Are you sick of suffering from unexplained skin conditions, inexplicable stress, headaches, and/or hormonal imbalances? A histamine intolerance might be to blame. While it’s hard to see the connection between symptoms like a flushed face and general fatigue, a histamine intolerance could easily be at the root of these problems, and more.
There is a lot of confusion online about a histamine intolerance and its potential impacts on your health. In this article, I want to cut through the clutter and bring clarity to the real causes of this condition and help you better understand how to treat it.
What exactly is Histamine?
The name might sound like a disease causing compound, but histamines are actually beneficial for your body – in the right concentrations.
These compounds act as neurotransmitters to communicate essential messages through your body and brain. They are involved with your immune system and central nervous system, and they also help break down food in your digestive system.
However, histamines are most well-known for triggering inflammatory responses when potential invaders enter your body. These chemical compounds work by dilating your blood vessels so that white blood cells can flow through faster and quickly get to the source of the problem before it compromises your body.
When an allergy triggers your immune system, histamines often produce inflammatory responses such as puffy eyes, an itchy rash, or a sneezing fit. When this occurs, you probably reach for an antihistamine medication like Benadryl.
After the allergy threat is eradicated, natural enzymes called diamine oxidase (DAO) will typically break down the histamines so that they don’t build up in your system over time.
However, this process often stops working for any number of reasons. When that happens, your histamine levels will start to build up, putting you at risk for a histamine intolerance.
A Histamine Intolerance
Contrary to what you may think, a histamine intolerance isn’t a sensitivity to histamine. Instead, it is a condition caused by having too much histamine in your system. There are two main ways you can suffer from a histamine intolerance: taking in too much histamine through your diet and your body’s inability to process it effectively.
Your physical functioning is compromised when histamine levels get too high or your body can’t break it down. Because the compound naturally travels through your bloodstream, it can contribute to problems for your lungs, gut, brain, and entire cardiovascular system.
Symptoms of Histamine Intolerance
Are you living with a histamine intolerance without realizing it? Experiencing any of the following symptoms may be a sign that you are.
- Difficulty falling asleep at night
- Chronic headaches or migraines
- An accelerated heart rate
- Dizziness or vertigo
- General anxiety
- Bloating and swollen body tissue
- Inexplicable nausea and vomiting
- Chronic nasal congestion
- An abnormal menstrual cycle
- Facial flushing, especially after drinking wine
- Fatigue and exhaustion for no reason
Congratulate yourself if you noticed that the signs of a histamine intolerance are similar to an allergic reaction. Because histamine triggers an inflammatory response in your body, the symptoms are almost the same.
Women and Histamine Intolerance
While both men and women can experience a histamine intolerance, the condition can be more complicated for women. This is because DAO levels naturally fluctuate over the month based on a menstrual cycle, and especially during and after pregnancy.
In fact, pregnancy is one of the most common times to develop a histamine intolerance because the symptoms often blend in with the rest of the pregnancy. If something feels ‘off’ during pregnancy, the last thing that many women suspect is a histamine problem.
For this reason, it’s all the more important to seek out professional advice when you experience any of the symptoms of a histamine intolerance while pregnant.
Causes of High Histamine Levels
Here’s the good news. Your body does a remarkable job of regulating its histamine levels all on its own. Different enzymes are responsible for breaking down the compound in different parts of your body.
For instance, histamine N-methyltransferase (HMT) breaks down the compound in your digestive system, and diamine oxidase (DAO) does so in the digestive tract. A deficiency in either enzyme can quickly lead to a histamine intolerance.
What causes these enzyme deficiencies in the first place? The causes of low DAO can be the result of a gluten sensitivity, leaky gut, SIBO, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), or another condition. Some substances like alcohol, caffeinated tea, and energy drinks can block DAO, as can genetic mutations and inflammation from Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Another trigger for histamine intolerance is an over-reliance on medication, especially non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin and antidepressants like Prozac. While histamine blockers like Allegra, Benadryl, and Zantac seem like they would reduce the odds of a histamine intolerance, the medications work to deplete your DAO levels, consequently increasing your chances of developing the condition.
