Can’t put your finger on what you or your client is reacting to? It may very well be histamine…
People I work with and talk to often complain about irritating or aggravating tummy or skin reactions they experience that they can’t figure out the root cause of. And sometimes I recognise symptoms in other people that they’ve just come to accept as a normal part of life - symptoms like itchy eyes, headaches, difficulty falling asleep or breathing, nasal congestion and bloating. Both of these things always set off my alarm bells – some sort of immune response may be underway. But which?
Many of us are familiar with the idea of food allergies and intolerances, where certain foods may be setting off our immune system. Some more of us may be familiar with the idea that this could in part be caused by a damaged or permeable gut. But the idea that high amounts of histamine, or histamine intolerance could be playing havoc in our bodies is often overlooked – but could very well be affecting you or your patient. The good thing is its easily overcome.
What is histamine?
Histamine is an organic nitrogenous compound that acts as a neurotransmitter helping to control the sleep-wake cycle, reproduction, energy metabolism, fluid balance, stress and more. Histamine is also a part of the immune system – it is a ‘mast cell’ and part of its job is to let your immune system know when there are potential pathogens in the body so that the appropriate immune response can be created.
So when we have high amounts of histamine in our body, or if we have a lowered tolerance to histamine, we can experience allergic-type reactions, partly because histamine makes blood vessels dilate to be able to optimise white blood cell migration to the ‘affected areas’. But sometimes, there is no actual ‘allergen’ (as you’ll see below) and the immune system is being activated unnecessarily, which in turn puts a further stress on the body. And if we are using anti-histamine medication all the time to alleviate or suppress the symptoms – we could be in turn suppressing our immune system in the long term.
Reasons for high amounts of histamine in the body:
- Not enough of the diamine oxidase (DAO) enzyme that breaks histamine down leading to low histamine tolerance, or eating food that blocks this enzyme
- Eating foods which are high in histamine or that cause the release of histamine in the body
- Lowered histamine tolerance
- Leaky gut which can also lead to allergic or food intolerance reactions
- Bacteria or fungus overgrowth in the intestines
Effects of high histamine in the body:
- Poor or compromised methylation – one of the important detoxification pathways of the liver – this is due to histamine lowering methyl groups needed for this pathway to work
- Depression, anxiety and other mood disorders
- Skin issues such as itching, rashes, hives, psoriasis, eczema, acne
- Reproductive system issues like PMS
- Headaches and migranes
- Sleep issues
- Accelerated heart rate
- Gastrointestinal issues like nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramps
- Respiratory issues like nasal congestion, sneezing, difficulty breathing
- Mucus secretion in the tissues such as the intestines and oesophagus
So what can we do?
Being a naturopathic nutritional therapist – my job is to get to the root cause of my client’s health issues – so that’s where I start. Be a detective and figure out what is causing your histamine reaction.
Testing is one of the most important aspects of our detective work – it helps us assess firstly if it is really histamine that is the issue, and if so, to what extent it is. From that baseline, one can determine the appropriate dosage for supplements and combination of therapies.
cerascreen do a fantastic, easy-to-use, quick and cost effective histamine test that costs 49 GBP – that’s what I use. You can do it at home and the best part is – the results come in a bout a week with a helpful commentary guide to interpret the results. Plus they are always on hand to help out over the phone or email.
When the results are in here are some things to try:
- Avoid histamine rich foods – fermented foods and alcoholic drinks, vinegar, dried fruits, cured meats and smoked fish, citrus fruits, some fish (mahi-mahi, mackerel, anchovies, tuna, aged cheeses, some vegetables (avocados, eggplant, spinach, tomatoes) and some nuts (walnuts, cashews and peanuts)
- Avoid histamine releasing foods – chocolate, bananas, papaya, nuts, pineapple, strawberries, shellfish, tomatoes, cow’s milk, nuts, pineapple, alcohol, artificial preservatives and dyes
- Avoid foods that block the DAO enzyme – alcohol, black, mate and green tea
- Eat more low-histamine foods – fresh meat and poultry, eggs, gluten free grains, dairy substitutes, oils, herbs, lots of fruits and veggies!
- Avoid foods that cause leaky gut like gluten and foods high in lectin.
- Get advice from a clinician on the following helpful supplements – Methionine, SAMe, DAO enzyme, vitamin C, vitamin B6, Bromelain, Quercitin, Curcumin, N-acetyl cysteine, Chocamine.
About the author:
Natasha Boojihawon is a Nutritional Therapist, with a vision is to support people to live full and happy lives, free from dis-ease, pain, trauma and oppression. She is a social entrepreneur, creative director and producer and in 2014, she founded holistic practice Earth Clinic in Manchester. The clinic offers nutritional therapy, energy medicine, coaching, mentoring, lymphatic drainage massage and education.