Is histamine intolerance to blame?
Histamines play a critical role in our bodies in combatting potential attacks. When the body detects an external force that could cause problems, one of the immediate responses is to send out “the immune system troops” as a defense. However, this isn’t the only way that histamines participate in bodily functions; they are also involved in hormonal balance, digestion, our central nervous system, and our perception of pain. Due to this integrated process, when an individual develops histamine intolerance, things can go very wrong. An imbalance in histamines can potentially contribute to autoimmune diseases and interstitial cystitis. As we learn more about histamine intolerance and interstitial cystitis, we are correlating the symptoms in cause and effect. Knowing how histamines work can help to identify and change behaviors, products, foods, and environmental causes that are involved in histamine intolerance and other chronic conditions.
Histamine 101 Explained
Histamines are stored in the mast or “immune” cells of the body as well as a type of white blood cell called “basophils.” They are an integral part of our local immune systems and are designed to immediately react when there is some form of injury or attack. Examples of an “attack” might be a bee sting, pollen or food allergy, or an injury that breaks the skin. For allergies, an attack can be anything that you breathe in or eat that you are allergic to. The immediate symptom is puffiness, swelling, itching, sneezing, and/or your sinuses filling up. When the cells are notified of any form of attack they release histamines and these cause blood vessels in the area of the attack to leak out the contents to get the immune cells to the necessary area(s).
Other Histamine Jobs
Histamines are neurotransmitters, and they act as communicators to send priority messages from the brain to your body. Science has found that histamines are part of the components of stomach acids that assist in breaking down food. This means that histamine levels can affect digestion, food breakdown and absorption.
Histamines and Ovulation
Another key interplay is between female hormones and histamines. The estrogen hormone can stimulate the production of histamines in the mast cells, however, it also inhibits the gut DAO enzyme. The progesterone hormone has the opposite effect, increasing the DAO regulation. This is important to note for those that may suffer from histamine intolerance because symptoms may vary during the different times of the ovulation cycle. You may notice that in the first two weeks of ovulation, symptoms are the worst but then as estrogen decreases and progesterone increases, the symptoms will lessen. Other areas to note are in regards to the second cycle week where you may experience increased allergic or digestive problems, insomnia, agitation, headaches or migraines, acne, and/or brain fog.
The job of histamines is to cause the blood vessels in the body to dilate or swell so that the all-important white blood cells can locate and attack a problem or infection. When all is working in balance, the body’s natural immune response helps to fight off the intrusion or problem and bring about healing. Once the job of the histamine is done, the body’s enzymes break down histamines so that they don’t build up. However, when something goes wrong and enzymes don’t break down the histamines properly, you can develop what is known as “histamine intolerance.” Since histamines travel through the bloodstream, the buildup can affect all portions of your body including the gut, lungs, bladder, skin, brain, and cardiovascular system. Histamine intolerance can create a condition where the body responses are over-exaggerated.
Most Common Causes of Histamine Intolerance
If the body’s mechanisms are too slow or slightly dormant to clear out a histamine buildup, once a situation occurs that requires that histamines be released, it is an overkill condition. This means too many histamines are released and that’s when you have an overabundance that causes extreme symptoms.
There are some causes of histamine intolerance that relate to genetics. This can involve enzyme low cofactors as well as overloading them with environmental or dietary histamines that cause a buildup without being able to reduce them. The main enzyme that breaks down histamines is called diamine oxidase (DAO). Some of the most common causes of histamine intolerance can be leaky gut and SIBO and a poor diet.
The DAO enzyme mentioned earlier can also be affected by foods that act to block the enzyme. These can include: alcohol, black tea, green tea, mate tea, and energy drinks. Other causes for low DAO can include: Gluten intolerance, leaky gut, SIBO, inflammation from Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and inflammatory bowel disease. Medications also affect DOA, specifically the histamine blockers that many people take which actually deplete the body of DOA. Other medications that affect DOA include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, aspirin)
- Antidepressants (Cymbalta, Effexor, Prozac, Zoloft)
- Immune modulators (Humira, Enbrel, Plaquenil)
- Antiarrhythmics (propranolol, metoprolol, Cardizem, Norvasc)
- Antihistamines (Allegra, Zyrtec, Benadryl)
- Histamine (H2) blockers (Tagamet, Pepcid, Zantac)
Specific dietary problems for histamine intolerance include foods already high in histamines such as spinach, tomatoes, proteins, fermented foods, avocado, eggplant, bananas, fermented alcohol products such as wine, vinegar, nuts, aged cheeses, cured meats, soured foods such as buttermilk and sour cream, smoked fish, chocolate, dried fruit, most citrus fruits, cow’s milk, papaya, pineapple, shellfish, strawberries, wheat germ, many of the artificial dyes and preservative additives.
There are also dietary deficiencies that can cause histamine intolerance. These include low intake of vitamin B12, B6, B2, and B1, and folate. Low mineral deficiencies can include zinc, copper, magnesium, and methionine.
Environmentally caused histamine intolerance can include living or working in a location that has a high pollen count, mildew, mold, dust mites, and natural gas leaks.
It’s also understood that some estrogen-based medications such as birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy can attribute to histamine intolerance. Hormonal imbalances create a condition where the body can’t metabolize estrogen well in the liver and this can lead to a situation known as “estrogen dominance” that increases histamines as well as affecting PMS and creating heavier menstrual cycles and interstitial cystitis symptoms.
