Histamine & Your Hormones

Do you experience symptoms like headaches, itchy skin, acne breakouts and anxiety that are worse around ovulation, and the days leading up to your period?

Histamine could be to blame.

This is because there is a BIG connection between histamine and oestrogen. At those points of your menstrual cycle, oestrogen is usually at it's highest.

Oestrogen increases histamine release, and histamine increases oestrogen production.

It's a vicious cycle.

What is histamine?

Histamine is a natural compound produced by your immune system, but it can also be found in certain foods, mainly due to bacterial fermentation. Mast cells are immune cells that store and degranulate (release histamine), especially when we are stressed, inflamed or exposed to allergens.

You may have heard about histamine in regards to allergies and conditions like hay fever, hence the common use of anti-histamines as the conventional treatment. Histamine is beneficial (to a point) as it also functions as a neurotransmitter, plays a role in the production of stomach acid and supports gut motility.


When does histamine become a problem?

Histamine causes your blood vessels to swell and dilate, so that your white blood cells (WBC's) can quickly identify and attack the infection or source of inflammation. This is part of the body’s natural immune response, and typically enzymes will break down the histamine so that it doesn’t build up.

In the central nervous system histamine is broken down primarily by Histamine N-methyltransferase (HNMT), while histamine in the digestive tract is broken down primarily by diamine oxidase (DAO).

Some people however, have a reduced ability to breakdown and detoxify excess histamine in the body, OR their mast cells are producing excessive levels. This often presents as a histamine intolerance and in more complex cases Mastocytosis or Mast Cell Activiation Disorder (MCAD).

There are genetic variants that can affect these detoxification enzymes, however there are many other reasons for excess levels of histamine and/or slow clearance.

Common reasons for elevated histamine:

  • Consuming too many histamine rich foods (fermented foods, alcohol, vinegar, left overs, aged or cured meats)

  • Environmental toxicity (including toxic mold exposure)

  • HPA axis dysfunction (adrenal stress)

  • Inflammation

  • Intestinal dysbiosis (SIBO, parasites, intestinal permeability, inflammatory bowel disease)

  • Oestrogen dominance/low progesterone

  • Nutrient deficiencies (specifically vitamin C, copper, magnesium, B6 )

  • Sluggish phase 2 liver detoxification

  • Food intolerances/allergies

  • Poor methylation

  • Certain medications (including NSAID's, pain medication, antibiotics, hormonal birth control)

Related:

> Simple Ways to Improve Digestion that Won’t Cost a Penny > Stressed out? Try these 5 tips > Common Indicators of a Hormonal Imbalance (& How to Improve Things Naturally) > 23 Steps I Took to Overcome SIBO

You can think of our tolerance of histamine as being like a bucket, some of us have bigger buckets than others. If we are constantly filling our buckets with histamine rich foods, stress and the use of certain medications, those of us with smaller buckets (reduced tolerance for histamine) can easily overflow and lead to symptoms. There are also things that we can do, to increase the 'size' of our bucket (tolerance of histamine) and prevent it from overflowing as frequently (clearance of histamine).

Because it travels throughout your bloodstream & affects the mucus membranes, histamine can affect the entire body, including your gut, respiratory system, skin, brain, and cardiovascular system, contributing to a wide range of issues.

Common symptoms of elevated histamine:

  • Headaches/migraines

  • Difficulty falling asleep

  • Hypertension

  • Vertigo or dizziness

  • Arrhythmia, or accelerated heart rate

  • Difficulty regulating body temperature

  • Anxiety

  • Nausea, vomiting

  • Abdominal cramps

  • Flushing

  • Nasal congestion, sneezing, difficulty breathing

  • Abnormal menstrual cycle including menstrual cramps

  • Hives/rashes/acne

  • Fatigue

  • Tissue swelling

How can histamine affect our hormones?

If your histamine/allergy symptoms tend to be cyclic, meaning that they get worse at certain times of the month, this is likely due to natural fluctuations in oestrogen.

Many women going through peri-menopause develop issues with histamine intolerance as they tend not to ovulate as frequently, (or at all), and therefore don't have the hormone progesterone, to balance oestrogen.

Conditions such as PMS, PMDD, endometriosis and hormonal migraines have all been linked to excess levels of histamine.

  • Progesterone

Progesterone helps to balance some of the negative effects of oestrogen. We only produce progesterone after ovulation, therefore if we aren't ovulating or our progesterone levels are too low, then this could increase our sensitivity to histamine. Common reasons for anovulation (lack of ovulation) or low progesterone include stress, nutrient deficiencies, mineral imbalances, environmental toxicity, chronic infections and thyroid issues.

During pregnancy, many women experience improvements in allergies and food sensitivities. This is because the placenta makes huge amounts of the DAO enzyme (which breaks down histamin