Few things are more frustrating than switching to a healthy diet and feeling WORSE.
For those with a histamine intolerance, this is often the case.
That’s right – gut healthy favorites like fermented foods, probiotic supplements, and leftover grass-fed meat can actually make you feel worse.
And because histamines can affect the entire body, it’s often misdiagnosed. (You’ll likely be told it’s “just” allergies or IBS)
If you have dozens of random symptoms that appear out of nowhere, this is one condition you can’t afford to overlook.
Headaches, brain fog, chronic nasal congestion, bloating, restless leg – yep, those are allsigns of a histamine intolerance.
In this blog post, we cover everything you need to know about conquering a histamine intolerance so you can start living again.
What Are Histamines?
Histamine is a naturally occurring chemical that plays a role in our immune and neurological systems. It serves as a neurotransmitter, where it sends messages from the body to the brain, and helps regulate our stomach acid (Hydrochloric acid or HCL) so we can digest food.
Most notably, histamines are associated with allergies to pets or ragweed and anaphylaxis shock. The curious thing is how important the right levels of them are for normal body functions..
Histamines perform many functions by binding to receptor sites, which are located all over the body. (This is why histamine symptoms are so widespread.)
Histamine receptors and functions include:
- H1 receptors: Located all over the body; cause vessels to vasodilate
- H2 receptors: Located in the stomach; signals the release of stomach acid, increases heart rate
- H3 receptors: Located in the brain; regulates nerves, sleep/wake cycle and appetite
- H4 receptors: Located in the small intestine and colon; play a role in the body’s inflammatory response
As you can see histamines play an important role our health. Issues arise in the histamine system when these molecules aren’t degraded or broken down properly. This process is what’s commonly called Histamine intolerance.
What Is A Histamine Intolerance?
When histamines are generated faster than they can be degraded, an intolerance can develop.
In healthy individuals, histamines are primarily broken down by the N-methyltransferase (HMT) enzyme in the central nervous system and the diamine oxidase enzyme (DAO) in the gut.
The DAO enzyme, also known as histaminase, is the primary enzyme responsible for degrading ingested histamines. If it’s unable to do its job, excess histamines are absorbed into the blood where they can cause a wide variety of symptoms.
The most common signs and symptoms of a histamine intolerance are:
- Itching and hives
- Flushing of the face and neck area
- Accelerated heart rate
- Anxiety and/or panic attacks
- Dry mouth/increased need for fluids
- Nasal congestion and sneezing
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Tissue swelling
- Difficulty sleeping
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Low blood pressure
Think of your body like a cup – if the accumulated amount of histamines surpasses the body’s ability to break it down, the cup will overflow.
And this is when all those random symptoms start to show up.
Where Do Histamines Come From?
Histamines are produced by the gut (more on this later) and are also found in the food we eat.
It’s difficult to quantify the exact amount of histamine in food – which is why you’ll find contradicting information and several different food lists on the internet.
The amount varies greatly according to the type of bacteria, length of time unrefrigerated and conditions for fermentation.
Below is a list of foods that could potentially contribute to an accumulation of histamines in the body.
Histamine Rich Foods:
- Fermented alcoholic beverages: wine, champagne and beer (histamine is a byproduct of fermentation)
- Fermented foods: sauerkraut, vinegar, soy sauce, kefir, yogurt, kombucha
- Vinegar-containing foods: pickles, mayonnaise, olives
- Soured foods: sour cream, sourdough bread
- Cured meats: bacon, salami, pepperoni, lunch meat and hot dogs
- Smoked fish and certain species of fish: mackerel, mahi-mahi, tuna, anchovies, sardines
- Dried fruit: apricots, prunes, dates, figs, raisins
- Most citrus fruits
- Aged cheese
- Nuts (especially peanuts and walnuts) and nut butters
- Vegetables: avocados, eggplant, spinach, and tomatoes
- Leftover meat (contains high levels of the amino acid histidine which is converted to histamine by naturally occurring bacteria)
Histamine Releasing Foods (These foods don’t contain histidine themselves, but can cause mast cells to release histamines):
- Cow’s Milk
- Many artificial preservatives and dyes
Histamine Enzyme Blockers (Foods that block DAO – increasing system levels):
- Energy drinks
- Tea – Black, mate and green varieties
An intolerance to one or many of these foods doesn’t mean that particular food is bad, but rather an indicator of something bigger.
What Causes A Histamine Intolerance?
Generally speaking, a histamine intolerance results from the overproduction of histamines and/or the inability to break them down. However, several factors play a role in how that occurs.
Some of the most common underlying causes of a histamine intolerance are:
Leaky Gut – A leaky gut allows large, undigested food particles to seep into the bloodstream – which alarms the immune system to release histamine in response to the threat. Furthermore, intestinal inflammation will decrease the ability of the DAO enzyme to break down histamines in the gut, contributing to an overload.
Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) – Foods aren’t the only way of filling up your histamine bucket. These common anti-inflammatories contribute to inflammation in the gut, which can further suppress DAO production. Studies show aspirin, specifically, can play a role in the release of histamine from mast cells.
Candida Overgrowth – Fungal infections and histamine intolerance have a strong connection. Candida, a “normal” member of the microbiome, can take over if given the opportunity. In the case of a Candida overgrowth, histamines are released in an effort to kill the fungus.
Gut Bacteria – The bacteria in our gut have the ability to produce or degrade histamines as well as remain neutral. Lactobacillus reuteri (ATCC PTA 6475), Streptococcus thermophilus,Lactobacillus casei, and various strains of E. coli are known to produce histamines. When histamine producing strains outweigh histamine degrading strains (i.e gut dysbiosis), symptoms can start to surface.