A blocked nose, puffy eyes, a crushing fear of cut grass…
If you’ve ever suffered from seasonal allergies you’ll have come across histamines before.
The likelihood is you will have been prescribed antihistamines in the form of sprays or tablets to help manage symptoms.
And it’s not just hayfever. Some people have a very strong reaction to insect bites, dust and even certain medications.
But what many people don’t realise is that you could also get an allergic reaction from certain ‘histamine rich’ foods.
In this article we’re going to look at:
✔️ What histamines are: the function they serve in the body
✔️ How things sometimes go of whack and why
✔️ How to follow a low histamine diet
✔️ Foods to eat (and avoid!)
✔️ Supplements that could help you manage symptoms
Histamines are naturally occurring compounds that play a vital role in our immune system.
When your body comes into contact with an allergen (any substance it sees as a threat), it releases histamines from special immune cells called mast cells.
These histamines then attach themselves to receptors on certain cells causing a range of symptoms that we typically associate with an allergic reaction.
Why does it sometimes go wrong?
Imagine your body is a bustling metropolis.
Let’s call it Human City. Histamines are like Human City’s emergency services, ready to burst into action whenever there’s a problem.
If you get a cut, for example, they are like the first responders rushing to the scene.
They help your body fight off any harmful germs that might have gotten in through the cut by increasing blood flow to the area (which might cause redness and swelling). This is what makes them such a crucial part of your body’s defence system.
They can literally save lives.
But now imagine there’s a big event taking place in the city, like a peaceful parade. Human City’s officials (your body’s immune system) see it as a potential threat and want to ensure everyone stays safe, so they call in extra emergency teams.
This is where things can start to go awry.
This extra, overzealous response is similar to what happens when you have an allergic reaction.
Your body sees something harmless (like pollen) as a threat and calls in more histamines than necessary.
These histamines rush to the scene and this can cause symptoms like a runny nose, watery eyes, or a rash.
In a ‘normal’, healthy situation, there’s a good balance of these histamines, just like a well-managed city.
However, some of us have what’s called histamine intolerance, where it seems like there’s too much of an emergency response, or histamine, in the city.
This can be because their body is calling in the emergency response team too often, or it might be that their city’s traffic management team (an enzyme called DAO that breaks down histamine) isn’t working efficiently. We’ll talk more about DAO later.
In these cases, people with histamine intolerance may want to look at watching what they eat (as some foods can trigger histamine release or contain histamine). Or, in some cases, get some extra help in the form of supplements or medications.
So, in summary, histamines are really important for our body’s defence system, but just like managing emergencies in a city, it’s all about maintaining a good balance.
About Histamine Intolerance
Histamine intolerance is where there’s an imbalance between the body’s histamine production and its ability to break it down.
This causes a variety of symptoms which often varies from person to person.
Some more common symptoms of histamine intolerance include skin problems, headaches, fatigue, bloating and digestive issues, among others.
They can also sometimes mimic other conditions which is why histamine intolerance is so often overlooked.
Before we look at a more detailed breakdown it’s important to note that someone with a histamine intolerance might only have a couple of the symptoms listed below.
These could be from any category and could be completely different from someone else’s symptoms.
🦠 Digestive Problems:
These can include bloating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and abdominal cramps.
🦠 Skin symptoms:
These can include flushing, itching, hives, and even swelling (angioedema), especially of the face and lips.
🦠 Respiratory symptoms:
These can include symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, and wheezing.
🦠 Cardiovascular symptoms:
These can include changes in blood pressure (typically lowering it), heart rate (typically increasing it), and can trigger heart palpitations.
🦠 Neurological symptoms:
These can include headaches or migraines. Some people report feeling dizzy or anxious. Fatigue is also common.
🦠 Menstrual pain:
In some cases, histamine intolerance can cause or worsen menstrual pain.
This is a long list (seemingly covering every ailment on the planet!).
Once again it’s worth noting that most would only have a few of these symptoms.
For example one person might experience dry skin, a runny nose and fatigue after eating certain foods. Another might have tummy trouble and bloating. Someone else might get an itchy skin or rash.
The good news is it’s relatively easy to pin down.
The best way to determine whether you are potentially suffering with histamine intolerance is to try a low histamine diet (and or supplements) for a period of time.
Eliminate foods and drinks that are typically high in histamine and see how you feel.
How to Follow a Low Histamine Diet
When food is left out, bacteria on the food starts to multiply. Some of these bacteria produce histamine.
