by Prashanti de Jager
Over 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:
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:
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:
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.
 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
 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.
 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.
 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.