So you’re probably wondering what histamines are, and what they have to do with your period right? We’re all familiar with antihistamines – those medications that stop the “itchy, sneezy, watery eyes” situations that come up mostly during allergy season or when we are allergic to another substance (other than pollen).
Well, histamines are what antihistamines work against!
What are histamines?
Histamines are chemicals that are stored in immune cells known as Mast Cells, and are involved in nerve transmission and immune response regulation. When Mast Cells are triggered, they release histamines, which then trigger those responses we all know so well – itchiness, puffiness, swelling or hives – which are all caused by your immune system.
Mast cells are not the only source of histamine in the body. Histamine can also be produced by bacteria living in the gut. In fact, certain gut bacteria not only produce histamine, but they can also help regulate it and even break it down. This is important so keep reading.
Important to note: Bacteria found in fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and kefir also produce histamine.
Where do you find histamines?
Basically in all the good stuff! 🙂 I’ve noticed most people tend to react most strongly to the fermented foods on this list, but it’s important to know the other food triggers too.
- Fermented, cured, or soured foods, such as yogurt, luncheon meat, pickles, and sour cream
- Aged cheeses, such as cheddar and parmesan, and smoked fish
- Citrus fruit and dried fruits such as apricots and raisins
- Alcoholic beverages, especially wine and beer
- Certain nuts, including walnuts, peanuts, and cashews
- Avocados, eggplant, spinach, tomatoes and chocolate
What is Histamine Intolerance?
When a person has a histamine sensitivity or intolerance, certain foods or environmental stimulants can cause a host of symptoms.
Symptoms of Histamine Intolerance:
- itching and hives
- headaches and migraines
- runny nose or bloody nose
- skin issues like acne and eczema
- menstrual cramps, and
- difficulty sleeping (hint: this is why antihistamines make you sleepy)
While genetics and food allergies certainly play a role in histamine sensitivity, gut dysbiosis makes things much worse. People with leaky gut or small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), or some other type of gut bacterial imbalance are much more prone to histamine sensitivity.
Histamine And Progesterone
Many women are in a lower progesterone state. This includes those with PCOS, as well as those who are having anovulatory cycles or not ovulating consistently. This is because the act of ovulation triggers progesterone production from the little follicle the egg was released from.
Keep this in mind as you read the next two paragraphs…
We have a gene called the DAO gene that creates the DAO enzyme. If there are genetic variants on this gene, you may not make the DAO enzyme sufficiently. This is important because the DAO enzyme is located in your gut, and it is responsible for breaking down histamine contained in the food you eat.
Unfortunately, SIBO, candida and parasites, leaky gut, inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, and too many high histamine foods and alcohol, can also cause the DAO enzyme to not work so well.
So here’s the connection to progesterone – the DAO enzyme function is naturally supported by progesterone. Estrogen has the opposite effect – it down-regulates the DAO enzyme.
This is why women with PCOS or inconsistent ovulation may have more histamine issues than women who are regularly ovulating and producing sufficient progesterone.
Histamine and Estrogen
Estrogen is an immune system stimulator. It actually triggers the release of histamine from the mast cells in the ovaries and uterus. The more unopposed estrogen we have roaming around our body, the more histamines are produced. And unfortunately, the more histamines we have, the more estrogen is produced by the ovaries.
Ugh, and around and around we go in this cycle.
The estrogen connection is why women may feel really terrible at ovulation (when estrogen is high) and notice an improvement in their histamine-related problems during the second half of their cycle when estrogen drops and progesterone rises. It’s frustrating for many women because they think they’re supposed to feel amazing at this time of the month, and instead they are plagued by headaches, fatigue, bloating, itching, insomnia, irritability and gut issues.
Is this you? Please share in the comments below!
It’s almost like PMS during ovulation. And while the symptoms improve for many women in the second half of their cycle (when progesterone is high), they come back as progesterone drops towards the end of the cycle. And hello PMS symptoms all over again!
Histamine, Menstrual Cramps & Abnormal Uterine Bleeding
You know how I just mentioned that histamines are released by mast cells in the uterus? Well, they play a role in uterine muscle contractions during menstruation and also during birth. (1) Mast cells also produce prostaglandins, which play a key role in uterine contractions.(2)
Therefore, higher numbers of mast cells and more mast cell activity at menstruation could be a trigger for more period pain.
This is another reason to consider histamine intolerance if you’re experiencing cramps and have tried implementing other measures to address them – change in diet, supplements, exercise and physical work (pelvic physical therapy, abdominal massage therapy or vaginal steaming).
