Histamine is a key molecule in your body. You need it to survive. Histamine is produced by immune cells called mast cells.. These immune cells are present in connective tissue and are part of the immune and neuroimmune systems. Histamine is also found naturally in many foods.
Your body needs histamine to:
- fight infections
- act as a neurotransmitter
- regulate sleep
- Helps in proper digestion
- regulate hormones
- Reproduction aid
Too little histamine can cause major problems. Your body cannot function properly without enough of this molecule. On the other hand, too much histamine can also wreak havoc. Since histamine is present throughout the body, high histamine can cause many different types of symptoms. Let’s take a look at those symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of high histamine levels
These are common symptoms of high histamine levels:
- Itchy eyes, ears, nose, throat, skin
- Redness of the skin
- Nasal and sinus congestion
- excess mucus
- Swelling and redness of the eyes
- Heartburn, reflux, indigestion
- Trouble sleeping: falling asleep or staying asleep
- Low blood pressure or high blood pressure
- Headaches or migraines
- food sensitivities
- menstrual problems
- Breathing problems such as asthma.
Other symptoms of high histamine
Symptoms worsen with fermented foods, wine, beer.
Some people with high histamine levels they may also experience these symptoms:
- Palpitations or irregular heartbeat.
- Problems regulating body temperature.
- Chest pain
- Symptoms of anxiety or panic
- Humor changes
- Swelling of the face, mouth or throat.
You don’t have to experience all of the above symptoms to have histamine problems. However, if you experience three or more of these symptoms, it could be a sign that you have histamine intolerance.
What is histamine intolerance?
Histamine intolerance occurs when the body has more histamine than it can get rid of. The body removes histamine with specific enzymes, such as diamine oxidase (DAO) and histamine N-methyltransferase (HNMT). If you don’t have enough of those enzymes, histamine can build up to high levels.
Think of histamine intolerance like a sink with a drain. Histamine flows from the faucet and enzymes are the drain that removes the histamine.
Think of histamine intolerance like a sink with a drain. Histamine flows from the faucet and enzymes are the drain that removes the histamine. If you don’t have enough histamine-degrading enzymes, the sink will overflow and you’ll begin to experience symptoms.
Similarly, if the flow of histamine from the faucet is faster than the drain can follow, the sink will also overflow and cause symptoms.
You may not have enough of those enzymes due to a genetic predisposition or a lack of certain nutrients. Some of the nutrients that are important for breaking down histamine are:
- B2, B5, B6, B12
- Folate (as methylfolate)
- Vitamin C
If you’re low on nutrients, your body may have trouble producing those enzymes that destroy histamine.
Additional factors that can lead to high histamine levels
- hormonal imbalances
- Eating too many foods high in histamine
- Intestinal infections (such as SIBO or Candida)
- Chronic infections such as Lyme or Epstein Barre
- mold toxicity
- certain medications
- Lack of deep sleep
The connection between histamine and hormones
Women have more histamine than men because women have more estrogen. Estrogen, progesterone, and histamine are closely related to the body. Estrogen stimulates mast cells to produce more histamine.
This can cause a dangerous cycle when estrogen causes mast cells to release histamine and the rising levels of histamine produce more estrogen. In turn, estrogen causes mast cells to produce more histamine, creating a snowball effect.
This is also why you may have experienced more histamine problems at certain times in your cycle, likely when your estrogen levels were higher than your progesterone levels.
Estrogen dominance occurs when you have more estrogen than progesterone. So if you are estrogen dominant, you most likely have histamine issues.
It is important to note that estrogen dominance does not occur with high estrogen levels alone. Even if you have low estrogen, you can be estrogen dominant if you have more estrogen than progesterone.
On the other side of the coin, progesterone helps prevent mast cells from producing histamine. This is a big reason why the estrogen-progesterone balance is so important.
If you can maintain your progesterone, you are likely to have a lower histamine. This translates to lower histamine levels and fewer high histamine symptoms.
Histamine: Menopause, SIBO, and Low Thyroid Levels
There is also a great connection between histamine problems and menopause. Women are more likely to develop histamine intolerance during menopause.
This is because both estrogen and progesterone decrease during menopause. For many women, progesterone ends up being even lower than estrogen. Therefore, it can dominate estrogen during menopause.
High estrogen degrades the enzyme DAO that breaks down histamine
Estrogen also causes another problem. In fact, it can reduce one of the important histamine-degrading enzymes we talked about earlier, called diamine oxidase (DAO).
If you don’t have enough DAO, then you can get very high levels of histamine. DAO is also very vulnerable to intestinal infections like SIBO. Intestinal infections destroy the body’s ability to produce DAO. Therefore, SIBO dominance and estrogen together can wreak a lot of havoc on your histamine levels.
So balancing hormones should help, right? In theory, yes. However, the synthetic hormones used by many traditional practitioners in hormone replacement therapy often worsen histamine intolerance.
Research shows that synthetic hormone replacement is clearly linked to the occurrence of allergies and asthma. This is because synthetic hormones are hard on mast cells, causing them to produce even more histamine.
Bioidentical hormones work better for women, fortunately. Be sure to do your research very well if you are thinking of taking synthetic hormones.
Low Thyroid Levels Contribute to Histamine Problems
Low thyroid levels can also contribute to histamine problems. Research shows this is probably due to thyroid hormones helping to regulate mast cells and reduce histamine production. If you don’t make enough thyroid hormones, you could end up with much higher histamine levels.
Seeking to correct the root cause of your high histamine should be your first stepbut in the meantime, fortunately there are very effective ways to balance this intolerance through enzymes that help break down histamine and a proper diet with foods that are not high in histamine.
- Bonds, RS and Midoro-Horiuti, T. (2013). Effects of estrogens in allergies and asthma. Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 13(1), 92-99.
- Zierau, O., Zenclussen, AC, & Jensen, F. (2012). Role of the sex hormones, estradiol and progesterone, in the behavior of mast cells. Frontiers in Immunology, 3 (169).