Is Histamine Harassing You?

If you develop a stuffy nose, headache or upset gut after eating certain foods, it may not be because of an allergic reaction. You could have a histamine intollerance.

Histamine is a chemical involved in your immune system, your digestion and your central nervous system. Its role in the body is to cause an immediate inflammatory response. As a neurotransmitter, it communicates messages from your body to your brain and it is involved in the production of stomach acid which helps you break down food.

Histamine intolerance develops when blood levels of histamine, one of the main chemicals involved in allergic reactions, get too high.

An intolerance to this chemical can occur when the body cannot break it down well enough in the intestines, usually because of having low levels of an enzyme called diamine oxidase (DAO) which is the primary agent that breaks down digested histamine, causing histamine levels in the blood to rise and cause symptoms that can mimic allergies.

As histamine travels throughout your bloodstream, it can affect your gut, lungs, skin, brain, and entire cardiovascular system.

Histamine can contribute to a wide range of symptoms such as:

  • Frequent headaches or migraines
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Abdominal pain/cramps, bloating and/or diarrhoea
  • Nasal congestion or frequent sneezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Flushed skin especially of the head and chest
  • Red, itchy or watery eyes
  • Rash or eczema
  • Irregular menstrual cycles in women
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Fatigue
  • Asthma
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Heart palpitations

Histamine intolerance is relatively rare, affecting about 1–3% of people, although some researchers believe this figure is underestimated as it may not be easily recognised by physicians and may be mistaken for a food allergy or gastrointestinal disorder.

Some things that can cause a histamine intolerance are:

  • Histamine-rich foods
  • Allergies
  • Imbalanced microbiome
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Inflammatory bowel disease e.g. Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis
  • Chronic use of anti-inflammatory medication or histamine blockers e.g. antacids
  • Gluten intolerance or Celiac disease
  • Mastocytosis: a condition characterized by the presence of too many mast cells

While there are several possible underlying root causes, the most common cause of histamine intolerance is a low levels of an enzyme called diamine oxidase (DAO) in your body. 

Normally, histamine travels to the gut, where DAO breaks it down and prevents it from entering the bloodstream. However, if you don’t have adequate levels of DAO, histamine passes through the small intestine and enters the bloodstream, leading to high levels of histamine that cause the uncomfortable symptoms associated with histamine intolerance.

Your genes may play a role in low levels of DAO along with excessive alcohol consumption, leaky gut or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

Prescription drugs can also interfere with levels of DAO such as antibiotics, antidepressants (Cymbalta, Efexor, Prozac, Zoloft), blood pressure medications and stomach acid blockers (Zantac)  along with anti-inflammatories e.g. ibuprofen (Nurofen), aspirin,  diclofenac (Voltaren) and antihistamines (Claratyne, Zyrtec, Telfast).

Also many foods and drinks contain some histamine. The amount usually increases as the food ages, spoils or ferments. Some foods and drinks also contain compounds that help release histamine in the body or block the production or effectiveness of the DAO enzyme.

There is currently no direct testing for histamine intolerance and traditional allergy tests (skin prick testing) are not affective for this condition. However we can measure histamine and DAO levels in your blood, and while these tests may help indirectly indicate histamine intolerance, the easiest way for your practitioner to confirm (or rule out) a histamine intolerance is to follow a low-histamine diet.

Call us now on 07 4946 7910 for a consultation or book online and we can help determine whether histamine intolerance could be a reason for your symptoms.  We can then discuss histamine reducing dietary guidelines to potentially help reduce symptoms, along with other treatments that may also assist.

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