In addition, there is some evidence that excessive uterine bleeding is associated with histamine release due to the simultaneous release of heparin and heparin-like anti-coagulants. Heparin is a blood thinner, which prevents blood clotting, and higher levels due to higher mast cell activity could cause heavier bleeding. (3)
What to do if you have a histamine intolerance
Ultimately, histamine intolerance and/or Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) is often driven by immune dysregulation, and this is most often driven by underlying gut problems. Remember, histamine can also be produced by certain bacteria living in the gut, while other bacteria can break it down.
This is particularly important in conditions like endometriosis. I discuss the link between endometriosis and mast cell/histamine problems in this post.
Solutions for Histamine Intolerance:
#1. Avoid foods high in histamines
First, I suggest avoiding the foods below for just 2-4 weeks to see if there is improvement in symptoms. This is restrictive but I promise you’ll see results pretty quickly and you’ll know whether this might be an issue for you.
- Fermented, cured, or soured foods, such as yogurt, deli meat, pickles, and sour cream
- Aged cheeses, such as cheddar and parmesan
- Smoked or canned fish
- Dried fruits such as apricots and raisins
- Alcoholic beverages, especially wine and beer
- Certain nuts, including walnuts, peanuts, and cashews
- Avocados, eggplant, spinach, tomatoes and chocolate
#2. See a doctor/practitioner with a specialty in gut health
As I’ve said repeatedly, histamine intolerance is not an isolated condition. It is driven by multiple factors – immune system dysregulation, gut dysbiosis and inflammation, estrogen/progesterone imbalance. When is anything ever isolated? LOL So I recommend working with a functional medicine doctor or naturopathic doctor, or a practitioner who is trained in identifying and treating gut-related conditions, to address any underlying gut issues and infections, and other contributing factors to your symptoms.
#3. Supplement with Quercetin
I am a big fan of Quercetin, a flavonoid which works like an all natural anti-histamine – stabilizing the effects of histamines released from mast cells. It also doubles as a leaky gut and pain reliever. There are lots of quercetin options available but I’ve created a Histamine Help Supplement Protocol in my supplement dispensary with my recommendations. You’ll have to create an account to see the protocol. You’ll get 15% off for every order and free shipping on orders over $50. Follow the directions on the label and remember, this is not a root cause solution – you’ve gotta figure out why your immune system is acting this way! I also like
Can’t I just take an antihistamine?
You could, but I do not recommend doing that long term! Quercetin is a better bet than antihistamines because they can disrupt your cervical fluid production, causing less fertile quality cervical fluid. This is because antihistamines are mean’t to “dry out” your bodily fluids (like phlegm!). There are other side effects as well, so as I said, longterm use is a bad idea.
#4. Avoid probiotics with strains that increase histamine in the gut
Stay away from probiotics that contain strains that produce histamine in the gut. And use a probiotic that is “histamine friendly”. I use and recommend Seeking Health Probiota HistaminX which contains specific Bifido strains that help break down histamine in the gut.
You’ll find it in my Histamine Help Supplement Protocol in my dispensary.
#5. Try Histamine Block or Histamine Block Plus by Seeking Health
This amazing product contains DAO, the enzyme that is responsible for breaking down histamine ingested into the body. In addition to DAO, Histamine Block Plus contains B vitamins (particularly B6 which supports DAO activity) and other nutrients which further help support breakdown of histamine in the body. I use both myself and recommend them to clients in conjunction with Probiota HistaminX.
You’ll find these products and so many more recommended supplements in my Fix Your Period Supplement Dispensary. As stated above, I have created a Histamine Help protocol for those with histamine problems and it includes all of the above supplement recommendations at 15% off!
#6. Address anovulatory cycles so you can produce more progesterone
If you’re not ovulating or ovulating inconsistently, look into why that is and start to take action. There are lots of reasons for anovulation or inconsistent ovulation, and it’s important to address them so you can ovulate regularly and produce more progesterone. This will help support DAO enzyme function. I explain this in detail in the first two chapters of my book Fix Your Period.
#7. Support your body’s estrogen detoxification pathways
I’ve said this sooo many times but I’ll say it again. Good gut and liver function are crucial for supporting estrogen detoxification from the body. Estrogen is a use it and lose it hormone, which means you wanna use it and then get rid of it so it doesn’t recirculate. See Week 4 Liver Detoxification in my book Fix Your Period.
Hopefully implementing these solutions helps improve your histamine issues, which will go far to help alleviate the menstrual cycle problems you’re experiencing!
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12369287, https://academic.oup.com/biolreprod/article/59/3/693/2741059
- https://www.ejog.org/article/0028-2243(91)90057-R/pdf, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6243853/
20 thoughts on “Histamine Intolerance and your period”
I have histamine intolerance and only now made a link with the strong menstrual pain I’ve had ever since my period started. Thank you for the great article.
