Histamine is a substance that is made and stored primarily by certain white blood cells called mast cells and basophils. Histamine is also produced in the brain, where it acts as a neurotransmitter, and in the stomach, where it triggers the release of stomach acid. All in all, histamine is known to be involved in 23 different physiological functions. Once it has been released from storage histamine is quickly broken down by two different enzymes: DAO in the gut and HMT in the rest of the body. The efficiency of these enzymes can be hindered due to a person’s genetic makeup, nutritional status, and gut health (an irritated gut lining secretes much less DAO).
Certain microbes manufacture histamine as well – this is why fermented foods like sauerkraut, wine, vinegar, and aged cheeses are all very high in histamine. This is also likely why people with SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth) are so prone to Histamine Intolerance (HIT).
Histamine Intolerance can be tricky to identify because of the wide array of possible symptoms involving the nervous system, gastrointestinal tract, cardiovascular system, respiratory tract, skin, and reproductive system.
Not everyone with HIT will present the same way. Some people will have anxiety, insomnia, and depression. Others will have bloating and diarrhea. When the cardiovascular system is involved there may be changes in blood pressure or abnormal heart rhythms. The effects on the respiratory tract and skin are more familiar as an allergic response: a runny nose, cough, excess mucus production, hives, itching, redness, and swelling. Finally, women with HIT may experience difficulties with their menstrual cycles including more severe cramping and headaches.
Histamine causes increased inflammation in the body. As we tell all of our patients, inflammation is the cause of all disease. In the MD world, the treatment is anti-histamines and histamine blockers, Cromolyn to stabilize the mast cell to reduce its release of the histamine, Ketotifen to block the histamine receptor to name a few. These are band-aids that treat symptoms but do not treat the cause, and as with all drugs, they have side effects.
The good news is, not everyone experiencing HIT is doomed to suffer these symptoms forever. As naturopathic physicians, we help our patients drill down to identify and correct the factors that are contributing to their health imbalance. Our training is geared toward treating the cause of the symptoms.
Every patient is different and will require an individualized approach. Addressing inflammation is crucial for long-term health. People who are chronically inflamed are much more prone to developing more serious illnesses down the road such as heart disease, dementia, and cancer. If you have been struggling with any of the symptoms listed above, call today to make an appointment. There is no time like the present to take back control of your health. Your future self will thank you.
Yours in health,
Cynthia Bye, ND, FABNO
Board Certified in Naturopathic Oncology