Migraine and Histamine: Part 1

Recently Marisa, one of our HeadWay subscribers, sent me a note about a study relating diamine oxidase levels and migraine.  This opens up a pretty complex topic, but we like complex topics around here – especially when they might help someone!  So let’s give it a go.

First, what exactly is diamine oxidase?  Diamine oxidase (DAO) is an enzyme also known as histaminase.  DOA occurs naturally in the body.  DOA breaks down histamines.

Histamine and Migraine

Histamines are also very important to the body.  We all have them.  But it is possible to have too much.

So – what if I have too much histamine?  By now you might be thinking – allergies.  That’s right, there’s a connection.  When you are allergic to something, your body releases histamine, and the histamine starts many of the symptoms you’re familiar with.  You know, watery eyes and congestion, for example.  Actually, inflammation is triggered by the histamine.

Normally, histamine is an important player in the body’s fight against invaders – the immune system.  But again, too much histamine (or histamine at the wrong time!) can cause problems.

So why in the world would I have too much histamine?  There are actually a number of reasons your body could have too much histamine.  Histamine can come from food, for example.  Some foods are higher in histamine than others – take for example wine and other fermented foods and drinks.

Sometimes food poisoning comes from high histamine levels, particularly in fish.

Another way levels can get too high is if the histamine isn’t broken down properly in the body.  That’s right, one of the things that breaks down histamine is DAO.  But a shortage or malfunction of anything that might be involved in the breakdown of histamine could cause a problem (and we’re not going to get into all that today!).

So we know that histamine levels can cause nasty symptoms, and we know that there are a number of things that can change histamine levels in the body.  Now, on to the study.

Study on DAO and Migraine

Now, there are actually a couple of related studies, but I’m going to focus on the first one, reported on in 2010.  In fact, the connection between migraine and histamines is far from new.

82 migraineurs were compared with 82 controls (people without migraine).  DAO levels were measured in the patients.

Actually, DAO levels tended to be low in both groups.  So apparently low DAO is not so uncommon.

However, diamine oxidase levels were significantly lower for migraineurs.  In the end, almost half of them had very low levels, and almost all had low levels.

If DAO is low, it’s quite possible that histamine is high – and that means histamine intolerance (known by a variety of other names, including histamine excess or histaminosis).

Now another interesting fact came out of the study – most of the migraine patients were, in the opinion of the researchers, experiencing symptoms more common in histamine intolerance than in migraine after drinking alcohol or eating histamine rich foods.  They estimated 95% were in this category.

Now, to suggest that most migraineurs are low in DAO certainly makes it sound like there could be a solid connection.  But there are reasons to be suspicious of this theory – and also more reasons to think it may be valid.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about whether low DAO levels could be triggering migraine symptoms in at least some people, and what the treatment may be if this is the case.

If you’re interested in the full study, it’s available in Spanish in pdf format here:  Evaluación del déficit de diaminooxidasa en pacientes con migraña.

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5 comments… add one
  • Ellie Marie Moore Jun 6, 2013

    This is very interesting, thank you.

  • Dee Ball Jun 7, 2013

    Interesting! ESP after a week of hay fever and migraine symptoms!

  • Very much so! I developed migraines (a 9 week lon gone so far) have been checked out for anything scary and all ok but I started to get bad hives with it too so that conection as possibility too. Many thanks 🙂

  • anti histamine cetrazine also induces migraine in my particular case.

  • chris Jun 8, 2013

    Had the problem related to this but only when I had a sneezing fit, when I controlled the sneezing I didn’t get a migraine. Sneezing makes you use the muscles in the face and neck very suddenly.

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