Histamine intolerance and stress, ever noticed they go hand in hand? Stress can present differently from person to person. Likewise, histamine intolerance can present differently from person to person. There is a link between histamine intolerance and stress and we go into more detail in this article.
‘Stress is the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure.’ Mental Health Foundation.
The oxford dictionary definition of stress is ‘A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.’
Some of the ways that stress can present in an individual include:
Emotional or cognitive symptoms of stress:
- Feeling frustrated, moody, angry, or overwhelmed
- Overactive mind or constant worrying
- Frequently forgetting things
- Trouble focusing or concentrating
- Isolating yourself from others
Physical symptoms of stress:
- Low energy
- Issues with mood (anxiety or depression)
- Digestive problems, including bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, or nausea
- Aches, pains, and sore muscles
- Poor immunity or immune issues
- Low libido
- Wired in the evenings and tired in the mornings
- Jaw clenching
You may notice some of these symptoms are often present alongside histamine intolerance. Essentially, stress is our body’s way of being able to cope with pressure. There are various mechanisms in the body that help us cope with stress.
Stress can wreak havoc on your life. It can keep you up at night, make you put off the work you need to do, and make you feel like you’re just going through the motions every day. While small amounts of stress can be super helpful and often used as a motivator and driver, long-term stress can have an impact on health.
What systems help with stress?
In your body, your nervous system generally has two “modes”: fight, flight or freeze, and rest, digest, and repair. Both have powerful and essential functions.
- Fight/flight/freeze is controlled by our sympathetic nervous system.
- Whilst rest/digest/repair is controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system.
What is the sympathetic nervous system?
The sympathetic nervous system kicks in when there is a perceived or real threat. The body cannot tell the difference. If fear – real or imagined – shows up in your thoughts or environment, then the fight or flight response is activated. Things like:
- being chased by a lion
- running late for a meeting
- the never-ending to-do list
- or even judging ourselves
The sympathetic nervous system takes over and sends signals to your brain to tell it to stop doing any non-essential tasks until the immediate danger has passed. Things like libido, menstrual cycle, and digestion slow down or halt. The sympathetic nervous system increases blood flow, raises blood pressure, moves energy and blood flow out to the extremities so that we can fight or flee, escape the situation or freeze in the presence of the trigger. A perceived threat can be both mental or physical. Once the threat has passed your body slowly switches back to parasympathetic dominance. Your heartbeat returns to normal, your blood pressure goes back down, and digestion can occur.
What is the parasympathetic nervous system?
On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system is where the rest, digest, and repair mode is activated. The vagus nerve represents the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system and oversees a variety of bodily functions, including the immune system, mood, digestion, and heart rate. In rest, digest, and repair mode, where digestion happens optimally. When your body is in this mode it also helps your cells repair themselves. Particularly for people with histamine intolerance and food sensitivities, this is critical for healing an inflamed gut. Why? This is when the cells damaged by inflammation are replaced!
Why is the parasympathetic nervous system so important for healing histamine intolerance and stress?
You often hear the terms ‘gut-brain connection or axis’ or ‘mind-gut connection’. Have you wondered what this actually means?
There is a connection between the gut and the brain known as the gut-brain connection. So when treating anything stress-related, addressing the gut is important. If we want to help the gut then addressing the mind and therefore stress is also important. The two are interlinked. Only addressing one and not the other may give short-term rather than long-term relief of chronic conditions like histamine intolerance or gut issues.
There are a few ways of communication between the brain and the gut and therefore why stress can affect the gut:
Vagus Nerve – This is one of the main ways information travels between the brain and gut. 80% of the information is from the intestines to the brain. When your intestines are unhappy, you will feel stressed, triggering cortisol production and in turn, further negatively impacting the gut. This is one of the reasons why addressing stress and both the gut and brain are important. Otherwise, only one component of the cycle is being addressed and either stress will continue, gut issues will continue, or both.
Leaky Gut Syndrome – When we experience long-term or chronic stress or essentially continue to live in the fight or flight response of the nervous system, it begins to change our microbiome. Likewise, if we are stressed, continue to eat bad foods, then the environment in the gut can become more acidic and the gut barrier can become affected and the end result is a leaky gut (intestinal permeability). This can cause a variety of symptoms in the body such as joint pain that exacerbate stress and histamine intolerance. It also allows excess histamine in the gut to transfer into the bloodstream alongside bacteria and food particles. As well leaky gut has been scientifically linked to mental health issues such as depression due to the amount of toxins in the bloodstream.
Neurotransmitter production – To produce the happy neurotransmitter serotonin, you need the amino acid, tryptophan. The body’s gut mucosal cells digest tryptophan. Therefore if your gut cells are not functioning optimally this can affect your ability to produce serotonin. It can have a huge impact on mood as the gut microbiome creates 90% of the serotonin in your bloodstream. If your gut is unhappy then your mood will be affected.
The issue with stress is that for a lot of people, the threat doesn’t go away. Such as:
- Maybe work has you constantly running on short deadlines.
- Or you’re prone to over-exercising.
- You have relationship problems.
- You have family members who are sick.
All these things contribute to ongoing stress on the body.
When you’re stressed out all the time, your body doesn’t spend enough time in rest, digest, and repair mode.
This can mean that the body continues to be in an inflamed state. Healing of damage done by inflammation is slowed or halted. This means that when we are stressed, our bodies are less able to digest food properly and absorb nutrients. It also means that our immune system is less able to fight off bad bacteria, viruses, yeast, and parasites. This is one reason why people with histamine intolerance often experience more severe symptoms when they’re stressed!
The balance between ‘fight and flight’ and ‘rest and digest’ is super important in managing stress, and in turn, managing our health.
Address the stress to heal the gut
Our response to stress is one of the most changeable factors in our health and begins the healing process. Our parasympathetic mode has been shown to improve gut health, repair the gut lining, and reduce inflammation in the body. With all of these benefits, getting into the parasympathetic mode is a great way to help heal your gut. That means slowing down, getting enough sleep, and taking time every day for self-care. This will help your gut’s microflora (the bacteria and other organisms that live in your gut) to flourish, and it will help restore balance in your intestines so that gut issues and associated conditions such as food intolerance don’t arise. Addressing both histamine intolerance and stress together is the key to long-term management of both.
Struggling to get answers about your histamine intolerance symptoms?
Watch my free Masterclass – The 5 Steps to Healing from Histamine Intolerance.
You will learn my 5-Step plan, the exact same method I used to recover from histamine intolerance. These 5 steps everyone with histamine intolerance must know to resolve all those confusing symptoms and get back to eating foods you love without fear!