By Julie Hager, Functional Medicine Health Coach
The immune system in our bodies is a kind of built-in defense system. The main job of the immune system is to protect us from infections, toxins, viruses, and allergens. The body makes histamines naturally and we also get histamines from certain foods that we eat. However, when too many histamines accumulate in our bodies they become overwhelming so much so that we can’t get rid of them. What ensues is histamine intolerance.
When the body senses an allergen threat, mast cells release a chemical called histamine to get rid of the allergens in any location where histamine inflammation is occurring. You see visual confirmation of this when you get a bug bite that causes redness, swelling, and pain. These symptoms are the result of histamines being released to the bite location. It’s important to remember that histamines also have another role for the body as they assist in regulating stomach acid production and the breakdown of foods. This is the reason that gut health needs to be taken into consideration when talking about histamine intolerance.
Histamine intolerance can be caused by a few situations including specific conditions as well as other medications that may be taken. Examining histamine intolerance requires a broad approach to see if there is a single root problem or a combination of a few problems. Histamines can also play a role in sleep, mood (anxiety), and PMS. When each of these elements of histamine problems is combined, they can create the perfect storm for histamines to get out of control.
Histamine build-up happens when there is:
- A lack of DAO enzyme – an enzyme naturally made in your body that helps to break down histamines
- A genetic predisposition– genes that impair the breakdown of enzymes
- Unresolved gut issues – any infection, overgrowth, or imbalance that can influence histamine levels
- Methylation problems – poor detox – your body isn’t able to get rid of histamines
- Chronic stress – Stress doesn’t cause allergic reactions but when you’re living in a state of stress histamine levels can increase
- Food sensitivities and gluten – your body sees some foods as threats and generates an immune response
- Nutrient Deficiencies, Certain Medications, Hormone imbalances and Toxins are other things to be explored when it comes to histamine intolerance.
Symptoms of histamine intolerance may vary and triggers are different for each person. Common histamine intolerance symptoms include:
- Itchy skin
- UTI’s, PMS, Fatigue
- Crawling sensation on the skin
- Rapid heartbeat (especially after foods)
- Congestion, Runny Nose
- Low blood pressure
The Problem with anti-histamines
Urologists may recommend antihistamines as a treatment for Interstitial Cystitis. The problem with anti-histamines is that they act to stop the symptoms by blocking the short term but they do not prevent the production of histamines. The use of antihistamines over the long term disrupts the natural regulatory system of the body and can cause an increase in sensitivity. In addition, antihistamines reduce the DAO enzymes that are key in breaking down histamines. Some medications are also culprits in breaking down DAO enzymes. These can include but are not limited to:
- Zoloft and other antidepressants
- Pain medication – Elavil (commonly given for IC pain)
- Zantac, Allerga, Zytrec, Pepsin
While knowledge is power, the information above may have you feeling overwhelmed. The good news is that there are some natural alternatives that can assist with histamine issues, without the harmful side effects. Always consult with your physician or primary healthcare giver before making any changes to your medical regimen, including the addition of supplements. Natural alternatives to antihistamines include:
- DAO supplements
- Histazyme by Amy Meyers
- Histablock by Dr. Ben Lynch
- Vitamin C. If you have IC it’s important for your immune system to experiment and find a low acid Vitamin C you can tolerate. Another way to get more Vitamin C is from foods like red peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, and berries.
Histamine testing and the connection to the Gut
Histamines are randomly released in the body and this makes it more difficult to measure the amount that’s in the body. One way is to measure histamines in urine or blood multiple times during the day so that you can establish a baseline trend for your specific body. An allergist or immunologist can do a tryptase test to get a measure of the mast cell activation issues, and this is also used to help in identifying food sensitivities. Dealing with histamine production can be tricky because there are also some bacteria that are histamine producing. I offer the GI Map for a fee to clients. The GI Map tests for overgrowths, dysbiosis, pathogens, and infections. Any gut imbalance or intestinal permeability can raise histamine levels.
Histamine connection to the Bladder
When bladder mast cells are released they can cause vasodilation, which is a widening of the blood vessels, and this can cause damage to the mucosa when the mast cells attack inflammatory cells. It can be compared to a kind of domino effect as allergens breach the bladder lining which causes the immune response. When this happens you will see bladder flares that may include an increase in pain or frequency. A common problem that happens for people suffering from IC during allergy season is an increase in the symptoms they experience. The increase is due to allergens in the air that contribute to the levels of histamines in the body. Adding to the condition is the possibility of consuming high histamine foods that can be the cause of poor sleep and poor stress management.
Some Common high histamine foods
- Dairy or wheat
- Canned or pickled foods
- Matured – aged cheeses
- Smoked meat – salami, ham, sausages, deli lunch meats, hot dogs
- Citrus fruits
- Beans chickpeas, soybeans
- Banana – a liberator that can raise histamine
- Nuts – cashews are higher histamines. Almonds are considered lower histamine.
Remember, this is only a partial list. It’s best to identify your triggers while you’re working with someone on identifying your root causes for your histamine issues, chronic bladder, or digestive issues. Because histamine intolerance and finding the root cause behind your symptoms is complex and can be confusing, its best to work with someone that can help you through the process and take away the feeling of being overwhelmed. If you’d like to set up a free 20-minute Consultation I’d love to hear your main health concerns and discover if I can help you. For more information, you can contact me at https://www.insideoutwellnesswithjulie.com/work-with-me
If you’re new to my website I encourage you to look around and download my free Bladder Recovery Ebook & 3 Step Approach to Autoimmunity. Grab your free ebooks. https://www.insideoutwellnesswithjulie.com/ebook To learn more about histamine intolerance and interstitial cystitis, please check out my latest podcast interview with the IC Wellness Podcast.