Histamine Intolerance: When Allergies Get Out of Hand

In this day and age, the food we eat and the lifestyles we lead don’t always leave us feeling so great. Headaches, constipation, lethargy, gas, bloating, etc. are things we’ve all experienced at some point. But nailing down the exact cause of our symptoms can be a real challenge—oftentimes they can signify anything from daily wear and tear to a more serious medical issue. So how do you know which one it is?

The first step towards finding the answer is usually to start the Paleo diet, which keeps from us eating the foods that tend to lead to the annoying symptoms listed above. Many people will find their quality of life transformed after being on the Paleo diet for an appropriate length of time. But if you’ve given the Paleo diet a try and your symptoms remain, it might be time to look at some other explanations for that persistent feeling of illness. One of those explanations is histamine intolerance.

Before I talk about histamine intolerance, I want to say a bit about what histamines are and the purpose they serve. Histamines are chemicals that we come into contact with in a few different ways. The first and most common way is when the body itself releases histamines. This happens any time an allergen triggers the immune system. Once released, the histamines leave us with runny noses, rashes, itchy throats, and the other typical allergy symptoms most of us know all too well. We also come into contact with histamines when 1) we eat foods containing them and 2) certain bacteria in our guts produce them. 

To keep histamine production under control, our bodies produce an enzyme called diamine oxidase (DAO). DAO breaks down these histamines, subduing the allergic reaction. But some people have a deficiency of DAO, which means histamines are allowed to build up inside the body over time. Histamine buildup can lead to a variety of symptoms including migraines, digestive upset (constipation/diarrhea), nausea, and low blood pressure, in addition to all the other allergy symptoms listed above. In other words, you may have what feels like an allergic reaction but in the absence of any allergen at all. We call this histamine intolerance. 

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Histamine intolerance, unfortunately, is often hard to diagnose because most of these symptoms (runny nose, headache, constipation, etc.) are nothing out of the ordinary. However there is at least one give-away to the histamine intolerant—they always respond poorly to foods that contain high levels of histamines. Although your body produces them as well, our biggest histamine source tends to be the food we eat. In reality, its not the food that contains the histamines—it’s the bacteria living on the food. Anything aged or fermented will contain a lot of these histamine-producing bacteria—think yogurt, aged cheese, cured meat, alcohol, vinegar, fish and seafood, mushrooms, dried fruit, and more. Sometimes even leftovers contain enough bacteria to cause problems. 

However, a person’s reaction to specific foods can very widely. For example, someone might be able to eat fish from one store without a problem, but suffer terribly after eating fish from another grocery store or restaurant.  There are also foods that don’t actually contain histamines themselves, but rather cause our bodies to produce more histamines, like spinach, citrus fruit, pineapple, pork, shellfish, chocolate, and nuts. Individual sensitivities to these foods often vary greatly, but most of the time people are primarily affected by only the very high-histamine foods, which like I said, includes anything aged or fermented.

The best way to diagnose histamine intolerance is to follow a customized histamine-elimination diet for four weeks. After that time, the patient should reintroduce the eliminated foods to see if there is any noticeable difference in well-being. A food journal and the guidance of a medical practitioner can be valuable tools in diagnosing histamine intolerance. If you want to know more about what foods should be avoided in a histamine-elimination diet, please see the following link: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/85/5/1185/T3.expansion.html

If you believe high-histamine foods might be behind your symptoms, there are a couple things you can do to feel healthy again. In addition to avoiding the foods containing the most histamine, you’ll want to make sure your meat is as fresh as possible or frozen as soon as possible after slaughter. It’s also important to pay attention to your gut health. Like I said earlier, some of the bacteria in our guts produce histamines. If the bacteria population in our guts becomes imbalanced (due to taking antibiotics, eating the wrong foods, etc.), then histamine buildup can become a problem. Taking particular probiotics, like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, can help suppress this histamine release. Other helpful supplements are Vitamin B6, copper, and Vitamin C. These nutrients encourage a healthy population of DOA, which again, eliminates histamines. 

