Is Histamine Affecting Your Hormones?
Most of you know histamine as the chemical produced during an allergic reaction which results in swelling and inflammation. However, did you know that histamine is actually a chemical messenger associated with many other functions?
These other functions include your stomach acid secretion, increases in libido, adrenaline release, heart rate regulation, brain stimulation and clotting of your blood.
Now you can see that histamine isn’t always the bad guy and, in fact, works in your favour. Amazingly, it’s also released from cells present in every tissue of your body and, in particular, your uterus.
In most people, the production of histamine (by gut flora) and ingestion of histamines (from foods) are balanced out by an enzyme called diamine oxidase (DAO). DAO essentially breaks down histamine but if someone has a DAO deficiency and histamines build up too high, an array of nasty symptoms can manifest. These include:
- Period pain
- Painful bloating
- Motion sickness
- Brain fog
- Skin rashes
- Prickly heat
- Low libido
- A red flush with alcohol consumption
- Nasal congestion
- Itchy throat
There are other reasons that people can get a build-up of histamine but we will explore this in future articles. For now, let’s focus on the link between DAO, histamine and the menstrual cycle.
Interestingly, the production of DAO fluctuates with your diet because certain foods boost DAO whilst others inhibit it. DAO also fluctuates with your menstrual cycle because oestrogen can stimulate mast cells to release histamine. This is why excess oestrogen (and oestrogen dominant conditions) can exacerbate histamine intolerance.
DAO levels also peak in our luteal phase, which means a woman with histamine intolerance will likely feel worse during her follicular phase (i.e. when she is bleeding and up to ovulation).
Excess histamine and the menstrual cycle
Have you tried everything to manage your period pain to no avail? If so, read on.
First, you need to know that histamine is released not only by mast cells as part of our immune response, but also from the cells in our ovaries and uterus. And there’s a very good reason for this.
Histamines get released by the uterus to stimulate necessary contractions during both menstruation and childbirth. This is a perfect and essential part of life BUT the more oestrogen we have in our body, the more histamine we produce. This can bring about undesirable issues such as excessive contractions which can result in painful cramps and heavier bleeds! So if you suffer from an oestrogen dominant condition and painful crampy periods, it may be worthwhile looking into histamine intolerance.
It may also be relevant for you to consider the fact that progesterone helps to balance out our histamine levels. It up-regulates our DAO enzyme, which is what breaks down histamine. That’s why we have more DAO (and less histamine) early in our cycle (luteal phase) when our progesterone is high (after we have ovulated). If you have an oestrogen dominant condition like PCOS, endometriosis, fibroids, cysts, or PMDD, then it's possible that you also suffer from low progesterone. You’ll find lots of other articles on the site that discuss each of these conditions extensively.
Interestingly, women who are pregnant often have a complete resolution from their histamine intolerance symptoms because the placenta produces up to 500x the amount of DAO than we normally have circulating. This protects the fetus from histamine toxicity and from early contractions.
There is also some early evidence that excessive uterine bleeding may be associated with histamine release.
It’s all about balance
Because there is a clear interconnection in the body between histamine and your hormones in terms of systemic functionality, it isn’t surprising that allergic and inflammatory reactions are common as women go through hormonal transitions at various stages in life. Achieving an optimum balance between estrogen and progesterone and naturally reducing histamine levels in the body should be your best bet in addressing both reproductive and non-reproductive issues relating to histamine intolerance.
Mušič E, Korošec P, Šilar M, Adamič K, Košnik M, Rijavec M. Serum diamine oxidase activity as a diagnostic test for histamine intolerance. Wien Klin Wochenschr. 2013;125(9-10):239-243.
Laura Maintz, Natalija Novak. Histamine and histamine intolerance. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Volume 85, Issue 5. May 2007. Pages 1185–1196.