Migraines: Could Histamine Intolerance be the cause?

Can foods be triggering your migraines?  See if histamine intolerance is the culprit!

Migraines and parenting – the worst combination ever.  Migraine headaches can be debilitating due to the intense and throbbing pain; coupled with vision loss and possibly nausea and vomiting.  Unfortunately being a parent doesn’t stop just because Mommy needs to lie down.  I began getting migraines after the birth of my first son and have been searching for the cause the last six years in hopes of avoiding them completely.

According to the Migraine Research Foundation, approximately 18% of American women and 6% of American men suffer from migraines.  After consulting several medical doctors regarding my migraines, I can safely say that a majority of doctors are unsure what exactly triggers them.  I assume this is because the triggers vary greatly from person to person.  There are, however, several prescription drugs they can prescribe.  (No thanks doc, I will pass on a potentially harmful treatment without even identifying the cause!)  What your medical doctor probably does not know about is a condition called “histamine intolerance” which has been found to cause not only migraines, but can also cause skin irritation, anxiety, nasal congestion and acid reflux, to name just a few.  I read about histamine intolerance a few months ago and have slowly been linking my migraine triggers to symptoms of histamine intolerance.

What is histamine?

Histamine is a chemical produced by the body and found in food.  It is a neurotransmitter, which sends communications throughout the body; and is used in proper digestion, the immune system and the brain.  You may have heard of anti-histamine medications which are used to treat the uncomfortable symptoms of food and seasonal allergies caused by the body’s release of histamine – think itchy, watery, sneezing, runny nose mess.  According to Functional Medicine Practitioner Amy Myers, M.D.:

Histamine causes your blood vessels to swell, or dilate, so that your white blood cells can quickly find and attack the infection or problem. The histamine buildup is what gives you a headache and leaves you feeling flushed, itchy and miserable. This is part of the body’s natural immune response, but if you don’t break down histamine properly, you could develop what we call histamine intolerance.

Conditions such as allergies, leaky gut, bacterial overgrowth in the intestines, fermented food and alcohol, enzyme deficiency and histamine rich foods can all cause an increase in histamine levels.

When the body cannot properly break down the histamine in the bloodstream, it accumulates and eventually sets off symptoms which are easily confused with allergies.  According to Dr. Janice Joneja, symptoms of histamine intolerance include:

  • Itching of the skin, eyes, ears, and nose
  • Hives
  • Tissue swelling, especially of face, mouth and sometimes throat
  • Hypotension (drop in blood pressure)
  • Increase in pulse, heart “racing”
  • Symptoms resembling an anxiety or panic attack
  • Chest pain
  • Nasal congestion and runny nose
  • Conjunctivitis (irritated, watery, reddened eyes)
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue, confusion, irritability
  • Very occasionally loss of consciousness usually lasting for only one or two seconds
  • Digestive tract upset, especially heartburn, “indigestion”, and reflux

Food Sources of Histamine.

As mentioned above, the body produces it’s own histamine, but histamine is also present in foods.  There are three categories of foods which can impact histamine levels in the body: foods which are naturally high in histamine, foods which cause the body to release histamine, and foods which block the intestinal enzyme diamine oxidase (DAO) which is needed to break down histamine.

The following is an excerpt from a great article on histamine intolerance by Dr. Amy Myer, read her article here.

Histamine-Rich Foods:

  • Fermented alcoholic beverages, especially wine, champagne and beer
  • Fermented foods: sauerkraut, vinegar, soy sauce, kefir, yogurt, kombucha, etc
  • Vinegar-containing foods: pickles, mayonnaise, olives
  • Cured meats: bacon, salami, pepperoni, luncheon meats and hot dogs
  • Soured foods: sour cream, sour milk, buttermilk, soured bread, etc
  • Dried fruit: apricots, prunes, dates, figs, raisins
  • Most citrus fruits
  • Aged cheese including goat cheese
  • Nuts: walnuts, cashews, and peanuts
  • Vegetables: avocados, eggplant, spinach, and tomatoes
  • Smoked fish and certain species of fish: mackerel, mahi-mahi, tuna, anchovies, sardines

Histamine-Releasing Foods:

  • Alcohol
  • Bananas
  • Chocolate
  • Cow’s Milk
  • Nuts
  • Papaya
  • Pineapple
  • Shellfish
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Wheat Germ
  • Many artificial preservatives and dyes

DAO-Blocking Foods:

  • Alcohol
  • Energy drinks
  • Black tea
  • Mate tea
  • Green tea

Is anyone else thankful that coffee is not on the list!?

Good digestion is required to properly break down histamine.

Everything always comes back to a healthy gut!

There are two enzyme systems which break down histamine; histamine N-methyl transferase (HMT) which is found in the central nervous system and the enzyme diamine oxidase (DAO) which is found in the digestive system. Deficiency in the DAO enzyme is found to be the most common cause of histamine intolerance.  (Source.)  This can be due to gut damage caused by gluten intolerance, bad bacteria overgrowth in the intestines, leaky gut, use of prescription drugs, DAO blocking drinks listed above and genetic factors.  Leaky gut appears to be the main cause of histamine intolerance and therefore healing the gut is necessary to treat histamine intolerance.  (Source)  A supplemental enzyme DAO is available for use, but should be used under the guidance of a health practitioner.  I have read that taking enzyme supplements will further decrease the amount of enzymes the body will produce on its own, which seems counter productive.  Definitely seek a professional before starting up enzyme supplementation!

According to Dr. Amy Myers, an elimination diet is the best treatment for histamine intolerance.  It is recommended to remove all foods on the list above for one to three months and reintroduce one at a time, tracking any symptoms to determine if those foods are problematic for you.  She has written an ebook to guide through the process of an elimination diet, which can be found here.

I have definitely found my triggers by doing an elimination diet.  No one is perfect, however, and I still slip up from time to time.  In fact, the other day I started getting an ocular migraine in the car.  I started seeing the flashing lights in the center of my field of vision.  All I had with me was my Lavender Essential Oil, so I used it.  I applied a few drops to my temples and the base of my neck while inhaling the aroma from the bottle.  After a few minutes, MY VISION CLEARED.  WHAT!?  This has never happened before, EVER.  I was shocked.

Lavender oil - natural antihistamine for migraine relief!

Studies such as this have shown Lavender oil to be effective at treating headaches when inhaled.  Lavender oil is also effective as an antihistamine, which I can attest to.  Swiping a drop on the inside of my mouth when I am experiencing seasonal allergies quells my symptoms almost immediately.  Next time you are having a migraine, give it a try!

Are you interested in buying pure essential oils?  Click here to find out more.

Have you found any interesting migraine treatments?  Let us know in the comments below!

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http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24433203 – Histamine in Migraine and Brain




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Disclaimer:  The content on the blog Mommy Lives Clean is for informational purposes only, and is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. I am not a medical professional and the information contained on this blog should not be used to diagnose, treat or prevent any disease or illness. Please consult with a health care professional before acting on any information given herein.  Please never disregard medical advice or wait in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog.


3 thoughts on “Migraines: Could Histamine Intolerance be the cause?

  1. Pingback: Why I Took a Break From Essential Oils | Mommy Lives Clean

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