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My top 10 histamine (non food) triggers (and how I deal with them)

3 Comments 29 November 2012

As you may know, histamine disorders (roll call: histamine intolerance, histaminosis, chronic allergies, mast cell activation and mastocytosis) have more than one trigger. And by that I’m not counting individual foods, just a whole mess of stuff that can cause histamine to be released into the blood stream. I’m successfully managing a number of them – so it’s time to share! I’ll be using The Mastocytosis Society Canada’s non-immunologial trigger list as reference (check out the full list at the end of the post). There’s a bunch of surprises on it!

HEAT

No air conditioning at the Masai Mara duty free shop in Kenya (or on our three day safari with Masai warriors!)

I’m not doing too great on this one. I travel, a lot. And for some reason I do it almost exclusively to incredibly hot climates. This last year alone I spent almost three months in Africa/North Africa. I don’t mean indoors in the AC – I’m talking old school villages with no internet connection, camping with Masai warriors and draping myself (passing out) across my man on the most beautiful islands known to man. Oh, I forgot the two hour camel rides under the scorching sun across treacherous terrain high on a mountainside in search of the ultimate beach. It was pretty funny, I spent my first hour there comparing symptoms with the bedouin woman who offered us dinner and grass (her words not mine!), in our first five minute there. Seems her entire family may suffer from a histamine disorder.

My hottest tips for dealing with the heat is to have AC or a cool body of water to immerse yourself into at the end of the day. I literally feel all my swelling and inflammation go down after 10 minutes. The key is to keep calm and also make sure you have access to a car with AC – wish I could follow my own advice on that one. I spent a month trapped in microwaves (taxis) in Morocco in July this year. Ouch. I have a histamine/inflammation detection unit in my mouth – well I had a tooth extracted when a dentist convinced me it was causing my symptoms – duh.  I’ve been too freaked out to get an implant (antibiotics, injections, anesthetic, oh MY) so nowadays when my gum swells to the point that I no longer feel the gap, I know I’m in big trouble. That happened, a lot in the taxis.

PRESSURE/VIBRATION

My histamine-challenged friends and I have long debated what it is about flying that makes us severely ill. Ok, the very obvious things like being sprayed with pesticide or whatever the hell that is they drench us with on flights to the states is (I mean we smell maybe?) not what we’re talking about. There’s something about flying that used to make my friend the Reluctant Raw Foodist pass out. Now we know – something about the change in pressure and vibration causes mast cells to degranulate, releasing histamine into the body. I can attest to the vibration thing in particular. I had a free session on one of those vibra-exercise plate things. Aside from knocking my spine out of joint I could actually feel the histamine fizzing in my brain.

The airline coping strategy is: no food for the hours before getting on the plane. If it’s long haul I’ll eat some dehydrated fruits and drink a ton of water. Because as you may already know, dehydration is a mega-trigger! I bring an eye mask, ear plugs or a nice relaxing meditation tape. On Asian flights I would chant. This doesn’t go over too well in the rest of the world. People have no sense of humour/the absurd and you’d be surprised how many can’t tell the difference between a Buddhist mantra and a jihadi war cry.

COLD 

One word for you. Layers. I wear many many layers of thermal and fuzzy sweater type things. I wear two hats, thermal tights, and I wrap a pashmina around my face. If a balaclava didn’t simultaneously muss my lipstick and alienate my man, you can bet it would be part of my funky winter wonderland get up. Other than that I use the pocket warmer thingies in my shoes and my jacket. Most importantly? I plan my routes so I’m not outside for too long and make sure I schedule meetings with clients somewhere warm with great access to transportation.

EXERCISE

This one kills me. Or rather, I’ve given up some stuff that I love, so it doesn’t kill me. My post here covers how exercise causes mast cell degranulation/histamine release. Basically, I don’t do as much kickboxing or play much squash anymore. At least now I know why my twice weekly two hour martial arts sessions used to leave me projectile vomiting a few hours later. I’ve had more than one trainer (ok two!) refuse to work with me because of almost passing out on a treadmill and my bizarro heart rate (despite obviously being in good shape). Nowadays I do ashtanga yoga, in a well ventilated studio.

HOT BATHS/CHLORINE

Are a killer! Oh my goodness. I tried the magnesium bath salts that everyone raves about but I just couldn’t tolerate the hot/warm water. I now use a magnesium spray that I buy at Planet Organic. For me the added chlorine and product residue from my man makes baths unfeasible…I did however have the most incredible bath in Bali – no chemicals in the water, and it was so warm I just threw open the windows and drew a lukewarm bath. Bliss.

