What’s the first thing you think of when I say allergies? For me, it’s definitely antihistamines. Same as you I bet. And by allergies, I guess I can assume you’re mainly thinking of itchy, red rashes, hayfever, as well as food and drug intolerances.
Histamine reactions are so common in our society. In fact, allergies are something we have come to accept as a ‘normal’ part of living and simply a ‘nuisance’.
However, what you may not realize is just how many other problems histamine can cause in the body of susceptible individuals. Many of my clients have complex and unusual symptoms which can be linked to an array of conditions, but which I find are in fact connected to histamine.
I was amazed myself by the magnitude of symptoms connected with histamine. Most of which have nothing to do with your or my definition of allergies. The problem actually lies in the fact that many of us have become histamine intolerant.
‘Histamine intolerance’ is when the body fails to break down histamine properly. To best understand the problem of this histamine build-up in the body, we must first understand the role of histamine to start with.
WHAT IS HISTAMINE?
Histamine is a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger) released by the body’s immune system from cells called mast cells. This occurs in response to injury or allergies. Histamine receptors are the proteins on cells found in the brain, blood vessels, lungs, skin, and stomach that bind to histamine in order to produce an inflammatory response.
Histamine causes your blood vessels to dilate so that your white blood cells can quickly find and attack the infection or problem. The histamine build-up is what gives you a headache and leaves you feeling flushed, itchy and miserable. This is part of the body’s natural immune response, but if histamine remains in the body for excessive periods of time, histamine intolerance results.
Because it travels throughout your bloodstream, histamine can affect your gut, lungs, skin, brain, and entire cardiovascular system, contributing to a wide range of problems often making it difficult to pinpoint and diagnose.
Histamine blockers, or antihistamines, are medications that prevent the binding of histamine to its receptors within the body and thereby inhibit or lessen these symptoms.
Four types of histamine receptors are affected by these drugs called H1-, H2-, H3-, and H4-receptors. While H1-receptors are more widespread in the body, H2-receptors are found largely in the stomach, H3-receptors are in the brain, and H4-receptors are predominantly expressed on cells of the immune system.
H1-blockers prevent or reduce severe allergic reactions, allergy-induced runny nose called allergic rhinitis, sinus congestion, and rash. Examples include Benadryl, Zyrtec, Claratyne, Telfast, Phenergan, Polaramine, Periactin, and Avil.
H2-blockers decrease heartburn-related conditions like acid reflux called gastroesophageal reflux disease or GORD, where acid or food regurgitates back from the stomach into the throat, and peptic ulcers, which are sores in the stomach’s lining resulting from excessive secretion of stomach acid. Examples include Pepcidine, Tazac, and Zantac.
H3-blockers are still being studied in conditions involving the brain and sleep (such as Alzheimer’s disease, ADHD, schizophrenia) and examples include Serc and ciproxifan.
H4-blockers are being researched for their connection with a vast array of autoimmune conditions and many of the drugs are still in clinical trials, such as thioperamide.
So what exactly does histamine do to the body? It’s extensive I must tell you now. I have classified the symptoms into 3 sections to keep it as simple as possible:
- CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM
Histamine mainly affects smooth muscle contractions, but it can also cause reactions on other types of muscle.
BLADDER – As the bladder is made out of smooth muscle, contractions can occur, often people suffer from a weak bladder resulting in needing to urinate often.
BRONCHOCONSTRICTION/WHEEZING – Smooth muscle is also located in the airways, leading to asthmatic symptoms.
GASTROINTESTINAL ISSUES – The same goes for the bowel and colon which is mostly made out of smooth muscle. Spasms and irritable bowel syndrome can be caused by histamine. Also, diarrhoea or constipation, bloating, cramps, abdominal pain, and nausea.
DYSMENORRHOEA (MENSTRUATION PAIN) – The uterus consists of smooth muscle, and a heightened amount of histamine can cause more severe menstruation cramps. Histamine also tampers with hormonal levels like progesterone and oestrogen, which in turn can influence levels of histamine. The good news is that the placenta in pregnant women produces large amounts of DAO leading to a remission of the intolerance during pregnancy.
BLOOD PRESSURE AND FLUSHING – Smooth muscle is located in blood vessels, so histamine affects the dilation of blood vessels and their permeability as well. This leads to a variety of symptoms like high or low blood pressure, as well as flushing of the skin.
HIVES/ECZEMA/URTICARIA – These often are immunological responses, but can be caused or exacerbated by high levels of histamine.
HEART TACHYCARDIA – Histamine is also present in the heart, and heart rhythm failures and palpitations can occur.
FIBROMYALGIA – Histamine plays a role in the functioning of other muscles, leading to muscle aches even without a cause, along with fibromyalgia symptoms.
MUSCLE CRAMPS AND SPASMS – Histamine can also cause cramps and spasms of non-smooth muscle mass and muscle soreness. The release of nitrite oxide stimulated by histamine is the main cause of this.
CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM SYMPTOMS
THIRST – Histamine manages water intake and distribution throughout the body and is released if dehydration occurs. Excessive levels of histamine will make you crave for fluids, food, and carbohydrates (as these help in the distribution of water).
