July 31, 2015

Migraines: What role does Histamine play?

Over the last weekend in June, the Naturopathic Doctors at Vive Integrative Health Group attended the biennial Health Fusion conference – an interesting and informative conference hosted by the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors. This year, the theme was Family Medicine and there was an array of lecture topics including environmental impacts on men’s health to insomnia in women to nutritional interventions during perinatal and childhood years.

This month’s blog postings will feature a topic each our Naturopathic Doctors found interesting and wanted to share with you!

Migraines and histamine

It is becoming apparent that when excess amounts of histamine are released through different parts of our bodies, we can be predisposed to developing certain types of health issues.

This is especially interesting in the case of migraines or persistent headaches, where the impact on health and quality of life can be extreme.

Histamine has numerous effects within the body and in certain circumstances, especially with migraines or persistent headaches, we feel histamine levels should be immediately investigated. Unfortunately, most of the time histamine levels are not.

Excess histamine

Problems arise when we have excess histamine circulating through our bodies. As histamine circulates, it comes across histamine receptors. There are (at least) three types of histamine receptors to which it can attach, and each will have a different effect.

Why histamine attaches preferentially to different receptors in different people is still a mystery.

Here is how excess histamine can lead to different types of headaches or migraines by activating different types of receptors:

Type of Histamine Receptor H1 Receptor

H2 Receptor

(Increase Permeability)
H3 Receptor
(Over Stimulation)
Type of Headache/Migraine – Dull headache
– Can’t think headache
– Throbby migraine
– Sensitive to light/sound
– Intense/Sharp headache
– Nerve pain
– Needs lots of Advil/Tylenol/Demerol


Recognizing the different effects of histamine

When we think of histamine, we think of anti-histamines. When we think of anti-histamines, we think of allergies – sneezing, itchy eyes, maybe a rash or hives. And traditionally, that has been the primary association of histamine’s effect in the body.

Later we learned that histamine is also responsible for triggering the secretion of acid in the stomach, and H2-blocker medications quickly came onto the scene.

Other impacts of histamine throughout the body

Excess histamine can lead to a wide range of problems, from allergies and hives, depression or anxiety, vertigo, insomnia, heart disease, and also of course headaches and migraines.

The condition of excess histamine may happen as a result of stress, trauma, infection, or allergy, among other reasons.

This chart describes just some of the effects of excess histamine. Interestingly, some of these health problems are notoriously difficult to treat. Perhaps a histamine-reducing approach will help some of those suffering with not only migraines, but depression or anxiety, Raynaud’s disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, restless legs, bed wetting, asthma or other challenging problems.

Type of Histamine Receptor H1 Receptor

H2 Receptor

(Increase Permeability)
H3 Receptor
(Over Stimulation)
Central Nervous System – “Foggy head”
– Can’t think
– Congestion and pressure in the head – Insomnia
– Depression/Anxiety
– Dizziness
– Inability to regulate temperature/appetite


Heart and Circulatory System – High blood pressure
– Raynaud’s Disease
– Fluid retention
– Congestive heart
– Low blood pressure
– Arrhythmia
– Tachycardia
Respiratory – Asthma/tight chest
– Can’t catch breath
– Excess mucous
– Sneezing
– Wet cough
– Irregular breathing
Digestive – Cramping
– Constipation
– Heart burn/reflux
– Bloating
– Nausea
– Diarrhea
– Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
– Nerve irritation in the bowel
Urinary – Urinary urgency – Frequent urination – Bed wetting
– Irritable bladder
– Interstitial Cystitis
Musculo Skeletal – Restless legs
– Tight muscles
– Throbby aches and pains
– Lax ligaments/ loose joints
– Restless legs
– Numbness in hands/feet


~ Dr. Colin Race

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