Stress and Histamine Part 6: Sleep

Good sleep is essential for stress reliefGood sleep is essential for stress relief

Getting a good night’s sleep is an essential factor in stress relief. It’s especially beneficial for people who suffer from histamine intolerance.

Cortisol is the “stress hormone”. When we are sleep-deprived our cortisol levels rise. [Leproult et al]

Nutritional biochemist Shawn Talbott, author of “The Cortisol Connection”, says that when we sleep for only six hours per night instead of the recommended eight, our cortisol levels rise by a whopping fifty percent!

While we sleep, our bodies cease producing cortisol, because sleep is meant for healing and regenerating. [Weitzman et al]

Stress can cause poor sleep, and poor sleep can cause stress.

If you’re sleep deprived, due to stress or some other cause, your mind does not function as well as it should. It’s harder to concentrate and to think rationally. This, in turn, can exacerbate stress.

Stress and anxiety can contribute to insomnia and restless sleep. Even when we are asleep, anxiety can permeate our dreams and disrupt our quality of slumber. It’s important to curb anxiety before you lie down to sleep at night.

Some Tips for Good Sleep

Sleep on your side

An Australian survey found that people who slept on their side reported better sleep and fewer aches and pains.  Lying on your stomach gives you the worst sleep. [Gordon SJ. et al]

Don’t hit the snooze button in the morning.

Robert S. Rosenberg, the medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center of Prescott Valley and Flagstaff, Arizona says that after you hit the snooze button on your alarm clock, your sleep will be of poor quality. You’d be better off simply continuing to sleep for that extra 10 minutes. To make matters worse, by waking up enough to hit the button then falling back asleep for a very short time, you’re interfering with your body’s natural sleep patterns.

Do not use the bedroom for work

We subconsciously associate places with activities. For example if we use our bedroom as a study or office, the brain will associate that space with working, thinking, being alert, and solving problems. Whereas your place of repose should be associated with relaxing and unwinding.
Set aside a dedicated space for work and a dedicated space for sleep.

Teenagers should be allowed to sleep in when practicable!

Teenagers need 9 – 10 hours of sleep every night, yet most adolescents only average about seven or eight hours. Some sleep even less. The hormones swirling throughout the body during puberty shift teenagers’ body clocks forward by one or two hours. This means they are naturally inclined to stay up late at nights, and then sleep in when morning arrives. (Sound familiar to you?)
Early school starts prevent teenagers from sleeping in. Over time, they build up a  ‘sleep debt’ of chronic sleep deprivation, which can adversely affect their health and studies.

Other strategies

Meditation, a warm bath, soothing music – these are some other useful tools for pre-sleep relaxation.

Good sleep is a top priority for management of histamine intolerance.


References:

[Rachel Leproult, Georges Copinschi, Orfeu Buxton and Eve Van Cauter.  Sleep Loss Results in an Elevation of Cortisol Levels the Next Evening. Sleep, 1997. Researchgate.net.]

[Elliot D. Weitzman, Janet C. Zimmerman, Charles A. Czeisler, Joseph Ronda; Cortisol Secretion Is Inhibited during Sleep in Normal Man. 1983; 56 (2): 352-358. doi: 10.1210/jcem-56-2-352]

[Gordon SJ, Grimmer KA, Trott P. Sleep Position, Age, Gender, Sleep Quality and Waking Cervico-Thoracic Symptoms. The Internet Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practice. 2007 Jan 01;5(1), Article 6. ]

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Asafoetida: the delicious spice with the weird name

Asafoetida powder

Image credit: NYPhotographic.com

Asafoetida

Asafoetida – have you ever heard of it? We discussed it briefly in one of our earlier posts (July 2016) but perhaps it deserves a post of its own. It’s a powder made from the dried parts of a plant in the Ferula genus, which  also includes the herb fennel.  Ferula assa-foetida is the scientific name of this spice. Asafoetida is part of the larger botanical “Carrot, Celery or Parsley Family”.

