Histamine is quite often overlooked when we think about the causes of our unwanted menstrual symptoms or perimenopause issues. If you suffer from intense symptoms mid cycle and just before your period, read on to delve deeper in the link between histamine and women's health.
What is histamine?
You will most likely have heard of histamine before. It is what triggers a sneezing, coughing, itching and watery eyes when we come into contact with animals or pollen from plants. Anti-histamines are the first line of treatment in the allopathic medical field.
Histamine is a chemical that is stored in a number of cells and is released by your immune system in response to a variety of allergic and toxic exposures, for example, bee stings and certain foods like peanuts in those with peanut allergies. When such an exposure happens, histamine-containing cells (mostly mast cells and basophils) dump histamine into your bloodstream leading to a fast inflammatory reaction that causes the blood vessels to become more permeable, allowing the immune system’s white blood cells to reach the area where the ‘invasion’ has occurred. Its also activates nerves that stimulate your respiratory passages to constrict, your eyes to water, and nose to run. Because cells throughout your body including your digestive system, heart and vascular system, skin, and lungs respond to histamine as part of its protective response, the response occurs widely throughout the body and can be multi-systemic causing a multitude of symptoms.
There are different types of histamine and are located in different areas of the body, for instance, histamine produced in the brain acts as a neurotransmitter – a chemical involved in signaling your nervous system; in the stomach, histamine stimulates the production of gastric acid necessary for digestion.
The bucket analogy
I like to picture that we all have an empty bucket (our histamine bucket). We have a plug (enzymes that clear histamine from our body)at the bottom of the bucket to let a little bit flow out to keep our bucket at a good level. As we are exposed to external sources of histamine (slow cooked meat, meat left on the counter to defrost, certain foods), then the bucket gets filled up a little. We release histamine when we are smelling food and eating, so it fills up a little more, we eat some yummy smashed avo with tomato on sourdough for lunch, all histamine containing foods, it fills up a little more. The plug releases a little but its starting to not keep up to the amount of histamine it is producing or exposed to.
A nice relaxing glass of red wine with our slow cooked stew for dinner, more histamine. It's spring time and the flowers are out, the grasses are blowing from across the state sending little bits of pollen through the air, the level of histamine in the bucket reaches the top. Then the cat decides to curl up in our lap, we start sneezing, watery eyes etc. We think we might be allergic to the cat! It's not necessarily the cat, its that our histamine bucket was full so it tipped over! Our threshold was reached! If we had had the glass of wine before our wee cat curled up on us, then we might have blamed the wine.
Histamine is a totally naturally occurrence in our body and foods, But when we develop an intolerance to it, this is when strange symptoms may occur.
Your Hormones and Histamine
There is a hormonal pattern in the way histamine breaks down during your menstrual cycle. It reacts to the levels of our hormones : cortisol, follicle stimulating hormone, luteinising hormrone, oestrogen and progesterone.
"Oestrogen stimulates mast cells to release histamine and down-regulates the DAO enzyme that clears histamine. At the same time, histamine stimulates the ovaries to make more oestrogen. The net result can be a vicious cycle of oestrogen → histamine → oestrogen → histamine.
Progesterone stabilises mast cells, up-regulates DAO, and can therefore reduce histamine."
Women are more likely to develop histamine intolerance during menopause. This is because both oestrogen and progesterone drop during menopause. For many women, progesterone ends up even lower than oestrogen. So you can be oestrogen dominant while in menopause.
You may be beginning to understand that depending on the type and location of histamine that was triggered, may show up as symptoms relating to that area.
These are the common ones we always think about in relation to histamine. Sneezing, allergic rhinitis, nasal congestion, throat clearing, coughing and asthma. If you have these conditions along with menstrual irregularities, your cyclic issues could be caused by histamine intolerance too.
Nervous system symptoms
There are histamine receptors throughout our central nervous system. This can be linked to migraines, headaches, anxiety, insomnia, dizziness and hot flushes. Mid-cycle and pre-menstrual migraines are very common symptoms of histamine intolerance.
This is probably one of the most common histamine reactions. Flushing from your chest, on to your throat and your cheeks after a couple of glasses of wine can be linked to histamine intolerance. Idiopathic urticaria (itching and hives for no reason) can be another symptoms, along with mild or severe hives from insect bites.
There are many histamine receptors in our digestive tract. Bloating, cramping, reflux, diarrhoea can all be symptoms of histamine intolerance.
Urinary tract symptoms, vagina and vulva symptoms
Re-occurring UTI's, with burning, itching, redness, can be linked to histamine intolerance. Interstitial cystitis that is worse at ovulation or in the late luteal phase can be another symptom.
Heart palpitations, arrhythmia, fast heart rate may all be caused by histamines. You should always get these checked by your GP if they are ongoing to rule out any serious conditions.
What can you do?
Histamine intolerance is quite often reversible. There are 3 steps to treating it:
Low Histamine Diet
Find Underlying Cause (tracking your cycle and your symptoms)
Use Supplements if needed.
These are the foods to avoid for 30 days:
Alcohol: Champagne, red wine, beer, white wine
Aged cheeses: Parmesan, Gouda, Swiss, and cheddar
Legumes: Chickpeas, soybeans
Fermented or smoked Meats/Fish: Sardine, mackerel, herring, tuna, salami
Fermented and pickles vegetables: Pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, relish, soy sauce/tamari
Fermented milk products: Yogurt, kefir, and buttermilk
Fruit: Dried fruit, citrus, strawberries
Vegetables: Tomatoes and tomato products, spinach, avocado, and eggplant
Also: Cinnamon, chocolate
Foods that increase histamine production:
Citrus, bananas, dairy products, chocolate, papaya, pineapple, nuts, strawberries, food additives, shellfish, artificial dyes and preservatives
Foods that inhibit DAO production
Alcohol, black and green tea, mate
Foods you can eat.
Freshly cooked meat and poultry (fresh or frozen – no leftovers!)
Freshly caught or flash frozen fish
Gluten-free grains: rice, quinoa
These fruits: mango, pear, watermelon, apple, kiwi, cantaloupe, grapes
Most vegetables except those listed earlier
Dairy alternatives: coconut milk, rice milk, hemp milk, almond milk
Oils: olive oil, coconut oil
Many of the non-caffeinated herbal teas
Finding the underlying cause is the most difficult to attempt on your own. You can begin by tracking every symptom during your cycle, when and where it occurs. What food you have eaten and take note of any symptoms
Prebiotics and probiotics
If you need help, please do not hesitate to reach out to me to assist you on your healing journey.