Is histamine intolerance causing your symptoms?

What you eat and your health are a fantastically complicated puzzle. For so many reasons linked to modern living, some foods can disagree with you. You may already experience this directly. People with digestive problems can often point to specific foods causing upsets and, if you think you have a food intolerance, you might already suspect wheat, dairy, yeast, eggs or any number of foods to be the culprit lurking behind your symptoms.

There’s one often-overlooked component found in some foods that you might not know about yet that I want to talk about today. Could it be this that’s causing you problems?

Histamine…too much of it for your body

If you have an allergy, you might already know about histamine since you probably take antihistamines to try to neutralise the effect is has on the body.

Histamine is a signalling molecule that has a lot of roles in the body like making stomach acid and keeping you alert. It is also involved in the immune response and protects you from foreign invaders.

When your immune system spots a potential invader, one type of immune cell (your B cells) to make IgE antibodies and these are a bit like warning signals to other immune cells to tell them to be on alert. When they meet the ‘invader’, other immune cells (this time your mast cells and basophils) throw out histamine and other inflammatory chemicals to neutralise the attack.

This works really well for some types of invader – like parasites, as an example – but not so much when the system overreacts to harmless substances like peanuts, pollen, animal hair. Welcome to the common allergy. It’s a histamine thing. And, if you have an allergy you might be well used to antihistamines that can block or dampen the effect of this kind of allergic response.

If you’re reading this thinking, this doesn’t concern me as I don’t have an allergy, here’s why you should be interested.

Histamine can be a problem for many other people – especially women since there is a big link between oestrogen and the cells that release histamine. Histamine symptoms tend to track with your menstrual cycle, peaking when oestrogen is at it highest and then again before your period. If you experience any of these symptoms, histamine could be the culprit:

  • Headaches
  • Brain fog
  • Bloating and digestive discomfort like pain or diarrhoea
  • Insomnia
  • Runny nose or congestion
  • Itchy eyes
  • Hives
  • Flushing
  • Dizziness

This is because oestrogen stimulates the mast cells to make histamine while at the same time downregulating an enzyme called that breaks down histamine, diamine oxidase (DAO). As a triple whammy, histamine triggers the ovaries to make more oestrogen. This can result in oestrogen dominance, where oestrogen is present in the wrong ratio to other hormones.

Histamine problems can also be a feature of perimenopause due to erratic release of oestrogen. Although oestrogen levels are dropping rapidly, progesterone falls faster, leaving oestrogen unopposed.

Why do some people suffer and others don’t?

  1. Genetics. Some people do not make enough of the histamine-clearing enzymes.
  2. SIBO – this impairs DAO activity.
  3. Any conditions of oestrogen excess like fibroids and endometriosis or progesterone deficiency
  4. The birth control pill – this can cause both oestrogen excess and progesterone deficiency
  5. Vitamin B6 deficiency – this vitamin is needed to make DAO
  6. Certain medications – antibiotics, antidepressants, medication given for high blood pressure and heart rhythm problems, among many other common drugs like ibuprofen, asprin and diclofenac.

Dealing with histamine problems

One of the things you can do to manage histamine problems is reducing foods that either contain histamine or are ‘histamine liberators’.

Which foods contain histamine?

  • Red wine and champagne
  • Aged cheeses
  • Pickled and fermented foods, including ketchup, soy sauce and vinegar
  • Processed deli meats like ham, salami, bacon
  • Smoked or canned fish
  • Shellfish
  • Aubergine
  • Avocado
  • Spinach
  • Dried fruit
  • Bananas
  • Bone broth and fish stock
  • Left overs!

These foods, while they don’t contain histamine, trigger the release of histamine

  • Citrus fruit
  • Chocolate and cocoa
  • Tomatoes
  • Egg whites
  • Fish
  • Peanuts

And alcohol and black or green tea interfere with the enzymes needed to break down histamine.

Improving your gut health is always worth doing since do much of your health relies on a healthy gut. If you’ve been ignoring symptoms, especially if you think you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), we should talk. Getting your digestive system back into balance pays dividends for all aspects of your health.

Inflammatory foods like gluten, dairy, sugar and processed foods make the situation worse, encouraging the body to release inflammatory cytokines and histamine.

At the same time, increase anti-inflammatory foods. An easy way to do this is to add herbs and spices into your cooking. Particularly helpful ingredients include ginger, thyme, oregano, basil, chamomile and turmeric.

Support oestrogen detoxification by eating plenty of cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts.

If you experience any of the symptoms I’ve talked about here, please do get it touch. It’s very easy to read things like this or take advice from Dr Google and end up following a very restrictive diet when this is not always necessary. Working one-to-one with a nutrition professional means that you can take advantage of their years of study to find a programme that helps support your health without overly restricting what you eat.

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