The underlying connection between digestive health and your histamine symptoms
So, you know - or have a high level of suspicion that you’re histamine intolerant - but what you may not know is that it could be coming from poor gut health.
Your body just doesn’t seem to be coping with the amount of this compound, and it’s leaving you with a bunch of crazy symptoms like headaches, body pains, hives, itchy eyes, stuffy nose... the list goes on.
Now, you’ve probably already read up on a few things about histamine containing foods, and you may even know a thing or two about how histamine should be broken down in your body (recognize the letters DAO or HNMT at all from your searches?)... But have you yet figured out what the cause may be?
That’s what we’re going to delve into right now.
Gut Health, Leaky Gut and Histamine Intolerance
One of the reasons your body isn’t managing well with this amine (histamine is part of a group of compounds called biogenic amines, by the way), is because there’s something not quite right going on in your digestive system.
To understand a little more about what’s going on, we need to talk a bit about the structure of the intestine…
The intestine is a long, muscular tube that acts as the barrier between the external world and your internal environment. When you consume food, the intestine is responsible for letting the good stuff (vitamins, minerals, etc.) enter the body, and keeping the bad stuff (toxins, pathogens, whole food particles) out of the body.
This ability to decide what goes into the body and what stays out is known as selective permeability. When it's functioning well, the good things get in, and the bad things stay out1,2. .
But how does selective permeability work and why is it so important?
Well, the intestinal wall is essential for maintaining the integrity of this system. The intestinal wall is made up of cells which are tightly packed together, and held together by tight junctions. When all is working well, the cells remain tightly together and only allow small nutrients in. However, if the tight junctions are not holding the cells as close together as they are supposed to, the gaps between the cells of the intestinal wall become larger, allowing larger, unwanted particles to enter the bloodstream 3,5,6,7. This is a condition known as leaky gut.
Leaky gut threatens the body in numerous ways - and that starts with inflammation. Think about it, when these new, foreign particles are entering your body - well, your body isn't going to recognize them.
So, what's the outcome? An immune reaction!
As the body doesn't recognize the influx of abnormal compounds, the immune system launches an attack against these compounds and inflammation begins to spike.
Are you starting to see the connection?
That's right - histamine is one of the main compounds of the immune system - meaning that an overload of histamine is released into the body. This inflammatory overflow can cause any healthy person to experience histamine intolerance symptoms, even without any history of the disorder7. Then, add in the fact that some individuals have genetic deficiencies in histamine-degrading enzymes such as diamine oxidase (DAO) - and, well, it's a recipe for disaster!
If you want more information on this disorder, I suggest checking out my free 3-part leaky gut syndrome crash course to find out everything you need to know about leaky gut.
Gut Health and Histamine Intolerance
Let's talk mucus.
Gross, right? Well, what may seem like an unpleasant topic is actually something that's another body-guard of the body!
The gut contains a mucus lining along the intestinal wall in order to protect irritants from touching the cells and wall directly. This mucus lining is filled with mast cells 8. Does this name ring a bell? It should, because mast cells are the primary cells that carry histamine around and release histamine!
So, if this mucus lining is compromised or not functioning properly, foreign particles from the food you eat will continue to come into contact with your gut lining. This is irritating to your gut and, just like in the case of leaky gut, it causes an immune response.
When you continue to trigger immune responses, these mast cells within the mucosal lining release histamine and other compounds as a safety mechanism9,10. The trouble is, when it keeps happening, mast cells are continually activated releasing more and more histamine 11,12.
Add this to the leaky gut issues discussed above, and you've got a lot of excess histamine being released, a lot of inflammation damaging the body, and a lot of unwanted symptoms that you experience as histamine intolerance.
There is a way to improve the status of your leaky gut and improve your gut health… which means less inflammatory responses, and less histamine triggers. AKA - less symptoms and improving your histamine intolerance.
Let's get to that!
How to Improve Leaky Gut and Gut Health for Histamine Intolerance
- Low histamine foods: One of the easiest ways to immediately make a significant impact on your body’s ability to tolerate histamine is to stop eating histamine liberating, containing, and DAO blocking foods. Once again, to be clear, that doesn't just mean high histamine foods - it means a variety of foods that can trigger the responses discussed above. I suggest downloading my Histamine Intolerance Diet, which contains a comprehensive list of which foods to eat an which to avoid. Click below to download the free diet.
- Autoimmune foods: On the list described above, the foods that may be more inflammatory and threaten gut health are also eliminated. These are common foods like gluten, dairy, soy, and legumes. Be wary of nuts and other typically inflammatory foods for the first few weeks of the diet. Reducing them can only be beneficial, allowing your gut to get back into a state of balance.
