Estrogen and Histamine: The Surprising Connection

Estrogen and Histamine: The Surprising Connection That Could Explain Your Symptoms


Estrogen and histamine are two seemingly unrelated health topics that can wreak havoc when out of balance. Today we are going to dive into just how interrelated hormones, like estrogen, and histamines are. It may surprise you to learn just how interconnected they are! 


Understanding Estrogen

The term estrogen dominance is often used to describe a high estrogen state. Symptoms of elevated estrogen include bloating, irregular menstrual cycles, increased premenstrual syndrome (PMS), mood swings, weight gain, hair loss, headaches, fatigue, memory issues, and breast tenderness. 

Certain situations can lead to high levels of estrogen like environmental xenoestrogen exposure, constipation, and higher amounts of adipose tissue. More often than not, cases of estrogen dominance are actually situations of low progesterone. When progesterone is low, estrogen is unopposed, and we can begin to experience these high estrogen effects.

Hormone imbalances, specifically this altered ratio of estrogen to progesterone, can both exacerbate and contribute to the development of histamine issues, which can manifest in a wide variety of symptoms. Let’s explore the connection between hormones and histamine!


Understanding Histamine Intolerance

Histamines are chemical signals produced by a type of immune cell called mast cells, which are present in all types of body tissues.

While you probably associate histamines with an allergic response, they are actually incredibly important for regulating a variety of body functions, such as cell communication in the brain, regulating gut function, cognitive function, and our sleep-wake cycles.

Problems can arise when there is either too much histamine built up in the body from excess exposure, or when the body isn’t able to effectively break down and eliminate histamine. This is known as histamine intolerance. The enzyme responsible for histamine breakdown is called diamine oxidase (DAO) and our liver is responsible for elimination.

Histamines operate on a positive feedback loop, meaning that the more histamine present triggers increased production of histamine. 

We can experience histamine issues to varying degrees. Remember that histamine intolerance is the impaired ability to break down histamine, causing it to build up and trigger additional histamine production. Mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), on the other hand, is a condition in which mast cells are constantly activated and release too many immune mediating chemicals, histamine being one of them.

Because both the immune and nervous systems are involved, the effects of histamine issues can span across all body systems. For some this may manifest as seemingly random rashes or allergic reactions and nasal congestion. It may also look like increased heart rate, gut issues, neck pain, dizziness, headaches, insomnia, and heat or exercise intolerance. 

Histamine intolerance can develop from any exposures that activate the immune system, such as viral infections and mold or mycotoxin exposure. Symptoms of histamine issues are often cyclical, and may be triggered by a variety of stressors, such as temperature changes, high histamine foods, excessive exercise, illness, and hormonal fluctuations, to name a few.


Connecting Hormones and Histamine

We can’t discuss histamine without exploring the effect of hormones. Estrogen levels and histamine levels go hand in hand. When estrogen rises, for example toward the end of the menstrual cycle and during ovulation, histamine also rises. And vice versa, elevated histamine levels stimulate estrogen production. 

The effects of estrogen are not just limited to estrogen made from our body. But environmental and endocrine disrupting chemicals, such as xenoestrogens, have also been found to activate mast cells and contribute to allergic conditions such as asthma by stimulating a histamine response. 

Estrogen and progesterone are antagonistic hormones, and the balance between the two is critical for thriving reproductive health. We can see in the case of histamine issues how alterations to the ratio of these hormones affects other body systems. When progesterone levels are low, estrogen is left unopposed. 

The problem of estrogen dominance is usually driven less by a true excess of estrogen, and more so by low levels of progesterone. Too much estrogen not only drives up histamine levels, but it also impairs the activity of the DAO enzyme, which is responsible for breaking down histamines. Conversely, progesterone actually has a stabilizing effect on the mast cells, and helps inhibit excess histamine production. You can see how this creates the perfect storm and a vicious cycle of hormone imbalance and histamine issues. 


Nutrition Strategies to Resolve Estrogen Dominance and Histamine Intolerance


Nutrition Strategies to Support the Balance of Estrogen to Progesterone

As you probably would have guessed, correcting estrogen dominance involves both supporting metabolism, or breakdown, and detoxification of excess estrogen, as well as supporting progesterone production. We can use nutrition strategies to support both of these things! 

