Natural Sources of Histamines and Their Role in Allergies
If you or someone in your family has an allergy, you’ve most likely heard about antihistamines. They are one of the most commonly used medications for allergy treatment. As stated in their name, these meds work by blocking histamines – chemicals produced by the immune system, when an allergic person is affected by an allergen. Allergens are normally harmless substances, but in some people, they trigger allergic reactions. Common allergy triggers include pollen, pet dander, dust mites, as well as certain foods and cosmetics.
Histamines help your body get rid of the allergy triggers. These chemicals are responsible for the symptoms you experience as a result of an allergic reaction, including skin rashes, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, runny nose, etc. While there is nothing bad with the fact that your body is trying to protect itself this way, the symptoms of allergy may be extremely annoying and even dangerous.
Mechanism of an Allergic Reaction
An allergic reaction happens every time you are exposed to your allergy trigger. It’s launched by your immune system in order to protect you.
First, it causes the release of histamines, stored in the mast cells in your skin, blood, lungs, nose, mouth, and gut. Then, histamines increase blood flow in the area of your body affected by the allergen, causing inflammation. As a result, other chemicals from the immune system get involved to solve the problem, while histamines accumulate at the sites of receptors in your body.
In those with pollen allergy, for example, histamines cause membranes in the nose to produce more mucus. This leads to a range of symptoms, such as runny nose or nasal congestion, coughing or wheezing, as well as itchy eyes and nose.
The Role of Histamines in Food Allergies
Allergic reactions to food also involve histamines. If you have a food allergy, eating or drinking something you are sensitive to will trigger a response of your immune system leading to the release of histamines in your gut.
Besides, there are foods that naturally contain high levels of histamines, such as aged or fermented goods or alcohol (e.g. red wine). In some people, these foods can also trigger a reaction.
This condition is known as “histamine poisoning”. Normally, when all the food safety regulations are followed, histamine poisoning is not likely to happen. However, you may get sick, if you eat spoiled fish. Fish that are not kept safe temperatures are often high in histamines and eating them may cause what is called scombrotoxin fish poisoning (SPF).
Other Sources of Histamines
Histamines are also found in many plants and animals, such as insects (insect venom). However, if you get stung by an insect, your body’s defense response will also involve the release of your own histamines.