A Theory of (almost) Everything

It’s all starting to make sense.

Starting Culturelle probiotics has caused a major shift for me.  Initially it made me feel amazing – euphoric, even – and I was taking it 3x a day.  Then I began feeling like my guts were all swollen, my mood became uneven, and my sore throat flared up, as it tends to do when my body is under some kind of stress.  I couldn’t tell if I was sick with a cold or virus or if something else was going on.  After a couple days of this it occurred to me this might be a Herxheimer reaction so I cut the probiotics back to 2x/day.  The symptoms continued.  I felt very tired, went to bed early, slogged my way through work, and then I developed a bacterial infection in my eyes.  Probably unrelated, except to the extent that my immune system was too busy to kill it off in the early stages.

Two days later I suddenly felt better.  Like, all better. I started eating things that would normally cause me to become depressed – things containing starch or small amounts of fiber.  No depression.  My throat would become a little sore, but no depression.

Then I put it all together.  I think my biggest problem – my inability to tolerate starches and fibers, which has prevented me from eating fruits and vegetables for years now – has been caused by an overgrowth of a so-called “beneficial” bacteria that produces histamine in the large intestine.  So when I would eat things that ferment in the large intestine like soluble fiber or resistant starch, those bacterial colonies would have a feast and put out a ton of histamine.  My body would react with negative cognitive and emotional effects because histamine acts as a neurotransmitter, mucking up my brain.  (<–Not too clear yet on the actual biochemistry…but this is close.)

So when I started taking Culturelle probiotics with L. Rhamnosus GG in it (apparently the “GG” is the strain and is pretty important here) the GG starting kicking the ass of the bacterial overgrowth.  I don’t know how this happens exactly, but I will say (without too much offending detail) that the first week after starting Culturelle my stools changed – there was evidence that biofilms might be breaking up (?).  And now suddenly my moods are solid and I can eat regular-people food including bread, potatoes, pretzels, crackers – without bloating, discomfort, or mood changes.  (I haven’t tried anything REALLY fiberous yet, but will soon.)

A little background – there are several reasons histamine may be high in the body.  It can be high because:

  • The gut is damaged and doesn’t make enough DAO (histamine degrading enzyme).
  • There is a genetic mutation causing the body to produce insufficient amounts of DAO.
  • The mast cells (producers of endogenous histamine) are unstable and producing too much histamine.
  • There are too many mast cells.
  • The diet is just too damn high in histamine-containing foods.
  • There are too many histamine-producing bacteria in the gut.

I think my problem is the last one.  WAS the last one.  And I think the Culturelle is cleaning up that mess.  I’m so friggen excited about this!

I mentioned in a previous post that there are some bacterial strains to AVOID because they DO produce lots of histamine.  Not everyone agrees about which ones these are.  Mark Sisson says:

Among the histamine-producing, foremost are Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus delbrueckii, and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, all of which are found in most yogurts. Avoid those. That’s why fermented dairy is a no-go for most people with histamine intolerance.

Joe Cohen from SelfHacked says to be wary of the following histamine-producing bacteria (supporting research is linked in the parentheses):

  • L casei (R)
  • L reuteri (R)
  • L bulgaricus (R)

Alison Vickery – a holistic health coach from Australia who seems to know a LOT about histamine has written an ebook on The Therapeutic Use of Probiotics for Histamine Intolerance, which she sells for $10.  I bought it and it’s very much worth the money, just in the hassle it’ll save you experimenting with different probiotics.  She says some strains of L. casei and L. reuteri ARE helpful for some conditions (and her book is specific about which ones), so it may not be as cut and dry as some of the other sources would have you believe.  This study agrees with her, and indicates (emphasis mine):

Lactobacillus casei (TISTR 389) and Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus (TISTR 895) were found to produce [biogenic amines]. The highest levels of histamine (1820.9 ± 3.5 mg L−1) and tyramine (5486.99 ± 47.6 mg L−1) formation were observed for the TISTR 389 strain, while TISTR 895 produced only histamine (459.1 ± 0.63 mg L−1) in the decarboxylase broth. Biogenic amine potential was not observed for the Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus lactis subsp. lactis, Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis, and Lactobacillus plantarum strains studied. This study confirmed that BA formation is strain dependent and not related to the species.

Here’s what I’ve learned though – and this is important – L. casei (unspecified strain) was in almost all of the probiotics I’ve used over the last few years, and it’s widely considered to be a species that produces histamine. It’s also in a lot of commercial yogurts and other fermented dairy products.  THAT CRAP MIGHT BE WHAT WAS MAKING ME MISERABLE ALL THIS TIME. I don’t know for sure that that was the overgrowth I was dealing with, but it might have been.

Bottom line…I now believe my depression was caused by a “good” gut bacteria, in the right place.  This wasn’t SIBO.  And it wasn’t a pathogen.  It was a “good” guy.

Bacteria are truly running the show.

I’m so grateful science has advanced to this point, that we can identify specific species and strains of bacteria to treat specific conditions….and they actually work.

My next step is to eat some fiber and see how it goes.  If I can successfully eat fiber for a few days in a row I’m confident I can start eating a more healthful diet and get the rest of my health back on track.

Oh, and by the way….hot flashes are still gone.

4 thoughts on “A Theory of (almost) Everything

  1. Now you tell me! I had once tried the L reuteri once and felt really bad. Since then I havent tried any more. If this is working I suggest you keep it simple and let your body relax and recover. Try adding fiber at a later date.

  2. This is wonderful news! We’re kind of both discovering similar things and getting better at the same time too. Very happy for you!

    I wonder if Culturelle has a nondairy version of that? I noticed after my gut started having issues in 2013 that i developed all these food sensitivities and fiber intolerances (even sensitive to probiotics making me think I had Sibo or something). Only recently discovered that its probiotics cultured in dairy thats the issue. Will have to check this out.

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