Have you ever had stomach cramps, headache, nausea and flushing after a meal and wondered, "Is it something I ate?"
Sensitivities or reactions to food are increasingly common. They can be challenging to deal with, because they can cause a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms that are often difficult to pinpoint.
The two main types of food reactions are allergies and intolerances. Food allergies involve an immune system reaction to a particular food or component of food, such as the protein in peanuts, eggs or dairy. The immune system reacts inappropriately when faced with the food allergen and mounts a reaction, which can range from minor rash or hives to life threatening anaphylaxis.
Food intolerances typically originate in the digestive system and occur when your body can’t properly break down a component of a food either due to an enzyme deficiency, sensitivity or reaction to a component of a food. Two of the most widely known food intolerances are reactions to gluten -- a component of wheat, rye and barley -- and lactose -- sugar present in dairy products. There is another type of food intolerance, which is common and insidious yet often goes undiagnosed, and that is histamine intolerance.
Histamine is a chemical naturally present in the body that is involved in immune system reactions, digestion and also for relaying messages in the brain. It is infamous for its role in food and seasonal allergies. It alerts the immune system of a potential threat (such as a virus or allergen) and triggers an inflammatory response: blood vessels dilate and there is swelling of tissues, runny nose, and watery eyes. In more serious reactions (anaphylaxis) the bronchi in the lungs tighten causing difficulty breathing. Histamine receptors in the gut cause increased secretion of acid in the stomach and this causes stomach pain and heartburn and reflux.
Histamine is also present in a wide range of foods and beverages including fermented foods (beer, wine, aged cheese, sauerkraut and yogurt) as well as smoked meats, fish, eggplant, figs, prunes and citrus fruit.
Normally, histamine levels are kept in check by an enzyme called diamine oxidase or DAO, which helps the body break down and process histamine. However, if there is not enough DAO available, then histamine levels remain high and a person can suffer with symptoms of elevated histamine, including headache, dizziness, hives, flushing, racing heart, anxiety, abdominal pain and watery eyes.
DAO levels can be affected by a number of factors. As we age, there is less DAO available, so it is not surprising that people start to notice later in life that they react differently to wine or a beer and foods high in histamine. DAO levels are also depleted in those with gastrointestinal diseases such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease and leaky gut. There are also medications that can block DAO, such as certain anti-arrhythmic drugs, anti-inflammatories, antidepressants and antihistamines.
If you are suffering with a histamine intolerance or DAO deficiency, you might be wondering if there is any solution other than giving up your favorite foods and beverages. In recent years DAO enzymes have become available in supplement form. When taken prior to consuming foods and beverages rich in histamine, a supplement of DAO enzymes can assist the body’s ability to break down histamine and can greatly improve the symptoms of histamine intolerance.
The only food-grade form of DAO enzymes available in North America is called Umbrellux DAO. The supplement should be taken 15 to 20 minutes before a meal that is high in histamine. It works quickly, so most people notice a benefit right away. You can take a self-evaluation survey to see if you may have a DAO deficiency. For more information on DAO deficiencies visit: www.daodeficiency.org
In addition to taking a DAO supplement, there are other strategies that can help those struggling with histamine intolerance. Supplements of vitamins B6 and C can help, because these nutrients are required for proper DAO activity. Probiotics can also help by improving microflora levels in the gut and aiding digestive function.