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Help for the Little-Known But Common Food Sensitivity Making Women Feel Sick & Tired

Plus, how one woman got quick relief after making a few diet changes

Bothered by bloat, nausea, headaches and fatigue? You could be sensitive to histamine, a compound commonly found in foods and made naturally by the body. Research suggests a deficiency in an enzyme called diamine oxidase is the culprit in more than 70% of histamine sensitivity cases. Luckily, the re-energizing remedy is easy! Keep reading to learn more about histamine sensitivity and how one woman overcame it and restored her health!

How DAO deficits trigger histamine sensitivity

“Best known as an immune-system chemical, histamine is produced in response to an allergen. It triggers inflammation to let the body know it’s under attack,” explains Amy Myers, MD, author of The Autoimmune Solution. “But when histamine builds up in the body, fatigue, anxiety and allergy-like symptoms set in.”

For many women who suffer from histamine intolerance, the cause of this buildup is a shortage of diamine oxidase (DAO). The enzyme breaks down excess histamine in the gut. And in an International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology study, 71% of patients with histamine intolerance were low in DAO.

What causes DAO to dip?

Enterocytes, specialized cells that line the intestines, secrete diamine oxidase. And while Swedish research suggests production of the enzyme wanes naturally over time, the following factors also contribute to diamine oxidase shortfalls and histamine sensitivity:

Genetic differences play a role

Up to 75% of women with histamine intolerance harbor genetic variations that lead to DAO deficiency, according to a study in the journal Biomedicine. Experts explain that variations in a gene known as AO1C can alter the structure and function of diamine oxidase. That reduces its ability to break down histamine.

Digestive damage lowers DAO levels

Digestive disorders can damage the enterocytes that release diamine oxidase, reducing levels of the enzyme. So say researchers reporting in the journal Nutrients, who note diamine oxidase deficits have been linked to Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Plus, findings in the Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology suggest inflammatory damage caused by imbalances in gut bacteria impairs diamine oxidase output.

Medications can blunt DAO activity

Up to 20% of us take drugs that inhibit the action of DAO, per a report in the journal Agents and Actions. Among the common offenders: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs); antibiotics, antidepressants and the acid-suppressor cimetidine.

Related: Top Psychiatrist Says Saffron Works Better Than Antidepressants (Really!)

How to tell if you have histamine intolerance

Some doctors diagnose histamine intolerance with tests that measure histamine and diamine oxidase activity in blood. But there’s no test that accurately determines diamine oxidase activity in the gut. Fortunately, symptoms can yield valuable clues. So, if you suffer from the following, histamine intolerance could be the culprit:

  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Belching
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nasal congestion
  • Skin rashes

How to combat histamine sensitivity

A few simple strategies can help you get relief:

Consider supplements

Dr. Myers advises taking a diamine oxidase supplement (like Histazyme, buy on Amazon, $71.97 for 60 capsules) 15 minutes before meals. And Jill Carnahan, MD, advises eating wild-caught salmon several times a week. She also advises cooking with olive oil, since fatty acids in the foods boost DAO. In fact, a study found olive oil’s oleic acid increased intestinal release of the enzyme by 340%.

Steer clear of histamine-boosting foods

Avoid foods like red wine, aged meat and cheeses, tomatoes and anything with monosodium glutamate (MSG) for six weeks, advises medical nutritionist Ronald Hoffman, MD. (For an app that helps you identify foods high in histamine, download Food Intolerances.) Symptoms should ease in as little as a week. After a month, you can slowly reintroduce foods to see which ones trigger symptoms.

Related: The Best At-Home Tests for Underlying Food Sensitivity

Add the ‘apple supplement’

A compound called quercetin found in apples an onions has a powerful antihistamine action. In a Journal of Pharmacotherapy study, it inhibited mast cells’ histamine release by up to 97%. Dr. Hoffman advises taking 2 capsules (250 to 300 mg each) per day; increase to up to 6 if needed for relief. Also smart: Supplement with 500 mg of vitamin C three times daily. Findings in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition reveal taking the nutrient significantly lowers histamine levels within four weeks.

