Do seasonal allergies torment you? Are you hyper-reactive to bug bites? Do you have chronic nasal congestion? After eating, do you need to clear your throat, have heartburn, a headache or feel tired? You may be experiencing histamine overload.
Signs and Symptoms
The following are common signs and symptoms of histamine overload:
- Itching – especially of the skin, eyes, ears, and nose
- Swelling – especially of the face and mouth and sometimes the throat, the latter causing the feeling of “throat tightening”
- Drop in blood pressure
- Increased pulse rate, “heart racing”
- Anxiety or panic attack
- Chest pain
- Nasal congestion, runny nose, seasonal allergies
- Irritated, watery, reddened eyes
- Fatigue, confusion, irritability
- Digestive upset, especially heartburn, “indigestion”, and acid reflux
What is Histamine and Why is it Making Me Miserable?
We get histamine from two sources: 1) our bodies make it and 2) from food.
#1 Histamine has several essential functions in our body. It is a neurotransmitter (sending messages between nerve cells) and it is necessary for proper stomach acid production. It is also involved in blood vessel and muscle function. And probably it’s most well known role is as part of our immune system.
#2 Normally food histamine is not a problem for people, however there are certain circumstances when histamine from food will cause someone problems. As food ages, a naturally occurring compound (histadine, an amino acid) gets converted into histamine. The longer a food ages, the higher the histamine content.
When does histamine become a problem? Our bodies have two mechanisms for breaking down histamine so that we don’t get overloaded with it. Some histamine is good, but too much causes the symptoms listed above that make you feel miserable. Histamine intolerance generally develops over time due to an impairment in the way our body breaks down histamine; our body literally gets overloaded with too much. In order for your body to be able to clear out this overload and allow it time to empty this overflowing cup, you will need to give you body a break from food histamine.
What Foods to Avoid
For anyone experiencing histamine overload symptoms, strict adherence for 4 weeks to a low-histamine diet is necessary since it takes time for the body to clear the excess and to determine if the symptoms they are experiencing are related to histamine. After 4 weeks, small amounts of histamine may be tolerated depending on the person, but individual sensitivity varies. Additional measures, such as healing the digestive system may also be necessary for symptom relief.
An important thing to understand when you want to reduce food histamine is that most fresh foods have very little or no histamine. However, as food ages, histamine is created as the proteins begin to change over time. Therefore, you will want to eat only freshly prepared foods; avoid anything aged, cultured, fermented, canned, bottled, smoked or leftover. Freezing halts histamine production, so if you have leftovers, freeze them immediately. This means you will need to prioritize time to prepare fresh food at each meal and/or prepare meals and then freeze them for later.
AVOID the following for 4 weeks:
- Cultured and aged dairy products – yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, all cheese
- Processed, cured, canned, pickled or smoked meat, fish or seafood
- Egg whites (egg yolks are OK)
- Fruit – Citrus (oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit); Berries (blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, cranberry); Stone Fruit (apricot, plum, peach, nectarine, cherry, prune); Other Fruits (banana, pineapple, dates, grapes, currants, papaya)
- Vegetables – avocado, green beans, eggplant, pumpkin, spinach, sweet potato, packaged salad mixes, pre-cut or peeled vegetables, tomatoes
- Spices – anise, curry powder, cinnamon, cloves, cayenne
- Leftovers (unless frozen immediately after preparing)
- Tofu and soybeans
- Beverages – beer, black tea, cocoa, cola, green tea, hard alcohol, wine
- Miscellaneous – chocolate, cocoa powder, chili paste, ketchup, kim chi, miso, pickles, pickled vegetables, relish, sauerkraut, shrimp paste, soy sauce, tempeh, vinegar
What to Eat to Reduce Histamine
All of the following foods are low in histamine and/or contain special compounds that reduce histamine production in your body. Eat them freely for 4 weeks.
- Fresh or frozen fish, poultry, beef, seafood (must be freshly caught and cooked, or prepared from frozen)
- Starches – oats, rice, millet, quinoa, spelt, corn
- Nuts and seeds – macadamia, chia (avoid other nuts and seeds)
- Legumes – lentils, black beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, white beans, navy beans, black-eyed peas, split-peas, peanuts
- Fats – olive oil, butter (not cultured), egg yolks (avoid the white), canola oil, coconut oil, coconut milk
- Vegetables – artichoke, asparagus, beets, broccoli, bell pepper, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, fennel, endive, green beans, lettuce, nettle, parsnip, bok choy, radishes, squash, white onion, zucchini
- Fruits – apple, coconut, figs, pear, kiwi, mango, persimmon, pomegranate, melon (all), starfruit, rhubarb
- Fresh herbs – basil, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage
- Spices – all except those in the AVOID list above
- Beverages – peppermint tea, rooibos tea, nettle tea
Supplements to Consider
In addition to modifications to your diet for 4 weeks, your healthcare practitioner will likely work on supporting healthy digestion and may recommend the following supplements. Consult your healthcare provider for dosage.
- Vitamin C
- Sea buckthorn
- Turmeric or curcumin
Histamine Intolerance, by Dr. Janice Joneja
Histamine and Tyramine Restricted Diet, by Dr. Janice Joneja
Headaches, Hives, and Heartburn: Could Histamine be the Cause? by Chris Kresser
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