You may have heard, or at least experienced your body react to a bee or mosquito bite, right? Or maybe you’ve been a victim to allergy season, dealing with itchy eyes, a runny nose and/or hives. Well, all of these ‘fun’ responses to mother nature actually has a name. This reaction is also coined as a ‘histamine response’ which is a natural substance that our immune cells produce as a part of the stress response.
Now that we’ve clarified what histamines are, and how the body responds to them it’s also important to know that histamines although are naturally produced in the body, they can also be consumed in food. There are foods that contain more histamines, and foods that release histamines. Interesting, right?
And weirdly enough, humans can become intolerant of foods that produce more histamines exasperating the pre-existing gut health issues that they may already have…
So what is a histamine intolerance?
Straight up – a histamine intolerance is the inability to tolerate high-histamine producing foods in the diet.
Unlike a food allergy, however, an intolerance can create various different levels of severity. And sometimes the intolerance can be super challenging to determine (it’s taken me 4 months to figure it out). The symptoms, however, start surfacing when the histamine level passes a certain threshold. From some, that can be very low while others can chow down all those delicious histaminey foods (lucky people).
A great analogy for this is imagining a big glass of water filled to the top and every time to eat or drink histaminey foods, the glass overflows. So does this counter in for healthy humans too? Yes, it certainly does. It just might mean that they’re more tolerant. But if someone eats something with excess histamines (red wine), they may just experience side-effects too.
So, what causes histamine intolerance?
There are many common reasons why you may develop a histamine intolerance.
- SIBO – excess histamine from undigested food
- Dysbiosis – bacterial, yeast overgrowth or parasites.
- Methylation dysfunction – (look into MTHFR gene)
- Genetics – mutations on enzymes that degrade histamines
- CIRS – Chronic inflammatory response syndrome from toxicity exposure
- Heavy Metal Toxicity – susceptible to histamine intolerance
- Medications – some meds inhibit DAO enzyme.
So what foods are giving us a tough time?
So as mentioned above, foods can either contain histamine, cause the body to release histamine or inhibit the breakdown of histamine in the body.
Histamine Heavy Foods:
- Alcohol (especially red wine and beer)
- Cheeses (especially the aged kind)
- Dried fruit
- Fermented foods
- Cured or processed meats
- Smoked meats
- And sometimes (avocado, citrus, eggplant, mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes)
Then there are the foods that release histamines…
- Alcohol (again)
- Chocolate (sorry)
So what does a histamine intolerance feel like?
Histamine intolerances can come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s important to keep a diary on hand to write down as many correlations between what you eat and symptoms that you experience while embarking on this ‘histamine intolerance’ journey…
For most parts, you may experience:
- Nasal congestion
- Fatigue (one I experience)
- Digestive issues (another one I experience)
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Abdominal cramping
If you think you have a histamine intolerance, then continue reading…
If you think you may be sensitive to high levels of histamines, then we recommend that you try a low-histamine diet for a couple of weeks to see if you notice any changes in your symptoms. If you do have an intolerance, you’ll start to recognise some of your more severe symptoms subside over time.
Next would be to contact a healthcare professional. These pros can help you seek out your cause root of the histamine intolerance and get treated for it. Ask to get tested for methylation issues, or examine medications that you’re on to see if they’re the issue. Once you determine the cause, you can start to treat it with the right approach and hopefully that will eliminate your symptoms all together.
You could try supplementing with DAO (however it is an animal based product), otherwise over the counter allergy medications such as Pepcid as short term relief. Alternatively, you can try an enzyme, or other supplements that support the breakdown of histamines.
If you are someone who has a genetic issue, then you just need to be mindful of what foods trigger responses more than others so that you can try and avoid them in big doses in the long run.
My personal experience: I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2017, so that pretty much delivers me all kinds of complex issues already. Nevertheless, I started experiencing weird tingling sensations around my urethra, headaches and fatigue in April 2020 and it took me 4 months to finally diagnose why I was intolerant of certain foods groups. Soy and vinegar are massive triggers for me.