Is Histamine Affecting Your Hormone Balance?

What is Histamine?

Histamine is a key molecule in your body. You need it to survive. Histamine is made 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 naturally found in many foods. (We’ll talk more about those foods later.)

Your body needs histamine to:

  • Fight off infections
  • Act as a neurotransmitter
  • Regulate sleep
  • Aid in proper digestion
  • Regulate hormones
  • Aid in reproduction

Too little histamine can cause major problems, too. Your body can’t function properly without enough of the molecule. On the flip side, too much histamine can wreak havoc as well. Since histamine is present throughout your body, high histamine can cause many different types of symptoms. Let’s take a look at those symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms of High Histamine

These are common symptoms of high histamine:

  • Itching of eyes, ears, nose, throat, skin
  • Flushing or redness of skin
  • Rashes
  • Nasal and sinus congestion
  • Excess mucus
  • Swelling and redness of eyes
  • Heartburn, reflux, indigestion
  • Diarrhea
  • Sleep issues – falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Low blood pressure or high blood pressure
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Food sensitivities
  • Fatigue
  • Menstrual issues
  • Breathing issues like asthma
  • Symptoms worsened by fermented foods, wine, beer

Some people with high histamine levels may also experience these symptoms:

  • Heart palpitations or irregular heart beat
  • Trouble regulating body temperature
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Anxiety or panic-like symptoms
  • Depression
  • Mood changes
  • Swelling of face, mouth or throat

You don’t have to experience all of the symptoms above to have histamine issues. However, if you suffer from three or more of these symptoms, it might be a sign you have a histamine intolerance.

What is Histamine Intolerance?

Histamine Intolerance occurs when the body has more histamine than it can get rid of. The body gets rid of histamine with specific enzymes, like Diamine Oxidase (DAO) and Histamine N-methyltransferase (HNMT). If you don’t have enough of those enzymes because of nutritional deficiency, histamine can build to high levels.

If you don’t have enough of the histamine degrading enzymes, you will start to experience 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 to breaking down histamine are:

  • B2, B5, B6, B12
  • Folate
  • Bio-available Copper
  • Vitamin C

If you are low in those nutrients, your body might have trouble producing those histamine-busting enzymes.

Here are additional factors that can lead to high histamine levels:

  • Hormone Imbalances
  • Eating too many high-histamine foods
  • Autoimmunity
  • Gut infections (like SIBO or Candida)
  • Chronic infections like Lyme or Epstein Barre
  • Mold toxicity
  • Certain medications
  • Lack of deep sleep
  • Stress

The Histamine and Hormone Connection

Women tend to have more histamine than men because women have more estrogen. Estrogen, progesterone, and histamine are closely linked in the body. Estrogen stimulates mast cells to make more histamine.

This can cause a dangerous cycle when estrogen causes mast cells to release histamine and the rising histamine levels produce more estrogen. In turn, the estrogen triggers the mast cells to make more histamine, creating a snowball effect.

This is also why you may have experienced more histamine issues at certain times in your cycle – likely when your estrogen levels were higher than your progesterone levels.

Estrogen dominance happens when you have more estrogen than progesterone. So if you are estrogen dominant, you are very likely to have histamine issues. It is important to note that estrogen dominance doesn’t just happen with high estrogen. 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 stop mast cells from making histamine. This is a big reason why the estrogen-progesterone balance is so important. If you can support your progesterone, you will likely have lower histamine activity. This translates to lower histamine levels and fewer high histamine symptoms.

Histamine: Menopause, SIBO, and Low Thyroid Levels

There is a big connection between histamine issues and menopause too. Women are more likely to develop histamine intolerance during menopause. This is because both estrogen and progesterone drop during menopause. For many women, progesterone ends up even lower than estrogen. So you can be estrogen dominant while in menopause.

Estrogen causes another problem too. It can actually reduce one of the important histamine-degrading enzymes you learned about earlier, called Diamine Oxidase (DAO). If you don’t have enough DAO, then you can get very high histamine levels. DAO is also very vulnerable to gut infections like SIBO. Gut infections destroy the body’s ability to make DAO. So SIBO and estrogen dominance together can wreak a lot of havoc to your histamine levels.

So, balancing hormones should help, right? In theory, yes. However, synthetic hormones used by many traditional physicians in hormone replacement therapy often make histamine intolerance worse. Research shows synthetic hormone replacement is clearly linked to the onset of allergies and asthma. This is because the synthetic hormones are hard on the mast cells, causing them to make even more histamine. Bioidentical hormones tend to work better for women, fortunately. Be sure to do your homework if you are thinking about taking synthetic hormones.

Low thyroid levels can also contribute to histamine issues. Recent research published in 2019 shows this is likely due to thyroid hormones that help regulate mast cells and reduce histamine production. If you don’t make enough thyroid hormones, you could end up with much higher histamine levels.