At this point in time, scientists are unsure just how much of the population is histamine intolerant. If you’re having allergy symptoms accompanied by digestive upset, headaches, low blood pressure, etc. for no apparent reason, you might be one of those affected. Luckily, simply giving your diet a little more attention can often alleviate the symptoms of histamine intolerance. The best way to find out more is to contact your healthcare practitioner about crafting a histamine-elimination diet and reintroduction to see the difference for yourself. 

How Low of a Low Carb Diet is Correct for You?

As most of you know, I am a strong proponent of the Paleo lifestyle. My practice is very Paleo focused. Paleo eating leans heavily on vegies, fruits, nuts, seeds, eggs and grass fed protein. It strongly suggests a very limited consumption of grains, simple carbs and little dairy. Having said that, there is an important place for carbohydrates in your diet. They play are critical roles in many aspects of our health and metabolism. So the real questions is “What is the correct about of carbs you should be consuming?” This is the first of two news letters that will examine living a truly healthy life in relationship to the role carbs play in our diet.

Chances are, you have, at least once, been solicited to buy into some sort of miracle diet touting low-carb high protein intake as a fast and painless way of losing weight, such as Atkins or Southbeach. Many of you may even have entertained trying out this kind of extreme diet for yourself.  What most people don’t realize is that carb-intake can affect everything from your gut to your brain. Have your been feeling sluggish, anxious, or depressed? Having problems with digestion? These issues and more can all be influenced by carb-intake. When you choose to go low-carb, you are actually inviting a host of risks upon yourself. Let’s explore how to clarify the low-carb myth:

Let’s begin with the basics. For the sake of simplicity, carbohydrates are sugars, fibers, and starches. They can be found in a huge variety of foods including bread, potatoes, beans, milk, vegetables, pasta, and fruits, with the unhealthiest carbs being found in highly processed, refined foods like white bread, pastries and soda. When you eat any carb-containing food your body is provided with glucose, which is converted to energy. Our bodies need this energy to support daily bodily functions and physical activity. However, choosing unhealthy and too easily digested carbs (like white bread and soda) is a proven cause of weight gain, diabetes, and even heart disease (Harvard). In light of this new-age plague of obesity and heart disease that has stricken the country, it is no surprise that low-carb diets have been thrown into the spotlight in the past decade or so.

Low-carb diets are, obviously, based on limiting carbohydrate intake, while also encouraging consumption of foods high in protein and fat, like meat, eggs, and cheese. Most diets will give you a certain percentage of your daily calorie intake that should come from carbs. A diet low in carbohydrates would typically require somewhere around 10-20% of your daily calories to come from carbs (whereas the typical American will consume 45%-65% of calories a day from carbs) (Mayoclinic). These diets can be quite tricky, as avoiding carbs is surprisingly hard to do for most people. Imagine going to the grocery store and having to walk past all the grains, beans, nuts, fruits, pastas and starchy vegetables!

However, ad campaigns and the media will have you believe that managing to attain the sort of excessive discipline a low-carb diet requires can have great pay-offs. Carbs, particularly refined ones, can cause a quick rise in blood sugar and subsequently an increase in insulin, which can then lead to an increase in hunger and naturally, weight gain (UMM). Therefore avoiding carbs supposedly forces the body to burn stored fat for energy due to lower insulin levels, which in turn encourages weight loss (Mayoclinic). Some people have reported shedding up to 15 pounds in two weeks on the Atkins diet. However, it would be a fallacy to judge diets based on only the first few weeks of trials, for a lot can change—and reverse—when held to the test of time (US News). That being said, if a low-carb diet sounds a little too good to be true to you, you’re absolutely right! The following is a carefully researched list of what really takes place when you make the choice to go low-carb:

-As I hinted at before, low-carb diets seem a bit less promising when evaluated over long periods of time. In the short term, much of what’s shed on low-carb diets is actually just water-weight (US news). Most studies find that, after 12-24 months, low-carb diets don’t produce significantly more weight-loss when compared to diets based on mere increases in protein-intake unaccompanied by a carb decrease (Mayoclinic).

