Understanding Histamines: How They Impact Your Health and Ways to Manage Them

Histamines are vital chemicals produced by mast cells in the immune system, playing key roles in digestion, neurotransmitter production, immunity, blood pressure regulation, and hormone balance. The body must produce enough enzymes, such as DAO and HNMT, to break down histamines and maintain homeostasis. This is similar to a “boiling pot” – the more histamines we produce (due to various factors), the fewer enzymes are available to break them down. Excessive histamine production or low DAO levels can lead to uncomfortable and potentially serious symptoms. This article explores the causes of increased histamine levels and how to test and manage them.

Histamines serve several vital functions in the body:

  • Digestion: They aid in stomach acid production, essential for breaking down proteins and facilitating nutrient absorption. Adequate stomach acid also helps prevent pathogen overgrowth and supports the absorption of specific nutrients crucial for energy, thyroid function, and joint health.
  • Neurotransmitter Production: Histamines influence mood and help regulate sleep patterns.
  • Immunity: They assist in the body’s defense against infections.
  • Blood Pressure Regulation: Histamines help maintain optimal blood pressure levels, which is crucial in conditions like tachycardia and dysautonomia.
  • Hormone Regulation: They contribute to overall hormonal balance, supporting various physiological processes.

Symptoms of Histamine Intolerance

Histamine intolerance can manifest in various symptoms, including:

  • Allergy-like Symptoms: Hives, itching, rashes, asthma, chronic cough, and congestion. Flushing and swelling may also occur.
  • Headaches and Migraines: Persistent and severe headaches.
  • Anxiety and Tachycardia: Increased anxiety levels and a heart rate exceeding 100 beats per minute.
  • Neurological Symptoms: Tingling sensations in extremities, insomnia, challenges in regulating body temperature, as well as joint pain, vertigo, and dizziness.
  • Gastrointestinal Symptoms: Heartburn, gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

These symptoms can vary in severity and frequency and may fluctuate based on histamine levels and individual sensitivity.

Factors That Increase Histamine Production

Several factors can trigger increased histamine production, including:

  • Diet: Consumption of histamine-rich foods can elevate histamine levels.
  • Demographic Factors: Histamine intolerance is most common in Caucasian women.
  • Post-Viral Illness: This is very common in long COVID cases and can also occur after receiving the COVID vaccine, as well as other viruses such as Lyme’s disease and Mononucleosis (mono).
  • Emotional and Physical Stress: Stressful events or conditions can elevate histamine levels.
  • Hormonal Fluctuations: Changes in hormone levels can influence histamine production.
  • Environmental Factors: Exposure to dust, mold, and chemicals can trigger histamine release.
  • Gut Health Issues: Conditions such as dysbiosis and Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) can increase histamine production.

Diagnosing histamine intolerance typically involves several diagnostic approaches:

  • Low Histamine Diet (2-6 weeks only): Temporarily eliminate histamine-rich foods and those that stimulate histamine release. It’s essential to work closely with a healthcare professional to ensure nutritional balance and pinpoint specific triggers. Our functional nutritionist Cindi Lockhart recommends this website for low histamine recipes.
  • Medication Trial: Try H1 (e.g., Zyrtec, claritin, benadryl) and H2 (e.g., pepcid) receptor blockers (antihistamines) to assess if they alleviate symptoms associated with histamine intolerance.
  • DAO Enzyme Supplementation: Take DAO (Diamine Oxidase) enzymes about 15 minutes before meals to support the breakdown of histamine and potentially reduce symptoms.
  • Blood Serum Tests: Measure DAO enzyme and histamine levels through blood serum tests. Elevated levels during a symptomatic flare can indicate histamine intolerance. However, these tests can be challenging to interpret accurately, as false negatives are common if the test is not conducted during an active flare. It’s important to monitor changes in these levels alongside symptom reduction when making dietary changes or trying new medications.

To receive a diagnosis of histamine intolerance, elevated DAO and histamine levels should be observed alongside symptom improvement with interventions like a low histamine diet, H1/H2 receptor blockers, or DAO supplementation. Consulting a knowledgeable healthcare provider is essential for personalized diagnosis and management.

Managing Histamine Levels: Treatment Protocol

Any of the diagnosing criteria above that helps to reduce symptoms may be included in your treatment protocol as well as the following:

  • Nutritional Support: Include quercetin-rich foods or supplements (such as organic apples, onions, and berries) known for their mast cell stabilizing properties.
  • Hydration: Drink plenty of filtered water daily to aid in histamine clearance.
  • Supplements: Consider vitamin C, quercetin, digestive enzymes, methylated B vitamins, and probiotics to support histamine breakdown and gut health.
  • Medical Interventions: In severe cases, medications like Cromolyn Sodium (a mast cell stabilizer) and antihistamines (e.g., Zyrtec) may be prescribed to manage symptoms.

Histamines and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS)

Histamine and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) are interconnected but distinct. Mast cells, found in various tissues such as the respiratory tract, gastrointestinal system, and skin, release histamines. 

Both conditions often coexist with complex health issues like Hypermobility Syndrome (associated with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome), Dysautonomia (including conditions like Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome), Super Pentad Syndrome and autoimmune disorders. It’s important to recognize that histamine levels and MCAS exist on a spectrum, and distinguishing between histamine intolerance and MCAS involves specific diagnostic criteria.

Personalized Care for Histamine-Related Conditions

It’s essential to identify and address the root causes triggering histamine release to develop a personalized treatment plan. If you are experiencing histamine-related symptoms, our expert team at Vytal Health, including functional nutritionist Cindi Lockhart and naturopathic doctor Alicia McCubbins, are here to help. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and take the first step toward better health.

By understanding the triggers of histamine production and implementing targeted interventions, you can significantly improve your quality of life and effectively manage histamine-related symptoms.

To learn more about histamines, watch this YouTube discussion with our functional nutritionist Cindi Lockhart and Dr. Tiffany Mullen.