This spice has many names in many languages. This, in itself, indicates how well-loved it is across the world. It’s known as A Wei, Asafétida, Ase Fétide, Assant, Crotte du Diable, Devil’s Dung, Férule, Férule Persique, Food of the Gods, Fum, Giant Fennel, Heeng, and Hing.

You may ask, why do its names range from the scrumptious-sounding “Food of the Gods” to the off-putting “Devil’s Dung?” Asafoetida is truly delicious, but like garlic, it can (in certain circumstances) smell overpowering to some people. Don’t let this deter you!

This pale yellow powder is a valuable addition to a low histamine diet. It is thought to possesses anti-inflammatory, antihistamine and anti-viral properties, and to be able to combat intestinal parasites. Some studies have found that certain substances in asafoetida could help treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and may help protect against high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood.

In particular, asafoetida is a boon to people who suffer from fructose intolerance. It is an excellent low-FODMAP substitute for onions and garlic.

You can use it in any savory recipe, especially any that call for onions or garlic. It blends well with stews, soups, risottos and casseroles.

You might be able to find asafoetida in the specialty or health food section of your local supermarket. If not, try a health food store.

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Stress and Histamine Part 5

exercise relieves stressExercise relieves stress

Physical activity plays a vital part in relieving stress and protecting us from its harmful effects, such as problems with histamine. Use movement to relieve stress, instead of junk food.
As a bonus, exercise promotes muscles growth. The benefits are many, whether your exercise is intense or moderate.

Vigorous exercise

When you exercise vigorously your cortisol levels rise temporarily. (Your body is primed with cortisol to help you – for example, in case the reason you’re running is because you’re escaping from danger or chasing food.)
Despite this natural rise in cortisol, vigorous physical activity can protect the body from the harmful effects of chronic psychological and physical stress.

Intense exercise like running, fast bicycling or swimming, boxing, aerobics or vigorous dancing releases tension and stimulates the release of those “feel-good” chemicals in the body that not only lower stress levels but also help to curb excessive appetite.

Moderate exercise

When you exercise moderately, on the other hand, your cortisol levels drop.  Some examples of low-intensity exercise include gardening, walking, slow bicycling, housework, tai chi and yoga. Experts say we should aim to walk 10,000 steps per day. These days we can buy step-counting devices to wear on the body.

“Physical exercise is beneficial to mental health,” concluded the authors of a 2011 study involving more than 7,000 people. [J Psychosom Res. 2011 Nov;71(5):342-8. doi:  10.1016/j.jpsychores.2011.04.001. Epub 2011 May 18. Physical exercise in adults and mental health status findings from the Netherlands mental health survey and incidence study (NEMESIS). Ten Have M1, de Graaf R, Monshouwer K.]

What’s the best exercise?

There are many different kinds of exercise to choose from, but by far the best are those that you ENJOY. If you don’t enjoy it, you are unlikely to keep doing it. Some people say there is no exercise they enjoy doing. Here are some tips:

  • join a group or exercise with a friend. Socializing makes exercising more fun.
  • Dance to music. Think you can’t dance? Who cares! Find yourself a private space and dance alone, where no-one else can see you. Play your favorite music. Turn up the volume and go wild. Dance is exercise that’s usually accompanied by music, so it combines the stress-relieving benefits of movement with the stress-relieving benefits of melody and rhythm.

What does exercising cost?

You don’t have to spend a lot of money on gym memberships to get exercise – your body is right with you all the time, and all you need to do is get up and move it. Exercise is free.

How often should I exercise?

We recommend that you move your body for at least 30 minutes, three times per week.