Genetic Variants Explained
The most common genetic variants involve SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphism) that have had a DNA building block switched out for another one that doesn’t function well and creates less enzyme efficiency. There are many of the DNA building blocks, also known as single nucleotide base, that controls a variety of abilities. Some require specific vitamins, such as B2, iron, and B5, while others that are generated from gut infections, require B6 and copper. Each plays a critical role in the balance of generating stable mast cells and histamine reduction. The genes that have the problems are those that code for the enzymes that are responsible for cleaning out or metabolizing the histamines. There are a lot of factors that can cause these difficulties including a poor diet and lifestyle.
Most Common Histamine Intolerance Symptoms:
While many of us may have some of these symptoms, if you experience more than just a few, you may be falling prey to histamine intolerance. The symptoms can include:
- Headaches, including migraines
- Problems sleeping including falling and staying asleep
- High blood pressure or hypertension
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Accelerated heart rate aka arrhythmia
- Problems regulating body temperature
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Cramping in the abdominal area
- The swelling of tissue
- Nasal congestion and sneezing
- Runny nose
- Seasonal allergies
- Difficulty breathing
- Asthma, including when exercising
- Abnormal menstrual cycle
- Exhaustion or fatigue
- Motion sickness
- Interstitial cystitis symptoms including urgency and pain
Best Diet to Overcome Histamine Intolerance
If you find that you are experiencing a lot of the histamine intolerance symptoms, adjusting your diet to include the following can assist you. A low-histamine diet should include:
- Freshly cooked meat or poultry
- Freshly caught fish
- Cooked eggs
- Gluten-free grains: rice, quinoa, corn, millet, amaranth, teff
- Pure peanut butter
- Fresh fruits: mango, pear, watermelon, apple, kiwi, cantaloupe, grapes
- Fresh vegetables (except tomatoes, spinach, avocado, and eggplant)
- Dairy substitutes: coconut milk, rice milk, hemp milk, almond milk
- Cooking oils: olive oil, coconut oil
- Leafy herbs
- Herbal teas
Mast Cell Activation and Mastocytosis and Interstitial Cystitis
While histamine intolerance is considered to be less severe, mast cell activation and mastocytosis is associated with conditions such as interstitial cystitis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Specialists don’t have a complete handle on these conditions, however, they do know that in many inflammatory conditions there are an overabundance of mast cells (mastocytosis) or overactive mast cells (MCAS or mast cell activation syndrome). These conditions may be helped with the reduction of histamine intake, but they are more severe and can interfere with daily life, requiring treatments from specialists.
The bladder has mast cells made up of many granules that secrete required molecules. Conditions such as medications, extreme cold, stress, trauma, toxins, and neuropeptides can actually trigger these mast cells to secrete their contents, causing sensory neurons to sensitize which then continues to activate mast cells. In essence, it turns into a domino effect, and when left unchecked it can directly cause blood vessels to dilate, bladder mucosa, which attracts inflammatory cells. The mast cell activation conditions have been associated with many of the interstitial cystitis problems. The condition is considered to be a syndrome that is caused by more than one factor, and those that study it have included mast cell activation and bladder mastocytosis as a contributing factor.
Actions That You Can Take
If you have been living with some or all of these symptoms, there are some actions that you can take to get your “normal” life back.
- Alter your diet to include low histamine food intake.
- Address and heal a leaky gut through diet, lifestyle and taking care of any infections.
- Stress reduction: Adrenaline and cortisol are created when you are stressed and place a large demand on your overall health, including an increase in histamine problems.
- Think about getting a genetic test: Your genetic predisposition can play a major part in your health and there are some choices that you may have. To learn more and find a healthcare professional: http://gettoknowyourdna.com/
- Clean up your environment: Reduce dust in your home, use an air purifier, avoid scented candles, fragrances, perfumes, regular detergents, fabric softeners, and cleaning products and replace them with clean, non-toxic products.
- Take Supplements: adrenal support, DOA supplements, quercetin, Omega 3’s, vitamin B.
- Instead of Vitamin C, which may be difficult to tolerate, increase food intake high in vitamin C that includes: cauliflower, mango, broccoli, blueberries, raspberries, parsley, kale, and thyme.
Histamine and histamine intolerance
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The Role of Histamine in Neurogenic Inflammation
Mary Grace Taliaferro says
Hi! I recently started following you and it has been very help in my journey of dealing with IC. I had a very mild case that started after a bad bladder infection due to a miscarriage 2 years ago. Also in the last year after having my second child it really kicked back in when I was about 6 months postpartum. Been following an AIP diet the last month and given up all the main triggers, and completed pelvis floor physical therapy. I’m usually bothered half of the month and I know it’s due to hormones that fluctuate throughout the month. Other then following a histamine diet is there anything else I can do?
Elisabeth Yaotani says
Mary, thank you for reaching out and sharing a little of your story. Have you tested for biofilms? Have you had any genetic testing done? Are you working with a doctor that is able to help stabilize your hormones? You may benefit from Estroprotect from Dr. Amy Myers. She puts all her female patients on it and it helps support the pathways needed to detoxify estrogen, which is typically an issue. You may also need to address additional hormones and thyroid function. Are you taking any supplements for inflammation such as curcumin, NAC, berberine, bromelain, oil of oregano? It sounds like you are on the right path, but you may need to work one on one with a doctor that practices alternative medicine that can help you in restoring overall balance.