3, Mar. 2004, pp. 346–53. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2222.2004.01889.x.
Petra, Anastasia I., et al. “Interleukin 33 and Interleukin 4 Regulate Interleukin 31 Gene Expression and Secretion from Human Laboratory of Allergic Diseases 2 Mast Cells Stimulated by Substance P and/or Immunoglobulin E.” Allergy and Asthma Proceedings, vol. 39, no. 2, Mar. 2018, pp. 153–60. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.2500/aap.2018.38.4105.
Ramasamy, Adaikalavan, et al. “A Genome-Wide Meta-Analysis of Genetic Variants Associated with Allergic Rhinitis and Grass Sensitization and Their Interaction with Birth Order.” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, vol. 128, no. 5, Nov. 2011, pp. 996–1005. www.jacionline.org, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2011.08.030.
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Singh, A., et al. “Immune-Modulatory Effect of Probiotic Bifidobacterium Lactis NCC2818 in Individuals Suffering from Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis to Grass Pollen: An Exploratory, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 67, no. 2, Feb. 2013, pp. 161–67. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2012.197.
Debbie Moon is the founder of Genetic Lifehacks. Fascinated by the connections between genes, diet, and health, her goal is to help you understand how to apply genetics to your diet and lifestyle decisions. Debbie has a BS in engineering and also an MSc in biological sciences from Clemson University. Debbie combines an engineering mindset with a biological systems approach to help you understand how genetic differences impact your optimal health.