Histamine Intolerance: What You Need To Know
Table of Contents
1. Why histamine is not bad
2. Common histamine intolerance symptoms
3. What causes histamine intolerance?
4. Genetic polymorphisms in the DAO enzym
5. Poor methylation
6. Leaking mast cells
7. Gut bacteria
8. Histamine-rich foods
Do you suffer from histamine-like symptoms such as headaches, stuffy nose, diarrhea, low blood pressure, heart palpitations, hives, itching and flushing in response to foods containing histamine? Eliminating histamine-rich foods, alcohol and certain drugs will help you manage your symptoms. But it won’t treat the underlying issues. In this blog, we focus on how to cure or prevent histamine intolerance. But first we explain to you why histamine is not bad and what are the most common symptoms of histamine intolerance.
Why histamine is not bad
Histamine exists in two places in the body; outside the cells and stored in mast cells. It acts in the spinal cord, uterus, lungs, heart and many other tissues in the body. Within the central nervous system, histamine affects cognition and memory, the regulation of the sleep-wake cycle and energy. It supports digestion. Without histamine, you can’t poop! We need the right amount of histamine to function properly. Histamine becomes worrisome when it leaks outside the mast cells. Or when too much histamine accumulates outside the cells, for example, produced by certain gut bacteria.
An excess of histamine outside your cells is an overload to your immune system, causing it to react to certain foods. [*], [*] You may then experience one or more of the symptoms listed below.
Common histamine intolerance symptoms
In addition to a prick-test [*] or genetic marker, a good test is to follow a low histamine diet for a period of time (more on this later). If you then experience fewer or no symptoms, it is a sign that you are probably intolerant to histamine.
You can find the most common symptoms here:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Weak muscle tone
- Sudden low blood pressure/heart palpitation
- Itchy skin
- Flushing skin
- Runny nose
- Stuffy nose
- Shortness of breath
- Bloating and gas
- A feeling of ‘fullness’
- Abdominal pain
- Vomiting [*]
Oriol Comas-Basté, et al, Histamine Intolerance: The Current State of the Art, Biomolecules, 2020 Aug; 10(8): 1181,
So what causes histamine intolerance?
Several factors can contribute to or cause histamine intolerance, but perhaps the greatest of all are genetic polymorphisms in the DAO enzyme that produces, degrades or releases histamine. However, poor methylation and excessive histamine production in the gut can also lead to histamine intolerance. Here we explain what these factors are and how you can address them. [*]
Genetic polymorphisms in the DAO enzyme
DAO is an enzyme in your gut that helps break down and clear histamine from your food. Defective or deficient DAO is the main cause of histamine intolerance. If your AOC1 gene is not working optimally, you are not producing enough DAO enzyme to remove histamine from your body. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to nourish your DAO gene:
- Copper, vitamin C and vitamin B6 are all important nutrients for the regulation of your own DAO enzyme. [*] The richest source of copper and B6 is liver. Camu camu, acerola berries, kiwi and peppers are rich dietary sources of vitamin C.
- Supplement DAO enzyme by eating beef kidney—which naturally contains the DAO enzyme we produce internally. [*] Studies have shown that taking a DAO supplement before a histamine-rich meal may relieve symptoms. [*], [*], [*] There are also synthetic DAO supplements on the market, but taking 6 capsules of Beef Kidney 15 minutes before a histamine-rich meal is the natural, whole food approach to the same concept. [*]
First of all, what is methylation? Methylation is one of the key chemical processes our bodies use to ensure our genes work properly. It is involved in the production of neurotransmitters and DNA, detoxification, cellular repair, the cardiovascular system and the reproductive system. It is basically important for all physical, mental and emotional processes in our body. When methylation functions poorly, it can lead to cancer, birth defects, affect mood and cognition, and many other problems.
In addition to all things mentioned above, methylation also has a major impact on histamine levels because it is one of the main ways to get rid of excess histamine. When your methylation pathway does not work properly due to certain gene expressions (MTHFR mutation for example), we do not have enough methyl groups to bind to a receptor of a substance, such as histamine. As a result, we tend to build up things without excreting them – including histamine – which causes an overload of the system.
