Is There Such a Thing as a Natural Antihistamine?

Searching for an antihistamine more often than not means a trip to the pharmacy or the pharmaceutical section in the supermarket, but there are many food items that contain natural antihistamine. One of the benefits of natural histamine is that it is much less likely to cause the side effects that antihistamine medications are often capable of.

When we take an antibiotic, it is usually for the purpose of killing off bad bacteria that are causing an infection or infectious disease and not for the purpose of killing off all of the bacteria in one’s body, which would not be a good thing. Similarly, an antihistamine, natural or otherwise, is not taken with the intent to kill off all of the histamines in the body. Like bacteria, histamines are sometimes a bad thing but mostly a good thing.

What Is Histamine?

Histamine is an organic compound that performs several bodily functions. It is sometimes referred to as 'substance H' in the medical literature. You may be familiar with the role histamines play in allergic reactions and may therefore be inclined to think of them as playing a mostly negative role in the body. In truth, histamines play a number of very important roles in the body, as they are involved in over 20 different and important physiological functions.

  • Histamines play an active role in the creation of gastric acids necessary for digestion. When the pH of the stomach begins to increase, histamines are released from the gastric glands, which leads to the formation of carbonic acid, which in turn leads to the formation of bicarbonate ions that help to regulate the pH.
  • Histamines play a role in sleep regulation and also in wakefulness and the ability to maintain vigilance.
  • Histamines tend to protect the body against the effects of convulsions.
  • Histamines play a role in combating the negative effects of stress.
  • Histamines are thought to possibly play a positive role in treating multiple sclerosis. Studies are underway in an attempt to verify what exactly that role might be.

The molecular formula for histamine is C5HgN3.

From the above, it should be apparent that histamines are something the body needs, and one of the only reasons for attempting to counteract any of the functions they perform is in instances such as allergic reactions where their presence can at times cause considerable discomfort. Given the useful functions histamines perform, it would not be wise to use a medication that would completely stop the production of histamines in the body. For one thing, a person's digestive process would be severely impacted. Without the benefit of histamines, you might have difficulty in awakening from a night's sleep or staying awake and alert for that matter.

Histamines definitely have their bad side as well. In allergic reactions, it is histamines that are responsible for causing inflammation, both directly and indirectly. Histamines are also vasoactive, meaning they can increase the permeability of blood vessels, leading to swelling. Histamines are also a major cause of asthma in that they contribute to the contraction of the smooth muscles in the air passages. When these muscles constrict, they can cause shortness of breath and, in the most severe cases, complete tracheal closure, a life-threatening condition.

The purpose of an antihistamine therefore is not so much that of preventing histamine production as it is of controlling histamine activity. An allergic reaction is an immune system response that serves no useful purpose because the substances responsible for triggering that response, and the release of histamines, do not represent any danger.

Antihistamines or Histamine Antagonists

Another name for an antihistamine is a histamine antagonist. An antihistamine can be any drug or substance that inhibits the action of histamine. Antihistamines reduce both histamine-induced swelling of tissues, known as the wheal response, and dilation of blood vessels (vasodilation), known as the flare response. They do so by blocking the binding of the histamine protein to receptors on nerves, glandular cells, vascular smooth muscles, and mast cells.

There are two basic types of antihistamine: H1-receptor antagonists and H2-receptor antagonists. Most antihistamines on the market are the H1 type. As noted earlier, one of the functions of histamine is to promote wakefulness. Consequently, when an H1-receptor antagonist type of antihistamine is taken, one of the side effects can be drowsiness.

H2-receptor antagonists are generally not found in antihistamines intended to combat allergic reactions, lessen asthmatic symptoms, or treat insect bites. Antihistamines consisting of H2-receptor antagonists are more often used to treat peptic ulcers and similar gastric conditions since they tend to reduce the acid-producing activity of histamines in the digestive system.

Prescribed or Over-the-Counter Antihistamines

Antihistamines come in a variety of forms. They can be prescribed or purchased over the counter as tablets, capsules, nasal sprays, oral liquids, eye drops, or injections. Most of these antihistamines can cause side effects, some types or brands more than others. The most common side effect is drowsiness, but instances of dizziness, dry mouth, and blurred vision are not all that uncommon. The most severe side effects tend to be nausea, vomiting, and confusion. If you have a certain systemic disease or high blood pressure or are pregnant or nursing, you should consult with your doctor before taking an over-the-counter antihistamine.

Natural Antihistamines

Many of the foods you eat contain natural antihistamines. Antihistamines found in fruits, vegetables, or herbs may not be nearly as powerful or fast acting as antihistamine drugs and medications, but they nevertheless can be effective over time. There are essentially two different types of natural antihistamines. One performs the same function as does an antihistamine medication in that it blocks histamine activity. The other type counteracts the symptoms histamine can produce such as swelling or inflammation. There is a third type of natural antihistamines that is claimed to be present in some foods, but technically this third type is not an antihistamine at all but primarily serves to strengthen the immune system. This can in time lessen your chances of experiencing allergic reactions or reduce the severity of those reactions.

There are numerous herbs that are known to contain one or more of these types of antihistamines, but few studies have been done to indicate how effective these antihistamines will work whether taken orally in their natural form or as a supplement.

Natural Sources of Histamines

Those who are especially sensitive to histamines often have to avoid certain kinds of foods as naturally ingested histamines can build up to toxic levels. In most healthy people, dietary histamine is rapidly detoxified; in others, that may not be the case. In addition to having the need to rely at times on antihistamine drugs or natural antihistamines, those who are affected may need to avoid or be careful with eating the following eight foods and food types:

1)      Foods made with a large amount of yeast such as pumpernickel bread, coffee cakes, and soured bread

2)      Fermented foods including sauerkraut and pickled meat

3)      Dried fruits including raisins, figs, prunes, dates, and apricots

4)      Processed meats including hot dogs, sausages, and salami

5)      Foods that contain vinegar such as salad dressing, pickles, pickled beets, and vinegar itself

6)      Many alcoholic beverages including beer, wine, and especially champagne

7)      Aged or fermented cheeses including blue cheese, Roquefort, and Parmesan

8)      Fresh fruits and vegetables including bananas, pineapple, papayas, strawberries, and tomatoes

Natural Sources of Antihistamines

On the other hand, those who have a need for antihistamines can choose among a variety of foods that tend to counteract the effects of histamines or limit their production. These include:

1)      Several herbs such as thyme and fennel, garlic, and chamomile tea and green tea contain compounds that limit the production of histamines and can be especially helpful in providing allergy relief.

2)      Vegetables containing vitamin A tend to help control allergic reactions, especially carrots, tomatoes, and leafy greens.

3)      Fruits and vegetables rich in flavonoids are helpful, as flavonoids act in much the same way as antihistamines do.

One of the benefits of taking a natural antihistamine is that it rarely – if ever – produces side effects. This is not always the case when eating foods that contain histamines. Choosing which foods to eat and which not to eat will of course vary from person to person. Some people will have a greater tolerance of histamines than others, and some will benefit more from eating foods that are sources of antihistamines than others will.