As an allergy sufferer, you may already know that histamine is partially responsible for your sneezing, congestion, and runny nose. But did you know that this neurotransmitter does more than just aggravate seasonal allergies? Histamine, an ancient signaling compound, is also responsible for a sea urchin’s incredible transformation from free-swimming larvae to the spiny adulthood.
Histamine and sea urchins: transformation to adulthood.
Sea urchins begin life as larva that swim freely through the ocean. That’s a stark difference from their adulthood, which they spend living in one place on the bottom of the seafloor. As a larva, a sea urchin’s job is to pick the perfect “forever home” – a spot on the ocean floor where it will live out the rest of its days, never moving again. In order to find this home, sea urchins rely on chemical cues. While searching for these chemical cues, the larvae literally carry their future body on their backs.
So how do larvae find the perfect forever home and transform into their spiny adult bodies? Histamine plays a critical role in the signaling process.
According to Andreas Heyland, an assistant professor at the University of Guelph in Canada, purple sea urchins hone in on chemical cues released by algae. Algae, like purple sea urchins, thrive when living in rocky environments. By identifying algae’s location, the purple sea urchins can safely transform into adulthood, confident that they’ve picked the right home. However, in order to identify these chemical cues, the larvae must begin to mature.
Histamine is responsible for initiating the transformation process towards adulthood. Once the larva’s adult body is matured, histamine signals the larva to begin looking for chemical cues released by algae. At the same time, the histamine signals the larva to fold inside out.
"The entire package comes out of the larva at the same time the larval structures disintegrate," said Heyland.
This signaling and unfolding process is unique to the purple sea urchin. Other urchin species pick up histamine cues from their environment, rather than generating their own histamine. However, all sea urchins, just like other animals, have a nerve receptor for recognizing histamine. This receptor is even more refined in mammals and humans.
Histamine and humans: allergic reactions.
In humans, histamine does more than simply cause seasonal allergies. It also plays a role in digestion and the sleep-wake cycle. However, histamine remains best known for the role it plays in triggering allergy symptoms. Exposure to an allergen causes the body’s mast cells to release histamine. In some people, such as individuals with an extreme allergy to bees or strawberries, exposure to the allergen causes such a strong release of histamine that it can send the body into anaphylactic shock. Adrenaline is the only naturally occurring chemical in humans that can lower histamine levels. For individuals with potentially life-threatening allergies, an EpiPen (containing epinephrine) can help stop a serious allergic reaction.
While the anti-histamines in allergy medication can help reduce the effects of histamine on the body, they can’t stop the production of histamine. Instead, anti-histamines work by blocking histamine receptors in the body. When these receptors are activated by histamine, the traditional symptoms of seasonal allergies occur. These symptoms include runny noses, congestion and sneezing. Anti-histamine medication can help reduce the severity of allergy symptoms, but this medication alone can’t “stop” allergies.
While histamines may not cause your body to undergo a profound transform into adulthood (like sea urchins), histamines can cause a host of unpleasant symptoms, including itchy eyes, sneezing and congestion. If you struggle with seasonal allergies, managing histamine levels may seem like a constant battle. Supplementing your over-the-counter medication with a natural herbal remedy, like AllergEase, may help you better manage your symptoms. Many herbs contain anti-histamine properties and been used for centuries to provide natural relief.