Have you ever been walking along on a beautiful spring day and noticed that your eyes and nose were getting itchy and runny? You can thank (or not) histamines for that reaction. When your body encounters an irritant it makes its own histamines, which are chemicals your immune system releases in response to a “trigger” or allergen. Your cells already have all the histamine you need, but foods and drinks also contain histamine. If too much histamine builds up in the body, it can cause histamine intolerance. Today, we’re going to talk about how this condition develops and the benefits of a low-histamine diet in reducing symptoms. Here’s what you need to know!
What is histamine intolerance?
Histamine intolerance isn’t the type of allergy like we see with bee stings or peanuts. Rather, it’s a mismatch between too much histamine in your body and the speed at which your body can clear it. If your body has a build-up of too much histamine or is unable to break it down, you can develop symptoms. This condition is often characterized by itching, hives, sneezing, watery eyes, asthma, headaches, abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating, tachycardia, hypotension, anxiety, depression and more.
This increased histamine can affect different parts of the body, leading to a wide range of symptoms that are often vague and overlap with other conditions. The impact of histamine tends to vary depending on various factors including age, sex, genetics and gut health, to name a few.
Understanding Mast Cell Activation Syndrome
Another condition associated with histamine intolerance is called Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS). When the body encounters an allergen, whether cat hair, pollen or peanuts, it sends a signal to mast cells to release histamine. This spurs a number of reactions to help clear the allergen. In the case of MCAS, mast cells are inappropriately activated and released, leading to too much histamine in the body. Common triggers include certain foods, chemicals, fragrances, exercise and stress. Symptoms are similar to those associated with histamine intolerance and can range from swelling and hives to nausea and fainting.
How can you tell if you have histamine intolerance or MCAS?
A 2020 review noted that histamine intolerance affects one to three percent of the population. However, this area of research is still quite new. The incidence may increase as more is understood about the condition and diagnostic tools improve.
Currently, there are no standard blood tests to identify intolerance. According to a 2018 study published in Allergy, a histamine elimination diet is the method of choice to figure out if someone has an intolerance to histamine. This involves removing any foods high in histamine and slowly reintroducing them to watch for new reactions. This should be done with the guidance of a qualified health practitioner.
This involves removing any foods high in histamine and slowly reintroducing them to watch for new reactions. This should be done with the guidance of a qualified health practitioner.
MCAS is diagnosed based on your symptoms, blood and urine tests performed during an episode, and your reaction to medications that block the effects of the mast cell mediators.
The importance of a low-histamine diet
While you can’t control your body’s natural output of histamine, you can control how much histamine you get through your diet. Studies have shown that a low-histamine diet can offer symptom relief for those suffering from histamine intolerance or MCAS. So, what foods can you eat and which should you avoid on a low-histamine diet? Let’s break it down.
Foods to avoid on a low-histamine diet
The following foods should be avoided while on a low-histamine diet:
- Fruit: Citrus fruits, strawberries, grapes, bananas, pineapple, pears, tomatoes, avocado, dried fruit
- Vegetables: Eggplant, olives, spinach
- Dairy: Cheese, milk, yogurt, aged cheese.
- Protein: Canned, smoked, or cured meats/fish including tuna, mackerel, anchovies, shellfish, sausage, lunchmeat, hot dogs, pepperoni, and bacon.
- Grains: Bleached wheat flour
- Nuts: Walnuts, cashews, peanuts
- Flavour: Vinegar, soy sauce, hot spices.
- Fermented foods: Beer, wine, pickled foods, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi
- Misc. Chocolate, ketchup, mayonnaise.
- Drinks: Coffee, alcohol, black tea, orange juice, lemon water
Foods to include on a low-histamine diet
The following foods can be enjoyed while on a low-histamine diet:
- Fruit: All fruits, except the ones listed above
- Vegetables: All veggies, except the ones listed above
- Dairy: Non-dairy milks
- Meats: Freshly cooked or frozen meat, poultry, and fish, except the ones listed above
- Grains: Corn, rice, oats
- Fats and oils: Olive oil, coconut oil
- Flavour: fresh and dried herbs, salt
- Drinks: water, herbal tea, fruit juice (avoid citrus)
Too much of anything can be overwhelming and histamine is no exception. In proper amounts, it’s an important part of your immune system that triggers your body’s inflammatory response when it senses irritants. It’s only when histamine builds up too high in your body and can’t properly be excreted that you can run into troublesome symptoms.
While going on a low-histamine diet may not cure the root cause of the intolerance, it should help manage the symptoms and give your body room to heal.
You might already know that histamines are affecting your health in some way. Or it’s something you’ll realize when we do an initial assessment. Either way, when we collaborate on a Mineral-Nutritional Balancing Program one of the goals is to strengthen gut health. You might need to limit high-histamine foods at the beginning. Often, as your gut health increases so does your ability to eat a variety of foods without overreacting.