Allergy Symptoms and Chronic Health Complaints? Histamine Sensitivity Might be the Source

Self-Test to Determine if a Low-Histamine Diet Will Help Resolve Your Health Issues.

If you suffer from allergic-like symptoms, suspect hypersensitivities to multiple foods, or have chronic health complaints, histamines might be the problem. There are no medical tests for histamine sensitivity and very few health professionals identify or treat this condition. But it’s not too hard to determine if histamines are a problem for you.

But first, just what are histamines? Histamines are a nitrogen-containing organic compound that support digestion, act as a neurotransmitter, and help with detoxification. When you get a bug bite, your skin swells, reddens and itches. That’s histamines doing their job: your body creates histamines at the injured site in an effort to remove the toxins. Histamines only become problematic if you carry an excess in your body.

Note: if you have an adverse reaction to aspirin or non-steroidal medications (NSAIDs) or if symptoms increase with their use, this may indicate a histamine related problem. Consult with your doctor.


When Mast Cells Over Respond

A histamine overload evokes the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Yesterday, for example, a whole chocolate bar or cup of bone broth wouldn’t have caused a reaction if you were below your personal histamine threshold. But if your body doesn’t easily inactivate accumulated histamines or if you overproduce histamines, then one bite of chocolate or sip of bone broth can push you over your threshold. Then your mast cells—a type of white blood cell—release histamines in response to the perceived invader, and this triggers allergic-type reactions like hives, tearing or headaches. If the mast cells overrespond, it’s called mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS). A possible reason for the increase in histamine intolerance, speculates Chris Kresser, is the profound shift in our gut microbiota over the past several decades.

An Easy Test for Histamine Sensitivity

If an antihistamine medication or a low-histamine diet—simply cutting back on foods high in histamines—relieves your symptoms, then you probably have a histamine intolerance. If your allergic-like symptoms subside, this means that you’ve lowered your histamine levels. You’ll have gained some invaluable information! And this gives you the option of choosing a low-histamine diet over antihistamine meds.

If your current diet is otherwise working for you, then try five days on a low-histamine diet. And make sure to try to reduce your stress during this time, as stress also activates histamines. If you have unaddressed digestive issues like gluten intolerance, leaky gut, small intestine bacteria overgrowth (SIBO) or gut dysbiosis, then plan on taking a month to reduce your histamine load to enable a clear reading.

Histamine intolerance is closely related to SIBO, so if you suspect the latter, then one way to treat it is by reducing your histamine load. And to resolve your histamine issue, it helps to address SIBO.

Supplements May Help

In some cases, histamine intolerance is caused by insufficient levels of an enzyme called diamine oxidase (DAO), and supplementation with DAO may be helpful. To test this out, take DAO about 15 minutes prior to a meal, and if it alleviates your symptoms, then continue with DAO supplementation and/or reduce your histamine load.

Let’s take a look at the symptoms associated with excessive histamines. Then I’ll share a list of foods high in histamines and foods that release histamines. Yes, some foods actually release histamines into your body, as we’ll see below.

Typical Symptoms of Histamine Intolerance

Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Skin: itching, swelling, rashes, hives, urticaria, welts
  • Eyes: itching, burning, redness
  • Nose: itching, sneezing, runny
  • Lungs: wheezing, coughing, asthma
  • Digestive: cramps, diarrhea, IBS, constipation, bowel disease
  • Vascular: headache, migraine
  • Heart: hypertension, arrhythmia, palpitations, chest pain
  • Sleep: insomnia
  • Behavior: aggression, anxiety, panic attacks
  • Thinking: fuzzy thinking, depression, melancholy
  • Energy: lethargy, fatigue

Foods High in Histamines

High-histamine and histamine-producing foods do not create the same symptoms in everyone. This is great news, as it’s highly unlikely that every one of the foods listed below will be problematic for you. To determine your personal threshold, you’ll need to do some experimentation and record keeping. Note that there is nothing you can do to remove histamines from food.

