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Provoked by Allergen Proteins: Healthy Histamine Function

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by Prashanti de Jager

womansneezingl.jpgOver the eons, humans have adapted in order to live with many challenges, from wild fierce animals to wilder planet-consuming weather patterns to ionizing radiation pouring in from the cosmos to… little pieces of proteins so small that you can fit millions of them on the head of a pin.

Our bodies have become quite expert at dealing with these proteins, for instance both viruses and their cohorts, enzymes. Our success as a species has relied on this, so much so that our immune system is quite en garde when it comes to stray unidentified proteins - potential allergens.

When the immune system does find a foreign protein it tends to label it and then attack it, either devouring it or dissolving it. There are several types of “labels” or “flags” that the immune system uses to identify foreign proteins. One of the most common flags, otherwise known as antibodies, is called IgE. Whenever that particular foreign protein is found in the body, the “flags” specific to that intruder trigger mobile histamine reservoirs, called mast cells, to release histamines that optimize other elements of the immune system to neutralize the threat.

One of the beautiful things about the intelligence of our immunity is that once it “labels” a protein as foreign, it remembers that threat pretty much for the rest of our lives. This is why there are some imbalances that can only strike us down once, as from then on our immune system is sensitized to them. Another stunning aspect of our immune system is that it can create and store literally billions of different flags/antibodies corresponding to billions of foreign proteins.

The downside is that the more we remove ourselves from nature, the more proteins in our lives that are either natural or pseudo man-made (I like to call them xenoproteins meaning “foreign proteins”) start to trigger mast cells to release histamines in cases where the protein is not necessarily a toxin or a pathogen, and thus the protein becomes an allergen. This hypersensitivity of immunity to tiny proteins like pollens, gluten, dust mites, milk proteins causes excessive histamine releases which are often experienced in obvious annoying and uncomfortable ways.

Over the century, humans have adapted (or not) as their diet diverged from made-in-nature relatively wholesome foods to more man-made processed constructs filled with dubious chemistry. As our “food” is more of a processed new man-made phenomena rather than something natural, our immune systems tend to recognize and “label” the micro proteins in these processed polymers as foreign toxins and pathogens.

Then our immune system goes on high alert to quell and quench the threat. Often it is a bit like a twenty truck fire alarm going off every time someone simply lights a candle. The rush and intense cacophony of “fire engines” racing around our blood stream putting out the equivalent of “candles” is very taxing to the system, and pardon me mixing metaphors, but becomes a bit like “crying wolf” in that there is less energy and focus to then “put out” the real “fires,” the real threats to our wellness.

This brings up a big question: what are “the real threats to wellness?” Unbalanced histamine responses to allergens are typically not an indication of an unbalanced immune system but rather of an unbalanced individual living in an unbalanced society amidst unbalanced choices. Of course, the unbalanced choices are usually not the choice of the individual but of their culture, and include choices like the kind of carpet allowed in their apartment, the kind of preservatives and artificial colorings allowed in their highly processed food, the kind of pollen generating mono-crops allowed in their nature, and how the lack of education of what real nutrition is allowed in their scholastic system.

So at the top of the list of “real threats to wellness” would be our choice to support those corporations that support the ubiquitous flux of xenoproteins into our bodies and the lack of the informed choice for us and our children. This is the ecological medicine facet of ensuring healthy histamine response, this is the real key, this is a substratum solution.

Unbalanced histamine responses are, for the most part, 100% of hypersensitivity! It is like our deepest immune system, which is phenomenally intelligent, is shouting at our human intelligence that something is very, very wrong!

John Sarno is likely the most successful doctor in the USA for treating back pain. One of his main techniques is to ask the patient to inquire from the innate intelligence of the back what the body/mind, through the pain, is trying to tell the less astute human intelligence. This very "Ayurvedic" technique works like a “charm.” In the same way, if the practice of ecological medicine is the first step toward ensuring a healthy histamine response, then the practice of asking what and why we are hypersensitive is the second step. Almost always, the answer to this question falls under the category, “we are painfully separated from our nature.” For instance, we are separated from wholesome organic unprocessed food and herbs and/or we are living in houses/offices that can’t properly breathe and are suffocating.

Sensitivities are very interesting windows into the hidden realities of underlying dynamics.

Because in Ayurveda we treat the whole person, including their environment, another facet of invoking balance is to minimize the dominant dietary protein allergens that trigger histamine reactions. These include gluten, the protein in wheat and other grains that help to “glue” the starches of the grain together. Second to gluten in prevalence, but not necessarily intensity, are the proteins in milk and in nuts. One of the steps to ensure a healthy histamine response is to consume only healthy unprocessed wholesome foods. For many people the sensitivity is so heightened that this is no longer an option, but it always is a great start.

