Have you ever wondered if there's a link between exercise and histamine intolerance?
Can exercise reduce histamine levels? Or, are your symptoms getting worse through exercise induced histamine release?
What's the case and where do you draw the line between pushing through body-healing exercise or calling it quits to prevent irritating your histamine intolerance?
As early as 1935, researchers showed that exercise and histamine levels share a close connection. In an animal study, the rise in histamine levels during exercise showed to be dependent on the intensity and duration of the exercise being performed .
Now, decades later, research confirms the same effect can be witnessed in humans…
But, you likely don’t need the research to tell you that there's a connection. Because, you’re living it.
Exercise induced histamine release
Check any forum discussing exercise and histamine and you’re likely to see some very negative comments. So many people appear to be "allergic" to exercise, just like you!
Each time you try to exercise, your heart rate goes up, your limbs go numb, a rash develops across your body, you feel dizzy or develop a migraine-like headache either during or following exercise.
It’s these reactions that are likely to leave you thinking that exercise is just not a good idea for you. Much like avoiding animal hair if you’re allergic to it, you might as well accept the fact that you’re never going to be fit if you live with histamine intolerance.
Or do you?
Why exercise doesn't have to worsen histamine symptoms
Of course, it’s not good for your health to push through exercise that makes you feel sick or go into a feeling of anaphylaxis. But, exercise is an important part of your histamine management; and when it comes to exercise and histamine it’s the type of exercise you choose to do that has the greatest impact.
Additionally, ensuring you're on a low histamine diet that also utilizes foods which act as mast cell stabilizers.
If you haven't begun a low histamine diet or are unsure if your current diet is comprehensive, click below to download my free guide to histamine intolerance which also explains 4 secret strategies for reducing histamine intolerance symptoms.
When utilizing the correct diet, choosing the right type of exercise will not only have an effect on your body’s histamine release but, your symptoms – particularly your energy levels and fatigue – can play a major role in whether it becomes beneficial, or remains detrimental.
Before we consider the ‘right’ types of exercise, let’s look at the elements to consider when addressing exercise and histamine.
What's the connection between exercise and histamine intolerance?
You may be wondering what's causing your histamine reactions in the first place.
Let's talk about a couple of the most common reasons...
Reason 1: Excess histamine release
Typically, histamine is released when your body experiences an invasion of a foreign protein.
Take, for example, a bee sting. Histamine is released, which causes the area to swell and itch as the body stops the toxin from causing widespread harm.
Research shows, however, that exercise induced histamine release is not a result of the typical allergic reaction. Instead, it’s because of exercise-specific triggers that histamine is released .
Skeletal muscles are one of the areas within the body that contain a wide distribution of H1 and H2 histamine receptors (there are actually four types scattered throughout the body) .
When mast cells, embedded within the skeletal muscle, release histamine, it binds to these receptors, eliciting a histamine response .
Mast cells are typically activated due to an increase in inflammation within the muscles as a result of exercise. High intensity exercises – and, even moderate intensity exercise in susceptible people – causes tiny tears in muscle fibres, which trigger a mast cell response and, therefore, provoke exercise induced histamine release .
This relationship between exercise and histamine is the reason you suffer the way you do when you take part in physical activity.
In fact, this relationship is responsible for the symptoms of symptomatic reactions, such as low blood pressure, which is often sustained post-exercise due to the vasodilation it causes (relaxation of the blood vessels and reduced pressure of the blood flowing to essential organs).
It’s also one of the most common reasons for dizziness and weakness following exercise, even in healthy young adults ; but, in those with histamine intolerance it’s even more severe, can last longer, and generally cause panic and anxiety when it comes to exercise
What to do about it
When the above is considered, it may appear that you really are allergic to working out and that as a means to regulate histamine overload, exercise may seem counterintuitive. But it really is an important part of your recovery and management of your condition.
The key is finding an exercise routine that works for you, that allows you to build up your ability to take part in more physical activity and, that benefits your health and wellbeing overall.
It’s not about hitting the streets and training to run a marathon and, you don’t have to jump into an intense step class to get the benefits of working out… you don’t even have to take up kickboxing or CrossFit, either.
Something far more gentle, calming but still involving activity, can be just what you need to keep moving without it resulting in a surge in histamine.
Reason 2: High histamine workout equipment
It's often overlooked that some of the equipment we use during our workouts is littered with histamine-releasing or histamine-containing compounds.
