Gluten – Histamine Connection

I had headaches as a kid but NOTHING like what hit me when I was 21. This was 1991 and since then I have had migraines, about 10-14 headache days per month. That is, until I firmly discovered the triggers.

Gluten always eluded me. First of all, it wasn’t highlighted as a serious trigger by conventional sources. Also, I have a strong family history of migraines so I just assumed that genetics were my doom. However, it always bugged me that I didn’t start getting them until such an “old” age of 21. Why did they take so long to surface? Could there have been an environmental trigger? It couldn’t possibly be the innocent bagel that I am munching while rubbing my head in agony.

No, I am not celiac. I am part of the huge part of the population that is gluten-sensitive. Gluten, or more specifically, a part of the gluten, has the ability to get the body to produce more “zonulin”. Zonulin makes the tight junctions between the intestinal cells open-up and stay open longer than they are supposed to. The gluten/gliadin can then get into the blood stream and wreak havoc in other places – namely the brain. It can cross the blood-brain barrier. This is in addition to the auto-immune reaction involving the modification of some of the peptides to resemble intestinal cells, causing immune cross-reactivity.

Now, I am pretty astute and have tracked my triggers for as long as I can remember (onion, vinegar, concentrated chocolate, orange juice) but I didn’t recognize gluten as a trigger. In part because wheat was so ubiquitous to my diet but also because it was only the “hyper-glutenized” breads that caused a reaction. A few crackers were harmless but the doughy, gluey, cupcake or scone or bagel were indeed triggers.

OK, now why did they not start until I was 21? This was 1991, I had eaten a load of gluten throughout my childhood and teen years after all. Well, I believe that companies started hyper-glutenizing (extracting gluten and then adding this to already- gluten filled flours) in the 90’s. Also, I had had at least a year of Tetracycline for acne which wiped out all bacteria, good and bad. This started me off on the lovely road of yeast infections which, after finding a holistic med. ctr., I was finally able to clear. But I digress….

One of the functions of the good bacteria is to clear histamine. Well, these were probably long gone and I wasn’t a particularly good eater in the 90s so I didn’t eat a lot of greens to feed the good bacteria.

Another source of clearing histamine is our intestinal cells. They produce Diamine Oxidase which dismantles histamine. Could the gluten, which I KNOW causes migraines, be damaging these cells so that I could no longer break-down histamine?

Fast-forward to pregnancy at age 38 (infertility caused me to seek out fertility help). I had a wonderful, blessed repreive from headaches during my 2nd and 3rd trimesters. Why? Why? The hormones yes, but what exactly was saving me from my usual migraines? It turns out that the placenta produces very, very high levels of diamine oxidase during pregnancy. Apparently the uterus is very sensitive to histamine so to prevent miscarriage, DAO is created.

OK, it is all starting to click… Were my menstrual headaches related to histamine as well? Was my progesterone level not high enough to counteract the effects of estrogen (which is pro-histamine)?

So much coming together!!! Avoiding gluten was a godsend and I have fellow migraneurs to thank for pointing me in that direction. Tweaking my menstrual cycle with bio-identical progesterone has had some effect too.

So, perhaps gluten’s direct effect is simply because it crosses the blood-brain barrier and wreaks havoc while inside? Studies show that celiacs show hypo-perfusion in the brain after eating gluten. (Incidentally, some autistic kids show this too… the incidence of autistm sky-rocketed in the 90s, same time as these hyper-glutenized foods?)

So perhaps the indirect effect of gluten, for some at least, is the destruction of intestinal cells that make DAO and make us more sensitive to the usual suspects (high histamine foods like onions, vinegar, aged cheeses, regular dairy ect). Couple this with my loss of good bacteria from antibiotics which also clear histamine and we have the perfect storm.

High histamine causes migraines in even perfectly normal people who never get migraines. See Scromboid poisoning which happens when someone eats very old, histamine-filled fish and they get a massive headache. High histamine causes high nitric oxide which causes high headache???

As for my regimen:

  • Ubiquinol 100mg in the morning
  • 1/2 tablet of Bone Stength cal/mag with K2 in the morning
  • 1 glass of Green Vibrance (lots of natural magnesium and has probiotics)
  • regular breakfast food, usually 2 fried eggs (yolk runny so as not to oxidize the cholesterol)
  • gluten-free toast with coconut oil
  • For lunch I have gluten free whatever for the starch (rice, potatos), meat, salad
  • 1x multivitamin from Rainbow Light
  • Evening, food like lunch but also the other half of the cal/mag.

I intermittently take a Biokult probiotic pill, additional K2, additional D3 in the winter and occasional krill oil.

All of this adds up to a much better life with far fewer headaches.

I still have shoulder/neck issues. Possibly TMJ-related or just a result of an assualt on this area from so many headaches. I am doing a lot of stretching and easing into shoulder/arm/neck stengthening.

I hope this helps someone.

All the best in the New Year!

-Nilofer Kreonidis

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