Here are three lifestyle categories of ensuring healthy histamine function:

  1. Return to natural organic wholesome unprocessed diets that are low in empty calories and high in dense nutrition and antioxidant herbs, fruits and veggies
  2. Ensure your living situation, especially your bed and clothes, are made from natural substances and are kept clean
  3. Increase the Prana in our body/minds to increase innate intelligence, making sure both you and the structure of your home/office properly breathe 24/7

One reason why children have up to 8 times more allergies than adults is that the genetics of humans have not adapted to all the xenoproteins in our diet and environment, and children have to rely on their innate immunity for healthy histamine functions. Adults on the other hand, have had the time for their immune system to adapt. Hence, the ability to adapt to your inner and outer environments is key to wellness. Once again, when our body is whacked out of balance by stresses, like xenoproteins, anti-stress herbal adaptogens are keys. Because the healthy “digestion” of xenoproteins is involved, those herbal adaptogens which also are strong immunomodulators and which also assist our digestive capacity at all levels are the first-reach herbs to balance histamine function. This would include herbs like:

  • Guduchi (in the Complete Flexibility formula) also known as Amrit, meaning “Nectar of Immortality,” has one of the strongest abilities to optimize healthy histamine function in lungs, skin, and the digestive tract. Studies show that it can selectively inhibit excessive histamine release in situations that do not necessarily warrant a flood of histamine molecules.1  In the Complete Flexibility formula Guduchi is part of a team of herbal allies that includes Amapachak, which gives strong metabolic support to balanced histamine function.
  • Tulsi (Holy Basil) (As Tulsi Tea, Tulsi (Holy Basil) capsules and in the Immunity and Vitality formulas) meaning “balanced balance,” is known to assist the balance of histamine function especially in the lungs. Note that Tulsi (Holy Basil) helps balance all neurotransmitters and histamine, besides helping to mediate our Immune system, is a neurotransmitter as well.2 
  • Turmeric (In Turmeric Formula as well as the Skin Renew formula) meaning terra merita or “The Good Earth,” is amongst the most renowned herbs to assist histamine function, especially seasonal histamine imbalances. Astragalus goes well with Guduchi and Turmeric in this regard.3
  • Triphala (in the Triphala formula) meaning “The Three Super Fruits,” with its affinity for the GI tract, has literally dozens of mechanisms to balance histamine function in the stomach and colon.4  These three herbs without doubt deserve their “Superfruit” status.
  • Trikatu (in the Trikatu formula) meaning “The Three Pungents,” is a formula of Ginger, Black Pepper and Long Pepper (Piper longum) and assists digestion at all levels, are very strong antioxidants, and are renown for assisting the body in that level of cleansing that only a strong metabolism can accomplish.

Oxygen derived free radicals have the direct ability to release histamine from mast cells and also generate other phenomena that amplify histamine imbalances and so the fact that these herbs are very high in antioxidants are also indications of their ability to balance histamine function.

This next list may be a bit inaccessible, but is a good summary, in terms of cell physiology, of how Tulsi (Holy Basil), Turmeric Formula, Guduchi and other herbs and diets high in nutrition and antioxidants support balanced histamine function:

  1. Decrease the Immune system’s tendency to create antibodies for proteins that are neither toxins nor pathogens
  2. Decrease the levels of sensitizing proteins in the body
  3. Decrease the antibodies tendency to trigger mast cells
  4. Decrease the amount of histamines released by mast cells (degranulation)
  5. Decrease histamine amplifiers like arachidonic acid and other dietary and emotional inflammatory substances
  6. Decrease histamine receptor sensitivity to histamine

This list is about a quarter of the known major ways that these herbs support histamine balance and the general terrain of our systemic wellness. One can summarize this list as saying that histamine function can be balanced by immunomodulation, by competitive inhibition of released mediators of inflammation, or by prevention of release of mediators by mast cell stabilization. So much of this is balancing act is supported by strong antioxidants. Enter our herbal allies!

The hypersensitivity of unbalanced histamine responses are the messengers that brings the news of greater imbalances, and not the ones that made the match, that made us married to a life out of balance.

So let us be increasingly more sensitive to our hypersensitivities, on all levels from micro allergen xenoproteins to emotions to pain in general, as these messengers, by agitation, have much to tell us about calm certain stability in these days of great change.

[1] Rishit Zalawadia, Chintan Gandhi, Vaibhav Patel, and Ramchandran Balaraman; The protective effect of Tinospora cordifolia on various mast cell mediated allergic reactions; Pharmaceutical Biology, 2009; 47(11): 1096–1106

[2] Dharmani P, et al; Evaluation of anti-ulcerogenic and ulcer-healing properties of Ocimum sanctum Linn.; J Ethnopharmacol. 2004 Aug;93(2-3):197-206.

[3] Houssen ME, et al; Natural anti-inflammatory products and leukotriene inhibitors as complementary therapy for bronchial asthma.; Clin Biochem. 2010 Jul;43(10-11):887-90. Epub 2010 Apr 27.

[4] Amit A, et al; Mast cell stabilization, lipoxygenase inhibition, hyaluronidase inhibition, antihistaminic and antispasmodic activities of a novel botanicals for allergic rhinitis; Drugs Exp Clin Res. 2003;29(3):107-15.