Histamine intolerance occurs when there is an excessive buildup of histamine in the body. When histamine levels are too high in your body, you might not be able to break it down as normal, resulting in intolerance to histamine.
Histamine is an essential chemical for our body, and has several primary functions:
- It transmits messages to the brain,
- It triggers stomach acid secretion,
- It plays a role in immune response after injury or allergic reactions.
Normally, our body breaks down histamine taken from food with an enzyme called diamine oxidase (DAO). Because of this, histamine intolerance usually occurs if there is not enough DAO enzyme in your body. There are a number of reasons why one might develop a DAO deficiency, including drugs that inhibit various DAO enzyme activity, some gastrointestinal disorders, foods that block DAO enzymes, and frequent consumption of histamine-rich foods that inhibit the proper functioning of DAO enzymes in people.
Some foods are high in histamine or cause the body to release histamine even if their histamine content is not high. This is why diet plays a critical role in the development of histamine intolerance, as diet alone can cause histamine levels to get too high.
Various medications can also contribute to the development of histamine intolerance by impacting your body’s levels of DAO enzymes. Examples of these medications include:
- Gastrointestinal medicines
- Muscle relaxants
- Some pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs
* If you are intolerant to histamine and take these medications regularly, you should consult your doctor.
Symptoms Of Histamine Intolerance
There is a range of symptoms that come with histamine intolerance, and people with histamine intolerance often experience:
- A stuffy, runny, or itchy nose
- Abdominal pain, nausea
- Redness, especially in the head and chest
- Red, itchy, or watery eyes
- Feelings of weakness or fatigue
- Itching and rashes rash
- Motility in bowel movements
Having a diet that is low in histamine might be enough to address the symptoms of histamine intolerance, even if it doesn’t fully resolve it.
Since almost all foods and beverages contain some histamine, any diet will inevitably contain some. That said, there are some foods that are high in histamine. As foods age or spoil, histamine levels rise. Fermented foods also have high histamine levels.
Histamine-rich foods include:
- Alcohol and other fermented beverages
- Fermented foods and dairy products, such as yogurt and pickles
- Dried fruits
- Processed or smoked meats
There are also several foods that trigger the release of histamine in your body, such as:
- Bananas, papaya
- Citrus fruits
- Wheat germ
- Nuts, especially walnuts, cashews, and peanuts
- Food dyes and other additives
Foods that block DAO (diamine oxidase) production include:
- Energy drinks
- Teas like black tea, mate tea, green tea
There is no such thing as a completely histamine-free diet. If you have histamine intolerance, eating more low-histamine foods can help reduce the symptoms of histamine intolerance. Do not start a diet without consulting a dietitian to avoid further harm to your health.
After starting a low-histamine diet, you will likely start noticing positive changes in your symptoms in a month’s time. If you don’t experience any relief from your symptoms, then you may not be following the diet correctly.
Once you start getting positive results after starting a low-histamine diet, you can gradually add some foods containing histamine back into your diet so that you can explore your histamine threshold. Keeping a food diary can go a long way for this.
Some foods that are low in histamine include:
- Fresh meat
- Freshly caught fish
- Gluten-free grains such as amaranth, chia seeds, quinoa, and rice
- Plant-based milk, such as coconut milk and almond milk
- Fresh vegetables (with the exception of tomatoes, avocados, spinach, and eggplant)
- Non-citrus fruits
- Cooking oils such as olive oil
Here is a summary of general guidelines for a low-histamine diet:
- Avoid canned, processed, and prepared foods. Prepare your meals at home.
- Some foods can accumulate more histamine the longer it waits before you eat. Avoid eating these foods, including alcoholic beverages, yeast-containing products, or fish that are sold in the frozen foods aisle. Buy freshly-caught fish instead.
- Don’t leave food out of the refrigerator, and consume as much fresh food as possible. This includes meat products.
- Histamine levels in food vary depending on the level of hygiene during food prep. Pay attention to the cleanliness of the area you prepare your food.
- Low magnesium levels can trigger histamine intolerance, so getting enough magnesium is important while on a low-histamine diet. Make sure to have enough foods that are both low in histamine and high in magnesium, like flaxseeds, hemp seeds, chard, kale, artichoke, squash, quinoa, amaranth, and brown rice.
- As is the case with any elimination diet, seek help from a dietitian to shape your low-histamine diet.