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Do you have a sensitivity to pollen in the air at various times of the year? How about skin reactions to certain foods or things you touch that can respond to claritine or other antihistamine medications? Watery eyes, runny nose or post nasal drip? Do you have a weak stomach? Maybe a history of panic attacks, depression or mental fatigue? If so, you might have a sensitivity to (or build up of) Histamine – a chemical naturally produced by the body, and consumed in foods. The problem is often a genetic limitation in processing and excreting histamine from the body, which is often linked to a process called under methylation. Undermethylation and its many consequences can cause a wide variety of symptoms in different people.
“Methylation” is a process where chemicals called “methyl groups” are added to various elements of DNA, proteins and other molecules to help keep them in good working condition.
Examples of the many processes in which methylation plays an important role are:
When you lack methyl groups, DNA will fail to maintain and repair itself and a range of illnesses, including cancer can result. Methyl groups are derived from organic compounds such as proteins when they are broken down in the stomach by the acid you produce. If your stomach acid is depleted or its production is inhibited, then you will end up with inadequate methylation. Methyl groups can also be depleted from your body through being stripped out of your circulation by consuming a diet comprised of the 3 “white deaths”—white sugar, white flour, and white salt, as well as processed oils and fats, industrial pollutants, pesticides, junk food, soft drinks and stress.
Undermethylation also has a tendency toward low levels of calcium, magnesium, methionine and B6, and an excess of folic acid, so dietary changes and correct supplementation are the key to correcting undermethylation.
Methylation seems to be controlled by the appropriate expression of the gene that produces an enzyme called Methylene TetraHydroFolate Reductase (MTHFR). The MTHFR enzyme is responsible for the proper activation utilisation of the folic acid (vitamin B9) we derive from food. Mutations of this gene can interfere with normal methylation and B9 activation.
Histamine is a neurotransmitter (a chemical that conveys messages between cells of the nervous system) and is involved in the regulation of stomach (gastric) acid, the permeability of blood vessels, muscle contraction, and brain function. It is also essential in defending the body against invasion by potentially disease-causing agents such as bacteria, viruses and other foreign bodies. When the immune system is activated in response to foreign material entering the body, histamine is the first “defense chemical”, or more correctly, inflammatory mediator released in the process called inflammation. Histamine is always present when inflammation occurs, and excess histamine will result in symptoms that resemble inflammation.
Histamine is produced by the body and requires methylation to be metabolised and excreted correctly. If the histamine is “undermethylated”, it can begin to build up in the system. When blood contains high levels of histamine (known as histadelia), the excess histamine is stored in white blood cells within the skin, lungs and stomach and brain neurons.
Everyone has a level of histamine that they tolerate without symptoms. Exceeding that level can result in symptoms. Even healthy persons may develop severe headache, or flushing as a result of consuming massive amounts of histamine in a meal, but people with genetic predisposition can experience reactions even at low doses. This can also include people with various abnormal physiological conditions, hormone changes, especially in women at various stages in the menstrual cycle and at menopause. Medications can reduce the tolerance threshold of any individual. People with a low tolerance threshold are designated “histamine intolerant”. Clinically their symptoms can often resemble those people with high levels of Histamine (histadelia).
Generally, high levels of histamine, or sensitivity to even moderate amounts of histamine can lead to symptoms such as:
High levels of histamines in brain tissue can in turn result in a decreased formation and low levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine – the chemicals responsible for making us feel good. People suffering from histadelia can often show symptoms of depression due to low serotonin levels. Other serotonin-dopamine depletion symptoms can include:
The most practical way to check for problems in methylation is to have your doctor refer you for a blood test that checks for MTHFR gene mutation: particularly C677T and A1298C. Your doctor will be able to determine if the results are likely to be significant for your symptoms. You can also have dermatological allergy testing which can also indicate histamine sensitivity.
The most common approach is to take a supplement such as methylfolate. However some people react poorly to this so it is important to talk to your doctor or a naturopath who can guide you through a supplement regime. There are also dietary modifications that can help. For example:
Supplements for Undermethylation and/or histamine excess
If you suspect that undermethylation is your problem, taking a nutritional approach is necessary to improve your biochemistry. Dr. Allan or our resident naturopath can give you more advice on a specific management strategy and what vitamins and other supplements you should use.