Histamine depletion in exercise

A long known and often repeated finding is that regular exercise can be protective against asthma. This finding was published in 1966 by a group that found the airways of asthmatics grew progressively less reactive following intervals of exercise. This finding was confirmed by several studies that followed. At the time, the reason why exercise protected against reactive airways was unclear, but an early hypothesis was that mediators were depleted after the initial round of exercise and that time was required to restore them.

In the 1980’s, there was a wave of research around the role of histamine in airway reactivity of asthmatics. There were a few competing theories at this point for why asthmatics became less reactive following exercise: depletion of mediators, mainly histamine from mast cells; that bronchial smooth muscle became less responsive to stimulation by histamine via the H1 receptor; and that release of catecholamines (such as epinephrine) by exercise suppresses bronchoconstriction. A number of studies made relevant findings.

Histamine is known to be released in the lungs due to exercise. It is also known to become depleted and quickly metabolized. When exposed to histamine, asthmatics recover quickly from the ensuing bronchoconstriction. Some asthmatic patients show an increase in plasma histamine during exercise.

Plasma epinephrine does not rise in asthma patients as a result of exercise, or at the very least is metabolized almost immediately, and thus is unlikely to be protective. Bronchial smooth muscle was not found to become less responsive to histamine. This was demonstrated in a study that compared repeated inhalation of histamine (such as might be induced by exercise) with actual repeated exercise. This study found that repeated exercise diminished airway reactivity, while repeated inhalation of histamine did not.

Another report indicated that inhalation of cromolyn before exercise can prevent or mitigate exercise induced asthma in most patients. Administration of H1 inverse agonists was found to offer similar protection.

A more recent study (2012) looked at the role of histamine in fatigue from exercise. Histamine is now known to be involved in regulation of oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange, which is important in exercise. In mice that were persistently exercised, the level of histidine decarboxylase was increased. HDC is the enzyme that makes and immediately releases histamine in response to an immediate need. This is different from degranulation, in which histamine is made ahead of time and stored inside the cell until needed.

This study found that treating the mice with an H1 antihistamine, H2 antihistamine, or HDC inhibitor decreased endurance in the mice. Mice deficient in HDC or H1 receptors also had less endurance. This means that histamine is partly responsible for inducing tolerance to exercise and that blocking action of histamine causes fatigue to set in more quickly.

Treatment with fexofenadine, an H1 antihistamine, decreased levels of nitric oxide and glycogen in the muscles of exercised mice. Taken together, these findings mean that histamine protects against fatigue from exercise; that this effect is achieved via H1 receptors and production of nitric oxide; and that at least some of this histamine is provided by immediate production and release of histamine via HDC. This means that your body does not simply release its histamine stores in response to exercise; it makes it on the fly so as not to exhaust its supply.



Hahn, Allan G., et al. Histamine reactivity during refractory period after exercise induced asthma. Thorax 1984; 39: 919-923.

Niijima-Yaoita, Fukie, et al. Roles of histamine in exercise-induced fatigue: favouring endurance and protecting against exhaustion. Biol Pharm Bull 2012; 35; 91-97.

Schoeffel, Robin E., et al. Multiple exercise and histamine challenge in asthmatic patients. Thorax, 1980, 35, 164-170.

Graham P, Kahlson G, Rosengren E. Histamine formation in physical exercise, anoxia and under the influence of adrenaline and related substances. J. Physiol., 172, 174—188 (1964).

McNeill RS, Nairn JR, Millar JS, Ingram CG.Exercise-induced asthma. Q J Med 1966; 35: 55-67.


1 Response

  1. Muhammad March 21, 2016 / 2:10 pm

    Hi there, I’ve got a question and I was wondering if you’d be able to help. I think I’ve got mcad as a co morbidity to eds. And one of the triggers I think is weight training. So I was just wondering if the more weight training I do will my body get used to it or should I reduce the time I spend in the gym. For example an hour to say 20 mins.

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