LACK OF APPETITE – Histamine plays a role in the need for food and can suppress hunger.
NAUSEA – Histamine mediates the sending of nausea signals from the body to the brain. It also stimulates the ‘vomiting’ centre in the brain.
DIZZINESS/VERTIGO – Most of these stem from inner ear troubles. Even though in some cases histamine itself can give relief from this, it can also cause dizziness since it affects the vestibular responses.
AROUSAL/INSOMNIA/ANXIETY – Histamine controls the wakefulness zone, circadian rhythm region and anxiety centre of the brain.
NIGHTMARES – Stimulation of the anxiety centre may result in nightmares.
CRYING – Tears are used to flush stress molecules and toxins from the body.
DEPRESSION – Histamine inhibits the release of serotonin, leading to decreased mood.
MEMORY – Histamine plays an important role in memory storage and retrieval.
WEIGHT PROBLEMS –The presence of gastrointestinal problems can lead to a lack of nutritional uptake from the bowels, causing weight loss. Overstressing the liver as well can lead to an excessive storage of fat, leading to weight gain.
SEXUAL DISORDERS – Histamine is involved in vasodilation and arousal. It plays a major role in increasing libido and making it easier to achieve orgasm, leading to premature ejaculation in men.
ADRENALINE/PANIC ATTACKS/FATIGUE – Adrenaline counteracts the functions of histamine and vice versa. As histamine levels increases, so does adrenaline. This leads to imbalanced body chemistry in the body and brain.
SENSITIVITY TO STRESS – Stress causes the release of histamine, which further potentiates more stress reactions.
SENSITIVITY TO OTHER FACTORS – Heat, cold, pollen, and skin aggravation will lead to more severe oversensitive reactions in those with high levels of histamine.
ALCOHOL INTOLERANCE – Alcohol often contains a lot of histamine, leading to histamine intolerance symptoms. It also has an inhibiting effect on the activity of one of the enzymes breaking down histamine, which can worsen symptoms further.
PAIN – Histamine decreases the threshold of pain receptors by sensitizing pain receptors.
ADD/ADHD – Histamine inhibits the release of dopamine. ADD/ADHD tend to stem from a lack of dopamine in the brain. High histamine levels are noted in these conditions.
AUTISM – Even though histamine doesn’t cause autism, it can cause autism-like symptoms due to the effect it has on body and brain. Often people with autism suffer from higher histamine levels which exacerbates some of the problems they have.
OCD (OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER) – Histamine can cause OCD or worsen it due to its anxiety and arousal tendencies.
SCHIZOPHRENIA – Histamine imbalance can set off a psychotic episode.
ITCH – Histamine stimulates sensory nerve endings which can cause itching.
HEADACHE/MIGRAINE – Histamine stimulates the release of nitrate monoxide, which can cause slight headaches to full-blown migraine attacks.
JOINT PAIN/RHEUMATIC PROBLEMS – Histamine promotes inflammation and the fluid retention worsening these conditions.
STOMACH ACID/ULCERS – Histamine increases the production of stomach acid, leading to ulcers and other disorders of the stomach. Frequent hiccups are also common.
ALLERGIES/SICKNESS – Histamine can create allergic reactions by falsely sending messages within immunological responses.
MUCOUS SECRETION – Histamine can over-stimulate mucous secretions, such as saliva, tears, and mucous in the nose and the airways.
REDNESS UNDER THE EYES – A direct influence of histamine on vasodilation, but also due to excessive rubbing of the eyes caused by itching.
EYESIGHT – Histamine can inhibit eye muscle contractions, cause vasodilation (leading to fluid build-up) and can alter the shape of the lens of the eyes resulting in less than perfect vision.
SWEATING – Histamine regulates sweat production and occurrence.
HAIR LOSS – Inflamed hair follicles can stop producing hair. This can also result from inner stress and tension occurring direct or indirectly from a high level of histamine.
FATIGUE – The adrenal gland reacts to histamine within the blood by releasing cortisol. Excess histamine can cause this gland to get exhausted leading to fatigue.
RESTLESS LEG SYNDROME – People with restless leg syndrome often have more histamine H2- and H3-receptors within their brain, leading to alertness and decreased pain perception.
MÉNIÈRE’S DISEASE – This is a disorder of the inner ear, often due to the containment of fluids within it. Histamine can lead to too much fluid within the inner ear.
WHAT CAUSES HIGH HISTAMINE LEVELS?
- Allergies (IgE reactions)
- Bacterial overgrowth (SIBO: Small Intestinal Bowel Overgrowth)
- Leaky Gut
- GI bleeding
- Fermented alcohol like wine, champagne, and beer
- Enzyme deficiencies –
Diamine Oxidase (DAO): an enzyme necessary for the breakdown of histamine in both the intracellular and extracellular pathways.
Histamine Methyltransferase (HNMT): an enzyme that is required to break down histamine in the intracellular pathway.
Alcohol Dehydrogenase (ADH): the final step in histamine breakdown. This is the same enzyme that breaks down alcoholic beverages.