-A sudden and drastic decrease in carb-intake can inspire some pretty bad side effects including weakness, fatigue, bad breath, and headache. Severely restricted carb-intake has also been shown to result in vitamin or mineral deficiencies and/or bone loss over time (Mayoclinic). Further, carbohydrates contain valuable probiotics that help keep our guts healthy, so avoiding them could lead to an alteration of gut-flora, which often manifests as diarrhea or constipation. (Kresser).

-If you engage in moderate exercise several times a week, restricting your carb-intake can lead to severely damaging conditions, including but not limited to: decreased thyroid output, decreased testosterone, impaired cognitive function, suppressed immune function, and slowed metabolism. In other words, depriving your body of one of its main sources of energy is likely to make you feel sick and sluggish, and inspire more than just your average bad mood.

-Women are particularly prone to experiencing the negative side effects of carb deficiencies. Unbeknownst to many, low-carb diets can disrupt hormone production, leading to a stopped or irregular menstrual cycle, more body fat, and, more gravely, lowered fertility, hypoglycemia, anxiety, and depression (Precision Nutrition). 

-And finally, while low-carb diets almost always promise you heart-healthy benefits, a report from the American Heart Association concluded that there is not enough evidence to say whether or not diets low in carbohydrates are, in fact, good for the heart (Mayoclinic).

Given the evidence, it is safe to say that low-carb diets are not a good choice for most people, despite all that jazz you may hear about the Paleo diet and carb-free diets being “man’s original way of eating.” 

I would like to stress that, regardless of whether you need to diet or not, every one of you should be aware of the amount of carbs you are in fact ingesting. Many people who experience physical and mental ailments may not consider the possibility that the culprit is their diet; even worse, many are blissfully unaware of how skewed their diet is from the national recommendation, and how profound an effect these small divergences can have on the body. So if you find yourself suffering from any of the aforementioned symptoms (lethargy, indigestion, anxiety, etc.) please stay tuned for part two of this newsletter, which will be out in December and contain a guide on how to find your optimal carb–intake, without having to go to any extremes.

Please call 734-726-0153 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we are known for providing professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide people towards a comprehensive and holistic healing strategy. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life.

Ritalin, Concerta and Adderall: Dangerous, Expensive and Ineffective

CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) was founded in 1987 by Ciba-Ceigy (now Novartis), the original maker of Ritalin. Not surprisingly, drugs like Ritalin have been pushed by supposedly unbiased health organizations, such as CHADD, as the only viable method to ameliorate the symptoms of ADHD. However, these drugs are dangerous, expensive, and often ineffective.

How effective are common treatment methods like Ritalin, Concerta and Adderall?

Currently, the amphetamines Ritalin and Concerta or an amphetamines “cocktail” (Adderall) is used to treat ADHD. Though Dr. Braly, author of The Essential Guide to Uncovering Food Allergies: And Achieving Permanent Relief  (2008), confirms that the “short-term effectiveness of these medications in reducing hyperactivity and improving concentration and learning is about 60 to 70 percent,” (57) these medications have very common and detrimental side effects.

Common Side Effects of Ritalin

  • Addiction
  • Nervousness including agitation, anxiety and irritability
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Decreased appetite
  • Headache
  • Stomach ache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations

Other Serious Side Effects of Ritalin Include

  • Slowing of growth (height and weight) in children
  • Seizures, mainly in patients with a history of seizures
  • Eyesight changes or blurred vision
Less Common Side Effects of Ritalin
  • High blood pressure
  • Rapid pulse rate (and other heart problems)
  • Tolerance (constant need to raise the dose)
  • Feelings of suspicion and paranoia
  • Visual hallucinations (seeing things that are not there)
  • Depression  
  • Dermatoses (infected or diseased skin)
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Infection or viral infection
  • Elevated ALT enzyme levels in the blood (signaling liver damage)

