Now this is interesting. I had an ah-ha moment last week on a night when I had a major acute hive reaction (the worse I’ve had since mid-January, with eight-inch long hives, oy…). I’m pretty sure this reaction is due to having begun a new probiotic. This particular probiotic was the same as my last one, except it included some prebiotic fibers. The kicker was that I was supposed to take two a day instead of one, and I think that put one of the histamine-making strains of bacteria at too high a level for my body to handle. The thing is, according to the research I did back in January, this particular probiotic (like the last one) only had one strain of suspected histamine-causing bacteria: Lactobacillus Casei. The first probiotic I tried – the one that initially caused the hives – had five of the seven suspected strains. I personally suspected two of those five specific strains because my Fage yogurt, which I eat for breakfast every morning, has the other three, including L Casei. And I never got hives from eating yogurt daily, which I’ve been doing since April 2012.
Enter the ah-ha moment. Prior to remembering exactly when I started eating yogurt for breakfast every day instead of cereal, I hadn’t considered the yogurt to be related to inflammation at all. When I was discussing all this with Jason on the acute-hive night, I expressed frustration at not having an answer for what was going on. I kept getting the hives at the same time nearly every day, with only rare moments of getting them at other times of the day. Tracking my food, activity, and potential contact allergens (like weeding the garden) didn’t produce any meaningful correlation with the severity of hives. And I had a hard time believing that it was just the probiotic, because the only histamine-causing strain in it was L Casei, which was also in my yogurt, which didn’t cause acute inflammation…and hold the phone. Lightbulb turns on.
Within a month of when I started to eat yogurt daily in 2012, I began having inflammatory reactions like fatigue and bone/organ pain for days after strength training or high intensity exercise. That wasn’t normal for me and I couldn’t explain it. Just a couple months before, I’d had muscle soreness but no lingering fatigue or weird pain with the same kind of exercise. I blamed the new weird symptoms on insomnia, which got severe around this same time (another inflammatory reaction), prompting me to began taking Benadryl. This could have countered the histamine reaction to a certain degree, and indeed during the one three-month period when I didn’t need sleep meds (several years later), I gained weight for the first time since I’d hit my goal weight despite no change in my diet/exercise. (I can’t blame stress either, as I’d been through other terrible times with no weight changes.) More tellingly, when I stopped eating the yogurt for four weeks during my experiment with a paleo diet in autumn 2014, most of the inflammatory symptoms disappeared until I returned to normal eating. The inflammatory reactions have worsened over time, and I continued to attribute them to sleep issues because they mostly involved fatigue. I really only recognize them now after the extreme inflammation of December/January, when just walking to the mailbox felt like running a marathon.
Most live cultures eaten by mouth don’t make it to the gut because of the acidity in the upper part of the digestive system. Over seven years, though? How much could have made it through? And if those particular bacteria were causing me to have too-high histamine levels, how much could they have been affecting my health all along? Then, add several probiotics containing some of those same bacteria, massive doses of them making it to the gut, and you get a major histamine reaction. My hives nearly always came at the same time every night – about ten hours after my yogurt breakfast, regardless of what time of day I took my probiotic. This was one of the most frustrating things about trying to find a pattern, but suddenly, it makes a hell of a lot of sense.
Needless to say, I quit taking the probiotic immediately. Eight-inch long hives are NO FUN. I stopped eating the yogurt the next day, when I decided it wasn’t worth using up what was in my fridge first. As much as I love my yogurt – and I truly do love it, to the point where I mourn giving it up – I wanted to feel better NOW, and all the massive hive and eczema flare-ups were killing me! So I stopped eating it as well, and plan to keep it from my diet for several months. I really feel like this is the answer I’ve been looking for for so many years and might really help fix so many issues I have, from depression to insomnia to my inability to strength train or do high intensity exercise. I’ve mapped out some timelines of acute and low-grade inflammation over the last seven years, which has really helped me see patterns. There’s real hope this time that I’ve found a solution.
Note: I’m also looking into whether or not this is a histamine-intolerance issue in a more widespread way. Many of the foods I eat on a regular basis (beef, spinach, legumes, strawberries, yogurt, chocolate, bananas, nuts, coffee, eggs, etc) are high in histamines, all to varying degrees. With histamine intolerance, you build up histamine levels throughout the day, and if you breach a threshold, you have a reaction. This could also explain why I always got the hive reaction in the evening, regardless of whether I took my probiotic in the morning or evening.
When I began eating yogurt daily in 2012, it was because I switched over to a mostly-whole-foods diet, and 90% of the whole foods I can eat are histamine producers or inhibit the mechanisms in the body that break down histamine. (Oh the irony of being a picky eater, widening your eating range, and managing to widen it only toward foods that may be damaging your body…) This may have simply been a perfect storm that I had no way of detecting. However, considering my inflammation mostly cleared up (as far as I can remember) during my one stint with Whole30/paleo (a very high histamine diet), I’m leaning on the side of this being related to the live cultures in yogurt specifically, rather than histamine generally. Or possibly that yogurt, which is an VERY high histamine food, just brought me regularly over my personal histamine threshold.
Second note: My appointment with the allergist this week was a bust. This is the second time I’ve seen this guy and both times he’s treated me like I’m five years old. This time, he told me that “some people just get hives” and it’s impossible to tell what they’re from, and it’s definitely not from probiotics because no one can be allergic to probiotics, and inflammation isn’t actually a problem, it’s not real, and if I don’t like the hives, I should take several kinds of antihistamines daily. Then he gave me a list of antihistamines I can get over the counter with their generic names so that I “could find them.” Grr. Needless to say, I’m looking for a new allergist!