Updated: Nov 6, 2020
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Do you have gut pain, wheeziness or do you suffer from hives or skin flushing? These are some of the typical symptoms of a histamine intolerance and they are a common problem among those suffering digestive issues.
The good news is that it's usually a temporary problem and it will resolve, or at the very least improve significantly, once you have improved your gut health.
So what is histamine intolerance?
We make our own histamine, plus it comes from the food we eat. Among its many roles in the body, it plays an important role in fighting infection and tissue repair, and for stimulating stomach acid secretion for digestion.
While we need this natural chemical, excessive amounts lead to symptoms of intolerance. This happens when we are unable to break it down properly and/or we have overloaded our system by having too much.
How do you know if you have a histamine intolerance?
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If you suffer some or all of these symptoms you're likely to have it:
Wheeziness, sneeziness and general snottyness
High heart rate
Low blood pressure
Feeling hot and cold
Other tell-tale signs include:
Feeling flushed or having a runny nose after drinking a glass of wine (particularly red) or other alcohol
Being prone to car sickness or other motion sickness
Feeling head rush or faint if you stand up too quickly
Getting sneezy, wheezy or developing hives after eating histaminey-foods such as chocolate or strawberries
We'll get into which foods increase histamine further along in this article.
What causes histamine intolerance?
Breaking it down
One of the main enzymes for breaking down histamine is DAO (diamine oxidase). Genetics play a role in how well this works in that certain gene variations can reduce your ability to produce enough DAO.
Common medications including proton pump inhibitors, inhalers, and anti-inflammatories can also block DAO production.
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Gut problems such as SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), IBS, coeliac disease and inflammatory bowel diseases create local inflammation in the gut which can damage the intestinal lining. Since DAO is made in this mucosal lining, production of this enzyme becomes compromised.
This is why you can suddenly develop an intolerance when you start to suffer digestive issues.
You can overload the system if you eat too many high-histamine foods. Exposure to allergens such as pollen and dust causes specific cells to release histamine which can add to your load.
Some bacteria in the gut can also promote histamine levels and gut flora imbalance can mean an overgrowth in these bacteria.
What you can do to manage an intolerance
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1. Reduce your intake of high-histamine foods
The emphasis has to be on the word 'reduce' here as there's no need to try and cut out histamine foods altogether. Ideally, it's good to find the sweet spot of having some histamine-containing foods but not so many that your body's metabolic processes can't keep up.
You'll know when you've had too much as your symptoms will return.
Histamine in foods generally comes as a byproduct of bacteria. It doesn't mean the food is bad, as food will naturally have some level of bacteria. But it means that leftovers will have higher histamine as bacteria exist in greater numbers.
Fermented products are also high in histamine because of the bacteria present.
The common high-histamine culprits include:
Fermented foods (kombucha, sauerkraut, kefir)
Aged cheese - these tend to be the hard cheeses and anything labelled sharp or 'vintage'
Tinned fish and meats
Alcohol, especially red wine
There are also foods that don't necessarily contain high amounts of histamine but which cause our own cells to release this chemical. These are termed 'histamine liberators'. Common offenders include:
Some foods block the action of DAO (one of the enzymes that breaks down histamine). The main culprits here include alcohol and caffeine, so best to cut back on drinks and switch to decaffeinated coffee and herbal teas. Note that alcohol gives you a double whammy effect of being both histamine-containing and a DAO blocker.
Common medications can block DAO production or promote histamine release in the body include:
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (e.g ibuprofen, diclofenac or naproxen)
Antihypertensives (verapamil, alprenolol, dihydralazine)
2. Have the right nutrients
Particular nutrients are needed to support the production and action of enzymes that break down histamine. Some nutrients also help to stabilise the cells that release histamine, thus inhibiting their action.
Useful nutrients to include in your diet or add as supplements include:
Bioflavanoids, especially quercetin
For my patients, I use a good magnesium complex, such as the practitioner-only product, Bio-practica Basica, which contains magnesium, calcium, zinc, vitamin C, B2 and other minerals.
This works well teamed with a good activated B complex, such as Herbs of Gold Activated B Complex. Herbs of Gold also offer a Quercetin supplement that works well as a natural antihistamine.
3. Heal the gut
As we've said earlier, digestive issues affect output of DAO so healing the gut can go a long way towards improving your ability to handle histamine.
You can use gut healing supplements which include:
But you also need to look at the underlying causes of your symptoms and deal with them otherwise you will be perpetuating the problem.
Book an appointment with me if you want guidance on overcoming your gut issues. I can also organise very good tests for you that will help you determine exactly what the problems are, to make treatment more targeted and effective.