The longer the food sits out, the more histamine is made.
That’s why it’s important to take note of the following on a low histamine diet:
✅ Eat Fresh!
Buy the freshest meat and seafood possible. Histamine levels increase as food ages, even if it’s stored in the fridge.
✅ Cook Immediately
Make sure you cook fresh meat and seafood as soon as possible after purchase.
✅ Freeze Anything You’re Not Using
If you won’t be using fresh meat or seafood within a day of purchase, it’s best to freeze it immediately. Freezing slows the process of histamine formation.
✅ Don’t Store Meat or Seafood at Room Temperature
Avoid leaving meat or seafood out of the fridge for long periods of time. Histamine formation accelerates at room temperature.
✅ Avoid Leftovers
Try to avoid storing meat/seafood leftovers (or give them to someone not following a low histamine diet). If you have any leftover cooked meat or seafood, refrigerate it promptly and use it within a day or two. Alternatively, you can freeze leftovers for later use.
✅ Avoid Processed Meats
Try to avoid salami, bacon, smoked salmon, and canned tuna, as these often have higher histamine levels due to processing methods.
✅ Eat more of the foods on the low histamine list and less of the high histamine ones on the list below.
This is not a perfect list. It’s important to remember that people with histamine intolerance can have different tolerance levels and may not react to all high-histamine foods.
That’s why when you follow a low histamine diet it’s essential to keep a food diary. That way you can track which foods seem to trigger symptoms for you.
Once you know you can:
a) identify whether indeed you have a histamine intolerance and b) reintroduce foods higher in histamine one by one and monitor your findings.
Buy following this process you’ll know exactly what works for you.
🟢 Foods that are Low in Histamine
Histamine is typically produced in food over time, especially during storage. That’s why fresh foods usually have the lowest levels of histamine.
However some foods appear to produce histamines more (or faster) than others.
Here are some examples of low-histamine foods. Obviously avoid any which might trigger other autoimmune issues. For example I avoid rice and most dairy:
🟢 Vegetables: Fresh vegetables are generally low in histamine, with the exception of tomatoes, spinach, eggplant, and avocados.
🟢 Fruits: Most fresh fruits are low in histamine, with the exception of citrus fruits and strawberries.
🟢 Meats: Freshly cooked meat, poultry, and fish are all low in histamine. However, once cooked and left-over, histamine levels increase. That 45 day aged old steak in your local restaurant is not your friend!
🟢 Grains: Rice is generally low in histamine. Other grains tend to vary in their histamine content.
🟢 Dairy: Fresh, pasteurised milk is low in histamine. Aged cheeses, yogurt, and sour cream, which have been fermented, are high in histamine.
🟢 Nuts: Most nuts are low in histamine.
🟢 Others: Freshly cooked eggs are low in histamine. However eggs are a bit of a complex case when it comes to histamine. The egg white is generally considered to be low in histamine. However, egg yolk contains a substance that can stimulate the release of histamine in the body, which can cause a reaction in some sensitive individuals.
So, while eggs themselves don’t contain a high level of histamine, they could potentially cause a reaction in those with histamine intolerance due to this histamine-releasing property of the egg yolk.
🔴 Foods to Potentially Avoid
🔴 Chocolate: Particularly dark chocolate, is often considered a food that can provoke histamine release in the body or contains histamine itself, and may cause symptoms in those with histamine intolerance. However, the histamine content can vary widely depending on the specific type and brand of chocolate, and the individual’s sensitivity can also vary.
🔴 Dried and Cured Meats: Salami, ham, sausages, biltong/jerky droewors and other processed meats are higher in histamine content.
🔴 Fermented Foods: Sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, and fermented soy products like miso and tempeh.
🔴 Alcohol: Especially red wine, champagne, and beer. Spirits are much lower in histamine.
🔴 Certain types of fish and seafood: Particularly if they’re not fresh. Histamine levels can rise very fast in fish and seafood as the bacteria acts on them.
🔴 Cheese: Especially aged cheeses such as cheddar, gouda, and blue cheese.
🔴 Vinegar and foods containing vinegar: This includes pickles, mayonnaise, olives, and relishes.
🔴 Tomatoes, spinach, eggplant, and avocados: They tend to be high histamine and should be avoided on a low histamine diet.
🔴 Processed foods: They often contain additives and dyes that can trigger histamine release.
