The Question That Could Change Your Life: WTF is Histamine Sensitivity?

I know Naturopaths are always spurting out weird and wonderful words about food and the body, but histamine is one to really pay attention to; especially if you suffer from allergenic-like symptoms that are worsened by certain foods.

When I see histamine sensitive or histamine intolerant people in the clinic, they usually have the same storyline.

“I have all these symptoms that come on, and I try to track them, but I can’t find a link or a pattern. I have a FEELING that these symptoms are coming from my gut or from my food, but I can eat the same thing for three days straight and still have random reactions. PLEASE FREAKIN’ HELP ME!”

Although the symptoms they are experiencing are a little different to one another, and the foods that are setting them off may be a little different to one another - the main gist of the problem always stays the same.

Which is, there’s something wrong and no one has been able to tell you what.

Most of the time, there’s been allergy testing done and a bunch of pathology that’s showed “everything is fine” and they’re left thinking everything is in their head.

Now, I LOVE it when people follow their GUT feelings. Especially when it leads them to seeing me and getting their GUTS looked at! (I really love treating the gut!).

So, back to the point…

What the hell is histamine sensitivity, and what could it have to do with my symptoms?

The typical histamine sensitive person may experience any or all of the following symptoms:

  • foggy-headedness/lack of concentration

  • skin rashes

  • itchiness (especially an under-the-skin itchy feeling)

  • sore/itchy throat (even throat swelling if symptoms are more severe)

  • bloating and discomfort

  • nausea

  • blocked or runny nose or hayfever-like symptoms (often histamine sensitive people already suffer from hayfever too)

  • congestion in the head

  • alternating bowel motions

  • headaches / migraines (usually directly after trigger foods)

So, what is histamine?

Histamine is a chemical that our white blood cells produce in response to something our immune system doesn’t like. Histamine is an inflammatory chemical and is supposed to only be in the bloodstream/tissues in small amounts as a defence mechanism.

Histamine is metabolised (AKA gotten rid of) by another chemical called… wait for it… diamine oxidase (also called DAO for short).

In a normal-functioning body, our body produces histamine and DAO in a perfect balance and we don’t experience long-term effects of histamine (eg everything written above).

Some people - yep, you guessed it, histamine sensitive ones - don’t produce enough DAO.

DAO is produced in the gut, so if the gut is compromised in any way then this will massively reduce the amount of DAO the body could naturally produce, swaying that balance of histamine and DAO in the body.

Some people - yep, you guessed it, histamine sensitive ones - are also a little more sensitive to histamine in the first place.

Histamine is also a chemical that we ingest in our foods. In fact, most people in the western world wouldn’t go a day without ingesting a high-histamine food!

High-histamine foods include:

  • •  Alcoholic beverages, especially beer and wine.

  • •  Anchovies

  • •  Avocados

  • •  Cheeses, especially aged or fermented cheese, such as parmesan, blue and Roquefort.

  • •  Cider and home-made root beer.

  • •  Dried fruits such as apricots, dates, prunes, figs and raisins (you may be able to eat these fruits - without reaction - if the fruit is thoroughly washed).

  • •  Eggplant

  • •  Fermented foods, such as pickled or smoked meats, sauerkraut, etc.

  • •  Mackerel

  • •  Mushrooms

  • •  Processed meats - sausage, hot dogs, salami, etc.

  • •  Sardines

  • •  Smoked fish - herring, sardines, etc.

  • •  Sour cream, sour milk, buttermilk, yogurt - especially if not fresh.

  • •  Soured breads, such as pumpernickel, coffee cakes and other foods made with large amounts of yeast.

  • •  Spinach, tomatoes

  • •  Vinegar or vinegar-containing foods, such as mayonnaise, salad dressing, ketchup, chili sauce, pickles, pickled beets, relishes, olives.

  • •  Yogurt

For those that are sensitive to histamine already, you can imagine that ingesting a diet rich in histamine is not going to end well.

(One massively interesting piece of information I have learnt along the way is that red-headed people are also naturally more sensitive to histamine. There’s some trivia for you!)

The tricky part is that histamine sensitivity has a totally different effect on each different person.

I have treated many people with histamine sensitivity and always find the combination of different foods that set each person off, or the amount of different histamine-rich foods that set each person off, are all different.

One person may be able to eat tomato no problem but react if they have too much mushroom or avocado - while another may be able to eat all of these foods no problem and react to fish or vinegar.

That’s the tricky (and fascinating) part about sensitivity - it’s very individual.

So, what can we do?

With my patients, I usually start with some food testing so that we have some direction with what foods to remove to begin with. They are usually already quite paranoid about what to eat and what not to eat, so having some clear guidance around this helps a hell of a lot!

We then follow a repetitive diet for a few weeks and track symptoms so that I can start to see patterns and links with certain foods.

All the while, we are working on repairing the gut (I love to use anti-inflammatory herbs like Boswellia serata, Aloe vera, Curcuma longa, Marshmallow officinalis, fibres like Slippery elm bark and apple pectin, and beautiful restorative nutrients like vitamin A, glutamine and glucosamine) to improve the body’s natural DAO production.

We are also working on balancing the immune system to reduce some of the reactivity that occurs with histamine sensitivity. For this, I love to use specific probiotics like Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG as well as herbs like Albizia lebbeck, Baical Scullcap, and blends of mushrooms like Reishi and Shittake.

Reducing inflammation is a massive part of combatting the inflammation that histamine naturally produces - and for this I love to use bioflavonoid compounds like quercetin, hesperidin and vitamin C.

(Also, did you know that chamomile is a natural antihistamine?)

As we heal the gut, reduce inflammation and balance the immune response, we can experiment more with different foods, and with my support we usually end up with a list of foods to be cautious with or avoid, and a protocol of what to do if these foods are consumed.

I actually order in diamine oxidase in capsules from overseas to combat food-derived histamine, which makes eating out MUCH easier for histamine-sensitive people.

Histamine sensitivity is something that can be massively helped by intervening with gut, immune and anti-inflammatory support - but it is not something that can necessarily be reversed.

Like everyone, we all have things that we need to be weary of - and for histamine sensitive people, that sometimes means certain histamine containing foods!

So, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms and you have a GUT feeling it could be histamine related or gut related, I’d highly encourage you to start looking at your foods.

(By the way, if you take anti-histamines every day… consider how much histamine you have floating around your tissues and blood!)

Just being aware of high histamine foods will give you some more direction in understanding what foods may be triggering you - and remember it may not be all of the foods listed… and it may only be when you are exposed to a certain amount of these foods that you reach your tolerance and experience symptoms.

It’s not the simplest thing to uncover histamine sensitivity, because it’s not something that practitioner’s minds necessarily go to. If you can find someone experienced and get some help, it’s far less complicated!

Want help? Get in touch!