EMOTIONAL STRESS

Meditation meditation meditation. Really, It’s a cliche because it works – for everyone. I have a mantra that I repeat silently. I’ve also spent the last few years working on a meditation move that brings me back to my state of bliss, just by bringing my thumb to middle finger and breathing for five counts. It takes a while to form that association but it’s totally worth it. You can find a ton of those meditations online.

I absolutely refuse to do any meds for anxiety or depression. I am not either of those but I do suffer occasional flare ups thanks to mast cell brain/histamine’s effect on neurotransmitters. Nowadays when I’m feeling blue I just look to my diet to see what’s up.

INSECT BITES

mosquito repellent

mosquito repellent

Don’t go playing with hornets nests. You think that would be a given, but my crazy neighbour in Beirut decided to try and dislodge the peaceful hive outside our building, causing the most aggressive response since the Lebanese-Israeli war of 2006! They swooped in all abuzz, and I ended up stepping on one. I think I was lucky that it was my foot. The venom had to work it’s way through layers of hard skin before getting to my bloodstream. None the less my blood felt like it was draining out from my body through my feet and I lost control of my limbs. It was terrifying.

Hornets aside, I’ve found that mosquito bites can be a nightmare. The cure though is worse than the poison – DEET makes me pass out! I’ve found a great new spray at my favourite beauty store on earth. This stuff is basically citronella (and a few others). I spray it on my clothes and a sarong which I then wrap around my legs when traveling. I also bring citronella sticks to burn. It’s an absolute necessity as I’m too freaked out to get any shots or take malaria pills.

COSMETICS/NAIL POLISH

No one wants to listen when I first bring up the role of cosmetics and bath products in histamine disorders. But I’ve seen time and time again how hair stops falling out, skin complaints magically disappear, and brain fog lifts, by making some small adjustments to beauty routine. Ok, let’s be honest – they’re not that small. I now consider them small in relation to how much relief I’ve experienced. I noticed that nail polish is listed as a trigger – yes I know that one! That’s why I only use water based, no perfumed, organic polish. The key is WATER based – any other brand that claims to be organic or whatever, is still bad for histamine issues. I’ll be getting a lot more specific regarding make up in my upcoming beauty book (sign up to the mailing list for more info).

SODIUM BENZOATE

It’s in sodas, medications (including antihistamines) and in your lipstick. Too bad it gives me a histamine migraine! Just another reason pick over each and every label with a fine toothed comb. It’s a pain in the buttocks to start with but you eventually get into the swing of things and it becomes second nature.

CARRAGEENAN

“Carrageenan induced inflammation-protocol” is a phrase that keeps coming up in my histamine research. Why is this relevant? Carrageenan, also known as Irish Moss, is a common food additive considered to be natural and healthy and even touted as an anti-inflammatory on natural health sites. It’s often used in raw food dessert recipes. But a quick Google search turns up thousands of studies where anti-inflammatory medicines and compounds are tested on “carrageenan induced-inflammation” or “edema” – it’s actually used to cause pain and inflammation in animals (poor things). I’ve also found a number mentioning mast cell degranulation which makes a lot of sense. These are all obviously terms those of us with histamine related disorders don’t want to hear associated with our food.Ouch. I used Irish Moss for years and this explains a lot…

You’ll find carrageenan/irish moss in pretty much anything tasty on the supermarket shelf as well as toothpaste, shampoo, medicines, and many more. Read my full blog post about it here.

mast cell degranulation trigger list (Mastocytosis Society Canada)

mast cell degranulation trigger list (Mastocytosis Society Canada)

You may ask, why is a mastocytosis trigger list relevant to you, who are only dealing with histamine intolerance? Well, I believe they’re all related. Histamine intolerance (I think it’s a crime to call it that) is diagnosed as high histamine with low diamine oxidase. Mastocytosis (simplified) is unstable mast cells releasing their precious cargo (histamine) into the body. This is a really oversimplified explanation. But you can see how these two are related. One way or the other, we’re dealing with too much histamine, or an inability to clear it out of the body.

mast cell degranulation trigger list (Mastocytosis Society Canada)

mast cell degranulation trigger list (Mastocytosis Society Canada)

WHAT FOLKS ARE SAYING …

This book (DAO Support) is a life saver for me. I can’t cook and being on low-histamine diet meant that I ate tasteless meals. The book completely changed my life.The recipes are so simple and so delicious! Now people at work can’t believe how much I eat and stay skinny.M.M.

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