Histamine Levels and Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome – Part 2
Histamine in Food
Another way that inadvertently increases histamine levels is by eating foods high in histamine. Histamine is usually metabolized in the intestines and liver. However, some individuals may have low levels of the required enzymes to metabolize histamine and thus have increased circulating histamine. Histamine is typically found in foods that have been fermented or highly processed. Fermented cheeses such as cheddar and Gouda are high in histamine. Other dairy products such as yogurt and buttermilk also contain elevated histamine amounts. Salami, pepperoni, sausage, and other processed meats are also high in histamine. Vegetables such as tomatoes, spinach, and eggplant contain increased histamine compared to other vegetables. Berries have been shown to be high in benzoates, which release histamine. Spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg also contain benzoate and release histamine when ingested. These are usually not an issue because the body metabolizes them automatically without a problem.
Harmful Effects of Histamine
Excessive histamine can wreck havoc in the body. Starting with the brain, histamine has the ability to inhibit almost every neurotransmitter and is a neurotransmitter in itself. Any unbalance in the chemical makeup of your brain is bound to cause unwanted effects such as brain fog, fatigue, and anxiety. It is also why histamine has been implicated in several major psychiatric disorders. Along with psychiatric disorders, histamine is also involved in the sleeping cycle, mainly stimulating the body to stay awake. This can only worsen the symptoms manifesting in the brain. At the cardiovascular system, with histamine being a vasodilator and opening up the vessels in the body, the heart will have to pump harder and faster to maintain the same blood flow. This can lead to tachycardia, heart palpitations and low blood pressure. Heart palpitations combined with increased anxiety can often lead to panic attacks too. Unchecked histamine can also lead to increased gastric acid secretions in the gut, contributing to irritable bowel syndrome and gastric ulcers.
On top of all these conditions, histamine actively plays a role in inflammation and the allergic reaction, having high histamine levels in your body is similar to being in a chronic inflammatory or allergic state. One can experience itching, nasal congestion, asthma, red eyes, hives, and even angioedema. These symptoms are largely modulated by the adrenal glands. We will go into these in more detail later.
Histamine Levels and Adrenal Fatigue
Elevated histamine levels do not bode well for the adrenal glands. Histamine is an inflammatory molecule. Cortisol, released by the adrenal glands, is an anti-inflammatory compound. One can imagine the contrasting battle these two molecules go through on a daily basis. Any unnecessary rise in histamine levels only serves to burden the adrenal glands. Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), especially those in advanced stages, invariably are overloaded with histamine internally without sufficient cortisol to counter its effect. It comes as no surprise that many are in a generalized inflammatory state with many nonspecific but bothersome symptoms of discomfort.
As a result of inflammation, many suffer from migrating pain of unknown origin, especially in the muscles and joints. There is no deformity in the joints, and the discomfort can come and go at will without a set pattern. Doctors are usually at a loss after a normal blood test without significant signs of autoimmune disease. Pain medications are usually prescribed but seldom necessary as the discomfort is generally nagging in nature and not very severe.
Sometimes pain can be in the lower back area surrounding the kidneys. There is no significant physical finding. Visits to family doctors are made and bladder and urinary track infection workups are usually negative. Abdominal CT scans are normal. Many will report a dull ache or a sensation of feeling heat in the adrenal glands area that is worsened under stress or when energy levels are low, or when certain type of food are consumed. There is no specific point of tenderness on palpation. The sufferer is usually told that it is all in their head.
Food sensitivity is common when histamine levels rise beyond what the body can handle. Intake of watermelon, for example, can lead to skin itchiness in distant parts of the body such as the ear lobes. Dairy products can lead to excessive nasal drip that can be postnasal in nature. Sufferers generally report a sense of congestion during the day, and wake up in the morning with a cough. Headaches of unknown origin, excessive bloating, and stomach pain are all common presentations.
Increased sensitivity to seasonal allergens is also a common finding. Due to intrinsic high histamine levels within, the threshold for external allergens to trigger inflammation is reduced, especially from pollen and grass during the spring. Most sufferers of AFS will find themselves highly sensitive to such external allergens in addition to heat intolerance when outdoors. Runny nose, sense of itchiness at the throat, and sniffling are common presenting complaints. Steroidal nasal sprays and anti-histamine medications are prescribed frequently for what appears to be classic signs of allergic rhinitis. Without understanding the root cause and trigger, this medication only acts to reduce symptoms and bring temporary relief. With prolonged use, tolerance and dependency develop. Those with marginal or mild adrenal fatigue will find their condition worsens over time, as the adrenals will slow down production of steroids due to the ample external supply as the feedback loop is disrupted. Withdrawal and rebound symptoms may arise if the medications are stopped abruptly.
Reducing internal histamine load should be part of a total recovery program in AFS. The key is to first recognize that histamine does play an important role in worsening adrenal fatigue. The astute clinician should be on alert for symptoms mentioned above as clues for further investigation. Normal laboratory finds are actually supportive of the investigative process. The key rests with a detailed history conducted carefully by an experienced clinician. Nature has provided us with a battery of compounds with antihistamine effects. They are best used in a nutritional cocktail for optimal results.
© Copyright 2015 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
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