Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wisdom Wednesday: Inflammation – Part 2

Histamine is the fourth pathway of inflammation we will examine. Cells generally release histamine as an immune response to allergens. The sinus congestion, running nose, and itchy eyes associated with our spring bloom is an all too common example. However, some people will mount a histamine response to a musculoskeletal problem, like tendonitis of the shoulder. If you react violently to insect bites or stings, your body produces a lot of histamine.

OTC (over the counter) anti-histamines are very popular. Claritin sales top 2 billion dollars a year in the US alone. It seems we will do anything to alleviate symptoms when we don’t feel well.

Initially, like all inflammatory chemicals, histamine serves a purpose. It rushes to the site of injury, stimulating an immune response. The mucous production with sinus allergies is necessary to remove the offending allergen from the nasal passages. However, when the histamine response is excessive or prolonged, the effects can be severe, even life threatening. Everyone knows someone who carries an EpiPen to inject epinephrine in case of a bee sting.

For most of us, excess histamine is just a nuisance. So we reach for the Benadryl, Dristan, or Claritin.

The key to controlling histamine is two-fold. First, try to identify and eliminate the offender. Although it is difficult to avoid airborne allergens, most of us have underlying food sensitivities that enhance or even activate the airborne offenders. The four most common food sensitivities, in order are wheat (including gluten), dairy, soy, and corn.

These are the most commonly eaten foods today. They are consumed by most of us on a daily basis. That constant exposure eventually stimulates an immune response and histamine production is the end result. Just pick any box of food off the shelf in your pantry. Chances are it contains more than one of these foods, maybe even all four.

Gluten is only one of many proteins in wheat. However, during the 1950’s and 60’s we began to cross-bred various strains of wheat. The goal was to produce wheat that had a shorter, thicker stock, so it would not fall to the ground with a heavy rain. They also wanted a grain that was insect and drought resistant. After 10 years of cross-breeding, totally new strains of wheat evolved that contained genetic material not found in any of the preceding generations. This all occurred prior to the advent of GMO (genetic modified) food. The net effect was to increase the gluten content by 400%. Today, scientists believe that everyone has food sensitivity to gluten. Some of us just produce more histamine as a result of the stimulation to the immune system.

The second key is to modulate the histamine response. The B vitamins are very important is this regard. Vitamin B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacinamide), folic acid, B6, and B12 all have roles in the histamine pathways. A deficiency of any of these factors can result in an overt histamine response rather than a subtle reaction.

If you suffer from excessive histamine production, consider eliminating wheat. Give it 3 weeks, if you don’t feel better, try dairy, then soy, then corn. Although 3 weeks is often enough time to reduce antibody activity, it can take as long as 3 months to remove all the immune complexes stimulated by exposure to these foods.

Please review my Wisdom Wednesday blogs on folic acid, B6 and B12 for information on how to determine if you are deficient in these factors.

Finally, you can always consult a qualified nutritionist who will help you determine if you have food sensitivities and/or vitamin deficiencies that contribute to excess histamine production.