Symptoms of Histamine Intolerance and What to Do If You Have Them

You may not be able to describe the histamine response, but I guarantee you’ve experienced it!

Remember the last time you got a mosquito bite with a red, itchy welt? That was histamine. Ever had scratchy eyes and runny nose from hay fever? That was histamine, too.

Histamine is a chemical that’s responsible for multiple jobs. Not only is it involved in the secretion of stomach acid, which is essential for proper digestion, it’s also a powerful neurotransmitter that communicates key messages throughout your entire body.1

But the most important role of histamine is to regulate your immune system.

Histamine in Action

Here’s how the histamine response works: when your body comes into contact with a foreign invader, it responds by releasing histamine. That triggers a cascade of inflammatory reactions designed to protect you from danger.2

Cleary, you need histamine to survive! But if you’re not able to adequately break histamine down and it builds up to an unhealthy level, that can lead to a condition known as “histamine intolerance.”3,4

Histamine intolerance can make it feel as if you’re having an allergic reaction 24/7! And while it’s not as life-threatening as an allergic response, histamine intolerance can be crippling nonetheless.

Symptoms of Histamine Intolerance

Although histamine intolerance can be hard to diagnose because of the wide range of symptoms, here’s a list of the most common ones:3,4

  • Itching
  • Hives
  • Sneezing
  • Watering eyes
  • Nasal congestion
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Headaches
  • Flushing
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain, diarrhea
  • Accelerated/irregular heart rate
  • Changes in blood pressure

Why Does Histamine Intolerance Happen?

The main enzyme responsible for breaking down histamine in your gut is called “diamine oxidase,” or DAO for short. When your gut is healthy, DAO clears histamine out of your system once its job is done.

But if your gut health is compromised, DAO isn’t able to work as well.4  That means your histamine levels remain elevated, and you continue to experience uncomfortable symptoms.

Many of the same health issues that cause food intolerances can also cause histamine intolerance. (Find out more about how to find your food intolerances and heal your gut HERE.)

Studies have shown that multiple factors can weaken the activity of DAO in your body, causing histamine to accumulate, including…3,4

  • Prolonged stress (especially PTSD)
  • Leaky gut
  • Autoimmune or inflammatory conditions   
  • Chronic acid reflux
  • Certain medications

As if that wasn’t enough, your body can also produce excess histamine under certain conditions, like…

  • Allergies
  • GI bleeding
  • Bacterial overgrowth

And to top it all off, your diet also contributes to your histamine levels. In addition to foods that naturally contain histamine, there are foods that can trigger the release of histamine, as well as foods that can inhibit DAO. That’s why your symptoms may get worse after eating certain foods.

At first glance, histamine intolerance may seem complicated, but it’s actually quite simple:

High levels of histamine + impaired ability to break histamine down = histamine intolerance

To help you determine which foods may be renewing the histamine response, here are the main culprits…

Histamine-Rich Foods

  • Dairy and aged cheese
  • Fermented foods and drinks like yogurt, sauerkraut, vinegar, and soy sauce
  • Fermented alcoholic beverages, including wine, beer, and champagne
  • Cured and aged meats
  • Some types of fish, especially frozen, smoked, and canned varieties
  • Spinach and eggplant
  • Strawberries
  • Avocado
  • Tomatoes

Histamine-Releasing Foods

  • Citrus fruits, papaya, pineapple
  • Nuts such as walnuts and cashews
  • Peanuts
  • Cocoa and chocolate
  • Fish and crustaceans
  • Pork
  • Egg whites
  • Licorice root
  • Seasonings: chili powder, cinnamon, cloves, tomato ketchup
  • Many food additives

Foods that Keep Your Body From Breaking Down Histamine

  • Alcohol, especially red wine
  • Different types of tea

How to Reduce Your Symptoms

If your suspect you have histamine intolerance, the first step is to consult a quality functional medicine doctor. My team is happy to help you find one in your area, so please reach out on Facebook or Instagram.

At the same time, it’s critical to do everything you can to naturally reduce inflammation in your body. You need to discover any food intolerances you have and eliminate those problem foods from your diet. The Virgin Diet is designed to help you do this quickly and easily at home.

A low-histamine diet can often help your symptoms subside. If you’re looking for help with lowering histamine in your diet, my friend Yasmina Ykelenstam at Healing Histamine is a great resource. Get her free guide to Healing Histamine the Easy Way.

You can also take smart supplements to help. These 3 powerhouses pack an impressive anti-inflammatory punch and are great options for anyone with histamine intolerance or chronic inflammation:

Remember, it’s vital that you never eliminate histamines from your diet completely, as that can actually make your resistance worse.

You also have to be your own health detective and figure out which foods, combinations of foods, and amounts are right for you.

For instance, cacao is a great example of a food that can cause the release of histamine, but is still a good option for many people with histamine intolerance. That’s because cacao also naturally fights inflammation, as well as other symptoms and underlying causes of histamine intolerance.

One important note: all fermented foods are high histamine. Since fermented foods are packed with probiotics, your gut microbiome can suffer when you eliminate those foods.

A probiotic supplement is key, but many traditional probiotics are made from cultures that are high-histamine themselves and can aggravate histamine intolerance. This is one time when my probiotic supplement, Microbiome Balance, may not be the best option starting out.

Instead, look for a probiotic with histamine-lowering cultures like Bifidobacterium infantis, longum, plantarum, or breve. Once your gut is healthy again, then Microbiome Balance is a great choice.

Figuring Out Where You Live Best

As your symptoms subside, you can start adding back histamine-containing foods slowly until you reach the threshold where symptoms reappear. Again, a functional medicine doctor is a great guide during this process.

Some trigger foods may never be on the table, or you may find that you can tolerate a certain amount of high-histamine foods, as long as you don’t eat them along with histamine-releasing foods.

The good news is that most people with even the most severe histamine intolerance can tolerate a medium-histamine diet if they address their stress, avoid sugar and dairy, and eliminate other sources of inflammation. The Virgin Diet and Sugar Impact Diet are ideal long-term plans, as they’re both designed to help you dial down inflammation and its harmful effects.

The bottom line: histamine intolerance doesn’t have to make you feel miserable any longer. When you’re informed and know which swaps to make, you can control histamine intolerance and get back to feeling better again!

Thanks so much for reading this post! If you’re interested in finding out more about how to dial in your diet and health, please check out my online programs. They’re science-based and have already helped thousands of people feel better fast and lose the weight.

Article Sources

1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22035879

2 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16354958

3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25439083

4 https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/85/5/1185/4633007

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