A lot of us aren’t aware that we have a “histamine intolerance”, which may or may not be an effect of a mast cell disorder even though the symptoms of these are such common struggles. They can present as inflammation and are associated with depression, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, skin conditions, diabetes, joint pain, headaches, and more (1).
What I find so interesting about these disorders is how widespread, varied, and individual the effects are. Likewise, the triggers are so individual and unlike other conditions referenced as intolerances (gluten intolerance for example), the issue is not with histamine itself but instead with too much histamine, and the “too much” is so very individual and even varies day-to-day. This variation is what makes an understanding of one’s own body, language of one’s body, and connection to the body so essential to management.
Sufferers of histamine intolerance and of mast cell-associated disorders need to be especially skilled at managing stress responses in their bodies. This is especially true of sensitives and empaths who aren’t just managing their own stress, but the stresses of those around them too. A person struggling with too many histamines in their body from inadequate diamine oxidase (DAO) or histamine N-methyltransferase (the enzymes that are most helpful for breaking down histamines), or from an overgrowth of histamine producing microbes (so often the case in small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) is going to be plagued with histamine intolerance regardless of whether they take DAO enzymes or watch histamine levels in foods if they aren’t also managing the stress-effects in their body.
Physical and psychological stress results in the release of corticotropin hormone which destabilizes mast cells, causing them to release their mediators (2, 3, 4). Mast cells initiate and sustain autoimmune responses (5, 6, 7, 8). All of this is to say that stress increases histamine levels on top of triggering the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and resulting in inflammation that stimulates an immune reaction that can create an autoimmune flare and result in tissue damage (9, 10).
When eating while stressed we experience heightened histamine levels from not only the stress activation of histamine, the histamine levels of certain foods, and histamine being released from certain foods, but also from our bodies not breaking down, not ”digesting” and eliminating histamine when we eat while stressed. When we are in sympathetic nervous system dominance, aka “stress-mode,” our blood is shunted away from our digestive organs and our digestion slows down or even stops so that our bodies can focus on “fighting, flighting, or freezing.” That means that heightened histamine levels hang out in our body for much longer when we are stressed as the release of digestive fluids that help us break down the histamines in food isn’t being triggered.
Stress is inevitable, but the damage it does to our bodies is not
We are all under stress: be it from COVID or worries of COVID, the assault on our nervous systems from computer screens, our mirror neurons picking up on other people’s stress, driving, toxins in the environment, and oh so much more. Although it is not possible to remove all stress from our lives (nor would many of us want to as the stress of deadlines is what motivates many of us), what is possible is to calm the reaction our nervous systems have to stress.
Reducing unnecessary stressors, learning to not take in other people’s stress, and learning to calm our nervous systems are all essential aspects of self-care (and especially essential for sensitives and empaths). One of the easiest ways to counter the effects of stress on mast cells for those with histamine intolerance or a mast cell-associated disorder is to focus on mealtimes as that is when we are often adding to our histamine load from histamine releasing and histamine containing foods. This means not eating while stressed and not eating foods that trigger a stress response in our bodies, such as not consuming foods we have a sensitivity to or consuming processed sugars.
Even more important than that is to calm the nervous system and get it out of fight-or-flight prior to eating. Stressors surround us, and although we will never eliminate all stress, we can calm our nervous systems down to give our bodies the opportunity to function more optimally while eating so we can digest and detoxify histamines. I’ve shared before an easy breathwork technique for getting into a relaxed state before eating to improve digestion and take oneself out of a stress-response. This is such an easy technique to practice before every meal to help manage histamine levels. I’ve also been experimenting with ways of eating (what I’m calling “dating myself”) that I’ll share coming up that has made a huge impact on my histamine levels!
Have you noticed a difference in your histamine levels with how you are managing stress? How do you manage the stress response in your body?