When you hear the word histamine, do you instantly think of seasonal allergies, Claritin D and Kleenex? Like those sneezes that inevitably come with spring when the pollen count is so high that your eyes are itching, and your nose is running like a faucet. You aren't wrong to think of allergies when you hear "histamine" -- but there is much more to the histamine story.
Histamine is just one of the hundreds of chemicals released by the mast cells located throughout your body in response any potential attackers. It is an important part of the immune system, causing an acute inflammatory response by dilating blood vessels so that the white blood cells can quickly find and attack the infection or invader. Histamine is largely responsible for the classic peanut or shellfish allergic response.
In healthy individualized histamine is kept in check and broken down by enzymes. However, when levels of histamine escalate, either due to excess histamine or insufficient enzymes, histamine intolerance can occur.
Causes of High Histamine:
- Allergies (IgE reactions)
- Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
- Leaky gut
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
- Diamine oxidase (DAO) deficiency
- Histamine-rich foods
Histamines are commonly found in foods, with fermented foods among those with the highest in histamine content. Things like:
- Wine, champagne, beer and hard cider
- Fermented foods including sauerkraut, vinegar, soy sauce, kombucha, yogurt, kimchi, etc.
- Pickles, mayonnaise, mustard, olives
- Cured meats
- Soured foods including buttermilk, sour cream, sour-dough bread
- Dried fruits
- Avocados, tomatoes, eggplant, spinach
- Smoked fish and tinned fish
In addition, bananas, chocolate, cow’s milk and shellfish are considered histamine-releasing foods. Papaya, pineapple and strawberries can be included in this category, as well as many of the artificial preservatives and dyes that are added to processed foods.
It is confusing because many of these foods are considered to be healthy. And they are…if you have an optimally balanced histamine response.
For most people, your body produces diamine oxidase (DAO), an enzyme that breaks down any ingested histamine. Some don't produce enough DAO to fully break down excess histamine in foods, which can lead to allergy-like symptoms.
Causes of Low DAO:
- Gluten Intolerance
- Leaky Gut
- DAO-blocking foods like alcohol and caffeine
- Inflammatory dysbiosis like Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis and inflammatory bowel disease
- Medications like NSAIDS, antidepressants, immune modulators, antiarrhythmics, antihistamines and histamine (H2) blockers
- Genetic mutations in people of Asian descent
You no longer need to be a victim to your seasonal allergies and your overly active histamine response. You have the power to take control of your health. It is common to find a gut imbalance at the core of a histamine imbalance.
Strive to restrict histamine-rich and DAO-blocking foods from your diet. It is extremely difficult to remove all histamine food sources because histamine is very pervasive.
To experiment, you can go on a low-histamine regime for a short time, which will help build up your immunity and gut health. See how you feel without high-histamine foods in your diet.
Instead focus on eating wild-caught Alaskan salmon, organic poultry, eggs, gluten-free grains, fresh vegetables (except those listed above), olive oil and coconut milk. It is also important to make sure that you are optimally hydrated, which means drink LOTS of water and some herbal tea.
After a month, slowly begin to reintroduce those high-histamine foods back in one at a time. While it may feel restrictive, the good news is that you can learn so much about your body with experimental elimination diets such as this. Once you learn to tune in and get to know how your body feels, how it responds to things, what's normal and what isn't for your unique body -- you'll begin to uncover what works BEST for you so you can live your optimal life full of energy and vibrancy.