Overdose Side Effects of Ritalin

Since methylphenidate drugs are highly addictive, overdose side effects may result. Here are some of the more common symptoms of an overdose:

  • Restlessness
  • Tremor
  • Aggression
  • Hallucinations
  • Panic states
  • Hyperreflexia (overactive reflexes, which can include twitching or spasms)
  • Personality changes
  • Symptoms of depression
  • Seizures or abnormal EEGs
  • High blood pressure
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Swelling of hands/feet/ankles (for example, numbing of the fingertips)
  • Delusions
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Unexplained muscle pain
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Rhabdomyolysis and kidney damage

Chronic abuse can manifest itself as psychosis, often indistinguishable from schizophrenia 

A Call to Action

If you or a loved one suffers from ADD or ADHD, take your health into your own hands. Visit an appropriate health practitioner who will talk about the most simple and least invasive methods of healing. Throwing dangerous drugs at the problem is clearly not the solution.

The ADHD Epidemic: Food Allergies and Children

Children Suffer Most for Changes in American Diet

James Braly, M.D., graduated from St. Louis University School of Medicine in 1970 and pushed for a deeper understanding of food as an integral element of optimal performance for Olympians and as a mechanism for illness, particularly among children. In his book The Essential Guide to Uncovering Food Allergies: And Achieving Permanent Relief  (2008) Braly writes that “of all people, children show most clearly that our twenty-first-century diets and lifestyles are resulting in more and more food allergies and sensitivities. And along with those allergies go a wide range of childhood illnesses and other conditions...” (56) One of which is ADHD.

3 Surprising statistics about ADHD

  • 1990: around 750,000 American children were diagnosed with ADHD.
  • 2008: an estimated 3 million children were diagnosed with ADHD.
  • 1/3 or more ADHD children will grow up to be ADHD adults

*statistics from “The Essential Guide to Uncovering Food Allergies: And Achieving Permanent Relief” by Dr. James Braly, 2008

13 Symptoms Watch

1. inattention, easily distracted

2. antisocial behavior and emotional problems (depression, anxiety, irritability etc.)

3. hyperactivity

4. chronic insomnia

5. headaches

6. seizures/fits

7. abdominal pain or discomfort

8. chronic rhinitis (nonseasonal)

9. frequent sinus and middle ear infections

10. leg aches (“growing pains”), joint pain

11. skin rashes

12. mouth ulcers

13. dark circles under eyes

How is ADHD most commonly diagnosed?

Dr. Braly points out in his book that “There is no laboratory or clinical test available yet that definitively diagnoses the condition; a diagnosis is based on observations of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity so serious they impair a child's ability to function.” (56) For all the talk of the importance of biochemical testing in determining diagnosis, it seems surprising that a mere observation is information enough to throw additional chemicals (Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall) at the problem. Of course, diagnosing ADHD and prescribing medications means more money in the doctors pocket, and an ADHD epidemic means dollar signs for pharmaceutical companies. For plenty of reasons, the role of food allergies and chemical-food-additive sensitivities in children with ADHD remains, in Dr. Braly's words, “largely ignored.” (57)

Food Allergy testing and ADHD: A Simple, Cost-Effective, and Scientific Solution

The most comprehensive food allergy diagnostic tool is the ELISA blood test, which examines the bodies reaction to 96 different potential food allergens, including gluten, dairy, eggs, soy and peanuts. This simple test also allows health professionals to efficiently check for the severity of allergies, ranging from IgE (most severe), IgA (moderate) and IgG (least severe). This test can quickly and precisely point to exactly which foods may be causing such a severe reaction in a child.

A Call to Action

If your child has ADHD, speak to the appropriate health practitioner about a food allergy test. ADHD medications are potentially harmful, and usually only effective in the short-term. Don't be another tally in the pharmaceutical companies profit margin. Take control of your health today.