- Histamine-rich foods – many foods naturally contain histamine, cause the release of histamine, or block the enzyme that breaks down histamine, DAO (Diamine Oxidase).
HOW TO REDUCE HISTAMINE NATURALLY
Numerous over-the-counter antihistamine medications are used combat common allergies and cold symptoms. But some of these medicines have their own lengthy list of side effects.
Certain foods and plant extracts can have similar effects on decreasing histamine production.
Combining natural remedies with proper self-care and allergen avoidance (when possible), can provide relief from many histamine intolerant reactions.
Some commonly used agents include:
- NETTLE LEAF
A common herb in natural medicine, nettle leaf, may also be a natural antihistamine. It is commonly used as a herbal tea with added benefits of being mineral-rich also.
For more information, read my article “NETTLE LEAF TEA – NATURE’S MULTIVITAMIN”.
Quercetin is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory found naturally in onions, apples, and other produce, with strong antihistamine properties.
Quercetin helps stabilize the release of histamines from certain immune cells, which results in decreased symptoms of the effects of season and food allergies, like asthma/coughs, skin reactions, watery eyes, runny noses, hives, swollen lips or tongue, and indigestion.
You can purchase quercetin as a supplement or simply add more quercetin-rich foods to your diet. Suggested dose is between 300-500 mg 3 times daily.
Bromelain is a proteolytic (anti-inflammatory) enzyme most commonly found in pineapples, but you can also find it in supplement form. It’s said to be effective at treating respiratory distress, swelling, and inflammation associated with allergies. Suggested dose is between 200-500 mg three times daily.
- VITAMIN C
Vitamin C is an easy-to-find natural antihistamine. It’s prevalent in many fruits and vegetables, and also in supplement form. Because it’s free of side effects and nontoxic, it’s a safe solution for treating stuffy nose and other unpleasant symptoms of seasonal allergies. The suggested dose is at least 2,000 mg per day for the best antihistamine results.
- ALBIZIA (Albizia lebbeck)
The anti-allergy properties of the herb albizia are helpful for hayfever, asthma, sinus congestion and allergic skin conditions such as eczema and hives. It also helps to strengthen the lungs and clear mucus. It is commonly used in liquid herb preparations in a dose 25-60mL/week (1:2).
HISTAMINE PRODUCING FOODS
Histamine is found in many foods and reducing these foods can certainly assist people who are suffering from histamine intolerance symptoms. Total elimination long-term is not realistic, but short-term elimination to rule out allergy culprits can certainly be very useful in treatment regimes.
There are 3 main food groups that need to be avoided:
- HISTAMINE RICH FOODS
- HISTAMINE RELEASING FOODS
- DAO-BLOCKING FOODS
- Fermented alcoholic beverages, especially wine, champagne, and beer
- Fermented foods: sauerkraut, vinegar, soy sauce, kefir, yogurt, kombucha
- Vinegar-containing foods: pickles, mayonnaise, olives
- Cured meats: bacon, salami, pepperoni, luncheon meats and hot dogs
- Soured foods: sour cream, sour milk, buttermilk, sourdough bread
- Dried fruit: apricots, prunes, dates, figs, raisins
- Most citrus fruits
- Aged cheese including goat cheese
- Nuts: walnuts, cashews, and peanuts
- Vegetables: avocados, eggplant, spinach, and tomatoes
- Smoked fish and certain species of fish: mackerel, tuna, anchovies, sardines
- Cow’s milk
- Wheat Germ
- Many artificial preservatives and dyes
- Energy drinks
- Black tea
- Mate tea
- Green tea
These are generally safe choices when reducing histamine from the diet:
- Freshly cooked meat, poultry (frozen or fresh)
- Freshly caught fish
- Gluten-free grains: rice, quinoa
- 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
LOW-HISTAMINE DIET TIPS
- cook all your own meals
- eat the freshest food possible
- record everything you eat in a detailed daily food diary (be sure to include the time of day you ate each food)
- record the times and dates of any uncomfortable symptoms for comparison
- avoid junk food and anything processed (look at the ingredients listed on the package, if you see words you don’t recognize or understand, don’t eat it)
- don’t be too hard on yourself, this diet is very restrictive
- don’t plan on eating this diet for more than four weeks
- eat only fresh foods that have been kept in a refrigerator
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
Consult with your doctor or natural therapist before beginning a low-histamine diet, since it can lead to nutrient deficiencies, especially in children.
Generally, a low-histamine diet is not a long-term treatment plan. It’s helpful in the diagnosis process of many conditions and can help you rule out other food intolerances.
After you eliminate or reduce histamine in your diet for two to four weeks, you can begin slowly introducing histamine-rich foods back into your meal plan, one at a time. Talk to your doctor or natural therapist about how best to reintroduce these foods.
Ultimately, you will need to determine your own individual tolerance to different histamine-containing or liberating foods based on any reactions you may experience.
**If you’ve got this far – thank you for reading and I look forward to bringing you more information in the future.
Now, enjoy some much needed inspirational music…