Do your ‘mystery symptoms’ have your doctor STUMPED?
I’ve had some memorable encounters with my patients in my day, but seven or eight years ago, there was one in particular that stands out.
I remember walking in to the examining room… greeting a long-term patient of mine (who’s a wonderful man)… and hearing him exclaim: “I am smarter than you! I figured out what is wrong with me!”
He’d been having some serious struggles with his gastrointestinal system – and while he and I had been working very hard to get to the bottom of the problem, we didn’t have much luck.
We’d suspected that he had some form of food reaction or allergy, but all the tests that we’d done come back negative.
I’ll admit, I was stumped.
But since we were working so closely together to get to the bottom of his problem… and maybe he really was smarter than me… he’d figured it out by doing his own research and finding it on the internet, of all places.
He then blurted out: “I have Histamine Intolerance Syndrome.”
While I don’t encourage using Google to diagnose mystery symptoms, I don’t know how I ever practised medicine before being armed with the knowledge of Histamine Intolerance Syndrome!
In fact, this medical condition is sweeping the integrative medical community – and now, it’s something that I talk about every day in my practice.
Acknowledging that Histamine Intolerance Syndrome is a very real disorder is the first step to feeling better, but it doesn’t end there. In fact, you can recover from this condition – FOR GOOD – just by doing a little histamine house cleaning.
You won’t believe how much better you’ll feel after making a few changes to your diet… removing triggers… and healing your gut.
Not feeling great?
Blame your dinner plate!
The chemical reaction of Histamine Intolerance Syndrome is kind of like a food allergy, but it’s not really a food allergy.
Most people equate food allergies with the classic swelling and throat-closing reactions that foods like peanuts can cause in a select group of people.
As with food sensitivities, which can affect you from a few hours up to THREE DAYS after eating the offending foods, Histamine Intolerance Syndrome still produces ‘allergy symptoms’, but they’re not usually ‘immediate’ issues that occur right after eating the food.
And because they’re not as intense, it wouldn’t occur to most people that they have any food-related intolerance.
But it might very well be histamine.
You see, there’s more than one way that the human body can react to a food or food group. And no one knows that better than integrative medical doctors, who practise nearly exclusively in the grey area of symptoms and diseases.
And there, right in the middle of it, is Histamine Intolerance Syndrome!
The most classic symptoms attributed to histamine intolerance are a runny nose, coughing, or sneezing soon after eating certain foods. However, a host of other symptoms can be associated with it, including:
• headaches / migraines
• high blood pressure
• arrhythmia or high heart rate
• difficulty regulating body temperature
• nausea and/or vomiting
• abdominal cramps, pain and diarrhea
• ‘flushing’ sensation
• itching and hives
• nasal congestion and shortness of breath
• abnormal menstrual cycle
So, the next time you cough or sneeze soon after eating… or feel ‘weird’ after eating certain foods… please consider that what’s plaguing you could be this medical condition.
Why some doctors are still in denial
Despite the ton of information about this syndrome on the internet from real people who’ve experienced it, many conventional medical doctors don’t believe in it.
There are two reasons for that.
First, conventional medicine generally relies on the black-and-white results of a blood test – and there really isn’t a great blood test to show that someone is having a histamine reaction to the foods that they’re eating.
The reaction is somewhat similar to what an allergist’s standard ‘skin prick’ test looks for (the immunoglobin-E antibody, or IgE for short)… but it’s just different enough that the test can miss it.
There are even blood tests for food sensitivities – which, in a clinical context, are known as Immunoglobulin-G food reactions (or IgG for short). This is the kind of testing and food reaction that’s been driving the phrase ‘gluten sensitivity’… or why you’ve most likely heard of someone not officially having coeliac disease despite experiencing issues with breads or gluten.
But again, IgG antibody detection is an inaccurate science when it comes to histamine.
Secondly, conventional doctors tend to turn a blind eye to Histamine Intolerance Syndrome because of ANOTHER condition related to histamine that they DO believe in, called Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS).
Mast cells normally release a little histamine into your body. But with MCAS, which is a serious medical condition, those cells go haywire and begin releasing excessive amounts of histamine into your bloodstream… or nasal cavity… and even into your intestines.
It can cause anaphylaxis (and anaphylactic shock), which can be life-threatening.
And there’s a blood test for it.
If you go to your conventional doctor and tell him that you think that you have an issue with histamine, the doctor will most likely run a test to determine your blood tryptase level. When the test comes back normal (which, most of the time, it will), your doctor will tell you that there’s NO possibility that you’ve got ANY issues with histamine.
But while you’re feeling disappointed and frustrated, you’ve got to understand that MCAS is just an exaggerated version of histamine intolerance, with reactions that are exponentially worse than those with histamine intolerance.
Again, there are MANY shades of grey here – and you don’t have to end up in hospital in order to have an issue with histamine that needs to be addressed.
