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The Sink Analogy to Help Understand Histamine & Mast Cell Symptoms

Updated: Mar 15

Histamines are everywhere. They're in the foods you eat, some are made by your microbiome, those microscopic guys that reside in your gut.

Some are produced by your body's daily metabolic function.

They're also an integral part of your immune system. You need them for things to happen in the body: think digestion, peristalsis, urinating, ejaculating, menstruating, staying awake. It's a long list; this is just scratching at the surface.

Histamine: you make it, you need it, you eat it, you use it. The trick here is that, when you're done using it, you're supposed to move it out.

It is a very necessary part of your body's biochemistry, see?

But why might they be a problem then, if it's so integral?

Histamine function in the body

Let's use the analogy of the sink, to help illustrate our point here. Many use the rain barrel analogy, but we think there's an explanation piece missing in that scenario.

Everyone has a sink. This sink signifies how much histamine your body can hold. Everyone's sink is different in size.

Histamine coming in is the water coming in to the basin via the tap. How is your tap – is it leaking? Is it a slow leak, or a fast leak? Is it on full blast? Can you even turn off the tap?

Now let's look at the drain at the bottom of your sink. Is it working properly, is it open? Is it plugged? Or is it slow to drain?

Histamine are a part of daily life as a human. Water coming in to the sink is to be expected! But the ability to turn off the tap should also be expected, as should a functioning drain at the bottom of the sink. There should be some wiggle room in there to take in a bit more water, and then move it out in a timely fashion.

When histamine troubles arise, this is when your sink is full, and starts to overflow.

When you have an overflow, that's when your symptoms start to show up.

The overflow happens when the migraines are around; when the acid reflux starts to rear its ugly head; when your chronic pain issues worsen; when your tinnitus is through the roof. The overflow of water is when your own personal histamine troubles show up – and this is a unique thing for every individual.

What symptoms are telling you that your sink is overflowing?

The tap - water coming in to the sink

Let's get to know what makes your tap turn on or leak, dumping water in to your sink.

One of the ways histamine comes in is through the foods you eat. Some foods are naturally higher in histamine, while others develop histamine the longer they are away from being 'live' or 'fresh', due to bacteria on the surface of the food.

In regular circumstances, these should not pose a problem, and are merely a 'trickle' into your sink. Your drain at the bottom is open, and lets all of that water drain out. No overflow to be seen here.

As well, histamine can be produced by certain strains of bacteria found at the gut lining, in your microbiome. This is a part of that water coming out of the tap.

Let's add to this: when stress is around, now that locks your tap in the 'on' position, making it harder to shut off. Stress drives histamine release in the body! Now that is no longer a trickle in to your sink, but a faster flow in. How much time before your sink overflows?

And if that's not enough: inflammation also has the potential to increase the flow of water out of your tap. Yep. We didn't say this wasn't multi-factorial!

What about the mast cell piece?

To add to this idea of the sink analogy, when you have a mast cell activation piece to the puzzle, it's the equivalent of having a cracked sink. You're kinda releasing water all the time, dripping through the cracks.

Now the work involves doing repairs to the cracked sink, to help reduce how much it's leaking.

Why this is about the gut

Your intestinal lining makes an enzyme called DAO – diamine oxidase, for those keeping track at home. This enzyme is responsible for breaking down histamine coming in through the foods you eat.

When things are working as they should, and your intestinal lining is in good shape, you can make this enzyme no problem!

You can think of this enzyme, when functioning, like a really efficient drain at the bottom of the sink. You'll not experience an overflow when this is in good shape.

Histamine + the Gut – when things aren't working

Picture this: you sit down to a delicious meal of baked fish, bathed in a tomato and spinach sauce of some sort. There is a spinach salad with a citrus dressing on the side, and ferments of some sort being imbibed. Spoiler alert: all of these foods are high in histamine, or can enhance the dumping of histamine in your body.

Twenty minutes later, you find yourself sitting on the loo, wondering how one could empty their body's gut contents so quickly and still survive to tell the tale.

Or maybe you feel that daily wave of nausea, wondering if this time you'll actually vomit.

Maybe you feel some vague abdominal pain or discomfort, unsure of what's going on.

On some days, a meal like this could also trigger acid reflux for you.

Lack of enzymatic action – could this be the trouble?

For some, this may be the root piece of why histamine are problematic – they may have trouble producing the DAO enzyme. Enzymes work like scissors, helping break down specific compounds. DAO is a very specialized pair of scissors that breaks down histamine in the gut, preventing it from entering your system.

In some people, the ability to produce this important enzyme can lag due to a genetic pre-disposition; for others, it can be due to an imbalance or lack of nutrients needed to formulate the enzyme itself.

This enzyme production relies on a few different ingredients – important nutrients in balance like saturated fats, iron, vitamins C, B6, B12 and A in animal form (retinol) and the balance of zinc + copper. [1]

There are also certain foods that block this enzyme from functioning properly. When you are working through leaky gut issues, your ability to make this enzyme starts to wane. Now, that drain at the bottom of your sink is starting to back up, and your sink is draining slower. How long until the sink overflows and your symptoms show up?

A hampered ability to make this enzyme, regardless of the reason why, would start to compromise your drain at the bottom of the sink. How's that working for you?

Let's talk the liver's role here

There is another enzyme that helps move spent histamine out - it's called HNMT (Histamine N-Methyl Transferase for those who like fancy words). This enzyme is produced in your liver, and its job is to break down that spent histamine to help move it out. When this enzyme function is optimal, your drain at the bottom of your sink is working properly.

This enzyme relies on many things to function though. Genetics, epigenetics, nutrient defiencies, methylation issues, your liver's ability to detox, your body's toxin load, a history of viral or stealth infections: these are all factors that influence how well this enzymatic function can work (or not).

Might this be a contributing factor to a sluggish drain, leading to frequent overflows in your personal sink?

Now what?

Struggling with histamine mediated troubles? It's worth doing some deep digging with a trusted practitioner to figure out what's at the root of the problem. It's different for each individual – which further compounds the complexity of the issue.

One thing is for certain: focusing on supporting robust gut + liver health, and enhancing diversity at the microbiome level will always be of benefit.


Did this article present some new ideas for you? Ready to dig deeper?

We recommend you start with The Histamine Connection class. It's free and it's happening online.

Find the next live version coming up on this page. Look to the column on the right (or the first one you see if checking this out on your mobile device). Joining our live class means you can participate in the Live Q&A at the end of the session.

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