I’ve tried to understand and balance the histamine intolerance for many years and the DAO enzyme supplements are a life-saver! I can even drink a little bit of red wine again if I take 1-2 enzymes per glass. But must take them before drinking, not after. Another important thing to mention: the histamine symptoms get worse with dehydration so drinking plenty of water reduces the symptoms a lot too. Be careful with DAO blockers like green tea also: my symptoms are: feeling fevery, hot flushes while feeling cold, exhaustion, red eyes, anxiety, heart palpitations (sometimes), inability to sleep/ relax. Any foods with preservatives in them cause problems and stop me sleeping, therefore eating any packaged foods after 4pm causes insomnia for me. Heart palpitations can be calmed with motherwort tincture and racing/worried mind (which seems to get worse on histamine) can be calmed with passionflower tincture/tea. Those two tinctures help me sleep if I eat after 4pm. Hope this is helpful for some people and I hope we all find the actual underlying cause one day!
Excellent article! I am 55 and had my last menstrual cycle in November 2017, so almost 2 years now. I know after one year is considered menopausal. But a couple days ago out of the blue, I actually had some light-medium spotting. It lasted 2.5 days. Extremely light the first day, minimal the second day, and a bit more than minimal early this morning. Like how I used to spot before my cycle would begin in the past. It was quite unsettling. I have never experienced this before. However, at the same time, my dairy intake went up. From raw cheese to feta, mozzarella, kefir, cottage cheese, and other histamine sources on the list such as avocados and cabbage. I also started taking 1 teaspoon of a collagen supplement (powder) every other day. I have definitely noticed histamine reactions lately, too – never before, until I started adding dairy for the calcium. I now just connected everything. I have been experiencing sinus issues, minor itchy skin bumps/reactions, and some intestinal issues. This is new for me. I am thinking all this is connected. Can you speak to this, please? Have you ever heard of histamine issues causing spotting in a woman who was post menopausal? It makes sense with all of the increased progesterone. Thank you in advance! ?
Hey Nicole! This is SO fascinating. Thank you! I just listened to the podcast with Courtney Titus as well. I found out through hormone testing that I’m a bit low in progesterone / estrogen dominant. I recently started taking DIM (all month) and Vitex (luteal phase) at the recommendation of my naturopath, but I’m still experiencing painful period cramps and acne. I’m so interested to see if these are histamine related. I definitely get stuffy when I drink red wine and sometimes with other alcohol as well (though I don’t have too much anymore), but I’m curious about the other foods on the list. *My question is, if I don’t have an immediate reaction to say avocado or sauerkraut (which I eat often and feel fine after), could I still in fact be histamine intolerant to these types of foods and I’m just only experiencing it through cramps/acne?
One more question I forgot 🙂
Are histamines influenced externally as well? For example a citrus face cleanser?
Thank you for addressing this connection! I discovered a few years ago that I have a genetic mutation that inhibits the breakdown of amines which results in histamine intolerance symptoms. I think back and can see my aversion to certain high histamine foods growing up but was able to eat pretty normally. As a young woman, I went on the pill for about seven years and then decided to go off of it for a period of time. Almost immediately, I began reacting to all sorts of foods that never previously bothered me. Four years and endless testing later, I found an allergist who tested me for food allergies and the skin prick test showed I was allergic to 33 of 72. I went on an elimination diet and my whole body and brain changed for the better. It was miraculous. In my mid-30’s I began having terribly painful periods. The cramps were worse than the contractions I had with my son five years later! At that same time, my ovulation became difficult as well – bloating, water weight gain, cramping and worst of all, the safe foods I was eating seemed to be giving me trouble but only for a few days during that time! I now know that that was due to the hormonal fluctuations and increased histamine. When I got pregnant with my one and only it was wonderful! My mood was so stable and I was able to expand my diet just a bit. When my period started up again after breastfeeding for nine months, I went right back to the old painful menses. For the last few years, though, I have a new problem – super heavy bleeding with several huge clots each cycle which has caused anemia. I searched for histamine intolerance and heavy periods and found your site. Looks like I have to say goodbye to chocolate. I am praying that will normalize everything. I am going to see an OBGYN soon but I am afraid they’ll just want to put me on birth control. Not sure that’s safe or wise at my age since I’m 47 and clearly prone to clotting. I’m going to clean up my diet and try to get away from Naproxen and Ibuprofen which I’ve needed to get me through the terrible cramping.
