You might have just heard about histamine intolerance or told you might have it. And now you think well, what is it, how does this relate to me? What the heck do I do now!
Histamine intolerance symptoms include headaches, migraines, anxiety/irritability, acid reflux, heartburn, nausea, arrhythmia, sinus inflammation, runny nose, digestive issues, diarrhoea, swelling, itching skin or eyes, burning fluid from eyes, nighttime overheating, skin rash and many more. Basic symptom improvement can occur by reducing the amount of histamine we eat and that helps us reduce that overload of histamine in our body.
Histamine is stored in mast cells in our body and present in foods, and generally it’s not a problem at all. We need it. It is part of our standard immune response against invaders, it’s a neurotransmitter, is a vasodilator, and is involved in allergic reactions. We need histamine to actually give us a certain amount of motivation, and as a neurotransmitter it’s involved in the sleep wake cycle. So it’s actually really important. The problem is that we have too much being produced inside our body and/or we can’t eliminate the histamine effectively from our body. So histamine intolerance is often really histamine excess. This is called histaminosis.
Histamine is an amine, a natural food chemical present in a large variety of food. The Happy Without Histamine food list includes all of the amine containing foods, as well as the ones that specifically contain histamine. Histamine is also created in the hypothalamus in our brain. Gut dysbiosis, an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut can contribute to histamine intolerance as well. Bacteria can generate histamine from amines when they break down food, or part of the bacteria can stimulate the mast cells in our gut. Mast cells store and release histamine in response to triggers. A mast cell is part of our immune system and is present in our digestive tract, lungs and other organs.
Histamine intolerance can be caused by a lack of DAO enzyme, produced in the brush border lining in the small intestine. The DAO enzyme helps to break down histamine in the gut. Damage to the gut lining can reduce DAO, leading to more histamine remaining in the digestive tract. DAO breaks down around 50% of the histamine present in the gut, so if you have an imbalance of histamine converting bacteria, you may also have to work on restoring the microbiome to improve symptoms.
Remaining on a low histamine, gluten free and dairy free diet for 4-6 weeks can often be enough for people with a simple case of histamine intolerance to allow the gut to heal and rebuild its capacity to create DAO. I also often include gut healing with food and supplements over around 6 months, including prebiotics and probiotics to prevent reoccurrence. Supplementation of DAO can also help for some people where there is not enough DAO produced in the gut. It is important to remember taking DAO is not a cure, just a helpful aid.
Another area of histamine breakdown is the HNMT enzyme. This enzyme is responsible for removing histamine from our bodies. HNMT is present in many body tissues with high concentrations in the liver and kidneys. HNMT also is present in the airways. Histamine usually takes around about three days to break down in the body and it can take much longer if this pathway isn’t working well. We can support this enzyme pathway with nutritional supplementation, by calming the nervous system and supporting our natural detoxification systems including the liver, lymphatics and the gut.
Anti-histamines block the H1 and H2 receptors in our body. So if we take an anti-histamine, they stop histamine connecting to these receptors, and symptoms do not express. However, they do not stop the body producing histamine, or reduce histamine in foods we eat. So they block the receptor, but the histamine is still floating around in our body, trying to be processed and excreted. You can take anti-histamines to mask some of your symptoms and block the connection of the histamine to the receptor. But as soon as you stop, those symptoms will come back. Natural products such as quercetin can be useful instead of antihistamines.
The amount of time it takes to breakdown histamine is the reason I recommend sticking with a low histamine diet for 4-6 weeks before reintroducing foods. This gives your body time to adjust, and potentially repair the gut and increase DAO enzymes. This is also why gluten and dairy are a good idea to remove initially, to help lower inflammation and heal the gut. You can start your low histamine diet using the low histamine food guide or the low histamine kitchen companion below and see how it helps you improve your symptoms. Next, I will talk about other root causes and mast cell activation syndrome in upcoming articles.
The low histamine kitchen companion
A condensed form of the low histamine guide with the key points to follow in one place.
This one-pager is perfect to print out and pop on the fridge or tuck in your handbag.
Includes the priority high histamine foods to avoid.
Shopping, cooking, and storage are included.
Just like having a nutritionist in your pocket!
This is a downloadable pdf file.
As this is an immediately available digital product no refunds are possible.