Insomnia, headaches, migraines, PMS mood swings, heavy periods, painful periods, breast tenderness, anxiety, hives, itchy skin, urgency to urinate, flushing.
These are all symptoms of women suffering from histamine intolerance. Why women more so than men? Because oestrogen stimulates the release of histamine.
Oestrogen increases histamine
Oestrogen stimulates mast cells to release histamine. Many women experience histamine symptoms during the month when oestrogen is at its peak at ovulation. Headaches, migraines and anxiety are common for many women at this time.
The other time of the month when histamine symptoms are more common is during the few days before menstruation (PMS time) when progesterone starts to drop. Progesterone offsets oestrogen, so as it drops, oestrogen becomes relatively higher. This is known as relative oestrogen dominance. Symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, hives, breast tenderness, and migraines are common for many women at this time.
Women can also experience period pain due to histamine as it stimulates the smooth muscle of the uterus.
Histamine increases oestrogen – a vicious cycle!!
So we know that oestrogen stimulates mast cells to release histamine, but what also happens is that histamine stimulates the ovaries to produce more oestrogen! So you can see it’s a vicious cycle of histamine – oestrogen – histamine!!!
The DAO enzyme
To compound issues even further, oestrogen down regulates the DAO enzyme, which is required to degrade histamine in the gut. Progesterone increases DAO enzyme activity so you want to make sure you have good progesterone levels.
What’s happening at Peri-Menopause with histamine?
Oestrogen levels generally decline in peri-menopause, but it does so in an irregular pattern, with oestrogen often surging high then dropping low. This surge in oestrogen stimulates the release of histamine. During peri-menopause progesterone levels start to drop, leaving oestrogen unopposed. So again, we have more oestrogen and more histamine. Increased oestrogen is down regulating the DAO enzyme, and lower progesterone levels are not adequate enough to support DAO enzyme activity.
Women transitioning through peri-menopause may develop histamine symptoms such as itchy skin, hives, bladder irritation and urgency to urinate for the first time. Headaches, anxiety and insomnia are also very common.
Natural treatment options
The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to reduce histamine and detoxify oestrogen. Here are my top tips!
- Avoid foods high in histamine. Fermented foods such as kimichi and sauerkraut are particularly high. Aged cheeses, aged meats and alcohol are also very high.
- Increase intake of Brassica vegetables. Brassica vegetables support liver detoxification of oestrogen. These include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and brussel sprouts.
- Increase fibre intake. Fibre supports oestrogen detoxification via the gut. Flaxseeds, chia seeds, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables are great sources of fibre.
- Avoid inflammatory foods. Inflammatory foods stimulate the immune system to release both inflammatory cytokines and histamine. These foods include gluten, sugar, fried foods, processed foods, excessive red meat and dairy.
- Increase intake of anti-histamine foods. These include onions, garlic, turmeric, ginger, peppermint, thyme, oregano, watercress, pomegranate, basil, carrots, broccoli, fennel, chamomile, reishi mushrooms.
- Dysbiosis and SIBO can release histamine. If you have consistent bloating even on an anti-inflammatory diet, this may mean you have some histamine bacteria in the gut that needs to be treated.
- Liver detoxification of oestrogen. This involves supporting phase 1 liver detoxification of oestrogen with DIM and phase 2 liver detoxification via methylation with Activated B vitamins and methylfolate (you can read more about methylation here).
- Support progesterone production. Good progesterone levels are all about healthy ovulation. Vital to healthy ovulation is low inflammation so reducing inflammatory foods and fixing any gut issues are a great start. Key nutrients to support progesterone include magnesium, vitamin B6, iodine, and vitamin D. Peri-menopausal and menopausal women may benefit from taking bioidentical or natural progesterone cream.
Bodis J et al, 1993, ‘The effect of histamine on progesterone and estradiol secretion of human granulosa cells in serum-free culture’ Gynecological Endocrinology, vol. 7, no. 4
Fogel WA, 1986, ‘Diamine oxidase (DAO) and female sex hormones’, Agents & Actions, vol 18, no. 1-2
Zierau O, Zenclussen A & Jensen F, 2012 ‘Role of female sex hormones, estradiol and progesterone, in mast cell behavior’, Frontiers in Immunology, vol 19, no. 3.