When you think of histamine, thoughts often turn to sneezing, itchy skin, and a myriad of other symptoms that make you feel miserable. While excess histamine release is troublesome, it does play several important roles in your body. Your diet, environment, gut flora, hormones, and several nutrients substantially affect your body’s natural histamine management. Histamine is not always bad for you, but it does have to be managed.
Histamine is a compound found throughout your body, most prominently in your lungs, sinuses, eyes, skin and certain immune cells like mast cells and a type of white blood cell known as basophils. Histamine is released by these immune cells in response to a substance like pollens, animal dander, dust mites, or mold spores, etc. that your immune system mistakes for something harmful. This is one predominant aspect of histamine, but it also functions in many other ways in your body.
Histamine Has a Variety of Functions and Effects
Histamine acts as a neurotransmitter for your brain, spinal cord, and uterus and helps regulate a woman’s menstrual cycle. It also contributes to the regulation of your gut mucosal lining and stomach acid, as it affects gastric acid secretion and protein digestion. It affects fluid retention, blood vessel constriction or dilation, heart rate, blood pressure, mucosal integrity and intestinal permeability, pain sensation, itching, and plays important roles in inflammation management and modulation of autoimmune disorders.
Several types of histamine receptors have been found throughout the body that play a role in numerous normal bodily functions. Histamine receptors regulate sleep-wake cycles, wakefulness, body temperature regulation, urinary bladder relaxation and contractions, libido, emotions and behavior, movement, memory, and learning, and your food intake.
Impaired Histamine Clearance
If your body cannot keep up with histamine metabolism, then symptoms arise. Histamine can cause itching, skin rash and flushing, a runny nose or nasal congestion, red, itchy watery eyes, itchy ears, fatigue, headaches, and sleep problems. It can cause blood pressure concerns, fast heart rate, edema, and a myriad of other symptoms.
Histamine excess or intolerance is a major cause of bloating, digestive upset with diarrhea, constipation, indigestion, belching, and feeling full with limited food intake. In fact, evaluation of patients with histamine intolerance found that bloating was their most problematic symptom. It can worsen and increase intestinal permeability.
Histamine effects go even further. Animal studies show that mice that have trouble with histamine management experience increased visceral/abdominal weight gain, and higher levels of blood sugar, insulin, and leptin.
Histamine is needed by your body, but like most things it needs to be managed well. Your diet, gut microbiome, balanced methylation functions, nutritional status and even your hormone balance are key players that affect histamine management. Here are some things to consider.
Some individuals have poor tolerance to histamine rich foods. Avoidance or reduced consumption of these foods can be helpful for short periods of time. Adherence to a low histamine diet long-term though can be a challenge and lead to limited intake of wholesome foods.
Histamine rich foods include foods that are aged, cured, or fermented like alcohol, smoked meats or fish, aged cheese, kombucha, kefir, yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream, sauerkraut, balsamic and wine vinegar, and dried fruits. Leftover meats, wheat and gluten, spinach, avocados, nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, egg plants, and peppers), olives, pickles, shellfish, and teas (black, green) also contain higher levels of histamine.
Some foods naturally trigger histamine release in your body. These include alcohol, bananas, beans, chocolate, citrus fruits, nuts, papaya, pineapple, raspberries, legumes, tomatoes and wheat germ. These foods contain biogenic amines that are metabolized and detoxified with the same enzymatic pathway as histamine. Some people lack adequate enzymes or the nutrients required to metabolize histamine or the amines.
As you can see, there are many wonderful nutrient dense foods listed that may affect your body’s histamine levels. The goal is to balance it with other foods and support your body’s histamine management.
Choose foods that are lower in histamine content or have antihistamine activities. These include fresh meats and fish, eggs, fresh vegetables, non-citrus fruits, fresh dairy products, potatoes, corn, rice and other gluten free grains, olive and coconut oil, vegetable and animal fats, honey, and macadamia nuts. Fresh, or rapidly frozen and thawed foods have less histamine than leftovers or foods that have sat around for a while. Ginger, garlic, onions, and peppermint can be a helpful addition to the diet for histamine management.
High levels of dust, animal dander, and pollen and mold spores increase histamine levels. Exposure to these compounds along with a diet rich in histamine adds to your body’s total burden.
Your electronic devices, TV, and computer, etc. also emit environmental pollutants that contribute to dust. Clean fans and surfaces frequently and ideally leave them out of your bedroom.
Remove as many sources from your bedroom and work area to reduce your load. This can make a great impact on your sleep and repair quality. Use a medical grade air purifier to manage dust, pollen, dander, and mold spores if needed. These can be especially helpful in your bedroom if you have sleep difficulties, trouble with temperature regulation, and/or experience congestion, headaches, or dark circles under your eyes.
3. Gut Health
Healthy gut flora and an intact intestinal lining are essential for histamine management. Gut dysbiosis can lead to increased histamine levels in the bloodstream that directly impacts lung and respiratory symptoms. Insufficient lactobacillus and bifidobacteria relative to other flora in your gut affects histamine metabolism and detoxification.
Increased intestinal permeability worsens the effect of histamine and in turn, histamine excess increases mucosal permeability. It is vital to keep your intestinal lining intact.
4. Nutrient Support
Several nutrients affect how your body manages histamine. Vitamins B6 and B12, vitamin C, copper, iron, and zinc support enzyme activity that metabolizes histamine. In addition, vitamin C, quercetin, curcumin, fisetin, silymarin, EGCG (green tea polyphenols), l-theanine, resveratrol, tocotrienols, magnesium, and astaxanthin help stabilize mast cells which helps reduce histamine release.
The methylation process impacts histamine management. Imbalanced methylation can cause low and high levels of histamine. You can learn more about this in the article MTHFR Gene Defects, Methylation, and Natural Support. Methylation superfoods that are low in histamine include green leafy vegetables (but not spinach), beets, mushrooms, eggs, organ meats, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts. Nutrients like B vitamins, choline, taurine, MSM sulfur, etc. are essential for methylation. Methylation balancers include quercetin, curcumin, EGCG, resveratrol, lycopene and others.
5. Other Factors to Consider
Women with high estrogen levels or estrogen dominance with low progesterone can also increase histamine levels. Progesterone may help stabilize mast cells from releasing histamine.
Antibiotics, NSAIDs, antidepressants, and proton pump inhibitors, and other medications can also impair how your body metabolizes histamine either because of the drug effect or nutrient depletion. Check with your health care provider for further information.
Histamine overload or intolerance does not have to dictate or ruin your life. It can be managed. Support your quality of life with thoughtful histamine management.