 

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Stress and Histamine Part 4

MeditationMeditation – a powerful stress-reliever

It’s well-known that meditation is a powerful stress-reliever. It produces measurable biochemical and physiological changes which can be of great benefit to those who suffer from histamine intolerance. Countless scientific studies continue to provide evidence for its usefulness. For example a 1991 study found that after practicing Buddhist meditation, the cortisol levels, blood pressure and heart rate of 52 young men were significantly reduced.
[Sudsuang R, et al]

“… repeated practice of the Transcendental meditation (TM) technique reverses effects of chronic stress significant for health,” reported researchers who conducted a study in 1997. [MacLean CR, et al]

Science has shown that regular meditation can actually produce physical changes in the brain.

Types of meditation include Transcendental, Kundalini,  Guided Visualization, Vipassana, Qigong Mindfulness and Zazen (Zen).
It doesn’t matter what form of meditation you practice, as long as you do it regularly.

Meditation can be as simple as sitting or lying down comfortably in a quiet place, closing your eyes and breathing naturally. Concentrate on the gentle rhythm of your breathing, while allowing your thoughts to come and go without dwelling on any of them. Just let them flit in and out of your mind like butterflies in a garden.
Guided meditation tracks are available for free online, or you might be able to find a local meditation group.


References:

[Sudsuang R, Chentanez V, Veluvan K. Physiol Behav. 1991 Sep;50(3):543-8. Effect of Buddhist meditation on serum cortisol and total protein levels, blood pressure, pulse rate, lung volume and reaction time. ]

[MacLean CR, Walton KG, Wenneberg SR, Levitsky DK, Mandarino JP, Waziri R, Hillis SL, Schneider RH Psychoneuroendocrinology. 1997 May;22(4):277-95. Effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on adaptive mechanisms: changes in hormone levels and responses to stress after 4 months of practice. ]

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What’s the deal with cashews and histamine?

cashews and histamineCashews and Histamine

Cashews. They’re delicious, nutritious and versatile. But can they be eaten by people with histamine intolerance (HIT)?

Opinions are divided. One blogger, who says she is a “holistic health coach”, actively encourages people with HIT to eat cashews. On the other hand, Dr. Amy Myers, writing for Mindbodygreen, lists cashews under “Histamine-Rich Foods”, as does the website for Histamine Intolerance Awareness UK.

Histamine intolerance specialist Dr Janice Joneja says: “Unless the person is allergic to them, the following are generally safe on the histamine-restricted diet as long as they are free from any additional ingredients – Pure nuts and seeds, which includes sunflower seeds, cashew nuts and coconut and their derivatives such as coconut or cashew milk. The only seeds restricted are pumpkin seeds.”

Other histamine experts insist that coconut and all nuts and seeds should be avoided. Indeed, the world of histamine intolerance can be confusing!

Which is exactly why “Is Food Making You Sick” is all about the “STRICTLY Low Histamine Diet”. According to the old saying, “It is better to be safe than sorry”, this book lists as “safe” only the foods upon which all reputable authorities agree. Not everyone agrees that cashews can be included in a low histamine diet so we recommend that people with HIT should avoid them.

Of course, the low histamine diet is not a life-long diet. It is a diet to lower your histamine to safe levels. When you’ve been on the diet for long enough to feel better, you can gradually and slowly re-introduce small quantities of additive-free cashews (or other histamine-rich foods) into your diet, while carefully monitoring your health.

Wishing you health and happiness!

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Low-histamine foods are science-based

The List of Low-histamine Foods is Scientifically Researched.

Maybe you’re on a low-carb diet. Maybe you’re on a sugar-free diet, or an anti-inflammatory diet, or a fruitarian diet, or some other popular eating regime. That is your choice, but if you are histamine intolerant, your symptoms are not likely to subside unless you choose low-histamine foods and avoid foods (and external factors such as stress and pollution) that raise your body’s histamine levels.

Some popular diets are negotiable. Take the Paleo diet, for example – there is debate about whether Stone Age humans ate grains. Paleontologists have found traces of grains on ancient stone cooking tools dating back 105,000 years.