How histamine gets too high
My patient’s ‘light bulb moment’ came once he figured out which foods were raising his histamine, stopped eating them, and started feeling so much better.
But since MANY foods can make your histamine levels skyrocket, figuring out which foods are triggering YOUR reaction may not be so easy. The exact culprit of your symptoms may not be the same as what causes a reaction in other people – not only because there are so many foods that could be suspect, but also because they fall into two very different categories.
For one, there are foods that can raise histamine because the food itself is rich in histamine – for instance, fermented drinks such as wine or beer and fermented foods such as vinegar and sauerkraut, as well as aged cheeses. Other foods – like chocolate, tomatoes, and bananas – release histamine when in your gut (as do many artificial preservatives and
Those are just a few examples – because the list of foods that fall into each of these two categories goes on and on.
The plot thickens when you consider that there’s no one standard level of histamine that will make all people who are intolerant feel bad. Histamine only affects you when the total histamine level in you body percolates over YOUR individual threshold.
Think of it like this: you’ve got a bucket of histamine, but when the histamine levels get too high and the bucket overflows, your body reacts. But your bucket might be smaller than someone else’s, and therefore it would take less histamine to cause a reaction.
Someone who can tolerate histamine until their levels get VERY high has a larger bucket to fill.
And to complicate matters even more, your bucket size can grow or shrink over time – like in the spring versus the winter. In fact, the type of person who’s more apt to experience Histamine Intolerance Syndrome is the same type of person that also struggles with seasonal allergies and has to take an antihistamine when the pollen count is high.
Some genetic tendencies may also lead people to be more ‘histaminic’. But I think that the more likely reason that people develop Histamine Intolerance Syndrome is because their intestinal lining gets damaged, allowing this genetic tendency to rear its ugly head.
Find the culprit and feel better in 4 steps
Because I now realise how widespread a problem Histamine Intolerance Syndrome has become, I’ve developed a four-step protocol to beat back its symptoms… and keep them from coming back.
Step #1, Dietary changes:
I start by having my patients try to limit the foods that usually raise histamine levels and see if they feel better. Since the foods that raise histamine constitute a very long list, ideally, you can narrow down the source so you don’t have to give up too many foods that you may love.
It’s also a good idea to focus your diet on foods known to be low in histamine, which include some Paleo-friendly choices like freshly-cooked meat and poultry (not cured or heavily processed), wild-caught fish, eggs, vegetables (except tomatoes, spinach, avocado, eggplant), some fruits (except citrus), healthy oils (olive, coconut), herbs, and herbal teas.
Step #2, Antihistamines:
Taking something to ‘mop up’ the excess histamine in your body is the most important part of my protocol, if only to solidify the diagnosis! That is, if you feel better after taking them, you can confirm that histamine is, indeed, the culprit of your complaints. My first choice is to prescribe a safe – yet powerful – medication called Gastrocrom, which comes in liquid form. I also sometimes prescribe a medication called Singulair.
Step #3, Enzymes: There’s one enzyme that’s primarily responsible for breaking down histamine in your body, and that’s called diamine oxidase (or DAO, for short). If you’re struggling with histamine, you may either be deficient in DAO enzyme (maybe because of genetics) or consuming something that’s slowing it down or blocking it (like drugs or even some types of tea). Fortunately, you can get a DAO enzyme supplement (sometimes as part of a ‘histamine block’ formula) at your local health food store. Take it with meals.
Step #4, Clean up the gut:
The final way that I treat this disease is just like I treat MANY of the patients that pass through my door with many OTHER conditions that are ailing them.
And that means healing the gut – because when your gut gets ‘screwed up’, your entire body gets screwed up! There are supplements that can heal any ‘holes’ in the intestinal lining and thus make the gut less ‘leaky’ – and, as a holistic doctor of many years, I know that fixing a ‘leaky gut’ can aid in the healing of almost ANY disease.
One of the best and most powerful gut products that I have ever used is a medical food-grade version of colostrum, called EnteraGam. EnteraGam comes in the form of a powder that you can take with or without food. A probiotic supplement will also help good gut bacteria to flourish and balance out your microbiome, which may have been taken over by bad gut bacteria.
To get the most benefit out of my four-step protocol, you’ll need to work with a doctor who knows a thing or two about integrative and holistic approaches. But there’s no reason to wait for a doctor to start feeling better today.
If you’re not already taking probiotics, you can start right away. You can also reduce eating those histamine-boosting foods and bulk up on low histamine foods. Quercetin supplements can also be very effective in lowering histamine.
And until you can find an integrative medical doctor in your local area to take on your case, you can also get an over-the-counter version of colostrum at your local health food store. It comes in powder, capsule, and chewable forms – and although it won’t have as much muscle as the prescription-strength medical food version, it’s still well
worth the investment.
Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Nutrition & Healing
Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.