At this point, you may be wondering if you have high histamine and histamine intolerance. Below are steps you can take to address these issues.

5 Ways to Naturally Lower Histamine

In order to fix histamine intolerance, you need to figure out what the root cause is. To figure out The Root Cause, you’ll likely need to work with a qualified Therapist. Still, there are a number of steps you can start now to naturally lower your histamine levels.

  • Balance your hormones naturally
  • Reduce high histamine foods (listed below)
  • Emphasize high nutrient foods (listed below)
  • Take wholefood vitamin supplements as needed
  • Relax and meditate daily

High Histamine Foods

There are a lot of high histamine foods lists online. Unfortunately the vast majority of those lists aren’t very accurate. I’ve put together a very good list that is based on research.

Here are some of the highest histamine foods:

  • Processed and packaged foods
  • Leftovers older than 48 hours
  • Alcohols like wine, champagne, beer, whiskey, brandy
  • Fermented foods: sauerkraut, vinegar, soy sauce, kefir, yogurt, kombucha, etc.
  • Cured meats: bacon, salami, pepperoni, luncheon meats and hot dogs
  • Food additives like carrageenan, colorings, sodium benzoate, MSG, guar gum
  • Aged cheese like Swiss, cheddar, Parmesan
  • Coffee
  • Bone broth
  • Fish and seafood
  • Beef
  • Dried fruits
  • Peanuts and cashews
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Pineapple
  • Citrus

If you are looking at the High Histamine Foods list and you are worried there won’t be anything left to eat – don’t worry. Yes, you’ll need to reduce your intake of those foods, but you can also replace them with plenty of delicious histamine-reducing foods.

Histamine-Reducing Foods

This is a list of just a few of the foods that have been shown to reduce histamine. So try to load up on as many of these as possible.

  • Fresh herbs like basil, cilantro, rosemary, parsley, ginger, and oregano
  • Herbal Teas: Peppermint, tulsi, lavender, ginger
  • Asparagus
  • Arugula
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage, Green and Red
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Fennel
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Napa cabbage / Chinese cabbage
  • Onions – any kind
  • Scallions (green onions – especially the green parts)
  • Radishes
  • Romaine lettuce, red and green leaf lettuce
  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Cherries
  • Mangos

The bottom line is to:

  • Eat very little processed and packaged foods.
  • Reduce the highest histamine foods.
  • Replace those foods with histamine-lowering foods.

If you do that, you’ll be well on your way to eating lower levels of histamine!

A Very Important Tip

Another important tip is to avoid long term use of antihistamine medications if possible. This is because antihistamines don’t actually get rid of histamine. They only block the histamine receptors. This helps symptoms in the short term. But in the long term, antihistamines trick the body into thinking histamine levels are too low. The body responds by pumping out even more histamine. The more antihistamine medications you take, the more your body will produce histamine. This can create an unhealthy cycle.

Instead, you can try supplements that actually lower your histamine levels. These tend to work much better in the long run. There are many options here, but these are 2 good ones you can begin with:

  • Quercetin
  • Vitamin C as Camu Camu

If you take these steps and you are still having the high histamine symptoms, then it is time to work with someone who can help you. Look for a practitioner who can help you identify your unique root causes in histamine intolerance and create a plan of action.

Breast cancer risk from using HRT is ‘twice what was thought’

A woman applies an HRT patch
 The study shows one in 50 women taking the most common HRT for five years will get breast cancer. Photograph: Phanie/Alamy

Study prompts medicines regulator to advise all women using HRT to remain vigilant

The risk of breast cancer from using hormone replacement therapy is double what was previously thought, according to a major piece of research, which confirms that HRT is a direct cause of the cancer.

The findings of the definitive study will cause concern among the 1 million women in the UK and millions more around the world who are using HRT. It finds that the longer women take it, the greater their risk, with the possibility that just one year is risk-free. It also finds that the risk does not go away as soon as women stop taking it, as had been previously assumed.

The UK’s drug licensing body suggested women who have used HRT in the past or use it now should be vigilant for signs of breast cancer in the light of the findings, while the Royal College of GPs urged them not to panic but to consult their doctor if they are concerned.

The research, published in the Lancet medical journal, says one in 50 women of average weight taking the most common form – combined daily oestrogen and progestogen – for five years will get breast cancer as a result.

That risk is twice what was thought, because it continues at some level for 10 or more years after women stop taking HRT. There are about 1 million women in the UK on HRT, 5 million in the rest of Europe and 6 million in the US.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) said women who are taking or have ever taken HRT should be vigilant and may want to talk to their doctor next time they have a routine appointment. They should ensure they go for breast screening.

