Do you feel like you can't eat anything without a negative reaction? Do you experience frequent and unexplained symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, or sinus issues? Do you have the impression that ever single food is causing you problems?
It could be histamine.
The first place to start is understanding what histamine is and how it can affect the body.
What is histamine?
Histamine is a chemical that is produced naturally by the body to mediate an inflammatory cascade in response to an allergen.
It has many functions in the body including:
- supporting digestion by triggering stomach acid production
- working as a neurotransmitter and chemical messenger by carrying messages to the brain and between nerves
- wound healing
- acting as a natural immune response to injury and infection
- regulating sleep
What is histamine intolerance?
When histamine is released due to an injury or allergenic reaction it causes dilation of blood vessels in order to send immune cells to the site of infection or injury to fight the pathogen and heal damaged tissues.
Histamine isn't bad however when it gets too high for the body to handle and cannot be broken down properly it can become problematic and trigger symptoms. Histamine is mainly broken down by the diamine oxidase (DAO) enzyme but if this enzyme is lacking problems may arise. This enzyme can be depleted by many things including histamine blockers, NSAIDS, antidepressants, inflammation, intestinal permeability, gluten intolerance or celiac disease, SIBO, and certain DAO blocking foods such as chocolate, alcohol, and caffeine.
Healthy amounts of histamine will not cause problems. When histamine levels get too high you may experience a collection of symptoms called histamine intolerance.
Symptoms of histamine intolerance
Histamine intolerance symptoms are numerous and may mimic many different conditions which can make it tricky to diagnose.
Some common signs that indicate you may have a problem with histamine include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Digestive issues
- Skin problems
- Menstrual irregularities
- Breathing difficulties
- Arrhythmia, or accelerated heart rate
- Headaches or migraines
- Sinus issues
We suggest verifying with your doctor if histamine might be an issue for you and to look into further testing that can help you to figure out what is going on.
Foods to avoid with histamine intolerance
If you find yourself reacting to a lot of foods, chances are you might be experiencing histamine intolerance. A good way to find out is by going on a low histamine diet. This can provide relief from symptoms as you address the underlying causes. We don't recommend following this type of diet for too long though as it is quite restrictive. Work with a skilled practitioner in order to find long term relief for your histamine intolerance.
Most foods high in histamine are fermented and aged however there are many foods that can contribute to and trigger high histamine levels:
- Alcoholic beverages
- Fermented foods (sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt, natto, miso, tempeh, pickles, kombucha)
- Smoked, processed and cured meats such as salami, bacon, lunch meat, sausage, and pepperoni.
- Wheat germ
- Artificial dyes & preservatives
- Sour food (sour milk, buttermilk, soured bread, sour cream)
- Dried fruits
- Aged cheeses
- Black tea
- Green tea
- Bone broth
- Citrus fruits
Foods to consume with histamine intolerance
On the other hand, there are foods that are beneficial to consume if you are experiencing problems with histamine. In addition to the foods listed below it is also recommended to eat foods as fresh as possible.
- Gluten-free grains: rice, quinoa, corn, millet, amaranth, teff
- All fresh vegetables except spinach, avocado, eggplant, tomatoes
- Dairy substitutes (examples include hemp milk, almond milk, coconut)
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Herbs like parsley, oregano, dill, cilantro, thyme, tarragon
- Fresh fish and meats
- Mango, pear, watermelon, apple, kiwi, cantaloupe, grapes, pomegranate, peaches, apples,
- Herbal teas
- Pure peanut butter
- Red onions
- Holy Basil
For best results it is typically recommended to follow a low histamine diet for 30 days and then re-introduce them individually in order not to overwhelm the body and assess if any foods in particular may still be causing you problems. This is also known as an elimination diet and is recommended to be followed with the guidance of a healthcare practitioner.
Supplements for histamine intolerance
Alongside a histamine friendly diet, supplementation can provide additional support and relief from symptoms.
Probiotics can be a part of gut healing and improving histamine tolerance however you need to be careful with the strains you chose. Certain bacterial species can actually make the issue worse and others can help by supporting the breakdown of histamine in the body (1) These beneficial strains may include:
- Bifidobacterium infantis
- Lactobacillus gasseri
- Bifidobacterium breve
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Lactobacillus salivarius
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Bifidobacterium lactis
- Lactobacillus plantarum
On the other hand it is recommended to avoid the following strains when shopping for a probiotic supplement:
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus Bulgaricus
- Streptococcus thermophilus
- Lactobacillus delbrueckii
- Lactobacillus helveticus
Quercetin is a natural anti-inflammatory antioxidant shown to help alleviate allergic symptoms by reducing inflammation and suppressing histamine (2)(3).
Proteolytic enzymes can help to support the degradation of histamine and improve digestive symptoms as they work to break down food particles, decrease inflammation and reduce the circulation of protein complexes in the bloodstream which can trigger allergenic and histamine symptoms.
Vitamin B6 is naturally anti-histamine as it is essential for the proper functioning of diamine oxidase (DAO), the enzyme responsible for breaking down histamine. As mentioned, low levels of this enzyme can result in a buildup of histamine as its initial job is to break this compound down for the body to process and regulate.
Though addressing histamine intolerance may take some time, you can find relief as you go through the appropriate steps to healing which include avoidance of histamine foods, supplemental support, and addressing the root cause which is typically a gut health issue. We strongly recommend working with a health care practitioner who has experience dealing with histamine in order to make the process as smooth sailing as possible.