What are Histamines?
Histamines are compounds found in various parts of the body. From the brain to the gut, histamine has a variety of actions. It is both a neurotransmitter as well as an immunomodulator. Depending on where it is found in the body, and what receptor it interacts with, histamine can elicit a multitude of reactions. There are different types and each are found in different parts of the body and when activated have distinctly different effects on the body.
H1 are found in the smooth muscles causing reactions like hives, difficulty breathing and asthma. H4 also leads to allergies and asthma but have a different cause.
H2 are found in the gut. An increase of histamines causes an increase in gastric acid secretion.
H3 are known as inhibitory receptors. They can inhibit neurotransmitters like dopamine, GABA and serotonin. When H3 is blocked, histamines increase, which is a reason many believe histamines are related to anxiety and ADD.
Histamines are usually metabolized in the liver and intestines. Some people have low levels of the enzymes to metabolize histamines causing them to have more circulating histamines in their body. Histamine can inhibit almost every neurotransmitter in the body causing a chemical imbalance starting in the brain. This can cause brain fog, anxiety, fatigue and wreaking havoc on your sleep cycle by stimulating your body to stay awake.
The body is also affected. An increase amount of histamine in your body can lead to irritable bowl syndrome, ulcers, nasal congestion, hives and itchiness. These symptoms are largely modulated by the adrenal glands and can lead to adrenal fatigue.
Histamines and Food
When histamine levels are beyond what the body can handle, food sensitivity is common. Histamine is typically found in foods that have been highly processed or fermented. Dairy products like yogurt and fermented cheese such as Gouda and cheddar. Gluten can cause a histamine intolerance. Sausage, pepperoni and other processed meat are high in histamine. Tomatoes, spinach, sauerkraut and eggplant are higher in histamines compared to other vegetables. Chocolate and red wine also are high in histamine. Histamine levels can increase by intestinal dysbiosis and estrogen excess.
Histamine and Estrogen
Estrogen and histamine reinforce each other. Estrogen triggers histamine release and histamine causes increased estrogen production. Many studies have found that estrogen can down-regulate the enzymes that break down histamine: diamine oxidase (DAO) and monoamine oxidase (MAO). This can explain why symptoms of histamine intolerance are common from ovulation to just before your period starts.
Histamine can stimulate the ovaries to produce more estrogen. The histamine compound stimulates the release of luteinizing hormone (LH) which, in turn, leads to more estrogen produced at ovulation. Eating foods with more histamine can put women on a hormonal roller coaster due to an increased estrogen levels, possibly causing estrogen dominance.
1. Reduce histamine-containing foods
Dependent on your symptoms from these foods, restrict your intake from two weeks to one month. Then introduce a food group for a few days and observe your body’s reaction. Then, introduce another food. This will give you information in how much your body can handle of the food group. You might need to eliminate these foods from your diet for a few weeks or months.
High histamine foods
Dairy is usually the culprit
Cured processed meat
Aged fermented cheese
Fermented foods such as sauerkraut
2. Supplement with B6
B6 upregulates DAO, which is an enzyme that metabolizes histamines out of the body. Food sources include chicken, meat and sunflower seeds.
3. Decrease DAO-Blocking Foods
- Energy drinks
- Black tea
- Mate tea
- Green tea
4. Add Low-Histamine Foods
- Fresh vegetables (except tomatoes, spinach, avocado and eggplant)
- Pure nut butters
- Freshly cooked meat or poultry
- Freshly caught fish
- Gluten-free grains: rice, quinoa, corn, millet, amaranth
- Fresh fruits: mango, pear, watermelon, apple, kiwi, cantaloupe, grapes
- Dairy substitutes: coconut milk, rice milk, hemp milk, almond milk
- Cooking oils: olive oil, coconut oil
- Herbal teas
5. Improve Gut Health
- Include a probiotic that has Bifidobacterium infantis and B. longum. These strains can interfere with the histamine pathway and reduce levels of histamine.
- When a histamine moves past the intestinal wall, it goes to the liver. One liver supporting herb is milk thistle.