Diagnosing a Histamine Intolerance
The first step to treating a histamine intolerance is understanding whether you have one in the first place. Because the symptoms of the condition mimic so many others related to allergies, it’s important to talk directly with a functional medicine doctor to get to the root of the problem.
There are multiple methods for diagnosing a histamine intolerance. A two-week elimination diet that removes histamine-rich foods from your menu often will do the trick. In other instances, a blood sample will be administered to determine whether you have a DAO deficiency.
Another option is a ‘prick test,’ This test pricks the skin and distributes a 1% histamine solution at the site, which produces a red, itchy bump for people with a histamine deficiency.
How to Treat a Histamine Intolerance
Once you’ve been diagnosed with a histamine intolerance, it’s possible to start taking steps to alleviate it. What exactly does this entail? Getting your diet under control is an essential first step.
The Histamine Intolerance Diet
While your body produces some of its own histamines, a variety of foods also contain the substance. A healthy diet needs to include moderate amounts of histamine, but too much of the compound can lead to chronic inflammation and other serious health conditions.
Step one for managing a histamine intolerance is to minimize your dietary histamine intake by both eating low-histamine foods and avoiding foods that block the DAO enzyme.
Notably, the source of histamine in your diet isn’t from food itself. Instead, it comes from bacteria that are attached to it that produces histamine as part of their metabolic process. This puts aged and fermented foods at a substantial risk of triggering histamine problems.
Some of the foods to avoid if your histamine levels are high include:
- Cured meats like bacon, pepperoni, and hotdogs
- Wine, beer, champagne and other alcohol
- Eggplant, spinach, tomatoes, and avocados
- Fermented foods like sauerkraut, vinegar, yogurt, soy sauce, and pickles
- Nuts, especially walnuts, peanuts, and cashews
- Dried fruits and most citrus fruit
- Aged cheese (especially goat cheese)
- Fish like tuna, sardines, anchovies, and mackerel
In contrast, some foods are ideal for bringing your histamine levels back under control, both by containing low concentrations of the compound and by boosting your levels of DAO. These foods include:
- Ultra-fresh meat, poultry or fish
- Fresh fruits like mango, pear, kiwi, watermelon, and grapes
- Gluten-free grains like rice, quinoa, corn, and millet
- Unprocessed peanut butter
- Coconut oil and olive oil
- All fresh vegetables (except avocados, tomatoes, spinach, and eggplant)
- Dairy-free milk like soy milk, coconut milk, and almond milk
- Herbal tea
Keep Your Digestive System Healthy
Beyond diet, there are many methods for restoring your histamine to safe levels. Some gut bacteria produce histamines while others break them down. Taking antibiotics, switching up your diet, and making other dramatic lifestyle changes can have a profound effect on your gut bacteria, so it’s important to monitor these changes to see if they correlate with unexpected histamine symptoms.
Another option is to take a DAO supplement when your levels are lower than they should be. Taking one or two capsules about fifteen minutes before eating will prevent the symptoms of a histamine intolerance and prevent the problem from developing further.
Regardless, taking time to monitor your gut health will make a profound difference for your histamine intolerance issues. A well-functioning digestive system is the foundation of good health, so keeping yours in top shape will make a difference in every aspect of your health.
Histamine Intolerance Solutions at The Dempster Clinic- Center for Functional Medicine
When it comes to treating a histamine intolerance, there’s no comparison to getting a comprehensive analysis from a medical professional. I don’t recommend trying to self-diagnose the condition because the symptoms look so similar to an allergic reaction. You will have a challenging time determining the cause of your symptoms without an expert.
At The Dempster Clinic- Center for Functional Medicine, I will make it a priority to help you determine whether a histamine intolerance is the cause of your health problems, and why your levels are out of whack in the first place.
To help you get the treatment you need, I am pleased to offer a Complimentary 15-minute Discovery Session for all first-time patients. This session can take place over the phone or in person at the clinic. It is an opportunity for you to better understand what services I provide and how they can be of benefit to you.
Please consider scheduling an appointment today! Your best health awaits.
Dr. John Dempster
The Dempster Clinic-
Center for Functional Medicine