Histamine and Psychological Stress

Anna Nadal

Physiotherapist and Postgraduate in PNIE

Did you know that the concentration of histamine in the body can also be influenced by emotional stress?

Stress is an inevitable part of modern life. Our bodies biologically react to the stimuli that cause us stress, and this can have a significant impact on our health. In this article, we will explore how emotional stress can affect the release of histamine in our bodies and its relationship to various health conditions.

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) and its Connection to Stress

Our bodies biologically respond to the stimuli that cause us stress. One of the responses to such situations is the activation of mast cells, leading to the release of histamine and other inflammatory mediators. Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS), which can manifest for various reasons, is sometimes related to stress.

To be precise, it’s not the stress itself that activates mast cells but the hormone produced in response to these situations, known as corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). This hormone is produced in the hypothalamus, the first part of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, and is involved in mast cell activation, resulting in histamine release due to stress.

What are mast cells?

Mast cells are an essential part of the immune system and are found in mucosal and epithelial tissues throughout the body. They are classified as type T and type TC and play a significant role in allergic and anaphylactic immune responses, autoimmune responses, neurohormonal responses, stress responses, and infectious responses (Teoharis C. 2023).

Mast cells synthesize, store, and release a variety of mediators with different functions, some of which have immunosuppressive effects, while others have proinflammatory effects. These mediators include histamine, tryptase, serotonin, IL-1, IL-6, platelet-activating factor, prostaglandins, and leukotrienes.

When mast cells are activated, they release granules containing these mediators in their cytoplasm, known as degranulation.

The Importance of Controlling Mast Cell Activation

The problem arises when there is excessive mast cell degranulation, which can lead to an exaggerated inflammatory response in the body and in the intestine (Ramos. L. et al 2007). The secretion of IL-1β, IL-6, and TNF-α by mast cells forms the basis for the persistence of inflammation, while the release of histamine and tryptase contributes to the sensitization of nerve fibers. Therefore, increased mast cell activation is associated with increased excitability of enteric nervous system neurons and intestinal permeability. This is particularly relevant in people diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, as they often experience pain due to increased visceral sensitivity and inflammation in the intestinal mucosa (Panula P. 2015).

Additionally, mast cell activation plays a crucial role in the pathogenesis of many diseases, not only allergic diseases but also autoimmune diseases and cancer.

Christine N. Noto. et al. (2021)

The Impact of Stress on the Immune System

It’s important to differentiate between acute stress and chronic stress. Our physiology expects to encounter stress from time to time, generating acute or brief responses. These stressors can include physical exercise, temperature changes, fasting periods, among others.

If we observe the trends and context of our society, we see that most high-intensity stressors are usually not physical or short-lived but emotional and prolonged stressors. This disrupts our body’s adaptation to stress and causes the hormonal response to persist over time, even at times when it shouldn’t occur.

Circadian Stress Pattern

The release of hormones, including those related to stress, should follow a circadian pattern and fluctuate between day and night. Our physiology undergoes changes between these two periods, but chronic stress disrupts this natural rhythm. For example, it affects cortisol production and, consequently, disrupts our biological clock, limiting the resources available to the immune system. This can lead to an imbalance that increases the risk of developing a wide range of diseases, from common infections to various types of cancer. In summary, stress has a significant impact on our body.

Furthermore, it’s interesting to note that there is a gender difference in the binding of histamine H1 receptors in the brain. Women may have a greater affinity for these receptors compared to men (Shin Fukudo, et al. 2022). Therefore, especially if you are a woman, it’s important to find and promote a lifestyle that allows you, as much as possible, to regulate stress and histamine production.

Stress and its Effect on the Digestive System

Chronic stress negatively affects the function of the digestive system, increasing the permeability of the intestinal epithelium and promoting the entry of histamine and the release of mast cells. An intestine with high permeability allows a massive influx of histamine into the bloodstream, which can lead to symptoms related to histamine excess. Histamine plays a significant role in the pathophysiology of intestinal diseases and disorders of the gut-brain axis, and the balance of the intestinal microbiota is crucial for the treatment of individuals with DAO deficiency.

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