Many understand histamine as a response to an airborne allergen, but there is so much more that it is responsible for. Histamine is a natural response to an allergen, chronic infection, stress and a physical or chemical trauma. We also get histamine from foods that we eat. We are not allergic to or intolerant of histamine, it is a compound that is being activated to respond and assist our body. Some people may have too much in their system for reasons that will be explained.
When an allergy or trauma happens, our mast cells get a signal to release histamine to create inflammation in an area needed. We get a red itchy inflamed patch on our skin from a mosquito bite or we get a runny nose when our body reacts to a food or an outside airborne allergen. We have enzymes that are supposed to efficiently remove excess histamine from our system, but sometimes this process gets impaired.
Two major enzymes metabolize histamine. Diamine oxidase (DAO) is responsible for degrading histamine in the digestive tract, while histamine N-methyltransferase (HNMT) degrades it in the central nervous system. One reason that these enzymes may not be working properly is because of damage to the gut lining, which is called intestinal hyper-permeability or leaky gut. Leaky gut is when the wall of the digestive tract, which is from our mouth all the way to our tail, breaks down. When the wall becomes more permeable, partially digested food can pass through and can trigger an immune reaction.
This damage can deplete DAO and impair its ability to break histamine down. Histamine enzymes live within the gut lining. There can also be a genetic predisposition that impairs the DAO enzyme to work well. Other reasons can be from stress, a bacterial infection, a latent viral infection, a poor inflammatory diet, a microbiome imbalance, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), Candida and all other inflammatory intestinal disorders.
The major symptoms of a histamine response are…
• Flushed face, headache, irritability, anxiety, nasal congestion, sneezing and runny nose
• Anaphylaxis: swollen lips, swollen tongue, tightening of the throat, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure. This is the most serious reaction and medical attention is advised.
More symptoms include…
• Hives, skin rashes, itchy skin, puffy eyes, sleep disturbances, panic attacks, palpitations, profuse sweating, change in body temperature and acid reflux.
*It is important to note that many symptoms in the above lists can be a result of other health concerns as well. This is why it is important to get evaluated, to know for sure.
If there is a suspected histamine issue,the first stepis to eliminate high histamine containing foods to give the body a break. There is such controversy surrounding what foods are safe to eat or not. It would be wise to eliminate the highest histamine containing foods while the body is out of balance, but test other foods known as histamine liberators or DAO blockers to see if there is a response to them. Everyone is so unique to what foods they can and cannot consume.
All foods and herbs should be consumed with extra awareness to see if there may be sensitivity to them at this time. Do not assume that just because it is a healthy super food that it is personally safe. As Lucretius said, “One man’s food is another man’s poison.” With that said, those foods can most likely be reintroduced at a later time after the body is healed. It is all about being in balance.
High Histamine Containing Foods
• Fermented vegetables
• Yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk
• Fish: shellfish, sushi, sardines or any of the smoked and non-gutted fish. Fish has to be fresh caught and eaten right there if you want it, because bacteria form fast.
• Cured, dried or smoked meats
• Aged cheese
• Dried fruit
• All leftover foods: Histamine is a biogenic active amine, which triggers an inflammatory response. There are a lot of amine compounds created as the food sits in the refrigerator. Large meals can be made and frozen into individual portions.
• Bone broth: Bone broth is actually loaded with histamine. Yes, it is filled with amino acids that heal leaky gut, but the longer it is cooked, the higher the histamine. Many make bone broth simmered for over 24 hours. This is not necessary. A good chicken broth from chicken legs and thighs can be cook for 2 hours. It will become gelatinous, which is filled with all the good amino acids needed for healing, without the concern of the histamine from a day of simmering meat bones. Freeze the chicken individually, to ensure no bacterial formation in the refrigerator. Freeze the broth in small glass containers and take them out right before use.
Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides can also be used in the morning in a little water for extra healing. This is taken before consuming any food to ensure that it is healing the digestive lining and not coating food.
• Alcoholic beverages: wine, champagne and beer
Histamine Liberators and DAO Blockers
There are many foods that are considered histamine liberatorsor DAO blockers, which should be known, but can be tested to see if they are tolerated. Be aware and avoid over ripe fruits that are brown, as with bananas and avocados. They should be fine otherwise when not over ripe, but test to see.
• Green and black tea are considered DAO blockers, while the primary catechin in green tea, ECGC, inhibits mast cell activation. Green tea is a good choice over coffee. Those who have histamine concerns are very sensitive to caffeine, because histamine already creates a feeling of anxiousness.
• Fruits: strawberries, bananas, pineapple, papaya and citrus fruits.
• Chocolate. It can be consumed as a special treat when the body is in balance. It should be a quality dark chocolate above 70% without soy lecithin and other additives.
