Histamines are compounds found in various parts of the body. From the brain to the gut, histamine has a variety of actions. It is both a neurotransmitter as well as an immunomodulator. Depending on where it is found in the body, and what receptor it interacts with, histamine can elicit a multitude of reactions. There are four types of receptors, numbered H1 to H4. Each are found in different parts of the body and have distinctly different effects on the body when activated. Histamines and Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome
Harmful Effects of Histamine
Excessive histamine can wreck havoc in the body. Starting with the brain, histamine has the ability to inhibit almost every neurotransmitter and is a neurotransmitter in itself. Any unbalance in the chemical makeup of your brain is bound to cause unwanted effects such as brain fog, fatigue and anxiety. It is also why histamine has been implicated in several major psychiatric disorders. Along with psychiatric disorders, histamine is also involved in the sleeping cycle, mainly stimulating the body to stay awake. This can only worsen the symptoms manifesting in the brain. At the cardiovascular system, with histamine being a vasodilator and opening up the vessels in the body, the heart will have to pump harder and faster to maintain the same blood flow. This can lead to tachycardia, heart palpitations and low blood pressure. Heart palpitations combined with increased anxiety can often lead to panic attacks too. Unchecked histamine can also lead to increased gastric acid secretions in the gut, contributing to irritable bowel syndrome and gastric ulcers.
On top of all these conditions, histamine actively plays a role in inflammation and the allergic reaction, having high histamine levels in your body is similar to being in a chronic inflammatory or allergic state. One can experience itching, nasal congestion, asthma, red eyes, hives, and even angioedema. These symptoms are largely modulated by the adrenal glands. We will go into these in more detail later.
Histamine Levels and Adrenal Fatigue
Elevated histamine levels do not bode well for the adrenal glands. Histamine is an inflammatory molecule. Cortisol, released by the adrenal glands, is an anti-inflammatory compound. One can imagine the contrasting battle these two molecules go through on a daily basis. Any unnecessary rise in histamine levels only serves to burden the adrenal glands. Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome(AFS), especially those in advanced stages, invariably are overloaded with histamine internally without sufficient cortisol to counter its effect. It comes as no surprise that many are in a generalized inflammatory state with many nonspecific but bothersome symptoms of discomfort.
As a result of inflammation, many suffer from migrating pain of unknown origin, especially in the muscles and joints. There is no deformity in the joints, and the discomfort can come and go at will without a set pattern. Doctors are usually at a loss after a normal blood test without significant signs of autoimmune disease. Pain medications are usually prescribed but seldom necessary as the discomfort is generally nagging in nature and not very severe.
Sometimes pain can be in the lower back area surrounding the kidneys. There is no significant physical finding. Visits to family doctors are made and bladder and urinary track infection workups are usually negative. Abdominal CT scans are normal. Many will report a dull ache or a sensation of feeling heat in the area of the adrenal glands that is worsened under stress or when energy levels are low, or when certain types of food are consumed. There is no specific point of tenderness on palpation. The sufferer is usually told that it is all in their head.
Food sensitivity is common when histamine levels rise beyond what the body can handle. Intake of watermelon, for example, can lead to skin itchiness in distant parts of the body such as the ear lobes. Dairy products can lead to excessive nasal drip that can be postnasal in nature. Sufferers generally report a sense of congestion during the day, and wake up in the morning with a cough. Headaches of unknown origin, excessive bloating, and stomach pain are all common presentations.
Increased sensitivity to seasonal allergens is also a common finding. Due to intrinsic high histamine levels within, the threshold for external allergens to trigger inflammation is reduced, especially from pollen and grass during the spring. Most sufferers of AFS will find themselves highly sensitive to such external allergens in addition to heat intolerance when outdoors. Runny nose, sense of itchiness at the throat, and sniffling are common presenting complaints. Steroidal nasal sprays and anti-histamine medications are prescribed frequently for what appears to be classic signs of allergic rhinitis. Without understanding the root cause and trigger, this medication only acts to reduce symptoms and bring temporary relief. With prolonged use, tolerance and dependence develop. Those with marginal or mild adrenal fatigue will find their condition worsens over time, as the adrenals will slow down production of steroids due to the ample external supply as the feedback loop is disrupted. Withdrawal and rebound symptoms may arise if the medications are stopped abruptly.
Reducing internal histamine load should be part of a total recovery program in AFS. The key is to first recognize that histamine does play an important role in worsening adrenal fatigue. The astute clinician should be on alert for symptoms mentioned above as clues for further investigation. The key rests with a detailed history conducted carefully by an experienced clinician & appropiate testing to establish the root cause of the problem.