My family and I suffer from severe allergies, and we are not the only ones reaching for the tissues and cold eye packs to relieve the itching. There are a lot of people suffering from allergies and many of them are simply told that they have an allergy and are given an antihistamine or over the counter medication to treat their symptoms. There is an untold amount of people who live this way, without understanding that they may have histamine intolerance. If they have not discovered histamine intolerance, then they may be blaming their cat for a long time and popping more tablets than necessary.
Fortunately, I discovered my histamine intolerance and kept my cat, ditched the meds, and changed my diet to a low-histamine diet. Various diets help with different ailments and health conditions. We all know about the Atkins diet, the low cholesterol diet, and following a diet for diabetes, but you may be wondering what is a low-histamine diet? Who needs one?
Let’s explore this diet and get right into it!
What is Histamine Intolerance?
Firstly, let’s understand what histamines are.
We have all heard of antihistamines; the medication you are given to tame those frustrating allergy symptoms, but these medications are essentially there to work against the histamines your body is producing. Histamines are a chemical that your immune system produces. Think of bodyguards; when you are being bothered, they step in and ‘get rid’ of the irritant. Histamines act in the same way; when your body is being bothered by allergens, they step in to resolve the irritation. Histamines initiate the process that removes allergens from the body or off of the skin. They can trigger sneezing, a runny nose, itchy skin, or teary eyes. They form part of your body’s natural defense system. Allergens such as pollen, dust, or pet dander may pose no threat to your body, but our immune system does not see it that way and it responds quickly to fight against the irritation. Unfortunately, my immune system is as dramatic as I am, and it overreacts quickly, producing too many histamines and those annoying allergy symptoms. This is why we get told to take antihistamines.
But hold back on the tablets if it an allergy and rather try natural antihistamines. Have a look at our article detailing natural antihistamines.
Now, we can dive into histamine intolerance…
In simple terms, histamine intolerance is when your body has too much histamine. Essentially, it’s not sensitivity to histamine, instead, it is just a build-up of it. Most people think that histamine and allergies go hand in hand, when in fact histamines have other roles too.
Histamine is primarily a neurotransmitter that acts as a chemical messenger between neurons. Histamine is also a part of the digestive system; it is a component of stomach acid that helps to break down food. This chemical is your body’s response to unwanted invaders entering your body, it creates an inflammatory response to dilate blood vessels and enable white blood cells to get rid of those invaders.
When you have a level of histamine that is too high, it can be dangerous and sometimes even deadly. Diamine Oxidase (DAO) is responsible for breaking down histamine that is ingested with food. Researchers believe that it is mostly the DAO’s failure to degrade the histamine in our food that causes the histamine intolerance we see today, which results in high levels of histamine and some unpleasant and sometimes dangerous symptoms.
Symptoms of Histamine Intolerance
When our body has too much histamine that isn’t broken down, symptoms may start to appear. These symptoms are very similar to what you would experience with allergies. If you have recurring symptoms you should have tests done to see if you could have possible histamine intolerance. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include the following:
● Breathing problems
● Stomach cramps
● Abnormal menstrual cramps
● Digestive issues
● Nausea and/or vomiting
● Hypertension (high blood pressure)
● Hypotension (low blood pressure)
● Nasal congestion
● Sinus problems
● Headaches and migraines
● Tissue swelling / Inflammation
● Tachycardia (irregular heartbeat)
The cause of histamine intolerance can be linked to a few unrelated factors, including DAO blocking, which I mentioned earlier, gastrointestinal disorders such as leaky gut syndrome, food sensitivities, and Crohn’s disease. Some research shows that high histamine levels can be caused by bacterial overgrowth that produces histamine from undigested food. This explains why so many people who suffer from allergies more often than not, also suffer from gastrointestinal conditions.
You may be having that “aha” moment now when you realize that your allergies are actually not allergies at all but rather a histamine intolerance. If you have histamine intolerance, then you need to explore a change in diet and to follow a low-histamine diet plan.
The Low-Histamine Diet
If you have a food allergy, histamines are involved in that reaction process too. When you accidentally eat or drink something that you should have avoided, then your histamines will kick into “bodyguard” mode in your gut and trigger an allergic reaction.
Some foods are naturally high in histamines, for instance, fermented or aged foods and alcohol (yes, unfortunately, the wine too!). Many people are highly sensitive to these foods.
And while you may be feeling low about putting that glass of wine down, you may not be enthusiastic about putting the coffee mug down too! Caffeine blocks diaminoxidase (DAO) and coffee is naturally high in histamine which means it can trigger what may seem like an allergic reaction, but it does not occur through the typical allergy mechanism in our body. The histamine in coffee causes an inflammatory reaction that can become serious in some people.
If you want to enjoy a hot beverage then rather turn to green tea. The EGCG it contains has been shown to offer potent anti-inflammatory, anti-angiogenic, and anti-tumoral properties and it is a potent inhibitor of the histamine-producing enzyme, histidine decarboxylase.
The Foods to Avoid
Histamine is made from amino acids, which come from proteins. It makes sense that a low histamine diet is a low protein diet. Proteins also take longer to digest, and the longer food remains in the gut, the higher your histamine levels may rise, which can feed bacteria and continue the cycle. Along with protein-rich foods, the following should also be avoided because they could aggravate histamine intolerance and block DAO production:
● Caffeine (blocks DAO)
● All citrus fruits
● Chocolate and cocoa
● Dried fruit
● Dairy products
● Processed foods
● Foods with preservatives and dyes
● Dried fruit
● Tomatoes and tomato-based foods
As you can tell this is already quite limiting but following a low histamine diet is the key to improving your wellbeing. If this diet is followed and you can resolve your body’s histamine levels, then you can ease back into regular eating. Do not become too comfortable when returning to a regular diet, the key is to remain mindful and to monitor your body’s reactions to food. The reward will be greater than the food you have missed out on.
The Foods to Include
Foods to include in your diet:
● Fresh fish
● Meats and poultry in moderation (only if they are freshly cooked)
● Gluten-free rice and quinoa
● Fresh fruits that are not on the list above
● Fresh vegetables that are not on the list above
● Pure peanut butter
● Dairy substitutes such as almond, hemp, or oat milk
● Olive oil and coconut oil
● Leafy herbs (learn to grow your own here)
● Herbal teas
Before diving straight into this diet, you can follow an elimination diet for 14-30 days. This involves eliminating high histamine foods or histamine forming foods and slowly reintroducing them to monitor the possible reaction. By doing this you will be able to see what foods your body can tolerate, and which foods are causing the high histamine levels in your body.
Does This Mean I have Food Intolerances?
A histamine intolerance does not mean you have a food intolerance. To test for food sensitivities there are separate tests that can be done to determine which foods you should avoid. Let’s look at dairy for example. In a low histamine diet, you have to restrict your dairy intake. This is not because your body cannot handle lactose or is unable to break the lactose down. Dairy contains high amounts of histamine and because your body is unable to break down or process the excess histamine, you want to avoid adding too much into your body. Yes, you may have lactose intolerance, but the two should not be confused.
Tolerating Those Histamines
Histamine intolerance is greatly overlooked by most medical professionals. If you feel that you have far too many persistent allergies, it would certainly be worthwhile getting a test done to see if you have high histamine levels in your body. Before jumping into the medical route filled with medications, try changing your lifestyle and diet first.
By eliminating foods that are high in histamines, and monitoring how your body reacts to certain foods, you can overcome this intolerance and get rid of those irritating allergy-related symptoms for good (most times). Yes, it may mean cutting out of some of your favorite treats, but this is just a short-term plan for long-term results.
Until Next Time