[Science. 2009 Dec 18;326(5960):1680-3. doi: 10.1126/science.1173966. Mozambican grass seed consumption during the Middle Stone Age. Mercader J1.]

Some people say that grains can be eaten on a Paleo Diet, while others insist that grains are forbidden. In other words, the foods included in this diet can be considered “negotiable”.

The foods in a gluten-free diet, on the other hand, are non-negotiable. Either there’s gluten in the food or there isn’t. Your body  certainly knows the difference! Scientists have tested foods to reveal their gluten content.

Don’t mix your diets!

The same applies to low-histamine foods. For his book “Is Food Making You Sick?” James L Gibb did not “invent” the low-histamine food list. The foods on the list have been selected because they have been scientifically proven to be low in histamine or low in factors that cause histamine release. These foods do not necessarily conform to the pattern of other diets. However this is due to sheer necessity!

As one Amazon commenter said in reply to a reviewer who complained about the book’s food list:

“Go ahead and follow your “anti-inflammatory” diet but it’s not the same as a low histamine diet. Choose which diet you need to follow, you can’t be on both. If you’re not histamine intolerant, then don’t follow a low histamine diet. The low histamine foods in the book were not selected on the basis of the latest food fads and crazes. They were selected on the scientific basis of how they affect people’s histamine levels. This is a fixed property of foods and cannot be changed according to people’s whims. Just because you don’t like to eat a certain food does not mean it is not low in histamine.”

Of course you can select your favorite foods from within the low-histamine food list, although we do encourage you to eat as wide a range of foods as possible from within the list, to maximize nutrition. If the range of foods seems very different from whatever diet you’ve previously been following, maybe that’s the reason why your symptoms are continuing. The Strictly Low Histamine Diet does not necessarily resemble any other diet. People who are NOT histamine-intolerant can go ahead and choose some popular diet craze to follow, but many of us do not have that luxury. As soon as our histamine levels rise, we suffer.

As mentioned before in this blog, following too many diets at the same time is not a good idea. It can overly-restrict your food choices. Find out if you’re histamine-intolerant (it’s easy to do, as the book describes). If you are, then there’s an excellent chance that going low-histamine will help you return to good health.

Bon appetit!

 

 

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Stress and Histamine Part 3

Oriental disciplines can relieve stressOriental disciplines can relieve stress

Oriental physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines such as yoga, t’ai chi, and qigong, which combine exercise with meditation and mindfulness, can trigger the release of beneficial hormones and other body-chemicals. Reducing stress can help people with histamine intolerance.

Evidence shows that such oriental disciplines can lower cortisol levels and encourage cell-healing. In fact, studies have found that when used to supplement traditional forms of treatment, regular practice of such techniques can:

  • reduce stress levels
  • combat depression
  • improve the quality of sleep
  • keep the body flexible
  • improve the sense of balance
  • help maintain bone density
  • decrease the pain of arthritis
  • improve heart health
  • reduce hypertension

Yoga

Yoga is a group of physical, mental and spiritual disciplines that began in ancient India. There is a broad variety of Yoga schools, practices, and goals.
Types of yoga include Hatha, Vinyasa, Iyengar, Ashtanga, Bikram,  Kundalini and Yin. “How to Do Yoga for Absolute Beginners” can be found here.

T‘ai-chi

T‘ai-chi is a Chinese discipline. Though originally conceived as a martial art and used for defense training, it is frequently practiced for a variety of health reasons. It has become popular worldwide. Most modern styles of t‘ai-chi trace their origins back to one or other of the five traditional schools: Chen, Yang, Wu (Hao), Wu, and Sun.
“How to do Tai Chi” can be found here.