Fiber intake is critical to support daily bowel movements and elimination of excess estrogens, other hormones, and waste products. Women should aim to get at the very least 25 grams of fiber per day, from whole food plant-based sources. 

The liver is where hormone metabolism and detoxification takes place. So, ensuring that we are supporting the liver with adequate protein, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, bok choy), sulfur-rich foods (onions and garlic), and bitter foods (arugula, beets, dandelion) are all critical to provide the nutrients needed to stimulate bile and liver enzyme production.

The health of our mitochondria strongly impacts hormone health. Incorporating foods rich in B vitamins, such as beets and leafy greens, as well as anti-inflammatory foods, helps to support mitochondrial function and therefore hormone balance.

To support progesterone production more specifically, it’s crucial to ensure cortisol, our bodies’ main stress hormone, is in check. Elevated cortisol levels not only can promote blood sugar dysregulation and insulin resistance, a primary driver of PCOS, but it can also lower progesterone levels! 

A key way to lower cortisol levels is to ensure you are giving your body enough energy, especially by eating enough carbohydrates, paired with protein and fat to promote optimal blood sugar balance. You’ll also want to make sure you are doing hormone-supportive workouts, to not further drive up cortisol levels.

Vitamin C and vitamin B6 are key nutrients for progesterone production. However, some individuals experiencing histamine issues may notice that vitamin C and vitamin C rich foods, such as citrus fruits, can aggravate their symptoms.


Nutrition Strategies to Reduce Histamine Load and Improve Histamine Tolerance

Lowering histamine load is a critical first step to improve histamine tolerance. We can do so by decreasing foods that are high in histamine, such as fermented foods, vinegar, citrus fruits, bone broth, chocolate, tomatoes, and avocado. It’s worth noting that histamine content also builds up in animal-based proteins once cooked, so you may consider limiting your consumption of leftover meats as you work to decrease your histamine load.

The liver also serves as the primary site of histamine breakdown, making liver support doubly important as it relates to histamine issues and hormone balance. Ensure you are doubling down on the foods mentioned earlier that also support hormone detoxification!

Nettle leaf is a powerful herb that has been shown to stabilize mast cells, helping to lower histamine production and alleviate symptoms. You can experience it’s benefits by having nettle leaf tea or taking it as a supplement. 

DAO can also be taken as a supplement to help increase histamine breakdown. Other supplements that support the immune system can also support histamine issues, such as quercetin, ginger, and vitamin C. However, some individuals notice heightened sensitivity to supplements and may need to first take a more gentle approach. 

Reducing stress is equally important for improving histamine response as it is for hormone balance, given the nervous system’s involvement in our immune response. It’s important to consider psychological stressors as well as biological stressors that may be coming from infections, underfueling, overexercise, poor sleep, etc.


Addressing Underlying Issues that Can Contribute Estrogen and Histamine Issues

Our body systems are intricately interconnected, and there are a variety of underlying factors that can contribute to both estrogen and histamine issues. It’s important to explore these avenues in order to understand and address the root cause or causes of these challenges. 

Imbalances in the gut microbiome can result in the overgrowth of histamine-producing microbes. We have to address this overgrowth in order to lower histamine levels. Imbalances in the gut can also lead to inflammation, which exacerbates our immune system and can further activate our mast cells. 

Low thyroid function has a direct impact on our metabolism, and can effectively lower our speed of digestion, leading to constipation and impaired bile production and liver detoxification. This affects both hormone and histamine breakdown, exacerbating this cycle of dysregulation.

As you can see, hormones and histamine are very closely related, not only in how they impact one another, but also by the factors that can influence them both. It’s important to take into consideration nutrition and lifestyle factors to not only manage symptoms, but get to the root of your hormone and histamine issues.


Next Steps

When addressing histamine it’s important to take a holistic approach that looks at immune system triggers, hormones that impact mast cell stabilization like estrogen and how our body is making and detoxifying histamines through our gut and liver. Forgoing one piece of the equation when treating histamine can lead to incomplete healing and dealing with histamine issues for many years to come. Learn more about how we can support you in our 1:1 coaching program.


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