When you think about some of the cheap plastics, PVC and neon colorants that are used, you might start to get an idea of how these materials and dyes can irritate our symptoms by triggering our immune system.
The number 1 culprit for these materials is yoga mats or exercise mats. Those $20 bright pink mats that are an absolute bargain may be absolutely damaging you in the long run.
What to do about it
It's important to know if the equipment you're working out with is impacting your symptoms. Dumbbells are usually on the safer side, as many of them are made from cast iron or stainless steel. It's best, however, to avoid coated dumbbells that use cheap dyed rubbers to cover the handles.
If you're going to swap out one piece of equipment you suspect is irritating your symptoms, it should be the mat you work out on.
Getting a high quality yoga mat made of natural materials to do anything from yoga to core exercises, stretching and pilates on can make a huge difference.
The mat I personally use is this Yoco cork yoga mat. It's all-natural, hypoallergenic and antibacterial, which makes it great for those who are histamine intolerant.
How to make working out work for you
From what you've read above, it might be predictable that one of the recommendations I'll give for working out is to find exercises that aren't pushing you to your absolute limits and are more gentle on your healing body.
One of the exercises that comes up regularly is yoga, but, it also depends on the type of yoga you choose. We're all at different fitness levels - some may find they are able to dive right into an hour of vinyasa flow yoga without too much difficulty, while others may not be able to tolerate even one strength movement.
Fortunately, with so many varieties available, you can tailor your yoga session to suit your needs, even choosing an alternative depending on how you feel from one day to the next.
One of the other great benefits of yoga is the target on mental health. Stress – which can also be a reason the intensity of exercise sends you into a histamine-induced downward spiral – causes mast cells to become activated and may increase histamine release as a response to inflammation.
Likewise, even the stress that comes about when you think about exercise can cause histamine to increase!
Yoga can have a calming effect on the body and mind as it focuses on breathing and relaxation. Yoga apps are plentiful, and can set you up to do calming yoga sessions in the comfort of your own home.
Once again, do not use a mat that is made from unnatural materials, PVC or anything that's neon - it's likely going to irritate your symptoms. Go for an all-natural, high quality, low histamine yoga mat that's going to leave you feeling refreshed and symptom-free.
Walking is another great way to exercise without suffering the histamine-related consequences. The Physical Activity Guidelines, as suggested by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, encourages adults to take part in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every week, and walking can easily make up this time with 30 minutes on most days of the week.
Strength exercises are another important part of physical activity. While lifting weights can place a significant amount of strain on your muscles and cause higher degrees of muscle damage as a means to build them bigger and stronger, you don’t have to take part weightlifting that gets you a ticket to the Olympics for it to be beneficial. Lighter weights, lower reps and routines with a low-moderate intensity are still great for your body, particularly when you have issues with your histamine load.
One of my favourite workout websites is called Fitness Blender. I've personally used them for nearly a decade, so I'm a huge fan of their hundreds of free workout videos of all types (including yoga, strength, and low impact cardio).
Don't be afraid of exercising
Exercise may be intimidating, having likely experienced severe reactions to it in the past. But, when you try again, take it slow in the beginning and schedule in an appropriate number of days rest in between exercise days.
Because histamine release is associated with Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), allowing the muscles to recover almost fully before the next workout can reduce the surge of inflammation and histamine release at the next training session .
As your muscles begin to become accustomed to the exercises and physical exertion, your intensity can increase, and rest periods decrease.
Whatever you decide, make it work for you. Take a serious look at your goals, and consider how you will achieve them while still managing the histamine-induced turmoil that has taken over your body for the time being.
Don’t push too hard, or too fast! Managing exercise and histamine intolerance is a long-term goal, and finding the ‘perfect’ routine may take time… but when you do, it’ll certainly be worth it.
There are other points to consider when taking part in exercise when you have a histamine intolerance.
4 ways to reduce a histamine response during exercise
Food can have a huge impact on exercise and histamine . And these four food-based considerations can have a positive effect on whether exercise brings about a surge of histamine.
- Change when you eat. Eating right before exercise can be a problem for some people. One reason could be because food may trigger increased release of histamine from the gut bacteria, which can then push histamine load. Rather eat an hour or two beforehand, and take the next point into account.
- Choose what you eat wisely. Food may not only cause histamine release from your body, but, may itself be a histamine liberator - although, mast cell stabilizing supplements such as Anti-Hist can help to reduce this histamine liberation. It’s important to take this into consideration, especially on training days. Most of all, be sure you're eating foods that are low in histamine and that reduce histamine load. Download the full food list below to start eating properly!