Qigong

“Qigong is a holistic system of coordinated body posture and movement, breathing, and meditation used for health, spirituality, and martial arts training. With roots in Chinese medicine, philosophy, and martial arts, qigong is traditionally viewed as a practice to cultivate and balance qi (chi), translated as ‘life energy’.[Cohen, 1999]

“Qigong practice typically involves moving meditation, coordinating slow flowing movement, deep rhythmic breathing, and calm meditative state of mind. Qigong is now practiced throughout China and worldwide for recreation, exercise and relaxation, preventive medicine and self-healing, alternative medicine, meditation and self-cultivation, and training for martial arts.”How to Practice Qigong” here.
[Wikipedia]

You don’t need expensive equipment or even expensive classes to practice these methods. Classes are recommended, because of the social benefit of exercising in groups, and the value of a good teacher. However if you’re really hard up and cannot afford classes, once you have learned some moves from books or YouTube, you can practice yoga, t’ai chi, or qigong for free at home.


Reference:
Cohen, K. S. (1999). The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing. Random House of Canada. ISBN 0-345-42109-4.

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Stress and Histamine: Part 2

dealing with stressful situationsDealing with Stressful Situations

As discussed in the last post, stress is associated with histamine. Minimizing your experience of stress can help to curb your histamine intolerance symptoms.

The team at University of Southern California [“Stress Management” Be Well at USC.] says, “There are many healthy ways to manage and cope with stress, but they all require change. You can either change the situation or change your reaction. When deciding which option to choose, it’s helpful to think of the four “A”s: avoid, alter, adapt, or accept.”
You can change the stressful situation by avoiding it or altering it. Or you can change your reaction to the stressful situation by adapting to it or accepting it.

Dealing with Stressful Situations: The Four “A”s:

Change the situation:
* Avoid the stressor:  E.g. Learn how to say “no”;  avoid people who stress you out; take control of your environment; avoid conversational topics that lead to heated arguments; pare down your to-do list; quit your stressful job; get out of your stressful relationship. Changing your situation may not be easy, but if you want major changes in your life you may have to take big leaps of faith. If you’re not prepared to take those big leaps you may have to be satisfied with smaller changes.
* Alter the stressor: E.g. Express your feelings instead of bottling them up; be willing to compromise;  be more assertive;  manage your time better.

Change your reaction:
* Adapt to the stressor: E.g. Reframe problems; look at the big picture; adjust your standards; focus on the positive; change your attitude.
* Accept the stressor: E.g. Accept the things you can’t change; don’t try to control the uncontrollable; look for the positive side; share your feelings with people you trust; learn to forgive.

Each of us has our own way of responding to stress, which means that what works for one person may not work for another. It is worthwhile trying out a range of stress-management strategies. Pay particular attention to the techniques that enable you to feel composed, serene and in control.

In addition to taking control and having a positive attitude, one of the best things you can do to reduce stress is to nurture yourself, body and mind.

You can learn more about stress management on the University of Southern California’s website.

Looking after yourself is a necessity, not a luxury – especially for people with histamine intolerance. Set aside some time each day to really nurture yourself and do something enjoyable and relaxing.

We’ll be offering more stress management strategies in the next post. See you then!

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Stress and Histamine: Part 1

stress and histamineStress and Histamine

“When you’re all stressed out, your body releases hormones and other chemicals, including histamine, the powerful chemical that leads to allergy symptoms. While stress doesn’t actually cause allergies, it can make an allergic reaction worse by increasing the histamine in your bloodstream.”
Stress Relief Strategies to Ease Allergy Symptoms – WebMD

This is the first in our series of posts giving you strategies for dealing with stress.

Life comes with its own built-in stressors. We can try to avoid stressful situations, but:

  • It’s impossible to completely avoid all stress.
  • We actually need small amounts of stress now and then. A little bit of stress, for a short time, can be inspiring and motivating. It’s long-term, chronic stress that can cause health problems.

It’s not so much the stressfulness of a situation that determines how stressed an individual person will feel. It’s that person’s reaction to the situation. For example, two people could find themselves in identical situations, and one might react calmly while the other one panics.

