Allergies can vary from being just a nuisance, bothersome to dangerous. What has histamine to do with it? Did you know this protein does more than trigger allergic reactions?
Important for our body’s functioning
Histamine is a hormone/chemical transmitter and important protein that is involved in local immune responses, regulates stomach acid production and acts as a mediator in allergic reactions. This is the bad part we most often read about.
The purpose of Histamine
- Histamine is released as a neurotransmitter, necessary for our brain cells to “communicate” properly. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that are used to relay, amplify and modulate electrical signals between a neuron and other cell.
- Histamine is necessary to modulate sleep
- During an orgasm, histamine is released, and has been connected to the sex flush among women. However, men with high histamine levels may suffer from premature ejaculations.
- Classified schizophrenia patients often have low blood levels of histamine. This can be a side effect of their anti-psychotic medication. When this seemed to be the case, as histamine levels were increased, their health improved.
What causes allergies?
Allergies are caused by an immune response to a normally harmless substance, i.e. pollen or dust. When these come into contact with specific antigens in our blood (part of the white blood cells, so-called mast cells) this triggers a response and histamine is released.
The release of histamine causes several allergic symptoms, for it contributes to an inflammatory response and causes constrictions of smooth muscle.
- The allergic reaction causes blood fluids to enter the area, causing swelling. (Vasoactive).
- The constrictions of the smooth muscle are seen during an asthma attack. The muscles surrounding the airway constrict, causing shortness of breath.
Harmless or life-threatening?
An allergic reaction is an immune response that should not be occurring because the substance that triggers is should not be dangerous to us. Sometimes we have the “luxury” to allow our immune system to run its course, but then we have to sniffle our way through the pollen seasons.
But it can also happen that a harmless looking allergic reaction may develop into a potentially life threatening situation.
Thankfully, nowadays Anti-histamines are widely available and help overcome the body’s immunological “mistakes”.
People can be allergic to almost everything – from dust to bee-stings, to certain types of food.
Histamine and food
Histamine and amines (histamine-like substances) can be found in foods or sometimes develop after processing and storage. This happens especially with fermented foods, but sometimes during normal cooking procedures.
Amines are formed from specific amino acids that are present (to a certain agree) in all foods.
The most common food amines are:
Amines can trigger different allergic reactions:
- Vaso-active (affects the width of blood vessels)
- Vaso-dilating (widens the blood vessels)
- Vaso-constricting (narrows the blood vessels)
People can also become allergic to food that doesn’t contain histamine; but more often, it’s the additives that are the culprits.
“Sensitive” food products are:
Raw egg white, shellfish, strawberries, citrus fruit and pineapple, chocolate, tomatoes, alcohol, fish and pork.
There are many different types of food allergies, with different symptoms.
Symptoms of a food allergy that is histamine related:
- Flushing of the face
- Sweating profusely
- Increased heart rate, palpitations
- Fainting (drop in blood pressure)
- Asthma attack
- Rash, hives, urticaria
- Nausea, vomiting
- Abdominal cramps
- Headaches, migraine attack
People usually react pretty soon, during or after the meal, and untreated, the reaction may last 24-48 hours.
Alcohol and histamine
Alcohol consumption can provide histamine, trigger its release, and prevent a histamine breakdown.
Histamine and alcohol share the alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme during the metabolism stage.
Our body needs histamine – we can’t do without it.
But the moment an allergic reaction sets in, it seems to create havoc.
What did I eat wrong?
After experiencing an allergic reaction to a certain type of food, people usually stay away from it.
But sometimes it’s difficult to pinpoint what it was that triggered the reaction.
Every new allergic reaction may be stronger than the previous one – and potentially more dangerous.
A specialist is able to do some simple testing – ask your family doctor for a referral. He can also give you a prescription for an anti-histaminicum, just in case.
Mild and fierce
Allergies during pollen season are usually mild, and if you don’t mind the running nose and watery eyes, you can sail through without medication.
Food allergies however, are usually sudden and fierce.
Especially the first time it happens can be a frightening experience.
If you only suffer from watery eyes or a rash, you may decide to just wait and see. But in case of difficulty breathing or fainting, it’s very important to call a doctor, or to go straight to the first aid department.
Better safe than sorry.