“Women should be aware of this new information, so that it can be considered with the other risks and benefits of using HRT,” said Sarah Branch, the deputy director of the MHRA’s vigilance and risk management of medicines division.

“The menopause can have unpleasant side-effects and HRT products can be effective in helping to ease the symptoms. No medicine is completely without risk, but it is important for women to be able to make an informed decision about the risks and benefits that are appropriate for them.”

The MHRA recommends women should only take hormone therapy at the lowest dose and for the shortest possible time that works for them. The study shows there may be no increased risk for the first year.

HRT has long been linked to breast cancer, and to a lesser extent to ovarian cancer as well. But the issue has been fraught with controversy, pitching supporters of HRT – including many gynaecologists – against the epidemiologists concerned about cancer risks.

The British Menopause Society and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have strongly defended HRT, which is very effective in alleviating the hot flushes, night sweats and other debilitating symptoms of menopause that can make one in four women’s lives miserable. They have disputed past studies linking HRT to cancer and claimed hormones have other health benefits, including protecting women from heart attacks and strokes, for which the authors of the new study say there is no evidence. HRT does help protect brittle bones, say the authors, but only while women are taking it.

The British Menopause Society rejoiced at the recent guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), which its members helped write. Nice suggested the risks were small – although without quantifying how small. GPs have been urged to prescribe HRT to more women as a result.

“We really are concerned that many GPs have been saying it is not something you really have to worry about,” said Prof Valerie Beral from the University of Oxford, a co-author of the study. The scientists say the Nice guidelines should now be reconsidered.

Nice said it is aware of the new research. “We will be reflecting on this study’s findings and considering it in our final decision as to whether we will update our menopause guidelines, a decision on which we will publish in due course,” said a spokesperson.

Sir Richard Peto, professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at the Nuffield department of population health, University of Oxford, said they could now be certain that HRT is a cause of about 5% of breast cancers. The cancer risk increases with the length of time women are on hormones and the cancers tend to be oestrogen receptor-positive, which means they are driven by oestrogen. Women who are given drugs that dry up their oestrogen supply – like tamoxifen – get high protection against the tumours returning.

“These are cause and effect relationships,” said Peto. “It is not just an association that exists, because the menopausal hormone therapy is causing the increase in breast cancer.

“The big problem is how to describe the one in 50 risk,” he said. They did not want to exaggerate it, nor did they want to play it down. “On current websites, [the risks] are misrepresented,” he said.

The paper, by the global Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer, pulled together data from 58 studies around the world on more than 108,000 women who had developed breast cancer after taking menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) – they say “replacement” therapy or HRT is a misnomer and a marketing description.

In western countries, 6.3% of women of average weight will develop breast cancer over the 20 years from the age of 50 without any hormone therapy. The study found that rose to 8.3% among women taking the most common hormonal combination – oestrogen plus daily progestogen.

The odds were better (7.7%) for women who took progestogen only intermittently, maybe for 10 to 14 days a month. Those who took oestrogen only, because they did not need progestogen to protect from womb cancer after a hysterectomy, had a risk of 6.8%.

Women who are obese are at increased risk of breast cancer because their adipose (fat) tissue produces extra oestrogen after the menopause. The study found that taking HRT did not further increase their risk.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now, said the longer-term effect of HRT might be an important consideration for women. “Taking HRT is a really personal decision, and it’s vital that everyone fully understands the benefits and risks, discusses them with their GP and is supported to make the decision that’s right for them,” she said. “Rather than causing concern, we hope [the findings] will help anyone considering HRT treatment to make an even more informed decision.”

Other scientists said the study was well conducted. Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at The Open University, called it “a very careful, thorough, excellent piece of research”. Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, called it “a tour de forcein what has been done and the way it has been done – the findings cannot be dismissed”.

But the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, in a joint statement with the British Menopause Society, said the findings were in line with the Nice guidelines that showed a “small increased risk”.

“Women and doctors should be reassured that the findings of this study do not add anything new in terms of the effects of hormone replacement therapy. Research shows that, for most women, HRT helps to manage menopausal symptoms and is safe,” said gynaecologist Prof Janice Rymer, the vice-president of the college.

“Women must be informed of the small increase in risk of breast cancer so they can weigh this up against the benefits that they may have from taking HRT. Every woman experiences the menopause differently and symptoms vary. These can be extremely debilitating and have a significant impact on a woman’s physical and psychological health, career, social life and relationships. Unfortunately, many women are still suffering in silence and are reluctant to seek advice and support due to concerns around the risks of breast cancer associated with HRT.”

The Royal College of GPs urged patients not to panic and to carry on taking their HRT, and GPs to carry on as normal “until clinical guidelines recommend otherwise. If a patient is concerned about her HRT prescription, she should discuss it with her GP at her next routine appointment.”

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