Hi Mindy, My 15 yr old daughter is histamine intolerant as well and I am now trying to find some relief for her painful periods. When she found out that chocolate is high histamine due to the fact that it is fermented there were tears. I did some research and found non-fermented cacao powder. A lifesaver!! She has zero problems with it. We get it from Wildly Organic. I hope this helps…no one should have to give up chocolate!
When I was 28 I noticed that I get itchy all over my body just before I get my period. It had never happened before then. I thought it was psychosomatic from work stress.
A year later, I was diagnosed with PCOS. I was on contraceptive pills for 6 months to treat the PCOS & during that time, I didn’t have any itching. Now that I’ve stopped the meds, the itching is back.
This article just explained my pre-period itching & insomnia, when no gynecologist ever did, so thank you for that.
I am going to try avoiding the foods on the list you provided to see if things get better.
Thank you again.
Actually, it wasn’t the PCOS meds. It was the hormone balancing PMS meds I was taking simultaneously that took away the itching. Stopped contraceptive 1st & the hormone balance pills 2 months later & itching didn’t reoccur till I stopped the 2nd pill.
I love these posts and I really think this is the issue I have ! Always thought I broke out on my period but realize now it’s right before or ovulation time and after that it’s the worst times . I also was dealing with major histamine hive reactions and could never put the pieces together ! I also was “eating healthy for my gut” trying to eat sourkrout, avacado, tomatoes , and breaking out worse ! So I really think my hormone issues are deeply connected with this estrogen / histamine / gut issues ! Would you recommend further testing the gut to figure out how to get a better hole on it?
I’ve got histamine intolerance and have had it since I was 16, I’m 42 now.
I’ve never noticed a pattern between my breakouts and flushing etc (to me it just happens all the time), but I will definitely start marking these down on a calendar now.
I’ve had various types of cortisol tests over the years, which never said that my cortisol was high, yet I bled usually after exercising (mid-cycle) and have always thought this was histamine-cortisol conversion, due to my body being stressed by exercise etc.
Thanks for your comment. I am curious if you notice a connection to your cycle. The only cortisol test I really trust is the DUTCH test because it shows cortisol and cortisone production and how fast our bodies are using cortisol. So this is something you may want to consider if you’re interested 🙂
I love this post! I’ve always been suffering from histamine related symptoms. For the past couple years I’ve been marking them down on my calendar and have noticed I get more symptoms when I’m ovulating! When I start seeing hives on my skin it’s while my estrogen is high! Everyone else’s I’ve talked to thinks I’m crazy but this post proved my findings 🙂
It sure did!! 🙂 We know our bodies best.
This isn’t so much about histamine as it is about progesterone… on the Pill, you produce NO progesterone because your body’s reproductive system gets completely shut down. When you come off the pill, but you are still not ovulating, can your body still produce progesterone in little amounts even without ovulation as your hormones are getting shifted around? Or is ovulation the only way your body makes progesterone at all? Thanks 🙂
Ovulation isn’t the only way you make progesterone but it is the way you make most of your progesterone. There is a small amount made in the body’s attempt to ovulate, which is why you may see a rise in temp before ovulation actually happens (like 1-2 days before). Also, the adrenals make progesterone too. Hope this helps! 🙂
Thank you for the reply 🙂
This is really interesting. I’ve had estrogen dominance for years, hand in hand with histamine intolerance…. but here’s the thing, the histamine intolerance is ALWAYS only in the second half of my cycle, my luteal phase… and my progesterone levels are usually normal to low, but my estrogen is quite high….. I’ve managing things lightly for years from a histamine perspective but it’s only now that a lot more information is coming out about the connections between the two. I found it interesting that you mentioned histamine and uterine contractions and wonder if histamine overload might have had something to do with any of my many early pregnancy losses?
SO interesting about the pregnancy losses. That I don’t know, but it would make sense that there’s a correlation. As for your second half symptoms, it makes sense that you’d experience the symptoms then if you are estrogen dominant/progesterone deficient. I think most women experience it in the first half of their cycle but it’s not to say that some don’t have symptoms in the second half of their cycle. Hope this helps!
Mine also gets way worse in the second half. I can eat almost anything the first 14-15 days, and then I have to really start cutting back on certain things, drinking more water, taking more supplements. It doesn’t make sense to me that women would experience this in the first half as that is when our hormones are most balanced.
Mine is always worse the second half as well. It doesn’t make sense to me that women would be experiencing it during the first half. This makes me wonder if it has to do with a drop in serotonin at this time that a lot of women experience especially if they have gut issues. There is a correlation between serotonin and histamine intolerance. I have to up my dose of 5-htp on the second half of my period along with water, quercetin and other supplements in order to prevent really bad reactions.