Before now, you may have only heard of the word histamine with the prefix anti- in front of it in the context of hayfever or a bug bite but this ‘organic nitrogenous compound’ can show up in many different areas of our lives and bodies and with many different functions and roles. For one, you may be surprised to know that there is an interesting connection between women’s hormones and their allergy symptoms and that this connection, and what we can learn from it, can play a key role in Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). Because of this and because we’re now well into spring, we’re going to discuss PMDD and histamine, what exactly histamine is, how it can affect PMDD and how you can use this knowledge to your advantage when dealing with PMDD symptoms.
What is histamine and how can it affect PMDD?
Let us start by saying that the body requires certain levels of histamine to function. Histamine is released by a certain type of immune cell known as a mast cell. As we mentioned, we usually only hear about it in the context of allergies because in an allergic reaction, the immune system’s hypersensitive reaction to usually harmless foreign substances that enter the body causes mast cells to release histamine in inordinate amounts (1). This causes the visible symptoms of a localised allergic reaction, including runny nose, watery eyes, constriction of bronchi, and tissue swelling. These reactions are a lot more noticeable than the countless other roles histamine plays in bodies, hence why it gets more airtime.
But did you know that oestrogen also promotes the release of histamine? There are very many symptoms that can be linked to both such as brain fog, breast tenderness, mood swings and headaches or migraines. If you suffer from PMDD or PMS, these symptoms won’t sound foreign to you but many don’t know that high histamine may be the culprit for their heightened occurrence as a result of it being released as a result of the higher presence of oestrogen.
The connection is truly fascinating. Among women with asthma, to give an example, up to 30-40% in some studies carried out on the topic reported worsening of asthma symptoms at specific times of the menstrual cycle. As such, the luteal or the perimenstrual phase, shortly before and during the first few days of our period, has been identified as a time during which symptoms may commonly worsen (2).
Let us wrap that up nicely one more time, because it definitely is confusing! At certain times of the month, oestrogen will be higher than others. We have these symptoms and we don’t think much of it. We attribute it to our cycles and for many, we just put up with it. But once we know that oestrogen promotes the release of histamine and the symptoms of too much histamine are extremely similar to the ones we experience throughout the month if we suffer from PMDD and PMS, we ask ourselves could histamine be responsible for these symptoms being worse than they need to be? And if so, does that mean we don’t have to just put up with these symptoms every month and that there could potentially be other remedies to these problems? Let’s look at that!
How do I find out if histamine is contributing to my intensified symptoms?
There are several factors which could be the cause of the symptoms you’re experiencing and it is certainly worth finding out if histamine is one of them. Dr. Lara Briden (3), women’s health doctor and period revolutionary, and Eleanor Gordon (4), a Registered Nutritional Therapist specialising in Women’s Health, suggest a couple of actions you could take to find out if it is:
- Trial reducing histamine stimulating foods. A few common ones are cow’s dairy, bananas and alcohol and this should be done especially when oestrogen is at its highest.
- Trial reducing histamine containing foods. A few common ones are red wine, cheese, avocado, bone broth, tomatoes, and fermented and aged foods and again, especially when oestrogen is at its highest.
- Perhaps take antihistamine tablets purposely around this time but, of course, we recommend discussing this with a doctor.
If you notice that your PMDD and PMS symptoms have been alleviated when doing this, histamine may indeed have been the culprit for the anxiety you feel around the time of ovulation or your terrifying period cramps all along.
How can I use this knowledge to my advantage?
So, if you have indeed established that histamine is to blame, the good news is that it could potentially be treated with a simple antihistamine that you probably have lying about the house. But, because of histamine’s various roles and presences within the body and different foods, there are several other everyday things you could also try to get your symptoms under control.The following are some examples:
- Help balance oestrogen by eating foods that promote oestrogen detoxification such as cruciferous vegetables – kale, broccoli, bok choi, watercress, and rocket.
- Look at supporting your gut as this is where your DAO enzyme is made; the enzyme needed to clear histamine and where over 70% of your immune system resides.
- Take a histamine-reducing supplement such as quercetin, magnesium, SAMe, or vitamin B6.
- Another great way to support your overall immune resilience so that you can enjoy this time of year and not be burdened by annoying hormonal symptoms is to make sure you consume foods that are naturally rich in antihistamine properties such as apples, pineapples, olive oil, green or black tea, and kiwis and many more.
We would venture a guess that for many people, the thought of histamines having anything to do with our sex hormones and reproductive organs would be laughable. But it’s absolutely not. This unique relationship in bodily functions just adds to the list of reasons why education on these issues matters. We also wonder how many other potential breakthroughs or connections like this could be made in the field of women’s health if there were the will to find out and the resources to back it up. So often, it feels like our bodies are working overtime against us. Please take this information and see if you can make your body work for you. It’s worth a try.
- Brittanica: Histamine | Description & Facts
- Sabry E. Relation of perimenstrual asthma with disease severity and other allergic comorbidities: the first report of perimenstrual asthma prevalence in Saudi Arabia. Allergol Immunopathol. 2011;39:23–26. Available at: Relation of perimenstrual asthma with disease severity and other allergic co-morbidities–the first report of perimenstrual asthma prevalence in Saudi Arabia
- Dr Lara Briden, “The Role of Histamine and Mast Cells in PMS and PMDD,” April 2020. Available at: The Role of Histamine and Mast Cells in PMS and PMDD
- Eleanor Gordan, “Histamine and Hormones – How to Find Balance with Nutrition.” Available at: Histamine and Hormones