You can support your methylation by getting the right nutrients. Important nutrients for proper methylation function are: riboflavin, folate, B12, choline, and betaine and glycine. These you can get by eating or supplementing with the following food sources:
- Riboflavin, (liver, kidney, and heart)
- Folate (liver, asparagus, green leafy vegetables, legumes)
- B12 (again, liver)
- Choline and betaine (egg yolks, quinoa, wheat germ, wheat bran)
- Glycine (bone broth)
- Also it is important to eat enough protein (a half gram to a gram of protein per kilogram of bodyweight) from various sources. [*]
If you don’t like organ meat, don’t worry, we’ve got your back. You can try grass-fed beef liver, heart, kidney and a mix of all three in a capsule. If you find making bone broth too much hassle, you can also check out our grass-fed bone broth powder.
Leaking mast cells
Previously mentioned is that mast cells store histamine and it becomes worrisome when histamine leaks out of these cells. So another strategy to beat histamine intolerance is to prevent the mast cells from leaking. You can do this by strengthening them with nutrients.
Certain nutrient deficiencies have been shown to increase the load on mast cells. In particular, selenium and vitamin A are important deficiencies to check and make sure your levels are in range. [*] You can find selenium in Brazil nuts, but the richest animal food in selenium is kidney. Kidney is also a good source of vitamin A—but liver ends up containing twice as much. [*], [*]
You’ve learned above that your DAO enzyme is meant to break down histamine. This happens mainly in the intestines. Gut problems can be related to poor production of the DAO enzyme. This is because certain gut bacteria cause overproduction of histamine. Or the wrong mix of bacteria leads to the overproduction or underproduction of histamine in the gut. Even the probiotic lactobacillus strain produces histamine. Healing the gut with a specialist is important to restore your tolerance to histamine. *Lynch, B, 2018, Dirty Genes, DAO: oversensitivity to foods, p. 119
In treating your histamine problems, all of the above strategies are better than eliminating histamine-rich foods. The end goal is for you to tolerate these foods again. However, in the healing phase, it can be a relief to avoid them temporarily.
There are many foods that contain histamine and then there are foods that are known to promote the release of histamine from mast cells. To keep it simple, here are the main takeaways:
Emphasize fresh foods – fresh soft cheese, fresh meat, white potatoes, white rice, egg yolks (but not egg whites), fresh foods in general.
Avoid anything fermented, preserved, aged or dried. These include: hard, aged cheeses, smoked fish, canned fish, processed meats, dried fruits, dried nuts, certain dried herbs, curry mustard, soy sauce and yeast. Also be careful of takeout, or storing food for too long (simple rule is not to eat anything after 24 hours).
And then you have some exceptions in the fresh foods section. These are: avocado, banana, pineapple, tangerines, lemons and shellfish. [*]
Also make sure you avoid alcohol, in particular wine, beer and champagne and certain drugs causing histamine release (atracurium, mivacurium, morphine, meperidine and many more). [*]
Although a low-histamine diet may give you immediate relief, it is not the reason for your histamine intolerance. The root cause often lies in a DAO and/or MTHFR gene not functioning optimally. Fortunately for you, genes are not your destiny and there is plenty you can do to nurture those pathways with nutrition.
A diet rich in all B vitamins, choline, betaine, glycine, copper, vitamin C and protein is the key.
Both genes, DAO and MTHFR, need the nutrients from organ meats to thrive. The same goes for mast cells.
In addition to organ meats, the rest of the diet should include: leafy vegetables, bone broth, fattier cuts of meat, meat on the bone, eggs, quinoa, wheat germ, wheat bran, legumes, and various protein sources. Also add a daily amount of vitamin C from kiwis, bell peppers, or supplement with whole food vitamin C from acerola berries or camu camu.
If organ meats are not up your alley—check out our range of organ supplements. For a dirty DAO gene, particularly check out our kidney supplement that naturally contains the DAO enzyme you’re probably missing.
Want to learn more? Then check out this masterclass on methylation, MTHFR and histamine.