It is certainly a challenge to give up a loved food like chocolate, but it should be removed, until the body is in balance again. It does not have to be forever.It can be thought of more as a treat when health has been restored. Two squares of dark chocolate, when in balance, will not tip the scales all the way over.
We may think that we are doing a good thing by taking probiotics and eating fermented vegetables to heal our gut. There are many strains of probiotics that actually produce histamine, while others can help to degrade it. Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus bulgaricus are the strains to avoid, while a blend of Bifidobacterium can be added first and then later, Lactobacillus plantarum.
Remove sugar and simple carbohydrates that create an imbalance of the microbiome. The greater imbalance of bacteria will create more damage and will deplete or not allow the histamine degrading enzymes to work properly. Remove gluten and dairy for at least a month, because they are very irritating to the gut lining.
*Prebiotic foods, such as onions, garlic, dandelion greens, asparagus, jicama, radishes, apples and bananas will create probiotics from the food during digestion. A variety of these should be consumed every day.
Prebiotic foods are the superior choice above probiotics for daily consumption. Probiotics can be used when there is a known imbalance or deficiency of one or more strains, otherwise, a well balanced diet can supply what is needed.
The best way to know if there is too much histamine is through an elimination diet. Eliminate high histamine foods from the diet, while healing. There is most likely gut permeability, because enzymes are not working properly to degrade the histamine. Remove gluten and dairy, which are both irritating to the digestive tract. Remove these foods for at least four weeks and then introduce a food one at a time in a three-day period. The enzymes that are needed will start to replenish from the proper nutrition as the gut lining begins to heal. Remove fast and processed food—anything in a box or bag and with preservatives and ingredient names that are hard to pronounce. Remove food coloring.
If there is a hard time digesting food and there is also acid reflux, it may actually be due to lowstomach acid. For this, a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in a half a glass of water can be taken before meals or a good old fashion bitter will help. *Apple cider vinegar is fermented, but many do fine with it. It will have to be tested to know.
There are tests available to see if there is a lack of the DAO enzyme, and then a DAO supplement is recommended. The supplement is so expensive and may not even work if there is a leaky gut, Candida or SIBO. Our gut lining needs to be healed with a balanced microbiome. It can be built up with nutrition to build the B vitamins, which are precursors to make DAO.
There is also the 23andMe genetic testing to see if there is a genetic predisposition to histamine concerns. This will give the advantage in knowing that there has to be extra caution and awareness with certain foods and stress so the scales are not tipped too far over.
Add in foods that will make the enzymes needed to break down histamine.
We can heal simply by the foods that we eliminate and add in. We need vitamin B6, because it is a cofactor to the DAO enzyme needed to break down and reduce the levels of histamine. Vitamin C, zinc and copper are also essential cofactors. Zinc will inhibit the release of histamine from the mast cells. It is important to get the proper zinc/copper ratio. If too much zinc is consumed, then it can deplete copper absorption. We need both of them for histamine reduction and zinc is helpful in healing a leaky gut. Magnesium is important to lower the activity of the enzyme histidine decarboxylase, which makes histamine from histadine. It will also help the diamine oxidase enzyme work more efficiently, as well as calm stress, which is a big plus. This is why a variety of foods are important.
• Foods high in B6: Chicken, liver, turkey, eggs, avocados, chickpeas and bananas
• Foods high in B12: Red meat, liver, poultry, and eggs. (Only available in meat sources)
• Foods high in iron: Red meat, poultry and liver
• Foods high in Copper: liver, asparagus, almonds, lentils, chickpeas, sunflower seeds and avocados
• Foods high in zinc: Red meat, chickpeas, lentils, poultry and eggs
• Foods high in vitamin C: Most deep pigmented fresh fruits and vegetables
• Foods high in magnesium: Dark leafy greens, almonds and avocados
There are going to be items in the above list that some people cannot eat. If it is known that there is sensitivity to a food, then do not eat it. Everyone will have to try the food and see if they have a personal response.
Quercetin is a flavonoid that has antioxidant properties and is an anti-inflammatory. Quercetin stabilizes the release of histamine from mast cells. It is found in leafy greens, red onions, dark berries, broccoli and apples. The apple pectin in apples is also very healing to the digestive tract and is often taken as a supplement. Apples can be cooked to make soft and taken in replacement of collagen. An apple a day…
Eat a diet filled with different colored plant foods and cruciferous vegetables. Broccoli sprouts are high in sulforaphane, which have been studied extensively for its cancer fighting abilities. They are high in antioxidants and are a precursor to making glutathione, which is needed for detoxification, reducing oxidative stress and for a proper immune system function. They are easy to sprout right on the kitchen counter.
Support detoxification by drinking a lot of water and doing some sort of movement exercise daily to flush out toxins and reduce stress.