Stress management – the first steps

Stressful situations will always come and go in our lives. There’s not much you can do to stop them happening, but there is a lot you can do to minimize stress and its effects.

Step 1:

Recognize that you are in  control of your own  emotions, thoughts, routines, and responses to stress. Studies show that simply knowing we have some control over our own lives is a major factor in minimizing the effects of stress!

Step 2:

Figure out what is causing the stress in your life.
We’re not always conscious of the real sources of stress. Many people suffer from low-level stress without really knowing why. Sometimes we think we know the reasons, but if we look closer, there may be other causes involved. Thoughts and feelings play a major role.
For example, maybe you feel you are rushed off your feet every day, and you have too much to do. You might blame a heavy work-load for your feelings of stress. But perhaps you are expecting too much of yourself – setting impossibly high standards for the amount of work you think you should get through. Allow yourself to be less of a perfectionist. Permit yourself to take a break and relax from time to time. Simply changing your expectations to make them more realistic could decrease your stress levels.
The point is, you might be blaming external forces for your stress, when in fact your own inner thoughts and feelings are largely contributing to it. If you go on telling yourself that all your stress is due to external factors beyond your control, you will always feel helpless. Work out how much of your stress is due to external factors such as your environment, or your health, or the people around you, and how much of your stress is your own responsibility. The great thing about being responsible for some of your own stress is that it means you can do something about it! You can control it!

In an article called “Stress Management”, the University of Southern California recommends keeping a simple daily “Stress Journal” so that you can  make a list of all the things that stress you out from day to day, and how you responded to them.
[“Stress Management” Be Well at USC. University of Southern California. ]
This is a good way to understand whether your stress responses are useful or counterproductive. For example, do you react to relationship problems by over-eating, smoking or  drinking? Or by talking to friends or counselors?

Step 3:

Work out how to deal with the sources of stress in your life.
If your stress journal shows a pattern of unhealthy, unproductive ways you react to stress, then swap them for better responses.

In our next post we will give you some helpful, proven strategies for doing this.

 

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Apples and Onions

Apples & Onions

… with natural antihistamines?

Quercetin, a compound found in many plants, is a flavonoid and an antioxidant with many valuable properties. It’s readily available in natural foods, especially apples and onions.

  • Quercetin is an antioxidant, and may promote good health by decreasing or even helping to prevent some of the damage free radicals do to our bodies.
  • It may help guard against heart disease and cancer.
  • It is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties.
  • In addition, quercetin may have an antihistamine effect by aiding in the stabilization of histamine-releasing cells in our bodies.

In laboratory tests, quercetin stops immune cells from releasing histamine. If this mechanism also works in living humans, then quercetin would be a valuable aid in reducing symptoms of allergies such as –

  • itchy skin
  • runny nose
  • watery eyes
  • hives
  • sneezing
  • wheezing, shortness of breath

Quercetin can be bought in the form of a dietary supplement (capsules, pills etc.).  In the form of supplements it is generally considered safe, however the University of Maryland cautions people against taking more than the recommended dose. It is possible to harm your health by overdosing on quercetin supplements, but it’s unlikely you could eat enough apples or onions to cause any problems!

You can eat apples and onions raw or cooked – you’ll still get the benefits of quercetin. Cooking can change the levels of quercetin in foods, but not enough to worry about. For example, in a study on onions,  “Baking and sautéing produced a 7–25% gain in quercetin concentration, while boiling produced an 18% decrease in quercetin concentration.”

So grab an apple now, or slice up an onion for a salad, and enjoy crunching on a nutritious fruit or vegetable that may help reduce your histamine intolerance symptoms!


References:

[Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, Volume 18, Issue 6, September 2005, Pages 571–581 Quercetin in onion (Allium cepa L.) after heat-treatment simulating home preparation. Kevin Lombard, Ellen Peffley, Emanuel Geoffriau, Leslie Thompson, Andy Herring. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jfca.2004.03.027]

 

 

 

 

 

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