The interesting link between estrogen and histamine intolerance
Women more prone to HIT? This could be why...
Your hormones are there to tightly regulate many critical processes that take place in your body. When they’re doing their job, you have loads of energy, you’re fit and strong, you’re on the ball and you simply feel amazing every day.
But, as someone who has histamine intolerance, do you even remember what feeling this way is like anymore?
Well, one of the reasons is because those essential hormones, that are supposed to keep your body running like a well-oiled machine, have started to cause problems instead.
The hormone estrogen and its dysregulation is the one we’re going to focus on today.
Histamine Intolerance and Estrogen 101
Histamine intolerance (HIT), affects many more women(1) than it does men and it may be because estrogen is predominantly found in women. We say predominantly because men also require a certain level of estrogen to function.
For the sake of ease of understanding, this article will address what typically happens in the female body when it comes to the interplay between estrogen and histamine.
As a recap, estrogens are actually a group of hormones produced by the ovaries and they are important for sexual characteristics and reproductive development.
While estrogens are normally under tight regulation during a woman’s reproductive years, we are seeing more and more dysregulation of this group of hormones in younger women.
Symptoms of estrogen imbalance include:
- Irregular, heavy or painful periods
- Changes in bowel movements (diarrhea or constipation)
- Breast tenderness and other symptoms of PMS
- Irritability and anxiety
Estrogen production can be affected by a number of factors; some of them, most commonly being blamed as a result of our modern day lifestyle and habits, include:
- Exposure to toxins, chemicals and heavy metals
- Use of oral birth control
- Chronic illness and inflammation
But what does this have to do with HIT?
From the symptoms related to estrogen imbalance listed above, it’s easy to see they can be very similar to symptoms of histamine intolerance; and that’s because of the close link between these two chemical messengers and how they affect one another.
Histamine intolerance or her-stamine intolerance?
Estrogen production surges at specific intervals throughout the month, and these surges are followed by lower levels of the hormone. This process relies heavily on the body’s ability to clear estrogen, in other words, break it down and render it inactive(2).
If estrogen levels remain high, it continues to signal specific tissues to continue performing a function; but one that may no longer be required(2)!
One of the many signalling pathways that estrogen uses is via the H1 receptor(2).
And where do you know about the H1 receptor from? Histamine activation, of course!
Histamine also uses the H1 receptor to activate a response.
(If you need to brush up on the different histamine receptors and their associated functions - check out my ultimate guide to histamine intolerance)
But here’s the catch: estrogen, when binding to the H1 receptor on mast cells, causes an increase in histamine release, particularly in the uterus and ovaries where it elicits its greatest response. That means, when estrogen is not cleared as it should be, more histamine is released, and histamine load increases(3).
Mast cells also have sex hormone receptors, which means they can respond to signals directly from estrogen or progesterone. If you have higher than normal estrogen levels, mast cells are more readily activated, and histamine levels in the body rise(4,5).
Then, you have the effects that histamines have on estrogen, that takes place at the same time.
As more histamine is released into your system, estrogen production is stimulated, and it kicks off a vicious cycle of dysregulation of both chemical messengers(6).
For this reason, many women experience a worsening of their symptoms around the time of ovulation and then again just before menstruation begins(7).
There’s also the question as to how estrogen affects the DAO enzyme that histamine needs to be broken down. This link becomes more clear when we look at what happens during pregnancy.
Have you ever heard that pregnant women have almost spontaneous resolution of immune disorder symptoms?
It’s by no means a miracle, even if the baby is! This resolution has to do with the alterations in hormones necessary to maintain pregnancy in addition to the extremely high level of production of the DAO enzyme by the placenta(8).
This last fact about DAO production by the placenta is quite interesting.
Histamine has a stimulatory effect on tissues, including the embryo and uterus. Because of this, the placenta acts as a DAO-containing barrier or shield to prevent the effects that histamine may have on the maintenance of pregnancy and fetal growth and development(8).
When considered together, both of these above-mentioned factors significantly reduce histamine load, which is why symptoms decrease in pregnant women(9).
While it’s clear that estrogen has a role in histamine load and vice versa, the question still remains: what can you do about it?
Managing hormones to tackle histamine intolerance
One change you can begin to make right now in how your body reacts to histamine is to look at your diet. To give your body a break, it's important to cut out as many histamine increasing or DAO-blocking foods. You can access a comprehensive list of both high and low histamine foods here.
At the same time, you can begin your investigation into the role estrogen plays in your histamine intolerance. It’s worthwhile speaking to your doctor to obtain tests to determine your hormone levels, which includes estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
Be sure to take note of where you are in your menstrual cycle when you get your results, as this can give you a fair amount of information as to whether your hormone levels are appropriate for that time of the month or not.
If you’re highly stressed, are taking hormone therapy or have any other reason to suspect that your estrogen levels may be linked to your histamine intolerance, a full hormone test (such as the DUTCH test) can help you to pinpoint where the irregularities may lie.
Two other factors to consider when it comes to managing estrogen levels are:
- Your liver function.
Your liver makes and secretes bile into the gallbladder, which is needed to bind estrogen during the process of elimination. If the liver is not producing enough bile, estrogen can be reabsorbed into your system and continue to produce effects.
Additionally, if the liver is underperforming for any reason, it may be sluggish in breaking down estrogen in the first place, allowing higher levels to be recycled in the body.
- Fiber content in the diet
When fiber intake is insufficient, there may be impaired elimination of the products of estrogen through bowel movements. Infrequent bowel action may not only indicate lower levels of fibre in the diet, but also why there may be an increase in estrogen activity.
Working with a qualified healthcare professional who specializes in hormone activity is highly recommended, as is the right approach to testing your hormone levels.
It takes the guesswork out of what is actually going on in your body and provides you with a much clearer plan of action on what to do next.
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- Jarisch R. (2015) Histamine Intolerance in Women. In: Jarisch R. (eds) Histamine Intolerance. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-642-55447-6_6
- Bodis J., et al. The effect of histamine on progesterone and estradiol secretion of human granulosa cells in serum-free culture. Gynecol Endocrinol 1993;7:235–9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8147232
- Kalogeromitros D., et al. Influence of the menstrual cycle on skin-prick test reactions to histamine, morphine and allergen. Clin Exp Allergy. 1995;25:461–6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7553250
- Zierau, O., et al. Role of female sex hormones, estradiol and progesterone, in mast cell behavior. Front Immunol. 2012; 3: 169. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3377947/
- Zu, T., et al. Estrogen is an important mediator of mast cell activation in ovarian endometriomas. Reproduction. 2018. 155(1):73-83. https://rep.bioscientifica.com/view/journals/rep/155/1/REP-17-0457.xml
- Maintz, L., & Novak, N. Histamine and histamine intolerance. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007. 85(5):1185-1196. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17490952
- Hamada, Y., et al. Effect of the menstrual cycle on serum diamine oxidase levels in healthy women. Clinical biochemistry. 2013. 46.1-2: 99-102. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23099198
- Maintz, L., et al. Effects of histamine and diamine oxidase activities on pregnancy: a critical review. Hum Reprod Update. 2008 Sep-Oct;14(5):485-95. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18499706
- Morel F, Surla A, Vignais PV. Purification of human placenta diamine oxidase. Biochem Biophys Res Commun 1992;187:178–86. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1520298