Guest post by Nicole Jardim
So, you’re probably wondering what histamines are, and what they have to do with your period, right? We’re all familiar with antihistamines – those medications that stop the “itching, sneezing, watery eyes” situations that come up mostly during allergy season or when we are allergic to a substance other than pollen.
Well, histamines are what antihistamines work against!
What are histamines?
Histamines are chemicals that are stored in immune cells known as Mast Cells, and are involved in nerve transmission and immune response regulation. When Mast Cells are triggered, they release histamines, which then trigger those responses we all know so well – itchiness, puffiness, swelling, or hives – which are all caused by your immune system.
Mast cells are not the only source of histamine in the body. Histamine can also be produced by bacteria living in the gut. In fact, certain gut bacteria not only produce histamine, but they can also help regulate it and even break it down. This next part is important, so keep reading.
Bacteria found in fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and kefir also produce histamine.
Where do you find histamines?
Basically, in all the good stuff! I’ve noticed most people tend to react most strongly to the fermented foods on this list, but it’s important to know the other food triggers too.
- Fermented, cured, or soured foods, such as yogurt, luncheon meat, pickles, and sour cream
- Aged cheeses, such as cheddar and goat cheese
- Smoked fish
- Citrus fruit and dried fruits such as apricots and raisins
- Alcoholic beverages, especially wine and beer
- Certain nuts, including walnuts, peanuts, and cashews
What is Histamine Intolerance?
When a person has a histamine sensitivity, certain foods or environmental stimulants can cause a host of symptoms including: flushing, sneezing, itching, hives, headaches and migraines, wheezing, swelling, anxiety, runny nose or bloody nose, skin issues like acne and eczema, menstrual cramps, and difficulty sleeping (hint: this is why antihistamines make you sleepy).
While genetics and food allergies certainly play a role in histamine sensitivity, gut dysbiosis makes things much worse. People with leaky gut or small intestine bacterial overgrowth, or some other type of gut bacterial imbalance are much more prone to histamine sensitivity.
Histamine and PCOS
Women with PCOS tend to have lower progesterone levels because they don’t ovulate consistently. Keep this in mind as you read the next two paragraphs.
We have a gene called the DAO gene that creates the DAO enzyme. If there are genetic mutations on this gene, you may not make the DAO enzyme sufficiently. This is important because the DAO enzyme is located in your gut, and it is responsible for breaking down histamine contained in the food you eat.
So, here’s the connection to progesterone – the DAO enzyme function is naturally supported by progesterone. Low progesterone means less support for the DAO enzyme, and less ability to process histamine. This is why women with PCOS may have more histamine issues than women who are regularly ovulating and producing sufficient progesterone.
Histamine and estrogen
Estrogen actually triggers the release of histamine from the mast cells in the ovaries and uterus. The more estrogen we have roaming around our body, the most histamines are produced. And unfortunately, the more histamines we have, the more estrogen is produced. And around and around we go.
This is why it’s so important for women with PCOS or women who tend to be estrogen dominant to get in the know about histamine intolerance.
The estrogen connection is why women may feel really terrible at ovulation and notice an improvement in their histamine-related problems during the second half of their cycle when estrogen drops and progesterone rises. It’s frustrating for many women because they think they’re supposed to feel amazing at this time of the month, and instead they are plagued by headaches, fatigue, bloating, itching, insomnia, irritability, and gut issues.
It’s almost like PMS during ovulation. And while the symptoms improve for many women in the second half of their cycle (when progesterone is high), they come back as progesterone drops towards the end of the cycle.
And, keep in mind that during periods of extreme stress when we are diverting progesterone production to cortisol, you may also notice worsening symptoms.
Histamine and Menstrual Cramps
You know how I just mentioned that histamines are released in the uterus? Well, they’re released so that the uterine muscles can contract during menstruation and birth. Another reason to consider histamine intolerance if you’re experiencing cramps and have tried implementing other measures to address them – change in diet, supplements, exercise and physical work (pelvic physical therapy, maya abdominal massage therapy or vaginal steaming).
What to do
Ultimately, I think that women with PCOS or an imbalance in their sex hormones (namely estrogen dominance and low progesterone) definitely need to experiment with avoiding histamine triggers.
First, I suggest avoiding the foods listed above for just 2 weeks to see if there is improvement in symptoms. This is restrictive, but I promise you’ll see results pretty quickly:
I am also a big fan of quercetin, a flavonoid which works like an all-natural anti-histamine – stabilizing the effects of histamines released from mast cells. It also doubles as a leaky gut and pain reliever. I like Pure Encapsulations Quercetin and recommend 500mg a day for 8-12 weeks.
Hopefully, implementing these two solutions helps improve your histamine issues, which will go far to help your PCOS and PMS symptoms.
Nicole is a Certified Women’s Health Coach and the creator of Fix Your Period, a series of programs that empower women to reclaim their hormone health using a method that combines simplicity and sass.
Her incredible work has impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of women around the world in effectively addressing a wide variety of period problems, including PMS, irregular periods, PCOS, painful periods, amenorrhea, and many more.
Nicole is also the co-host of The Period Party, a top-rated podcast on iTunes—be sure to tune into that if you want to learn more about how to fix your period—and she’s the creator of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s hormone health continuing education course.
Sign up here for her Fix Your Period Quickstart Kit, a FREE 7-Day E-Course, to discover the top secrets doctors don’t tell you about your hormones, your symptoms & how to finally fix them!