Talk to your health practitioner about removing histamine blockers and antihistamines, because they are not getting to the root of why there is an overload of histamine to begin with. They end up messing with our stomach acid and making things worse in the long run.
With histamine concerns, everyone is so unique and what may work for one person, may not work for another. Some can have a response to the mild chamomile tea, possibly because it is in the ragweed family. Lemon balm and lavender are great alternatives for stress if chamomile is not tolerated. Many cannot tolerate turmeric, while others can. The best way to know is to try it and to be very aware of a feeling or physical response anywhere from immediately and up to hours later. It can be added back in for another try when healed.
Hops: Humulus lupulus
The effects of hops extracts have been studied on both human and rat cells and was found to inhibit histamine release in both. There was also a significant difference observed in antigen-induced nasal rubbing and sneezing in mice.
The historic use of hops is used for anxiety, panic attacks, palpitations, insomnia, as well as for skin rashes. This is a very bitter herb and is best taken in tincture or capsule form. Hops are a nervous system depressant and are contraindicated in using with other sedatives and antihistamines, as they may enhance their effects.
The mild sedative effect of hops may be helpful for the anxiety associated with high histamine levels alone. The bitter quality of this herb helps in the digestion of food, which is helpful when there is a reduction of the needed enzymes. It does not count when drinking beer, as it is a fermented beverage with high histamine levels.
• Lemon Balm: Melissa officinalis
Lemon balm is a calming herb with a mild lemony flavor. It opens up the circulation of the chest and relaxes the heart in times of stress. It is used to ground headaches and will also release heat from the skin, as seen in flushing of the face from a histamine response. This is a nice choice for children. Lemon Balm is a great relaxing tea on its own or can be added to other teas for its lemon flavor.
Nettles: Urtica dioca
Nettles have been proved in studies to reduce allergic and other inflammatory responses. It has been used historically for allergy symptoms. Nettles should be used in its fresh tinctured or fresh freeze-dried form, when using it for allergy relief. Nettles are cooling energetically. Its compounds contain histamine, but are used as a like-cures-like herb. It is the histamine that causes the nettles rash if the plant is touched without gloves. Nettles also contain quercetin, which is very anti-inflammatory. Nettles are detoxifying to the liver and beneficial in clearing skin conditions. The plant is known to have adaptogenic properties, because it can strengthen the adrenal glands. Nettles are very nourishing and can also be cooked in the same way kale is cooked. It is a safe herb and is often recommended during pregnancy to build blood.
• Thyme: Thymus vulgaris
The historic use for thyme has been as an expectorant for respiratory concerns. Its name was derived from the Greek word Thymus, meaning courage. It represented courage in battle in medieval times.
Histamine symptoms can present as anxiety and panic attacks. Thyme opens up the circulation of the chest and allows one to breathe deeper. A drop of thyme essential oil can be added to a carrier oil, such as jojoba or healing salve, and massaged onto the middle of the chest, where the thymus gland is (Its cool that Thyme shares a name with the thymus gland). Tap in a clockwise motion to activate the breath and take in a few deep breaths. The thymus gland also activates the immune system and calms stress.
Thyme was also was used historically for its microbial effects on intestinal parasites. Its microbial properties are specifically useful for those who are contending with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or Candida. Thyme is high in vitamin B6, which as stated above, is needed to make the enzyme DAO to degrade histamine.
Place a few sprigs in a cup and add a little honey or drink it plain. Pour hot water over it—cover for 3 minutes and then enjoy as a tea. Thyme is also great in the winter and spring months to strengthen the immune system and ward off colds.
Turmeric: Curcuma longa
A study using the main constituent of turmeric, curcumin, showed to inhibit the activation of mast cells and passive systemic anaphylaxis, along with its importance in treating inflammatory diseases. It is anti-inflammatory and soothing to the digestive tract and has also been used in anxiety and depression. Some people have mentioned that they cannot tolerate turmeric. It is in the same family as ginger, which is an extremely hot natured rhizome. Turmeric is not as hot as ginger, but it is a little warming.
Even though numerous studies have been done on the anti-inflammatory effects of turmeric, some may be responding to the warming nature, which can be the same for ginger. It is possible that the stomach lining in those individuals is very irritated. Turmeric may be added to coconut milk for a drink called golden milk, because the fat in coconut will act as a carrier and will be easier on the stomach, which can be a delicious way to get its benefits. Turmeric can also be added to smoothies.
Manage Toxic load
It is not just our internal environment that we need to pay attention to. Our home and environmental toxins can create a lot of inflammation that can put an extra burden on our bodies.
It is important to reduce exposure to chemicals and synthetic perfumes, which are in everything from body soaps, laundry detergents, cleaning products and toxic candles.
