As spring starts to ramp up here in the south, there is a neurotransmitter that will be getting a lot of attention. Histamine. Yes, this neurotransmitter is responsible for the itchy, watery eyes, the sneezing, and the stuffy nose known as allergy season.
Histamine is also responsible for stomach acid production and digestion of our foods, so often seasonal allergies and heartburn go hand-in-hand. These symptoms just indicate that there are high histamine levels in the body. Histamine helps to deliver blood and nutrients to tissues by making the small blood vessels (called capillaries) more permeable. Larger molecules like white blood cells and proteins can pass through to areas that need them for immune defense.
But, like everything, histamine needs to be in balance. Too much histamine leads to severe allergy symptoms, systemic inflammation, increased gut permeability (leaky gut), and even miscarriages.
Symptoms associated with histamine can include headaches and migraines, sleep issues, high blood pressure, dizziness, hives, anxiety, abdominal cramps, flushing, and abnormal menstrual cycles.
Histamine is stored in cells under the skin called mast cells. These mast cells can be broken when someone scratches themselves, releasing the histamine. The skin response is a raised, red, itchy area (called the wheal and flare). One easy way to test for too much histamine is to lightly scratch your arm or the back of your hand and then see how long it takes for the redness to appear and then disappear.
Some causes of high histamine levels in the body can include allergies, bacterial overgrowth in the gut, leaky gut, or diamine oxidase deficiency. Diamine oxidase (DAO) helps to neutralize histamine and reduce/balance levels. There are some medications that can switch off the gene for diamine oxidase and prevent the breakdown of histamine. Those medication classes include diuretics, hormone replacement therapy, seizure medications, statins, and ibuprofen.
There are some foods that are high in histamine like fermented dairy, cured meats (like sausage & salami), alcoholic beverages, fermented grains (like in sourdough bread), tomatoes, spinach, eggplant, canned fish (like tuna), vinegar and ketchup. These foods can increase histamine levels in the body.
Other foods just promote histamine to be produced in the body, but reactions will vary by individual. These foods are pineapple, banana, citrus fruits, strawberries, papaya, nuts, spices, legumes, cocoa, seafood, egg white and food additives.
A temporary elimination of these histamine-encouraging foods can provide some relief from high histamine levels until the underlying cause can be addressed. Omega-3 fatty acids or Omega-9 fatty acids in olive oil can increase DAO levels. Alcohol blocks DAO, so reducing or eliminating alcoholic beverages can help alleviate symptoms.
There are also antihistamine probiotics:
Lactobacillus rhamnoses GG can help stabilize mast cells.
Lactobacillus plantarum can help to breakdown histamine.
Bifidobacterium longum helps to breakdown histamine and reduces leaky gut.
Certain vitamins and minerals help DAO breakdown histamine as cofactors. These include vitamin B2, B6, B12, vitamin C, zinc, copper, iron, magnesium, calcium, and water. Making sure these levels are optimized can reduce histamine levels in the body.
As a bonus, these steps may also reduce the need for stomach acid blockers like famotidine or cimetidine and alleviate heartburn symptoms.
So, rather than reaching for the over-the-counter antihistamine, ask yourself why your body is overreacting to the pollen in the first place. Why are your histamine levels so high? Taking steps to reduce the histamine levels in your body and support the natural breakdown (with DAO support) can lead to less sneezing, watery eyes and stuffy noses! You can get out and enjoy these beautiful spring days, again!
Are you ready to PIVOT to functional health and wellness?