Before answering the question, “what is histamine intolerance?”, it’s important to first understand what histamine is and how it works in your body. Histamine is a naturally occurring compound found in your body’s cells; it’s connected to the digestive system, cardiovascular system, bone marrow, gastrointestinal system, uterus, skin, central nervous system, and respiratory tract.1
Histamine intolerance occurs when too much histamine is produced and stored in the body. Excess histamine may cause an allergic reaction, which can range from mild to severe.1
What Causes Histamine Intolerance?
Histamine was first discovered in 1910, but wasn’t recognized for its relation to anaphylaxis (serious allergic reactions) until 1932. To this day, the cause of histamine intolerance is still debated, but the current consensus is that a histamine build up is responsible. When diamine oxidase (DAO), an enzyme found primarily in the kidneys is in short supply, histamine levels rise. This is due to the body’s inability to break them down and flush them out.1
While the main cause of a DAO histamine intolerance is believed to be genetics, gastrointestinal bleeding, mastocytosis (excess growth of mast cells in the skin) and ingestion of histamine-rich foods may also contribute.1
High histamine can also occur because of enzyme impairment, often resulting from gastrointestinal disease. Some gastrointestinal diseases cause gastrointestinal mucosa to occur, and can in turn cause a correlation between the gut fungus, candida, and histamine intolerance.1
Histamine Intolerance Symptoms
So, what happens when your body produces too much histamine? The body will begin to exhibit symptoms of histamine intolerance. These high histamine symptoms vary depending on the excess histamine causes, such as illness, infection, or DAO blockages due to high alcohol or drug intake.
Symptoms often mimic allergic reactions, and include hives and swelling, rash and redness, and nasal congestion, as well as basic histamine food allergy symptoms, such as headache, nausea, dizziness, and diarrhea.1
Individuals with a history of histamine intolerance in their family should watch for signs of high histamine levels. The following are all considered signs and symptoms associated with a histamine allergy.
Histamine Intolerance Weight Gain
In several studies, taking traditional antihistamines has been associated with an increase in appetite and weight gain.2,3 As a result, individuals with histamine intolerance who take antihistamines may find it increasingly difficult to lose unwanted pounds. Taking a supplement for histamine intolerance instead of an antihistamine, could possibly reduce the common weight gain side effect.
Histamine Intolerance Brain Fog
Brain fog is a symptom of histamine intolerance which causes mental confusion, and in some cases, memory loss. It may occur in patients who experience histamine intolerance due to mastocytosis, a rare disorder which causes an excess growth of mast cells in the skin. Mast cells release histamine, and an accumulation of mast cells releases more histamine than normal, causing brain inflammation and the resulting fog.5
Rosacea Histamine Intolerance
Sometimes a histamine intolerance rash will form in those experiencing a reaction to decreased DAO or heightened histamine. Rosacea causes redness, and in some cases pimples, to appear on the face, neck, and chest. When additional histamines are ingested it can aggravate these symptoms. Heightened levels of histamines produced by mastocytosis can also inflame the skin with rosacea-like symptoms.7
Histamine Intolerance Eczema
Eczema is a chronic atopic skin condition, which results in red, itchy, flaking skin. One study reported that patients with severe eczema often exhibit higher than average levels of histamine.1
It also noted eczema patients who received a lower intake of histamine-rich foods reported a decrease in symptoms. Those who ingested more histamine found their eczema intensified.1
Histamine Induced Insomnia
Living with histamine intolerance can be uncomfortable, especially when it causes symptoms which affect your everyday life. One symptom commonly associated with histamine intolerance is insomnia. Insomnia occurs in patients with higher than average levels of histamines because histamines act as an excitatory transmitter in the nervous system. It causes you to feel alert and awake, even at bedtime.4
Dysmenorrhea Histamine Intolerance
Dysmenorrhea causes intense menstrual cramps in ovulating women. It’s the most common condition related to women’s gynecology, and can present itself with moderate or severe symptoms.6
Dysmenorrhea is thought to occur in those with histamine intolerance, due to the connection between histamine and women’s hormones. In the female reproductive system, histamine is produced within cells in the uterus and has been shown to stimulate estradiol, an estrogen-based sex steroid that can promote uterine cramping.1
Food Allergies and Histamine Intolerance
Those who suffer from histamine intolerance are prone to allergic reactions to a variety of foods and beverages that contain histamine. Histamine intolerance alcohol reactions are common, especially for red wine, which is a proven DAO inhibitor. Consuming red wine with a histamine intolerance may lead to sneezing, headaches or asthma attacks.1
Osteoporosis and Histamine
There’s also believed to be an association between histamine intolerance and risk of osteoporosis. Premenopausal women with allergies (and increased levels of histamine) are three times more likely to experience fractures, compared to those without allergies.8
Histamine Intolerance Test
The test for histamine intolerance usually begins with an elimination diet to first rule out a food allergy. Following this, doctors may recommend serum testing or a biopsy to check DAO levels in the body.
Unlike other allergy testing, there is no histamine intolerance blood test, because histamine isn’t regulated by Immunoglobulin E (immune system antibodies) like typical allergies. Because of this, blood testing for histamine intolerance will usually come back negative.1
Histamine Intolerance Treatment
While there’s no single histamine intolerance cure, those who suffer from histamine intolerance may notice reduced symptoms by eating a low-histamine diet, taking histamine intolerance supplements or an antihistamine for histamine intolerance.1
There is also anecdotal evidence that vitamin b12, and vitamin b6 treatments may be beneficial, although studies are required.
