Food Intolerance & Histamine

First thing’s first, what is histamine? Besides being recognized by most people as the second word in anti-histamine, histamine is a chemical that is released within our bodies either as a neurotransmitter, which helps regulate various functions in our body including regulating our sleep patterns, or as a signal to our immune system to create a response that alerts us to, and protects us from foreign invaders and disease causing pathogens. If this process is working properly, when we come in contact with something like a bee sting or poison ivy, histamines are released, it does it’s job to send protective agents to that specific area, and then it’s deactivated by enzymes that degrade it’s molecular structure. However, when our body doesn’t produce enough of the deactivators, or we eat too many foods containing histamine, our body is bombarded by signals to protect itself when there is really no need.  We then experience a physiological response that feels and looks similar to a flu or allergic reaction, i.e. inflammation, dizziness, skin irritation, hives, throat tightening, increased heart rate, nasal congestion, migraines, fatigue, heartburn, acid reflux, flushing of the face and hands, and even narcolepsy.  Your body is basically in panic mode by this point because histamine is signaling to it that we are in danger, so the response is to create a physical response that serves to protect us from that danger, and signal to your conscious self that something is wrong, it’s both a subconscious and conscious warning system. Chronic experience of the symptoms described above, or extreme anaphylactic reactions to foods and beverages like red wine and fermented foods is called histamine resistance, and can be life threatening if left untreated. Most people experience only mild versions of these symptoms, so it’s difficult to diagnose in a clinical setting, but the CDC estimates that about 1% of all Americans suffer from full-blown histamine resistance, with most of those people being middle aged. Regardless of whether your body produces and deals with histamine in the correct way, eating too many foods that either produce, enable, or contain histamine will cause some form of the symptoms listed above. 

Replacing Histamine Producing Bacteria

In addition from ingesting histamine from the food that we eat, excess histamine can also come from the bacteria living in our own digestive tracts. Certain strains of bacteria, especially Lactobacillus bulgaricus and casei (the responsible parties for fermented milk products) are known to be histamine promoting in the colon, meaning that histamine is a byproduct of their digestive activities. Normally, the resulting histamine is deactivated and broken down in our large intestine by the enzyme DAO (diamine oxidase) before a noticeable effect can take place. Occasionally, when the proportion of histamine to DAO increases enough, or your body isn’t producing enough of the enzyme, our bodies can’t effectively get rid of the excess histamine and we are hit with a headache, feel dizzy, or start showing signs of a cold or flu, like sneezing and coughing. Lucky for us, we can help eliminate the symptoms of a histamine overload by taking a few steps to even out the balance of DAO to Histamine in our guts. 

L. Plantarum: Lactobacillus Plantarum is a unique bacteria because it naturally reduces our sensitivity to histamine in two ways by 1) regulating the brain-blood barrier, which controls the rate at which our body recognizes histamine, which gives us more time to break it down naturally, and 2) producing DAO enzymes, which neutralize histamine altogether by deactivating it’s reactive components. There are three strains of bacteria that have been clinically observed to be histamine reducing in our guts. Those are bifidobacterium infants (from breast milk), bifidobacterium longus (in yogurt and other fermented foods alongside it’s histamine producing friends), and lactobacillus plantarum. L. Plantarum is a particularly interesting strain because it has been observed to be effective at reducing our reactivity to histamine when supplemented through food by improving the blood-brain barrier described before. In addition to it’s ability to reduce histamine production, L. Plantarum has also been observed to alleviate the symptoms typically associated with antibiotic treatment,  remaining in the digestive system long after other probiotic strains have been killed off.  You can find L. Plantarum in fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and rye bread, but unfortunately, these foods also contain high levels of histamine producing bacteria. For that reason I can’t really suggest one over the other if you are trying to fix a histamine intolerance, eating those foods can exacerbate the problem just as much as they could help it. There are a few products that have managed to synthesize L. Plantarum and are effective at restoring the DAO-histamine balance in our large intestines. This drink, which is made with a regard to histamine intolerance and contains all three of the aforementioned histamine neutralizing bacterial strains and is made with natural, organic ingredients. ADD L. PLANTARUM SUPPLEMENTS.

It may be advisable to follow The Hard Reset (page blah blah) plan if you believe that your bacterial colonies are far out of wack or if you’re having frequent reactions to fiber-rich foods. The reset will break up the entrenched bacteria living in your gut and give you a chance to more predictably recolonize with beneficial, or probiotic, bacteria.

