What is Histamine Intolerance?
Histamine intolerance can lead to many symptoms but the most common are allergic-type reactions like stuffy nose, watery eyes, and sinus headaches. We often reach for the anti-histamines to reduce the symptoms when we should be checking out what is in our pantry.
The body produces histamine for many reasons with the most important being defending the body against foreign invaders playing a major role in our immune system. It is also found in food with fermented foods and leftover meats having some of the highest amounts.
Because our body produces it and it is in our food, our bodies have ways to make sure that histamine stays at healthy levels. When histamine levels become too high, it can lead to allergic-type reactions. But not for all of us.
For some of us, myself included, symptoms may vary resulting in migraines, headaches, skin conditions, and even insomnia. Histamine intolerance is where our bodies are not able to manage healthy levels of histamine resulting in a myriad of symptoms.
Symptoms of Histamine Intolerance
Histamine plays many roles in our body including regulating stomach acid. It is also an “excitatory neurotransmitter”, brain signaling chemical. Therefore, it plays a role in brain function and our mental health.
Because histamine plays so many different roles in our bodies, symptoms of histamine intolerance can vary from one person to the next. This is one of the reasons it is so difficult to determine if you have this food intolerance. We reach for the antihistamines, pain medications, or more instead of looking at our diet.
Whereas this food intolerance can be identified and resolved, it is difficult to manage as almost foods contain some level of histamine. There is no such thing as a histamine free diet.
Symptoms of Histamine Intolerance:
- Itching Skin, Eyes, Ears, and Nose
- Hives, Skin rashes, Eczema
- Autoimmune Flares – Psoriasis
- Low Blood Pressure
- Increased pulse rate
- Anxiety, Panic Attacks
- Headaches – Migraines, Cluster
- Chest Pain
- Fatigue, Confusion & Irritability
- Heartburn, GERD
- Bloody Noses
- Sweaty Feet
- Menstrual Irregularities including PMS
Causes of Histamine Intolerance
As with most food intolerances, it is a lack of an enzyme that leads to intolerance. An excellent example of this is lactose intolerance with dairy foods. Lactose intolerance is where we lack enough of the enzyme, lactase, to properly digest the sugars in dairy products.
With histamine, the enzyme known as diamine oxidase (DAO) produced in our gut, works a little differently than the enzyme, lactase. This enzyme actually blocks the absorption of histamine from the foods that we consume. Thereby reducing and managing histamine levels.
On the other hand, we produce another enzyme known as histamine-N-methyltransferase, (HNMT). This enzyme actually breaks down histamine thereby reducing levels. Once levels get too high, HNMT, starts breaking down histamine to a manageable level.
What Could Go Wrong with these Two Enzymes?
The enzyme DAO is produced by the bacteria in the gut as well as our body produces it. One of the major causes of histamine intolerance is dysbiosis and a condition known as “leaky gut”.
Dysbiosis is a condition where our gut bacteria become imbalanced and, in most cases, we have an infection of bad bacteria. This leads to a reduction of DAO and we over absorb histamine from our food leading to histamine intolerance.
With HNMT, this enzyme depends on a process known as methylation which produces a compound known as SAMe. This process depends highly on certain nutrients like folate, vitamin B12, and B2. If you are deficient in these nutrients or there a great demand for these nutrients, you could become histamine intolerant.
Some of the causes of deficiencies in folate, vitamin B12, and B2 are chronic stress and chronic hidden infections like dysbiosis. So, you can see that the role of gut health plays a major role in whether you will become histamine intolerant or not.
Looking at the fact that HNMT, needs SAMe one would think that supplementing with SAMe would do the trick. Unfortunately, like most dietary supplements, it depends on many other factors and nutrients to balance out nutrient deficiencies.
Supplementing with SAMe can lead to anxiety and insomnia, therefore, it is recommended and that you support methylation instead. Instead, you can promote healthy methylation through consuming foods that are rich in folate like green leafy vegetables and foods rich in vitamin B12 (found mostly in animal products).
Can you resolve histamine intolerance?
With most food intolerances, you have to first identify if you have it and then it is a matter of managing your food intolerance. This is for two reasons.
One depends on your genetic makeup as there many different genomic variances that come into play with histamine intolerance. The other depends on your gut health and being able to maintain a healthy gut and gut microbiota.
The first step to resolving histamine intolerance is to identify if you are histamine intolerance. Doing a food/symptom journal is a great place to start. By connecting what you eat to your symptoms you can begin to see if there a connection.
Due to the fact that food intolerances are dosage dependent, in other words, it depends on how much you eat not just what you eat. You will have to do a food journal for at least 1 week or so. This is how I found out I was histamine intolerant.