🔴 Bone Broth and Collagen Powder: Both can potentially be high histamine but it will depend on the production process. i.e. how long the broth was cooking for, the age of the bones or meat going in.
Once again, remember, histamine intolerance varies greatly from person to person. What works well for one person might not work as well for another.
The Best Ways to Cook To Avoid Histamine (Ranked)
The general rule of thumb is this: try to go for lower heat, shorter cooking time methods. That’s the perfect combination.
Here are the different cooking methods, ranked with best (in terms of avoid excess histamine production) first.
Steaming is a quick and healthy method that uses moisture and relatively low heat. It’s great for vegetables and some types of fish and it’s less likely to increase histamine levels compared to methods that use higher heat for longer periods. This is the top recommendation.
Like steaming, boiling is a quick method that doesn’t require high heat. Again, it’s suitable for a variety of foods and doesn’t promote as much histamine production as other methods.
Frying cooks food quickly at a relatively high heat, but because the cooking time is so short, it’s still less likely to result in high histamine levels. Stir-frying is ideal for small pieces of meat, fish, and vegetables.
Grilling uses a very high heat, but the cooking time is usually relatively short so it’s a mixed bag. It might still lead to more histamine formation than the above methods.
Roasting or baking often requires long cooking times at high heat, which can potentially lead to more histamine production.
6. Slow cooking:
While slow cooking uses low heat it extends the cooking time significantly and this can lead to increased histamine levels.
Ok, now we’ve covered the dos and don’t, there is something else you can do to help manage your histamine intolerance.
By first let’s run through the process:
1. Start the low histamine diet
✔️ Eat fresh food only
✔️ Freeze anything you’re not using
✔️ Focus on low histamine ingredients
✔️ Avoid high histamine ones
2. Keep a food and symptoms diary
✔️ Record your findings
✔️ When you get to symptom free start reintroducing individual ingredients from the ‘avoid’ list one at a time
✔️ Record your findings
✔️ After each test go back to your symptom free baseline and reintroduce another food or drink and rinse and repeat
One you have mapped out a list of your triggers and safe foods you can move onto the next (optional) step.
How to Use DAO Supplements to Manage Your Histamine Intolerance
Many people find DAO supplements can help them to manage their histamine intolerance.
Specifically when they know they might be exposed to a histamine rich food or drink, taking one of these supplements can help.
What is DAO?
Diamine oxidase (DAO) is the primary enzyme responsible for breaking down histamine we’ve ingested in the body.
The enzyme is produced in various different tissues in the body. These include the kidneys, the thymus, and the lining of the gastrointestinal tract.
People with a histamine intolerance may have reduced DAO activity and this can lead to an inability to break down histamine efficiently.
This can then result in an excess of histamine in the body which leads to the various symptoms.
So we want two things, ideally:
1. More DAO
2. To build a stronger gut lining
Building a stronger gut lining is a long term endeavour. It’s helped most by a healthy diet, ‘real food’ diet which means:
– Avoid ultra-processed foods
– Exercise regularly
– Avoid chronic stress
– Avoid excessive intake of Omega 6 (no more seed oils)
– Use supplements like L-Glutamine and Aloe Vera
This is something we should all strive for (even though it can be challenging at times!)
However, in the short term to medium term, supplements containing DAO can offer a useful boost for some.
You body, already contains DAO, this enzyme which helps break down histamine, the idea is to get more of it.
Supplements could help you increase the levels of the enzyme in the gut, thereby enhancing the breakdown of histamine and reducing the symptoms.
By flooding your body with more of the DAO enzyme, you can help your body more effectively break down histamine.
Where can you get the DAO enzyme?
Beef, pig, and lamb kidney supplements can be an effective way, for many, to manage their histamine intolerance.
Once you’ve chosen a DAO supplement from a reliable supplier (avoid anything with nasty fillers or extras) it’s a simple process:
🟢 Take it in capsule form 10 – 15 minutes before eating
This will hopefully increase your intake of the enzyme and lessen your symptoms.
So don’t worry if you don’t fancy eating kidney. It’s actually better in capsule form as much of the DAO is destroyed in the cooking process.
Taking DAO as a supplement may help you to process the foods or drinks with a higher level of histamine.
Ok, that’s it for now.
The goal of this article is to help raise awareness of histamine intolerance and look at ways to potentially identify and manage it.
I hope this was helpful and please do share your thoughts, feedback and experience below in the comments.