Are certain foods triggering your unwanted symptoms?
Similar to allergies and food sensitivities, histamine intolerance may be another cause of your adverse food reactions. However, histamine intolerance is not well understood by most people and can be tricky to diagnosis.
In this article, we’ll explain this condition in simple terms and discuss if there is truly a method for curing histamine intolerance.
What is Histamine Intolerance?
Histamine is a chemical that has many functions in the body. It is found naturally in certain foods and is best known for its powerful actions during an allergic or inflammatory reaction.
However, what is histamine intolerance? Despite the name, histamine intolerance is not an “intolerance” to histamine. Rather, histamine intolerance occurs when you have too much histamine than your body is able to effectively break down (1).
The main enzyme in your body responsible for breaking down histamine is called diamine oxidase (DAO).
Symptoms of Histamine Intolerance
While symptoms of histamine intolerance vary, some common reactions as a result of this condition may include (1):
- Headaches or migraines
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- Low blood pressure
- Hives and/or itching
- Chronic fatigue
- Irregular menstrual cycles
And many more! However, diagnosis of histamine intolerance is very tricky, which is why we use individualized functional medicine testing to get to the root cause of the issue (instead of relying solely on symptoms).
We go into more detail here in our online course: Histamine Intolerance Healing!
Causes of Histamine Intolerance
There are a few main reasons why someone may develop histamine intolerance.
In our practice, we often see histamine intolerance in conjunction with leaky gut. Since your intestines are where most of the DAO enzyme is produced, your body may produce less DAO when the gut is inflamed or damaged, thus leading to a build up of histamine.
Healing the gut with diet, personalized testing, and using probiotics for histamine intolerance (when indicated) often leads to improvement.
DAO is the main enzyme responsible for breaking down histamine from food sources.
Some people may have an impaired ability to break down histamine due to a genetic polymorphism in the DAO gene. This means that your DAO gene may not effectively breakdown histamine as compared to individuals without the genetic mutation.
If your DAO gene contains certain mutations (also known as “SNPs”), you may have an increased risk of developing histamine intolerance. Genetic testing can help determine if you have these mutations; however, a mutation in this gene doesn’t guarantee that you will have histamine intolerance.
Women tend to experience more histamine intolerance than men, which may be related to an imbalance of female sex hormones.
In fact, female patients may experience worsening symptoms of histamine intolerance before or during their period. Some animal studies have shown that mast cells (which release histamine) within endometrial tissue are most significant during this premenstrual phase.
Estrogen is also thought to activate histamine release from immune cells. So, if the amount of estrogen produced is much higher than the amount of progesterone—as seen in estrogen dominance—more histamine is released and may lead to worsening symptoms (2, 3).
What Foods Have Histamine?
While curing histamine intolerance requires a root cause, functional medicine approach, you may find some relief following a low-histamine diet. Eliminating foods that are high in histamine may reduce the amount of histamine in your bloodstream that your body has to eliminate.
Foods to avoid on a low-histamine diet:
- Fermented foods, like kombucha, yogurt, and sauerkraut
- Aged cheeses
- Dried fruit
- Smoked meats
- Leftover food over a day old
Note: it is difficult for research studies to accurately measure the amount of histamine in all foods, so this is where a personalized elimination diet from a functional medicine dietitian can be very insightful. We review our low histamine diet in our online course.
Curing Histamine Intolerance
While there is still question on whether one can cure histamine intolerance, you can definitely see improvement when you work on reducing inflammation and repairing a leaky gut.
Effectively healing a leaky gut to improve histamine intolerance often requires removing food sensitivities, following a wholesome diet, reducing stress, and supplementing when necessary.
Part of the gut health regimen for this condition may include probiotics for histamine intolerance. Probiotic supplementation may be used as many people with histamine intolerance cannot tolerate fermented foods (natural sources of probiotics).
Some probiotic strains may be helpful in reducing or breaking down histamine formation in the body. While research in this area is still new, some companies have created probiotics for histamine intolerance with these strains in mind. We may use ProBiota HistaminX by Seeking Health as it contains many strains known to degrade histamine in the gut.
Other supplements that can be helpful to lower histamine levels include quercetin, such as Natural D hist.
However, it’s important to work with a functional medicine practitioner to find the best probiotic supplement for you, because some probiotic strains may actually make histamine intolerance worse!
At Root Functional Medicine, we teach our clients about how the microbiome affects histamine intolerance, and you can learn more by booking our online program here!