This is the second of two posts full of surprising information about histamine allergy, aka histamine intolerance. In the previous post on histamine intolerance, we covered
– what histamine is
– what it means to be intolerant to it, and
– the causes of histamine intolerance.
You may want to catch up by reading the other post first if you missed it.
As we talked about in the first post, histamine intolerance can be a cause of allergy-like symptoms.
The situation with histamines is complex and confusing.
Hopefully this post will help you understand them better and figure out if they are a problem for you or not.
How to Know If You Are Histamine Intolerant
There are no definitive tests for determining histamine intolerance.
There are labs that can test the levels of the enzyme DAO in the blood, but doctors don’t know enough about what normal levels of the enzyme are to be able to accurately determine the results of the test. Tests that measure the levels of histamine in blood plasma are also offered, but these levels can change from hour to hour and aren’t a reliable marker of difficulty processing histamine.
The easiest and most reliable way to determine histamine intolerance is by embarking on a strict low histamine diet for 7-14 days. If symptoms improve, histamine intolerance is most likely an issue at play.
Foods High in Histamine
In general, the longer a food is stored or left to mature, the greater its histamine content will be. For example, fresh meats and fish contain very little histamine, but the processing and maturation of the meat causes more histamine to form in it.
Foods that are not high in histamine when fresh will contain high levels of histamine when fermented, such as sauerkraut, yogurt, and kombucha.
There is no agreed upon list of foods that are high in histamine, most likely because each individual will react to different amounts of histamine in foods, and food sources and processing methods vary so greatly.
Some foods that are generally thought to be problematic for those with histamine intolerance include:
- Alcohol (especially wine and beer)
- Most fish
- Smoked and processed meats such as bacon, salami, ham, and bratwurst
- Fermented fruits and vegetables
- Citrus fruits
- Cheese, yogurt, and other cultured milk products
- Coffee (this coffee substitute is a great alternative)
- Bread and other items made with yeast
- Peanuts, cashews, and walnuts
Some foods are naturally higher in histamine and some are higher in the amino acid that turns into histamine. For this reason, it is necessary for each person to experiment over time to figure out what he or she can and cannot tolerate.
Can Histamine Allergy/Intolerance be Healed?
In short the answer to this question is yes.
With time and effort, the condition can most likely be healed or greatly improved.
Research on the condition is so new that there is very little data on which to base the success of healing protocols other than anecdotal evidence from people who have implemented diet and lifestyle changes to improve their condition with success.
The first step to reversing histamine intolerance is to remove high histamine foods from the diet.
Some sensitive individuals will need to strictly remove all high histamine foods from their diet. Others whose symptoms are less severe may not need to be as militant in avoiding foods but will need to monitor their histamine “bucket” to avoid overflow.
Although it would be possible to live on a low histamine diet indefinitely, it would not be enjoyable or necessary. It is important to not only remove high histamine foods from the diet at first, but to replace them with foods of equal or greater nutritional value. Histamine intolerance is a sign of damage and malfunction in the body (and often a lack of nutrients), so nutrient dense foods are necessary for healing and repair.
Restore Gut Bacteria
Since histamine intolerance is oftentimes a result of unbalanced gut bacteria, it is important to work toward restoring the balance of this flora. This is a tricky task for individuals who are sensitive to fermented foods due to the histamine produced in the fermentation process. Probiotics generally are not thought to cause reactions in histamine intolerant individuals and can be used starting in very small amounts and working up to a therapeutic dose.
However, there are some strands of probiotics that are known to either exacerbate histamine issues or that can help remedy them. Read this post for more on low-histamine probiotics.)
After an initial period of avoiding fermented foods, one can add them to the diet gradually with care taken not to upset the histamine bucket.
In most cases, the body that struggles with histamine intolerance is an inflamed body, so one of the main goals in healing should be reducing overall inflammation. This can be done by eliminating inflammation-causing foods and increasing activities that help to reduce inflammation, such as meditation, yoga, getting enough sleep, and reducing stress.
It is also important to understand sources of extrinsic histamine and how they are entering the body in order to be able to limit them when needed. For example, a histamine intolerant individual should figure out any and all allergens that are causing reactions because the release of histamine in the body is always higher when allergens are present.
Any measures that can be taken to avoid exposure to those allergens will aid in quicker healing.
Take Natural Antihistamines
Many foods and herbs have natural antihistamines and anti-inflammatory properties. You can add these to the diet as tolerated in order to help with the overall histamine load. Some items appear on both high histamine and antihistamine food lists, so it is important to figure out what makes you feel the best.
Some common natural antihistamines include:
Finally, there are a few products available on the market that can help to contain histamine reactions when they occur. Supplements such as Histame and Daosin, when taken within 15 minutes of consuming a high histamine food, can help to lessen or avoid reactions to histamine by giving the body more of the DAO enzyme needed to degrade it.
Not everyone finds that these products are effective, and they do not provide a long term solution. However, they can be helpful in social settings when food is not always directly in your control.
Vagus Nerve Stimulation
Studies have shown that histamine intolerance can be helped by vagus nerve stimulation. (source).
This post on the gut-brain axis has some easy ways to do that stimulation using vagus nerve exercises. Much easier than having something implanted into you!
Can’t I just take an antihistamine to solve the problem?
Over the counter antihistamine drugs do prove effective as short term solutions for some sufferers of histamine allergy, especially those with severe reactions. I wouldn’t recommend them as a long term solution due to the list of precautions and potential side effects that comes with them.
It is in your best interest over the long haul to work on healing your gut and reducing inflammation in your body instead. Many people with histamine intolerance find that histamine medications do not help anyway, because there are four types of histamine receptors in the body. Most antihistamines only act on two of those four. If the medication doesn’t act on the proper receptors, then it won’t work.
As researchers and medical professionals learn more about histamine allergy in the coming years, expect to hear more about this topic.
No matter whether its symptoms are mild or life-threatening, it is a sign of impaired gut function and inflammation, both of which cause larger problems. If you have allergy-like symptoms without a clear cause, you might try a low-histamine diet in order to determine if histamine intolerance might be the source.
Healing Histamine – low histamine recipes, interviews, and more
The International Society of DAO Deficiency– in depth information on deficiencies in the DAO enzyme
Histamine Intolerance – Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Outlook
Chris Kresser– “Headaches, Hives, and Heartburn: Could histamine be the cause?”
Again, neither Adrienne nor I are physicians. Please consult with a medical professional prior to making changes to your diet, exercise routine, or supplements.
What do you think about this?
Had you heard about histamine intolerance before?
Erin Ter Beest lives and blogs in Alto, Wisconsin. She takes care of her son, Sawyer, while dabbling in traditional foods, alternative health, raising chickens and milk goats. She did all of this while building a small, sustainable house with her husband, Casey.
CC images courtesy of the following:By Janine from Mililani, Hawaii, United States [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons and By Jon Pallbo (Jon.Pallbo@gmail.com) (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Common