Histamine is an organic compound made by your body that’s responsible for initiating immune and inflammatory responses…and about a million other functions that we don’t have time to discuss here.
What do itchiness, watery eyes, stuffy nose, and skin rashes have in common? They’re all provoked by histamine! Some people have allergies and some don’t because of the responsiveness of their histamine production to external influences. Anaphylactic allergies to things like peanuts and shellfish are also triggered by histamine release, but from specific immunoglobulins called IgE antibodies.
However, this isn’t a blog about seasonal allergies or anaphylactic allergies, it’s about not being able to drink wine and eat smoked meats! It’s about getting a skin reaction after eating just about anything. Why does this happen??? It’s called “histamine intolerance”.
Histamine intolerance results from a lack of degradation of histamine and a build up of histamine from foods that, well, produce histamine. Your body can become intolerant to histamine because there’s just so much of it! Histamine is broken down by two different enzymes in the body: diamine oxidase (DAO) and histamine-N-methyltransferase (HNMT). Reduced activity of either enzyme can cause symptoms of elevated histamine, such as: hives, itching, rash, flushing, headache, diarrhea, heartburn, and asthma. Histamine can be found in foods and it can also be formed by the bacterial fermentation of foods. But, you thought saukerkraut and kombucha were good for you?! Not if you have histamine intolerance. Here’s the kicker: some foods are both histamine producers AND DAO inhibitors! Unfortunately, that’s the case for red wine, which also contains sulfites. Sulfite sensitivity can look exactly like histamine intolerance, and can also be due to a deficiency of degradation enzymes.
So what are these histamine-producing foods already!?
- Pickled or canned foods – like sauerkraut, peppers, pickles
- Matured cheeses
- Smoked meat products – salami, ham, sausages, jerky
- Beans and canned legumes– chickpeas, soy beans, peanuts
- Nuts – walnuts, cashew nuts
- Citrus- like tomatoes
- Dried fruits
- Artificial colouring- found in candies, desserts, cereals, sodas, juices etc.
- Preservatives- like sulfites
Other tips for reducing histamine production:
- Avoid canned foods
- Aim to eat fresh foods, rather than preserved foods
- Don’t leave foods out of the fridge for long periods of time, pack your lunches with a cold pack
- Ensure that your kitchen is always kept clean to minimize bacteria exposure
- Everyone has their own histamine threshold; you may need to experiment to find yours
How will you know if you have histamine intolerance?
- You experience any of the symptoms listed in this blog (hives, itching, rash, flushing, headache, diarrhea, heartburn, and asthma) after eating/ drinking the above foods
- Your symptoms may decrease after taking over the counter anti-histamine medications
- You are sure you do not have anaphylactic allergies, and other allergies have been ruled out by a doctor
Print off the list of foods and keep it on your fridge. When you eat them, write down your corresponding symptoms and watch for patterns. Remember that your threshold may not be reached until after eating the foods for several servings or several days.
Book an appointment with Dr. Sumner
Maintz, L., & Novak, N. (2007). Histamine and histamine intolerance. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 85(5), 1185-1196.
Jarisch, R. (2011). Histamine intolerance. Aktuelle Dermatologie, 37, 1-8.
Wöhrl, S., Hemmer, W., Focke, M., Rappersberger, K., & Jarisch, R. (2004, September). Histamine intolerance-like symptoms in healthy volunteers after oral provocation with liquid histamine. In Allergy and Asthma Proceedings (Vol. 25, No. 5, pp. 305-311). OceanSide Publications, Inc.
Schwelberger, H. G. (2010). Histamine intolerance: a metabolic disease?. Inflammation research, 59(2), 219-221.