Leftovers When bacteria break down the amino acids in foods, histamines and other potentially problematic amines are created. For that reason, when you’re avoiding histamines, favor freshly prepared foods and avoid dishes that cook for a long time. Freeze leftovers and use them within a week. If leftovers contain meat, freeze them and plan to use them within three days.

Meat As histamines and other amines quickly form on meat, it requires special handling. Plan to cook and eat meat within two days of purchase or freeze it for up to a month. Rapidly defrost small cuts of meat in a tightly sealed plastic bag in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes, and rinse it before cooking. Defrost larger pieces of meat in the refrigerator.

Pan drippings, poultry skin, gravy, bone broth, offal, and all cured, smoked and processed meats are high in amines. Favor freshly butchered meat if possible.

Histamines are especially high in ground meats and Swiss (cube) steak, as the processing introduces bacteria throughout the meat. That’s why standard health guidelines are to cook a burger until it’s no longer pink. Chunks of meat sold as stew meat have greater surface exposed to bacteria and may be higher in histamines, so purchase larger pieces of meat and cut them to size just before cooking. With a steak or roast, bacteria are only on the surface of the meat and the interior—even if cooked rare—will be bacteria free. But remember that once cooked, sliced, and refrigerated, bacteria are likely to be introduced and will contribute to amine formation, making food storage and cleanliness critical.

Seafood If freshly caught and either immediately cooked or frozen, seafood is not problematic. Look for FAS (frozen at sea) on the label. Canned fish or fresh fish that’s several days old is high in histamines. As a general rule, dark-fleshed fish, tuna and salmon are higher in histamines than lighter-fleshed fish.

Fermented foods Fermentation creates histamines in food. Avoid fermented foods while you’re determining your histamine threshold. Then experiment to see which, if any, ferments you may add back into your diet.

Fruit Strawberries, raspberries and citrus is high in histamines as are dried and overripe fruits.

Vegetables Avocado, eggplant, mushrooms, spinach, and tomatoes are high in histamines.

Other foods and drinks Chocolate, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, tea (green, black, and herb) and artificial food colors, flavors, and preservatives are high in histamines. Problematic herbs and spices include: Cinnamon, cloves, curry powder, chili powder, nutmeg, anise and thyme.

Histamine-Releasing Foods

These are foods and drinks that stimulate the body to produce more histamines and also should be avoided on a low-histamine diet.

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Bananas
  • Beans and legumes
  • Chocolate and cocoa
  • Fruits containing citric acid (especially citrus, but also pineapple, tamarind and tart berries including raspberries, strawberries, elderberries, currants, gooseberries, blackberries)
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Papaya
  • Shellfish
  • Tomatoes

Healing from Histamine Sensitivity

Above and beyond your variable histamine threshold, the goal is to determine what underlies your histamine sensitivity. The most typical causes include: leaky gut, gut dysbiosis, a genetic proclivity, and some medications, including antihistamines. If there are underlying digestive issues, you’ll want to address them with an elimination diet. As your gut heals, you’ll find that your histamine threshold grows and your diet can again widen.

Don’t be daunted by the list of “no” foods. There are an abundance of flavorful low-histamine foods. Yes, it requires changing your habitual food choices, but you’ve got everything to gain by setting aside a few days to try out a low-histamine diet.

For additional resources see: Mast Cell Nutrition and the Healing Histamine blog.

Sources Accessed October 3, 2016 Accessed October 3, 2016 Accessed September 4, 2016. Accessed September 5, 2016


2 Responses to Histamine Sensitivity

  1. Hi Rebecca,
    Could you please tell me if earthen cookware is a good idea or not for someone diagnosed with Histamine Intolerance. I am concerned about bacteria hiding out in the pores of the cookware and building up over time.

    I would love to try clay vessels to cook in, but don’t want to make my situation worse.


    • Not to worry. Bringing food to a boil would kill any bacteria. Also dry the pot thoroughly after each use (and don’t store with lid on) and bacteria will die-off.

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