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)
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
Certain medications (including NSAID's, pain medication, antibiotics, hormonal birth control)
> 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:
Difficulty falling asleep
Vertigo or dizziness
Arrhythmia, or accelerated heart rate
Difficulty regulating body temperature
Nasal congestion, sneezing, difficulty breathing
Abnormal menstrual cycle including menstrual cramps
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 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 histamine), plus progesterone is dominant throughout the entire pregnancy.
Histamine can both exacerbate and also be the result of poor gut health. 70-80% of our immune tissue is located in our gut, therefore if we have chronic inflammation, bacterial overgrowths or parasitic infections, our immune system is going to be on overdrive. Excess histamine levels can also increase the permeability of our intestinal lining, causing a 'leaky gut'.
The proper digestion and absorption of our food and nutrients will likely be negatively affected by any of these processes. We need amino acids, cholesterol and micronutrients to build, transport, utilise and detoxify our sex hormones. When our gut is impaired, it is common to experience malabsorption, meaning that you may not be benefitting from the healthy organic diet or high quality supplements you are taking for your hormonal health.
Again, histamine release is triggered by inflammation and histamine itself is an inflammatory molecule, especially when present in high amounts. Inflammation is beneficial, to a point, however when chronic and unresolved it can cause damage to our tissues and organs. Every chronic disease you can think of has some degree of inflammation present, hormonal disorders included.
Inflammation can negatively affect thyroid function by preventing the conversion of T4 to the active hormone T3, and it may also increase the production of reverse T3 (RT3) which is metabolically inactive. In Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) inflammation can push the 5-alpha reductase enzyme, increasing the production of the potent androgen DHT, and may impact insulin sensitivity by damaging insulin receptors on the cell.
Inflammation can also worsen menstrual cramping because of the influence on prostaglandins, which are inflammatory hormone-like substances. If you are struggling with period pain, cramping during ovulation or an inflammatory disorder such as endometriosis, it may be helpful to investigate histamine.
This stands for the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, which is our stress response system and this term describes the communication from the brain to our adrenal glands. Chronic stress can 'shut down' reproductive function, as the body priorities your life over that of a potential offspring. Cortisol, our main stress hormone, can directly trigger the release of histamine from mast cells. But again, this works both ways as histamine overload can be a 'stressor' on the body and can stimulate the adrenal glands to produce cortisol and adrenaline, potentially making the situation worse.
Stress can deplete the body of key nutrients needed to breakdown and process histamine, specifically vitamin C and magnesium. It can also affect other body systems such as the gut and immune system, therefore exacerbating the other issues described above. The female body is very sensitive to stress and disruption of the HPA axis. This means that during our reproductive years, our menstrual cycle and fertility can be thrown 'out of whack' when our brain senses a threat to our wellbeing. Our body can halt the release of an egg (ovulation) during times of physical or psychological stress, therefore preventing the production of progesterone.
I guess you now want to know what you can do if histamine is messing with you hormones. Am I right?
Have you dealt with histamine intolerance, like me? Share your experience in the comments section below.
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