Do You Suffer with Histamine Intolerance?

Integrative Medicine of New Jersey

Do you experience unexplained headaches or anxiety? What about irregular menstrual cycles? Does your face flush when you drink red wine? Do you get an itchy tongue or runny nose when you eat bananas, avocados, or eggplants? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you could have a histamine intolerance.

What is histamine?

Histamine is an inflammatory chemical as well as a brain chemical involved in your immune system, proper digestion, and your central nervous system. As a neurotransmitter, it communicates important messages from your body to your brain. It is also a component of stomach acid, which is what helps you break down food in your stomach.

Histamine causes your blood vessels to swell, or dilate, so that your white blood cells can quickly find and attack the infection or problem. The histamine buildup 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 you don’t break down histamine properly, you could develop what we call histamine intolerance.

Those who develop “Leaky Gut Syndrome” develop excessive histamine levels in their brain. Histamine is released from mast cells every time an antibody attacks protein that leaks from the gut into the bloodstream. People with leaky gut syndrome typically develop multiple and often severe food allergies. They leak larger than normal undigested food particles from their gut into the bloodstream, then their immune system runs in overdrive attacking the foreign invaders. People with leaky gut always present with excessive histamine levels. It has been discovered that those with the most excessive histamine production present not only with anxiety, but also bi-polar like symptoms.

Additionally, when a food allergen is ingested, histamine and other allergic compounds from white blood cells in the intestinal lining are released. These can have a strong laxative effect.

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.

Effects of histamine intolerance:

• Headaches/migraines
• Difficulty falling asleep, easily arousal
• Hypertension, hypotension
• Vertigo or dizziness
• Arrhythmia, or accelerated heart rate, anaphylaxis
• Difficulty regulating body temperature
• Anxiety or symptoms resembling a panic attack
• Nausea, vomiting
• Abdominal cramps, diarrhea, stomach ache, bloating, gas, heartburn, reflux
• Flushing
• Nasal congestion, sneezing, runny nose, difficulty breathing, coughing, wheezing
• Abnormal menstrual cycle
• Hives, itching (especially of the skin, eyes, ears and nose)
• Fatigue, confusion, irritability
• Tissue swelling (especially of the facial and oral tissues)

Not all of these symptoms occur in any single individual, and the severity of symptoms varies, but the pattern of symptoms seems to be consistent for each person.

Histamine Intolerance sufferers have different thresholds, or how much histamine their body can tolerate before experiencing symptoms. Histamine intolerance (also called histamine excess) occurs when the level of histamine in the body exceeds this threshold and the person’s ability to break down histamine. Because histamine is not only produced in the body, but is also present in a variety of foods we eat, individuals with a low threshold may experience symptoms by consuming moderate or low amounts of foods that contain or trigger the release of histamine. Therefore, it is important that a person not only record his/her reaction to specific foods, but also obtain some idea of the quantity of the food that results in symptoms. Freshness of food is key when you have histamine intolerance.

How do I break down histamine?

Once formed, histamine is either stored or broken down by an enzyme. Histamine in the central nervous system is broken down primarily by histamine N-methyltransferase (HMT), while histamine in the digestive tract is broken down primarily by diamine oxidase (DAO). Of the two, diamine oxidase (DAO) is the main enzyme for the metabolism of ingested histamine and more closely linked to histamine intolerance. Normally, DAO can easily degrade the excess histamine, but for those with a histamine imbalance (either through reduced DAO activity or an abundance of dietary histamine), symptoms begin to emerge as the amount of histamine in the body rises above their threshold.

Causes of Low DAO:

• Gluten intolerance
• Leaky gut
• DAO-blocking foods
• Genetic mutations (common in people of Asian-descent)
• Inflammation from Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
• Medications:
o Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, aspirin)
o Antidepressants (Cymbalta, Effexor, Prozac, Zoloft)
o Immune modulators (Humira, Enbrel, Plaquenil)
o Antiarrhythmics (propanolol, metaprolol, Cardizem, Norvasc)
o Antihistamines (Allegra, Zyrtec, Benadryl)
o Histamine (H2) blockers (Tagamet, Pepcid, Zantac)

Although histamine blockers, a class of acid-reducing drugs, seem like they would help prevent histamine intolerance, these medications can actually deplete DAO levels in your body.

How to Treat Histamine Intolerance?

Remove the high histamine foods for 1-3 months. Add in a supplement of HistDAO (see below) that can be effective as an adjunct to a histamine- restricted diet and may be useful on occasions when you are planning to eat histamine-containing foods. Most importantly, find the root cause for the histamine intolerance with the help of Integrative Medicine of New Jersey. If you’re on a medication that is causing the intolerance, working with Dr. Rimma Sherman to wean off of these medications is essential. Additionally, some of the main causes of histamine intolerance are SIBO and gluten intolerance, which cause leaky gut. In this case, healing the gut over time with Dr. Rimma Sherman’s guidance should help one to go back to eating histamine-containing foods.