Before starting treatment for histamine intolerance be sure to consult a doctor, as many medications can intensify symptoms of histamine intolerance, especially when mixed.1
Histamine Intolerance Diet
Eating with a histamine sensitivity diet in mind can greatly decrease histamine reaction to food, and lower the risk of uncomfortable side effects. You can tailor your diet to exclude foods with high histamine levels, and include more foods with low histamine levels. Tomatoes’ histamine levels, for example, are high, while you are unlikely to suffer from a garlic histamine intolerance.
Histamine Intolerance Food List
Below you’ll find a list of foods that will help you create a beneficial histamine intolerance diet going forward. You should also speak to your doctor or a nutritionist about which foods to exclude and include in your daily routine.
Foods to Avoid with Histamine Intolerance
- Red wine
- Aged cheese, such as parmesan and swiss
- Smoked meats, such as salami
- Smoked fish, such as herring and mackerel
- Fermented items, such as yogurt and buttermilk
- Fermented or pickled items, such as pickles, soy sauce, and sauerkraut
- Fruit, such as citrus, papaya, and strawberries
- Egg whites
- Green and black tea
- Vegetables, such as tomato, spinach and cabbage
Safe Foods for Histamine Intolerance
- Fresh meat and fish, such as chicken and salmon
- Natural vegetable oils
- Rice and oats
- Fresh vegetables (aside from those mentioned above)
- Fresh fruit (aside from those mentioned above)
- Garlic and onions
Histamine Intolerance Supplements
Unlike traditional antihistamines which can leave users feeling drowsy or promote weight gain, taking supplements for histamine intolerance is considered a natural approach to inconvenient symptoms. Preliminary studies have shown success with certain supplements that today, are easily found online.
Probiotics for Histamine Intolerance
In a 2008 study, the relation between probiotics and histamine levels was investigated. Results showed that supplementing with probiotics significantly suppressed histamine signaling, making it a possible treatment option for those with histamine intolerance.9 The best probiotics for histamine intolerance may be probiotic supplement pills.
Quercetin Histamine Intolerance
Another effective supplement is quercetin for histamine intolerance, which can help inhibit histamine release, according to one study. The study found that quercetin could decrease allergic reactions in subjects, including those suffering from histamine intolerance.10 One of the most popular and affordable quercetin supplements is made by NOW.
Phloretin Histamine Intolerance
The same study also tested phloretin, another easily obtained supplement, and found it also had a substantial affect on histamine production and allergies.10 Phloretin can be extracted from apples, and is used in topical and oral applications.
Chrysin Histamine Intolerance
Another naturally occurring flavonoid that was examined was chrysin, which significantly inhibited histamine release.10 Chrysin supplements are most commonly found in capsule form, and can be purchased from pharmacies and health-food stores.
Scientific Research Referenced in this Article
- Maintz, L. & Novak, N. (2007) Histamine and histamine intolerance. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 85(5), 1185-1196. Retrieved on September 13, 2017 from http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/85/5/1185.full.pdf+html
- Orthen-Gambill, N. (1988) Antihistaminic drugs increase feeding, while histidine supresses feeding in rats. Journal of Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior. 31(1), 81-86. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/0091-3057(88)90315-2
- Silverstone, T. & Schuyler, D. (1974) The effect of cyproheptadine on hunger, calorie intake and body weight in man. Journal of Psychopharmacologia. 40(4), 335-340. Retrieved on September 13, 2017 from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF00421472?LI=true
- Haas, H. L., Sergeeva, O. A. & Selbach, O. (2007) Histamine in the nervous system. Journal of Physiological Review. 88(3), 1183-1241. DOI: 1152/physrev.00043.2007
- Theoharides, T. C., Stewart, J. M., Hatziagelaki, E. & Gerasimos, K. (2015) Brain “fog,” inflammation and obesity: key aspects of neuropsychiatric disorders improved by luteolin. Neurosci. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2015.00225
- Proctor, M. (2006) Diagnosis and management of dysmenorrhea. 332(7550), 1134-1138. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.332.7550.1134
- Dayan, S. H., Pritzker, R. & Arkins, J. P. (2012) A new treatment regimen for rosacea: OnabotulinumtoxinA. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. 11(12), 76-79. Retrieved on September 13, 2017 from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Steven_Dayan2/publication/235397753_A_New_Treatment_Regimen_for_Rosacea_OnabotulinumtoxinA/links/557e0a1d08ae26eada8dba01.pdf
- Jarisch, R. Histamine intolerance: Histamine and sea sickness. Vienna: Springer, 2012. Retrieved on September, 14, 2017 from – View Reference
- Dev, S., Mizuguchi, H., Das, A., Matsushita, C., Maeyama, K., Umehara, H…. & Fukui, H. (2008) Suppression of histamine signaling by probiotic lac-b: A possible mechanism of its anti-allergic effect. Journal of Pharmacological Sciences. 107(2), 159-166. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1254/jphs.08028FP
- Pearce, F., Befus, A. D. & Bienenstock, M. D. (1984) Mucosal mast cells: Effect of quercetin and other flavonoids on antigen-induced histamine secretion from rat intestinal mast cells. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 73(6), 819-823. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/0091-6749(84)90453-6