Understanding a histamine intolerance

A histamine intolerance can have different effects depending on your sensitivity. But what is it? And how do you prevent becoming ill from it?

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What Is Histamine?

Histamine is a natural chemical that acts in the body and is indispensable to the efficient functioning of body systems. It is described as a neurotransmitter, which means that it conveys messages between cells and our nervous system. Histamine is also involved in the regulation of stomach acid, the permeability of blood vessels, muscle contraction and brain function and is essential to fight against disease-causing agents such as bacteria and viruses.

Histamine is made and stored in white blood cells and causes blood vessels to swell so that white blood cells can attack the problem. With this in mind, we also see that it plays a large role in dealing with inflammation within the body, acting as a mediator. It is released in response to allergens but when an excessive amount is released it will cause an adverse reaction that appears as an allergy. This allergy presents itself in a variety of ways such as a rash and anaphylaxis depending on your inherent sensitivity to it. Because histamine is so important to the body and is found in so many foods, it is very difficult to avoid interaction with it.

Symptoms of a histamine intolerance

Excess histamine is degraded by the enzymes HNMT and DAO. It appears that a deficiency in the DAO system brings about the intolerance in the acute form. The chronic form of histamine intolerance is due to the HNMT deficiency.

Side effects to the intolerance are widespread and include:

  • Severe itching
  • Hives
  • Swelling of facial and oral tissues and the throat
  • Increased heart rate
  • Runny nose
  • Chest pain
  • Anxiety
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Migraine and fatigue
  • Loss of concentration, dizziness and fainting
  • Severe stomach cramps, heartburn and diarrhoea
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Difficulty to sleep, easy arousal
  • Abnormal menstrual cycle

Which foods and drinks can set off a histamine intolerance?

Being histamine intolerant limits your food options by quite a bit, and will naturally vary depending on your level of intolerance.

Histamine is present in:

  • Fish and shellfish
  • Vinegar and foods prepared in vinegar such as pickles
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Cheese
  • Processed food
  • Citrus fruits, berries and vegetables such as pumpkin, spinach and avocado
  • Tartrazine and preservatives
  • Tea
  • Chocolate and soft drinks
  • Nuts


Diagnosing a histamine intolerance

To find out if you have histamine intolerance it is advised to see a medical professional who will more than likely perform a blood test in order to confirm. From then on, taking antihistamines is probably the best course of action to reduce the impact of your reaction.

Another way to treat your intolerance is to be proactive about your health. You can also revamp your diet and then reintroduce foods to see which ones are causing the reaction. The effect of diet is only comparable to how much a person can limit their intake of histamine, which is difficult. Although diet will help, a person’s general histamine tolerance levels may fluctuate and it is confusing as some foods with histamine may not offset a reaction.

What can you eat with a histamine intolerance?

What you can eat is limited but not impossible to achieve:

  • Gluten free grains – quinoa
  • Freshly cooked meat
  • Fresh fish
  • Eggs
  • Pure peanut butter
  • Leafy herbs
  • Herbal tea
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables that are not the ones that have high histamine levels
  • Dairy substitutes

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