Related: Quercetin: MD Says It’s Key To Lowering Blood Pressure + Cholesterol

Histamine overload success story: Jamie Pirtle, 55

Jamie Pirtle
Jamie PirtleStewart Cohen Pictures

Hopefully, no one thinks I’m an oddball for standing, Jamie Pirtle thought to herself in the middle of a work meeting. “I feared I’d nod off — again — if I sat in a comfortable chair,” she recalls. “So I simply didn’t allow myself to sit.”

Jamie was barely getting by

“I had been working in corporate management, and brain fog and loss of concentration started affecting my job. I always prided myself on doing my best, but I was no longer performing at my usual level due to the relentless exhaustion. I found myself spacing out and feeling like I was nodding off. I was always asking myself, What was I in the middle of? as I fought to stay awake.

“My tiredness was the result of sleeplessness. Nearly every night, I would wake between 2 and 3 AM and lay awake for hours, watching as the morning light crept into my room, indicating it was time to drag myself from bed.

“It was so frustrating. If I stayed in bed, I would toss and turn, so I finally started getting up and reading or catching up on email or social media. Sometimes, I’d fall back asleep at 5:30 am but the alarm would go off at 6.

Jamie’s fatigue impacted every aspect of her life

“I started scheduling my days around naps in my office, and I kept a mini trampoline beside my computer to hop on to keep me alert when a nap was impossible. The exhaustion made me moody, and I found myself getting frustrated with people quicker than usual.

“My personal life suffered too. I was always making excuses that I didn’t feel well when canceling plans with friends. My husband, Mike, never complained that I wasn’t able to stay awake past an early dinner or take a walk together, but my self-induced guilt and frustration became tough to live with. And I felt like I was totally ignoring my adult children instead of sharing in their lives and accomplishments.

“I began feeling depressed, which led to deep concern that my sleep issues were taking over my life. I have to make a change, I told myself one morning last summer.

How Jamie figured out the problem

“I was sick of feeling tired all the time, so I finally saw my doctor to discuss my sleep troubles. I explained my hesitation to take sleep medicines due to potential side effects and told her I hoped to find natural treatment options for my inability to stay asleep.

“My doctor listened with great interest when I explained I regularly woke between 2 and 3 am every night. She explained that waking up in the middle of the night was a symptom of an overproduction of histamine in the body. I learned that histamine is a compound stored in the body’s cells. When released, it can help fight infections or heal injuries. It’s also part of the body’s sleep/wake cycle and is released around 2 or 3 am every night, as part of the natural circadian rhythm. But too much histamine in the body can cause the middle-of-thenight wake-ups I was experiencing.

“She suggested I have a urine test to measure my histamine levels. When the test confirmed her suspicion, I was elated! I finally had a reason for my tiredness-and an easy solution.

“All the pieces fell into place as the health coach in the doctor’s office helped me understand what was going on. She explained that in addition to being produced in the body, histamine is also found in foods like chocolate, avocados, spinach, aged cheese, and processed meats, and that I shouldn’t eat these foods after lunch, to allow my body enough time to clear any excess histamine in time to get a good night’s sleep. She said my habit of sharing a few chunks of cheese with my husband when we would make dinner and my love of a bite or two of dark chocolate for dessert were triggering histamine overproduction.

How Jamie got relief — fast!

“I made the histamine diet changes immediately, and less than a week later, I was thrilled to wake up feeling refreshed because I slept soundly all night. As a result, my brain fog and fatigue cleared up almost instantly and my mood improved dramatically.

“The diet changes were tough at first, but I was thrilled to learn I didn’t have to give up foods I love, I just had to adjust when I ate them.

“No longer being tired all day has had a huge impact on my ability to think on my feet and have the energy I need to make it through the day. And the impact the health coach had on my life moved me to start a new career as a certified health coach and my business, Today, I feel better than I’ve ever felt. I have the energy I did when I was a teenager — all thanks to an easy histamine diet change!”

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First for Women.

For more on sneaky food intolerances, keep reading:

Top MD: Nearly 50% of Us Have Some Type of Gluten Sensitivity and Fatigue Is a Top Symptom

After 15 Years of GI Issues, I Found The Sneaky Culprit—Now I Feel Better Than Ever”

A Little-Known Food Allergy Is Making Women Tired & 42% Of Doctors Have Never Heard Of It

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