Limiting Histamine Rich Foods

Our body’s response to histamine has evolved over thousands of years to protect us from potentially harmful pathogens (bacteria and other microorganisms). It makes sense then that the foods which have the highest concentrations of histamine are those that utilize bacteria to be made. Foods such as saurkraut, aged cheeses, wine, and salted-cured fish and meat products are a few histamine-containing examples that are pretty common in most people’s diets either because of cultural significance or due to the fact that they are damn delicious. For most people it would be unimaginable to eliminate these foods entirely, and it would take a lot of joy out of many people’s diets if they had to be cut out entirely, so I suggest simply being aware of the foods that contain the most histamine, and using that knowledge to make smart choices when you want to feel your best. That being said, if you have severe histamine resistance, it may be necessary to completely eliminate these types of foods from your diet in order to live a healthy and happy life. 

Below is a list of common foods that contain histamine or tyramine, both of which will cause an allergic-like reaction if eaten in excess or if DAO is not present in the digestive system.

Aged Cheeses

Alcohol (Beer, Wine, Sake, Soju)

Anchovies

Avocados

Ciders

Eggplant

Fermented Meats and Veggies (pickled or smoked meats, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc.)

Mackerel

Mushrooms

Processed Meat and Byproducts (sausages, hot dogs, salami, bologna)

Pumpernickel and Other Yeasty Breads

Sardines

Sour Cream

Spinach

Tomatoes

Vinegar and Vinegar-Rich Sauces (mayonnaise, salad dressing, ketchup, pickled vegetables)

Yogurt

Eliminating Histamine Triggers

Besides foods that contain histamine, some of the things we eat can trigger a histamine response in our bodies. The signaling agents are found most commonly in foods that are either spoiled or near-spoiling, although other foods and beverages can trigger the release of histamine as well. 

Histamine Triggering Foods -

Alcohol

Bananas

Chocolate

High-Citrus Fruits (Lemons, Oranges, Grapefruit)

Eggs

Fish

Milk

Papayas

Pineapple

Shellfish

Strawberries

Tomatoes

Note - The longer a food remains in your fridge or on your counter, the more of these chemicals will be present, and the more severe the histamine reaction will be. It should be common sense not to eat spoiled food, but further than that, it needs to become a priority to either eat the food that you have immediately, or prepare it for long-term storage. 

How to reduce histamine production in food -

There are two ways for preparing food for long-term storage that are natural and don’t involve adding harmful preservatives to your edibles: marination and freezing. 

Marination: Besides being delicious, garlic, ginger, and various other spices, also have antimicrobial and anti-putrificative traits. When you store meats in a marinade that contains these spices you can slow down the formation of histamine, and histamine enabling chemicals. 

Freezing: Freezing food has been shown to significantly reduce the formation of histamine over time compared to refrigeration or dry-storage techniques. The main concern for most people when they are freezing foods is whether they are losing any nutritive value through the process, the answer….

Promoting DAO Activity

Vitamins C and B6 have both been shown to promote histamine degradation by promoting DAO enzyme activity. Relatively, a deficiency of either of these vitamins can lead to histamine intolerance. You can find B6 in fresh fish, such as tuna, which contains 70% of your recommended daily value in each serving, as well as in fresh turkey, and fresh beef, with 55% and 44% respectively of the recommended daily intake. Foods rich in vitamin C include, papaya, with 0ver 200% of your recommended daily intake in each serving, as well as bell peppers, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and strawberries, each containing over 100% of your recommended daily value in each serving. 

Zinc

Taking DAOsin or other DAO supplements

DAO Blockers

Some foods can actually block the release of DAO in our body, which will lead to an excess of histamine in our digestive system. For the most part, you will want to limit these in your diet if histamine is a problem for you.

Alcohol

Energy drinks

Black tea

Mate tea

Green tea

Eat Fresh

Besides eliminating histamine-rich foods, the key to avoiding histamine and the resultant symptoms is buying fresh foods and eating them immediately, or storing them at either freezing temperature, or in an antibacterial mixture such as the marinades I mentioned before. A good place to start would be a farmer’s market or co-op. Avoid pre-packaged foods that could have been sitting out for prolonged periods of time, and grow what you can. Also remember, spices are your friends, especially garlic, ginger, and oregano, so there shouldn't be any enjoyment taken out of your dietary experience just because you need to avoid histamine. 

Interested in learning more about gut health?