During allergy season, the word histamine may bring to mind itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, and the discomfort one feels when the body is experiencing an allergic reaction.
However, histamine (formed from histidine, an essential amino acid) plays a larger role in the body, functioning not only as a potent inflammatory chemical that causes allergy symptoms, but also as a neurotransmitter involved in appetite control, learning and memory, and wakefulness.
As a paracrine (a chemical messenger that acts locally in the body), histamine causes stomach acid secretion that aids the digestive process of proteins and defense against bacteria that could harm the body.
Considering the various roles that histamine plays in the body, we may wish to consider how we deal with histamine as it is released when a minor allergic reaction occurs. There are both natural and synthetic options of anti-histamines to consider using when histamine causes our blood vessels to dilate and become leaky, which is largely to blame for the symptoms we experience.
Let’s take a look at what current research says about natural versus synthetic anti-histamines.
Natural antihistamines are substances found in nature that can inhibit the physiological effects of histamine and alleviate symptoms caused by the allergic reaction. Natural antihistamines, such as quercetin, have not only the intended antihistamine effect but can support the body in other respects providing anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, and antioxidant properties.
Quercetin: A bioflavonoid known for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and chemo-preventive properties, quercetin also exerts anti-allergy effects as a natural antihistamine by inhibiting the release of histamine from mast cells. One study found that when rats were treated with quercetin, nasal allergy-like symptoms were suppressed.
A 2016 review study published in the journal Molecules, states that quercetin is a well-known inhibitor of human mast cell activation as it inhibits ionized calcium from entering the cell and histamine release.
A 2012 study published in the journal PLoS One found quercetin to be more effective than the synthetic antihistamine cromolyn in blocking human mast cell cytokine release and found quercetin to more effectively reduce histamine secretion (82% - 87% inhibition) when compared to the synthetic cromolyn (67% inhibition).
A 2007 rodent study published in Inflammation Research found that quercetin was able to reduce the respiratory effects of allergies by lowering inflammation of the airway.
Found naturally in the foods that we eat, quercetin has many health benefits. Quercetin has been shown to relieve allergies as an antihistamine and anti-inflammatory, prevent oxidative stress and premature aging as an antioxidant, maintain cardiovascular health and relieve joint pain as an anti-inflammatory, and has been shown to control the growth of cancer cells through its anti-tumor effects.
Quercetin is found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices. Red onions, apples, tea, garlic, red grapes, celery, kale, citrus fruits, blueberries, blackberries, capers, chia seeds, pistachios, olive oil, parsley, sage, and elderberries are some food sources of quercetin.
Quercetin is also available as a supplement and is considered safe, as most studies found little to no side effects when people consume quercetin through food or supplementation. However, supplementation in very high doses may cause side effects such as headaches, and tingling of extremities. Also, supplementation of quercetin may interact with some medications.
Synthetic antihistamines are drugs that block the body’s histamine receptors during an allergic reaction. Antihistamines do not stop the formation of the histamine or the allergic reaction, but they alleviate the local actions that cause the symptoms by blocking the receptors.
These histamine receptors are commonly found on the smooth muscle of the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, large blood vessels, uterus, and in the central nervous system. So, when the antihistamine is taken, it can affect all of these areas in the body, which is why some individuals experience side effects of the drug, such as sleepiness, impaired motor function, dizziness, dry mouth, blurred vision, urinary retention, fast heart rate, and constipation.
Cromolyn: This synthetic antihistamine was originally derived from a plant (Amni visnaga) used in ancient Egypt for its spasmolytic properties, and is available as an over-the-counter medication. Cromolyn works by interfering with the antigen-mediated calcium ion influx into mast cells which prevents the release of histamine and other inflammatory mediators like macrophages.
A 2017 article published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reviewed current knowledge of mast cell activation disorders and their treatment and found that when cromolyn was used in patients with mastocytosis and gastrointestinal symptoms, it had very poor absorption which limited its efficacy for systemic treatment.
A 2002 review published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings found cromolyn to be effective in reducing symptoms such as runny, stuffy nose and sneezing, but less effective than the nasal corticosteroids. However, cromolyn was not found to be associated with the reduced growth pace, reduced bone mineral density, and adverse eye/vision effects associated with long-term systemic corticosteroid use.
A 2016 study published in the journal Archivum Immunologiae et Therapiae Experimentalis assessed the direct effects of disodium cromolyn on melanoma tumor cells. The study concluded that disodium cromolyn was able to directly induce the death of most of the melanoma cells, exemplifying the anti-tumor properties of cromolyn.
We can see from this quick review of two mast cell stabilizers, the natural quercetin, and the synthetic cromolyn, that each can exert antihistamine and anti-inflammatory actions when we experience symptoms from a minor allergic reaction. We also see both have been shown to exert anti-tumor properties. However, the natural quercetin was shown to be more effective, when compared to the synthetic cromolyn, as an antihistamine, and also provided additional benefits as an antioxidant protecting the body from oxidative stress.
Jeremiah 33:6 “Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security.”
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