Headaches. Anxiety. Insomnia. Brain fog. Hives. Nasal congestion. These are just a few of the symptoms of histamine intolerance or mast cell activation.
Histamine problems are more common in women, and are often worse at ovulation and just before the period. Why? Because that’s when estrogen is high compared to progesterone, and estrogen increases histamine.
Estrogen stimulates mast cells to make more histamine and estrogen down-regulates the DAO enzyme that you need to clear histamine. At the same time, histamine stimulates the ovaries to make more estrogen. The net result is a vicious cycle of:
estrogen → histamine → estrogen → histamine.
For many women, symptoms of “estrogen dominance” such as PMS, period pain, and heavy periods improve by taking steps to reduce histamine.
What is histamine?
You best know histamine as the immune signalling protein that causes allergies and swelling. But histamine has lots of other jobs. It regulates stomach acid, stimulates the brain, and plays a key role in ovulation and female reproduction.
Did you know? Histamine boosts libido, which is why estrogen increases libido and antihistamines decrease it.
Normally, your body regulates histamine by making it, and then by clearing it with the enzymes histamine N-methyltransferase (HNMT) and diamine oxidase (DAO). It’s a fine balance between “histamine in” and “histamine out.”
Did you know? The placenta makes a huge amount of DAO, which is why histamine intolerance and food sensitivities often improve during pregnancy.
A histamine problem occurs when there is either too much histamine is being generated or being eaten, or not enough histamine going out.
Reasons for too much “histamine in”
- Mast cell stimulating foods such as fermented foods and alcohol. Histamine is a big reason that
- Eating too many histamine-containing foods such as alcohol (especially wine), sauerkraut, and smoked meat.
- Intestinal dysbiosis (wrong gut bacteria) because some species of bacteria make histamine.
- Estrogen excess because estrogen stimulates histamine release.
Reasons for not enough “histamine out”
- Genetic variant of the histamine-clearing enzymes HNMT and DAO.
- SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) because it impairs DAO activity.
- Nutrional deficiency eg Vitamin B6 deficiency because vitamin B6 is an essential cofactor of DAO.
- Estrogen excess because it down-regulates DAO.
- Progesterone deficiency because progesterone is needed to up-regulate DAO. That’s why you have more DAO (and less histamine) early in the luteal phase when progesterone is high. (Better histamine clearance is just one of many ways that progesterone feels good.)
- Hormonal birth control because it causes estrogen excess and progesterone deficiency.
What’s the solution?
Avoid histamine-stimulating foods..
Reduce histamine-containing foods. This is the fastest and simplest way to feel better, but it can become restrictive and difficult in the long-term. If you address underlying gut issues, you should find that you improve your tolerance of histamine foods.
red wine and champagne
smoked or canned fish
bone broth and fish stock
vinegar and fermented foods such as sauerkraut
Improve gut health. This usually means identifying and correcting dysbiosis and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
Eat a wholefood diet rich in Minerals and Vitamins, vitamin B6 upregulates DAO. This is one reason vitamin B6 is so incredibly helpful for PMS. (B6 also boosts the calming neurotransmitter GABA.) Food sources of vitamin B6 include meat, chicken, and sunflower seeds.
Promote the healthy detoxification of estrogen.
Consider Thyroid function
STRESS Reduce stress
When addressing a Hormonal Imbalnce is it important to establish the Root Cause.