Anxiety and panic attacks are symptoms of an overload of histamine. The more stress—the more histamine is released. When the system is already stressed with inflammation, it does not need an extra load. Our emotions directly affect our physical health. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, each organ system is associated with an emotion. When an emotion stays around for a while, the energy of that organ system stagnates and eventually can turn more serious. Our thoughts influence our emotions and beliefs. It is those same thoughts that play a large role in the result of our physical health. Our health is dependent upon moving through our emotional trauma to resolve it, so we can live a happier and healthier life.
We are 70% water. It is a basic need that we cannot live without, yet so many people choose to not drink it. Our body uses water in all its cells, tissues and organs and to regulate our temperature. We lose water through breathing, sweating and metabolic and digestive processes. Our body uses water to transport nutritional elements to our cells and it helps to remove waste products through digestion. It is critical to our health to replenish what is lost to maintain our health.
It is important that we purify our body with good purified water. Our waterways have become so polluted with pesticide and chemical runoff and it all makes its way into our drinking water. It is also not a wise choice to drink water out of a plastic bottle. The water absorbs the industrial chemical, bisphenol A (BPA), from the plastic, which is an endocrine disrupter.
It is important to find a reputable company that states that they purifywater. Kitchen counter water filters in plastic containers do not purify our water, but only filter chlorine and leave behind unwanted contaminants. Purified drinking water is one of the most important steps to cleansing and for bringing balance to our body.
The high anxiety associated with histamine can affect our sleep/wake circadian rhythm cycles. Less sleep taxes our system and creates more inflammation.
To get a better night’s sleep it is important to get consistent sleep and to go bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. I tis helpful to dim the lights in the evening and ideally to put blue blocker amber bulbs in the bedroom. The television, computer and electronic devices should be turned off at least an hour before bed. It is important for us to not eat at least three hours before bedtime, so our body is not trying to digest food, while it is working to repair.
Stress Reduction Tips…
• Take an Epsom salt bath and add in a few drops of lavender essential oil
• A simple five-minute walk in nature can reset our stress levels.
• Drink a calming tea such as chamomile, lemon balm or lavender
• Add 20 drops of lavender essential oil to a 2oz spray bottle with purified water for a spray
• Add a couple of drops of lavender essential oil to a carrier oil, such as jojoba, and massage onto the back of the neck going into the front. Lavender is a must to have at all times.
I clearly had too much histamine in my system the many times my lips swelled up, along with numerous other symptoms. It was most definitely beneficial to remove high histamine foods, calm my stress, and remove gluten and other foods that contributed to more inflammation.
I believe histamine concerns can be healed with the proper diet and stress reduction. I did it personally. I just have to be a little more careful in knowing what I can and cannot eat, and when I am experiencing more stress to avoid the triggering foods all together. It is all about balance.
I would recommend genetic testing to see if there is a DAO genetic single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP, pronounced snip). Although, if there are symptoms, whether a person has a SNP or not, inflammation needs to be cleared and the body needs to be brought back into balance by cleaning up what is causing them.
Good quality and low cost loose herbs can be purchased from Mountain Rose Herbs at mountainroseherbs.com
*This information is not in place of medical or psychological advice. It is not meant to diagnose, treat or cure any disease. Please seek appropriate medical attention for any health concerns that are experienced.
Christianson, Alan. (2018). Histamine Intolerance: Do you have it and can you avoid it in your diet?Retrieved from http://drchristianson.com/histamine-intolerance-do-you-have-it-and-can-you-avoid-it-in-your-diet/?inf_contact_key=37c950e753fb68ce793a79e224a043db2f4ade3b8876f1d657871295223e5a47
Lynch, Ben. (2018). Dirty Genes: A breakthrough program to treat the root cause of illness and optimize your health.USA: HarperOne.
MTHFR Support Australia. (2017). DAO Deficiency and Histamine: The unlikely connection. https://www.mthfrsupport.com.au/dao-deficiency-and-histamine-the-unlikely-connection/
Roschek, B., Fink, R. C., McMichael, M., Alberte, R. S. (2009). Nettle extract (Urtica dioica) affects key receptors and enzymes associated with allergic rhinitis. Phytotherapy Research.23(7), 920-6. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2763.
Takubo, M., Inoue, T., Jiang, S., Tsumuro, T., Ueda, Y., Yatsuzuka, R.,…Kamei, C. (2006). Effects of hop extracts on nasal rubbing and sneezing in BALB/c mice. Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin,29(4), 689-92. doi: https://doi.org/10.1248/bpb.29.689
Xian, Li, Yue, Lu, Ye, Jin, Jong-Keun, Son, Seung, Ho, Lee, & Chang, W., Hyeun. (2014). Curcumin inhibits the activation of immunoglobulin E-mediated mast cells and passive systemic anaphylaxis in mice by reducing serum eicosanoid and histamine levels. Biomolecules and Therapeutics.22(1), 27–34. doi: 10.4062/biomolther.2013.092.