- Think about what you’re fuelling with. Energy bars, whey protein shakes and protein bars may be the reason you’re having difficulties with exercise and histamine. If you’re looking for a protein source, choose eggs, for example, over processed ‘health food’. Or, try my recipe for a Low Histamine Superfood Smoothie
- Come up with a formula. On training days, it may be easier to eat the same diet for that day, that you eat on every other training day. While it’s important to have a variety of nutrients and dietary diversity for health and wellbeing, if exercise and histamine are a problem, the days you do train can be quite formulaic as long as the other days are more nutrient rich.
Sometimes, you may come across information that may be less helpful. For example, using antihistamines during exercise.
But, let's dive into why that may not be such a great idea...
Why antihistamines before exercise may not be the answerResearch conducted by the University of Oregon in 2016 provided evidence to support the case against the use of antihistamines in exercise-induced histamine responses. The reason this isn't the best idea is because part of the recovery process of exercise is carried out by mast cells and subsequent histamine release .
Along with the relaxation of blood vessels, an increase in blood flow contributed to the histamine response which, as a result of skeletal muscle exercise, lasted as long as two hours. The researchers concluded that, while histamine may have seriously negative connotations attached to it, the importance of its release during exercise recovery cannot be overlooked [9,10,11].
If you are currently taking antihistamines to manage histamine release during exercise, speak to your doctor about alternatives before simply stopping any medication you have been prescribed.
Exercise induced histamine release is often as a result of a combination of histamine increasing factors. As someone who has histamine intolerance or is struggling with histamine overload, a better way to reduce the release of histamine – or its effects - during and after exercise, is to manage your levels altogether, such as through diet and lifestyle changes.
- Appearance of histamine in the venous blood during muscular contraction. Anrep GV, Barsoum GS. J Physiol. 1935;85:409–20.
- The Intriguing Role of Histamine in Exercise Responses. Meredith J. Luttrell and John R. Halliwill. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2017 Jan; 45(1): 16–23.
- Effect of H1- and H2-histamine receptor blockade on postexercise insulin sensitivity. Pellinger TK, Dumke BR, Halliwill JR. Physiol Rep. 2013 Jul; 1(2):e00033.
- Postexercise hypotension and sustained postexercise vasodilatation: what happens after we exercise? Halliwill JR, Buck TM, Lacewell AN, Romero SA. Exp Physiol. 2013 Jan; 98(1):7-18.
- Elevation of histidine decarboxylase activity in skeletal muscles and stomach in mice by stress and exercise. Ayada K, Watanabe M, Endo Y. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2000 Dec; 279(6):R2042-7.
- Sustained postexercise vasodilatation and histamine receptor activation following small muscle-mass exercise in humans. Barrett-O’Keefe Z, Kaplon RE, Halliwill JR. Exp Physiol. 2013;98:268–77.
- A single dose of histamine-receptor antagonists prior to downhill running alters markers of muscle damage and delayed onset muscle soreness. Ely MR, Romero SA, Sieck DC, Mangum JE, Luttrell MJ, Halliwill JR. J Appl Physiol. 2016.
- Food-Dependent Exercise-Induced Anaphylaxis: Possible Impact of Increased Basophil Histamine Releasability in Hyperosmolar Conditions. Barg W, Wolanczyk-Medrala A, Obojski A, Wytrychowski O, Panaszek B, Medrala W. J Investig Allergol Clin Immunol 2008; Vol. 18(4): 312-315.
- Histamine-receptor blockade reduces blood flow but not muscle glucose uptake during postexercise recovery in humans. Emhoff CA, Barrett-O’Keefe Z, Padgett RC, Hawn JA, Halliwill JR. Exp Physiol. 2011;96:664–73.
- Evidence of a broad histamine footprint on the human exercise transcriptome. Steven A. Romero, Austin D. Hocker, Joshua E. Mangum, Meredith J. Luttrell, Douglas W. Turnbull, Adam J. Struck, Matthew R. Ely, Dylan C. Sieck, Hans C. Dreyer, John R. Halliwill. The Journal of Physiology, 2016.
- Roles of histamine in exercise-induced fatigue: favouring endurance and protecting against exhaustion. Niijima-Yaoita F, Tsuchiya M, Ohtsu H, et al. Biol Pharm Bull. 2012;35:91–7.