- Probiotics: CAUTION! Certain probiotics can help you to break down histamine in the gut. But before you jump up and get just any old supplement from your local health food store, watch out: the majority of probiotics contain strains which naturally produce histamine, by converting the amino acid histidine to histamine or through bacterial fermentation. It's a natural process that healthy bodies can handle, but in histamine intolerant individuals, make symptoms much, much worse! You need to ensure you're getting a probiotic that contains only low histamine strains of bacteria. I've created a list of low and high histamine probiotic strains , please reference this before starting any probiotic protocol.
- L-glutamine: This amino acid has been well-studied in its role in gut health. It actually helps your own digestive system to keep those little cells lining your intestinal wall working as they should, and maintain the protective nature of the gut lining. L-glutamine is also known to improve leaky gut and mucosal barrier function, so it’s a great addition to your overall routine to reduce your histamine levels and improve your gut health 13. L-glutamine has shown such significant results to improve the status of leaky gut in as little as 10 days.
- Mast cell stabilizers: As mentioned above, mast cells carry around and release histamine. When attempting to reduce the overall histamine load in your body, a great way is by stabilizing mast cells so that they internally reduce your histamine release, therefore reducing overall histamine levels and symptoms. This mast cell stabilizer is by far the most powerful one I've worked with, and I use it with nearly all of my clients. They report eating a wider variety of foods with fewer symptoms within 1 to 2 weeks of starting this supplement.
Now that you know far more about the role your gut health has to play in your histamine troubles, be sure to always focus on the gut as part of a strategy for both healing your histamine intolerance and preventing future disorders.
Just a few small steps in the direction of improved gut health can have a significant overall impact on your histamine intolerance, and the nasty symptoms it has left you to deal with.
Life's too short to let symptoms control you.
Anita Tee, Nutritional Scientist
- Lerner, A., et al. Changes in intestinal tight junction permeability associated with industrial food additives explain the rising incidence of autoimmune disease. Autoimmunity Reviews. 2015. 14(6):479-489. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1568997215000245
- Zihni, C., et al. Tight junctions: from simple barriers to multifunctional molecular gates. 2016. Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology volume 17, pages 564–58. https://www.nature.com/articles/nrm.2016.80
- Oshima, T., & Miwa, H. Gastrointestinal mucosal barrier function and diseases. J Gastroenterol. 2016 Aug;51(8):768-78. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00535-016-1207-z
- Turner, J.R. (2009) Intestinal mucosal barrier function in health and disease. Nat. Rev. Immunol. 9, 799–809 https://www.nature.com/articles/nri2653
- Vanuytsel T, van Wanrooy S, Vanheel H, et al. Psychological stress and corticotropin-releasing hormone increase intestinal permeability in humans by a mast cell-dependent mechanism. Gut. 2014;63:1293–9. https://gut.bmj.com/content/63/8/1293.long
- Gecse K, Roka R, Sera T, et al. Leaky gut in patients with diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome and inactive ulcerative colitis. Digestion. 2012;85:40–6. https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/333083
- Olupot-Olupot, P., et al. 2013. Endotoxaemia is common in children with Plasmodium falciparum malaria. BMC Infect. Dis. 13, 117. https://bmcinfectdis.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2334-13-117
- Gurish, M.F., Austen, K.F., 2012. Developmental origin and functional specialization of mast cell subsets. Immunity 37, 25–33. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0171298515300875
- Abraham, S.N., St. John, A.L., 2010. Mast cell-orchestrated immunity to pathogens. Nat. Rev. Immunol. 10, 440–452. https://www.nature.com/articles/nri2782
- Potts, R. A., Tiffany, C. M., Pakpour, N., Lokken, K. L., Tiffany, C. R., Cheung, K., … Luckhart, S. (2016). Mast cells and histamine alter intestinal permeability during malaria parasite infection. Immunobiology, 221(3), 468–474. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0171298515300875?via%3Dihub
- Chau, J.Y., et al. 2013. Malaria-associated l-Arginine deficiency induces mast cell-associated disruption to intestinal barrier defenses against non-typhoidal Salmonella bacteremia. Infect. Immun. 81, 3515–3526. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3811760/
- D’Costa, S., et al. Mast Cell CRF2 Suppresses Mast Cell Degranulation and Limits the Severity of Anaphylaxis and Stress-Induced Intestinal Permeability.2018. https://escholarship.org/uc/item/8t3660m4
- Achamrah, N., et al. Glutamine and the regulation of intestinal permeability: from bench to bedside. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. 2017. 20(1):86-91. https://journals.lww.com/co-clinicalnutrition/Abstract/2017/01000/Glutamine_and_the_regulation_of_intestinal.13.aspx