As I went through our garden and orchard this morning, watering our annuals and fruit trees, I marveled at how much better I felt today than yesterday.
It was a reminder that sometimes the signs my body is sending me require a little deeper digging.
A few days ago our Russian olive trees started blooming. It’s quite the heady smell, and I think even the healthiest individual might find their fragrance overwhelming.
And a couple of days ago, I started experiencing debilitating histamine intolerance symptoms.
My head was so fogged that I was having problems thinking clearly. I even went out yesterday morning as part of my farm chore routine to fill the donkeys’ water trough and discovered I’d forgotten to turn the water off the day before – resulting in a cascade of water running down towards our old cottonwood tree. (I’m sure the tree enjoyed my neglect of the hose, but not the best mistake to make during a drought.)
Along with brain fog, I was also severely congested. I remembered a conversation I’d had with my favorite local doctor, who described congestion using the memorable term “mucus river,” I believe. My mucus river was in a tumult.
So I smelled the Russian olive flowers, their fragrance perceptible even inside the house, and blamed my symptoms on them, closing all the windows, which I normally enjoy keeping open at this mild time of year. Had I developed an allergy to Russian olive pollen? Do Russian olives ( Elaeagnus angustifolia) even produce wind borne pollen?
But I knew there was also another possible cause of my symptoms – the butternut squash I had tried eating a couple of days ago.
Squashes are listed as containing zero histamine by the Swiss Interest Group on Histamine Intolerance (SIGHI), the most reliable reference I have found for histamine content in foods. If I only look at things from a perspective of high histamine foods causing histamine reactions, butternut squash shouldn’t cause brain fog or congestion.
However, my improved symptoms today (despite being outdoors among the Russian olive pollen), as well as what I’ve learned about food chemical sensitivities, are good indicators that histamine reactions are not always direct. Sometimes they are quite indirect, which can make them tricky to understand.
I first adopted a low histamine diet about a year and a half ago. While the diet did help my symptoms enormously, even improving my previously horrendous menstrual cycles, I was reacting to foods that I wasn’t supposed to react to, things like black beans. I was quite convinced that I had histamine intolerance, but something just didn’t make sense.
With a lot of experimenting, food journaling, and the help of my amazing dietician / nutritionist, I came to understand little by little that I had other food intolerances which were indirectly triggering histamine reactions.
What role did butternut squash have in my recent histamine reactions? It has a moderate salicylate content. Salicylates are one of the food chemicals I’m currently sensitive to.
As I move forward through my health journey, working on treating my SIBO, restoring my gut microbiome, and trying to introduce new foods to my restricted diet, this indirect reaction is an important thing to keep in mind.
Sometimes the causes of my histamine reactions are indirect and their causes are not obvious.
And although I do think the Russian olive trees exacerbate my symptoms just a bit, I’m not going to blame them like I wanted to blame them yesterday. (Yes, they are an invasive species, but that’s for another story.)
I’ve opened the windows back up, and feel more comfortable going about my garden chores once again – one of my favorite ways to connect with nature at home.
One day I hope to be free of food chemical intolerance and able to grow and eat whatever I want in my garden.
Until then, I’ll keep working away, doing experiments, making observations, and having faith that a healthier microbiome might make all the difference.
Here are a few more posts on my experiences with food sensitivities and gardening:
This article does not intend to diagnose any health conditions or offer treatment advice. Please consult with your health practitioner before trying any supplements or making any dietary changes.
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