For many chronic headaches and migraine sufferers, the problem starts in the gut. Histamine is an important chemical messenger secreted by immune cells in response to inflammatory triggers such as allergies, foods, and infections. You can think of histamine as a guard dog to detect harmful substances that come in contact with our skin, lungs, mouth, nose, and gut.
Histamine is not a bad thing, in fact, we all need it to interact with the environment and mount healthy immune responses. Where the problem can lie for some people is that we cannot tolerate the amount of histamine our body produces and the accumulation of histamine is beyond our body’s threshold to process.
The main causes of histamine include poor gut health (good bacteria vs bad gut bacteria), diets high in inflammatory or high-histamine food, stress, lack of sleep, medications, nutrient and hormone imbalance, and environmental exposure to allergens, like mold, harsh chemicals, and pollen. When we have too much histamine or histamine overload, in response to a trigger we can have symptoms such as hives, chronic allergy symptoms like a runny nose, painful sinuses, itching eyes, chronic bloating, nausea or diarrhea, and never-ending migraines and headaches.
Not all symptoms will occur in any one person, and the severity of symptoms will depend on the amount and duration of histamine present in the body. The fact that these diverse symptoms overlap with many other conditions and symptoms wax and wane makes it easy for this imbalance to go undetected for years. Most interventions are aimed at providing symptom relief rather than stopping the symptoms from occurring in the first place.
Our body has a clean-up crew in the form of enzymes to protect us from histamine overload. One of the enzymes that breaks down histamine is called diamine oxidase (DAO). Many people lack adequate amounts of DAO due to gene expression, lifestyle, gut health, antibiotic use, diet, environment, or medications, such as ibuprofen. So where do you start in determining if your migraines are due to histamine intolerance?
- First, rule out true acute allergic reactions by getting allergy tested. Removing known triggers can be a straightforward way to see improvement.
- Implement a low-histamine diet and/or supplement with DAO supplement. If you see a reduction in your migraines or other symptoms, you will have empirical information that histamine intolerance is a culprit. Armed with this knowledge you can begin to make targeted lifestyle and diet changes that can change your life and reduce or eliminate your chronic headaches.
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