Foods High in Histamine
- Processed, cured, fermented meat
- Leftover meat, poultry, pork and fish
- Fermented milk products like yogurt
- Seafood: shellfish, fresh, frozen, smoked or canned
- Fish especially tuna fish (canned)
- Fermented foods – sauerkraut, kombucha, fermented soy products
- Artificial food colors and preservatives
- Chocolate, cocoa and cola drinks
- Alcoholic Beverages – wine and beer
Almost all foods contain some histamine. This list does not include all foods high in histamine but includes the most commonly eaten foods high in histamine.
Unlike food allergies, where the response is immediate, food intolerances can take up to 2 days for symptoms to occur. For me, it was the realization that every time I indulged with a glass of red wine and pizza, I would get a migraine.
All of these foods are high in histamine. My migraines would usually start up around 3.00 am when histamine release is at its highest for most of us.
Once you have determined if you are histamine intolerant, then you have to try to determine the underlying root cause. In most cases, healing the gut is key to resolving histamine intolerance.
Begin with my FREE Health Assessment to assess how healthy your gut is and how you can improve your gut health.
You may also have genomic variants that lead to poor enzyme functions like MTHFR, which can increase your need for folate and vitamin B12. For me, I have the rarest variant in MTHFR as well as variants in both DAO and HMNT. The key to truly managing your histamine intolerance is genomic testing and evaluation.
With my Optimize Health Genomic Package, you can finally get down to the underlying cause and manage your food intolerances. Or, you can get started today with Nutrition Genome, reviewing key variants to your overall health, gut health, and potential food intolerances.
Are There Probiotic Strains That You Should Avoid?
Yes, definitely. I learned the hard way on this one. Trying to experiment with making my own yogurt, I purchased a culture to make my yogurt containing Lactobacillus bulgaricus. Oops…
Lactobacillus bulgaricus can be found in many popular yogurt brands, i.e. Fage. Always, read the labels on yogurt and other fermented products to see what strains that they are using. Avoid products that do not properly list probiotics strains.
Probiotic strains that are histamine producers:
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus reuteri
- S. thermophilus*
These stains should be avoided. Along with fermented products, be careful with probiotic supplements. Always read the label. For instance, S.thermophilus is commonly used in broad-spectrum supplemental probiotics.
What Are the Best Probiotics for Histamine Intolerance?
Just like there are probiotic strains that promote histamine, there are strains that degrade histamine. So along with DAO which blocks absorption, these strains degrade and breakdown histamine. These are also commonly found in fermented foods and dietary supplements.
- Bifidobacterium infantis
- Bidobacterium longum
- Lactobaccillus gasseri
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus salivarius
Using probiotic supplementation is a great way to improve your gut microbiota and resolve histamine intolerance. But don’t forget to add in the healthy foods that contain prebiotics to truly heal leaky gut and dysbiosis.
Some of the foods that high in healthy prebiotics like apples, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus and even barley are all high in prebiotics. Root vegetables like beets and sweet potatoes provide the gut bacteria with the food that the good bacteria need to flourish. If you having problems digesting these foods, you might need a digestion tune-up. Check out my FREE Health Assessment to get started.
Functional Nutrition Approach to Healing Histamine Intolerance
To end the madness of elimination dieting and to enjoy wine and cheese again, start with my FREE Health Assessment. Followed up my complimentary 15-minute consult, begins the journey of getting to the root cause of your food intolerance.
Histamine intolerance, like most intolerances, did not occur overnight. Nor, were you born with it. Over the years, gut health, hormonal imbalances, medications, poor diet, and chronic stress can take its toll on our gut.
That is why functional nutrition using a comprehensive health history and profile. From there it might be recommended to conduct integrative testing like a stool or organic acid testing.
Genomic testing is highly recommended as it involves not just variants that can impact enzyme production, but variants that have an impact on your gut health.
In addition, some of these variants can have an impact not just on food intolerances but autoimmune conditions like psoriasis. For me, genomic testing was a game-changer as I finally got down to the root cause of my histamine intolerance and autoimmune skin conditions.
Eileen Schutte, MS, CN, FMN – One of my biggest passions is to help clients reach their health goals whether that is weight loss, overcoming hormonal imbalances or digestive conditions. My other passion is nutrigenomics, speaking to your genes through nutrition and providing a truly personalized nutrition approach. I hold a master's degree in functional nutrition from the University of Bridgeport, Connecticut graduating Summa Cum Laude. After completing my masters I went on to get my certification in functional nutrition medicine, and am a Certified LEAP Therapist (food sensitivities program) and a metabolic balance coach.
- Histamine and histamine intolerance, Laura Maintz and Natalija, American Journal Clinical Nutrition, 2007;85:1185-96
- Headaches, Hives and Heartburn Could Histamine be the Cause, Chris Kresser
- Degradation of Histamine by Lactobacillus Plantarum Isolated From Miso Products, Kung, et al, PMID: 28885051
- Probiotic Lactobacillus Rhamnosus Downregulates FCER1 and HRH4 Expression in Human Mast Cells, Oksaharju, et al, PMID: 21390145