By Dietitian Jill Place
It’s one of the biggest BUZZES in alternative healthcare today. And I noticed that the pins on my Pinterest Histamine Intolerance board are the most repinned of all. One of my clients called me a genius for suggesting that it was what ailed her.
But … do you know what Histamine Intolerance actually is? I’m not surprised as it’s difficult to diagnose, has varied symptomatology, and is often confused with other conditions. And I didn’t really know that was what was bothering my client when I proposed it … I just had an intuitive hunch. Because common symptoms include …
• Brain fog/Irritability
• Swelling of the face, mouth, and sometimes the throat, causing something similar to mild anaphylaxis (difficulty breathing)
• Sudden drop in blood pressure
• Heart palpitations and chest pain
• Joint pain
• Anxiety/increased possibility of panic attacks
• Runny nose, especially after eating
• Eye irritation/watery/itchy/reddened
• Abdominal bloating
As you read this, you might be thinking … “Gee, those are symptoms of many problems” … and they are! Which is probably why acupuncturist and author, Chris Kresser, defined Histamine Intolerance in this way …
Histamine intolerance is unlike other food allergies or sensitivities in that the response is cumulative, not immediate. Imagine it like a cup of water. When the cup is very full (high amounts of histamine in the diet), even a drop of additional water will cause the cup to overflow (symptoms activated).
But when the cup is less full, it would take more water (histamine) to cause a response. This makes histamine intolerance tricky to recognize.
Histamine is a molecule that is involved mainly in activation of the immune system. But it’s also released by bacteria. So, if you have SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth … another big health BUZZWORD today), there’s an obvious over-stimulation of histamine release.
So SIBO can also cause inflammation and activation of the immune system. And as part of that response, histamine is also released.
An escalating mechanism between SIBO and histamine intolerance is therefore activated. In other words, it’s a kind of self-potentiating cycle where one feeds the other, leading to a downward-spiraling condition and a deconstruction not only of the immune system but the gut in which it resides.
But the histamine response is also an important part of our immune system. According to Dr. Michael Ruscio, “if you had absolute zero histamine, you might become severely immunosuppressed or unable to regulate bacteria or fungus in the gut. Like many things with the immune system, we don’t want to get rid of immune cells that can clean up dead tissue in the body. But if we have too much of that same mechanism active, we may form an autoimmune attack.”
That’s the real problem … yet again we have a situation where toxic overload … from the environment, bad food, stress, emotional distress (it’s been researched that emotional states such as shame can also cause inflammation) … you name it … can cause a life-threatening overload.
The Journey out of Histamine Intolerance
Ruscio said, “Well, one thing, thankfully, that can help with reducing histamine is a low FODMAP diet … If the low FODMAP diet helps to starve SIBO, and we know it’s very helpful for IBS and helps calm down the gut in IBS, then we may be able to starve bacterial overgrowth with a low FODMAP diet, and also calm down some of the irritation in the gut that might be turning on the immune system that releases histamine … we’ve seen (in) some studies a fourfold decrease in the histamine levels … “
What is a low FODMAP diet? FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols. In other words, these are CARBOHYDRATES that FERMENT in the gut and, therefore, can feed SIBO.
Actually, I recently put a client with localized bacterial overgrowth (NOT SIBO) on a Pegan diet (Mark Hyman’s reframing of a healthy diet in his new book, FOOD, which encourages organic and free-range meats and vegetables and eschews high-FODMAP foods such as grains, sugar, and fruit) and told her to not eat ANY grains and fruit for two weeks.
She reported after those two weeks that her discomfort had gone from an “8” to a “4” … in TWO WEEKS! I added back some low-FODMAP fruit into her diet last week and put her on some anti-bacterials/anti-fungals and a biofilm buster (these “yeastie-beasties” not only overgrow but make polymer-coating scaffolds to protect themselves; that’s one of the reasons why antibiotics are failing to work these days) while waiting for testing to find out what exactly is “bugging” her. We’ll see how she is this week …
Does she have Histamine Intolerance?
I don’t know … as the experts have said, there’s no way to diagnose it. But it seems like the ROOT of it (and I’m big on getting to the root cause of things) is that bacterial overgrowth and assaults to the immune system can contribute to it. And putting people on a similar diet to see if they respond, like I did with my client, is probably the best diagnostic tool I know.
But let me leave you with these thoughts about Histamine Intolerance … histamine is an important part of our immune response. And bacteria is vitally important for digestive balance.
But it’s when we create environments for imbalance for both of these … and other helpful things that co-exist within us, like yeasts and even parasites (sounds like a yucky proposition but it’s true), that all these problems begin to “bug” us.
Do you think you have Histamine Intolerance? Why?