From nose running and eyes watering, to heart racing and head pounding, allergies wreak havoc and leave you tired, looking for remedies to end the misery. This time of year, the trees and flowers are blooming, and pollens and molds are in the air. But, it’s not seasonal for everyone, for some it’s triggered by foods, and others it’s a mystery what brings these symptoms on. That mystery may be histamine intolerance.
What Is Histamine Intolerance?
Histamine intolerance and allergies have a lot in common, and it’s even possible to have both at the same time. Both are inflammatory responses mediated by histamine. Histamine is a neurotransmitter that causes inflammation, which is a sign the immune system has been activated. Because histamine is mainly found in the skin, lungs, stomach, brain and heart, most symptoms are centered in these areas.
Symptoms of both can include: rashes, nasal congestion, red eyes, throat swelling, heart racing, low blood pressure, migraine, insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, acid reflux, irritable bowel, and adrenal fatigue. In the case of an allergy, histamine is released in response to contact with a specific allergen. Usually the cause of the allergic response can be identified with skin or blood allergy testing. When you have both allergies and histamine intolerance, the histamine intolerance can worsen allergies, which is thought to be the reason for anaphylaxis, the life threatening allergies.
Histamine intolerance follows what environmental medicine calls “the bucket theory.” Think of your body’s tolerance for histamine like a bucket. Every exposure to histamine is like putting a drop in the bucket, and eventually the bucket overflows and causes symptoms. When you are exposed to more histamine than your body can tolerate, your “bucket” overflows, and this is histamine intolerance.
Experts don’t agree on definitive testing, and type and severity of symptoms can change, making it frustrating to chase down what exactly is causing your symptoms. Following a low histamine diet for 3 months and keeping track of daily symptoms during the diet is the best way to determine if histamine intolerance is a problem for you.
What Causes Histamine Intolerance?
Histamine can come from inside the body (endogenous) and outside the body (exogenous). Histamine defends the body from bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites and other foreign disease-causing organisms. So you can have endogenous histamine intolerance from:
- Overgrowth in the intestines of histamine producing microorganisms, as seen in conditions like SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth) and Dysbiosis (“Leaky Gut”)
- Systemic infections like Bartonella and Lyme disease
- Toxic mold exposure
Excess histamine is broken down in the body by the DAO (Diamine Oxidase) and HMT (Histamine N-Methyltransferase) enzymes. You can have a deficiency of these enzymes, or you can be ingesting foods and medications that block DAO. These medications include: NSAIDs, antihistamines, antidepressants, histamine H2 blockers, immune modulators, antiarrhythmics, diuretics (“water pills”), and some antibiotics.
Diet is the main exogenous source of histamine. A diet high in inflammatory foods or histamine rich foods can lead to histamine intolerance. A low histamine diet is the first line of defense against histamine intolerance.
Hormone changes during menstrual cycles and menopause can cause increased sensitivity to histamine. This means your histamine bucket gets smaller, so foods and medications which never had a negative effect before can fill your smaller bucket to overflowing and cause new symptoms.
Four Keys To Managing Histamine Intolerance
1. Eat Right with a Low Histamine Diet
Controlling how much histamine goes into your body while keeping foods healthy is the first line of defense against histamine intolerance. The list of foods to avoid is long, and can be intimidating.
A good approach is to tailor Ann Louise Gittleman’s Gut Flush Plan to your low histamine needs, and extend it to 3 months. This will give you an organized plan of action to determine if histamine intolerance is at the root of your symptoms and get you well on your way to healing.
Foods to Avoid:
- All fermented foods, including vinegar, condiments with vinegar, pickles, cheese and yogurt
- All fish and shellfish, unless you cook and eat them within 30 minutes of being caught
- Processed or smoked meats, including lunch meats, sausage and bacon
- Any leftovers from previous meals
- All foods cooked for more than 2 hours, including bone broth and large cuts of meat
- Dried or dehydrated foods
- High histamine fruits: citrus, bananas, apricots, cherries, plums, strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, and pineapple
- High histamine vegetables: soy, pumpkin, spinach, avocado, tomato, eggplant, and hot peppers (especially cayenne)
- High histamine spices: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, curry powder, anise, and chili powder
- Green and black tea, chocolate, and cocoa
- Walnuts, cashews and peanuts
- All alcoholic beverages and cola drinks
2. Support Digestion: Cleanse the Colon
Strengthening digestion through cleansing is key to managing histamine intolerance. Unwanted microorganisms in the intestines can produce excessive amounts of histamine, and be the cause of your histamine problems. In addition, the intestines have to work hard to break down all the histamine being produced in the body and ingested through the diet and medications.
Think of colon cleansing like the broom that sweeps the unwanted microorganisms and waste products away, relieving inflamed intestines and facilitating healing. An effective colon cleanse should contain gentle cleansing herbs and probiotics to help restore balance to your GI tract.
If parasites and other harmful microorganisms seem like only a third world problem to you, Ann Louise Gittleman’s book Guess What Came to Dinner? will introduce you to this unseen epidemic, and teach you the role these organisms play in allergies and fatigue, as well as many other diseases. UNI KEY has GI testing available to help you better identify what’s eating you, and what you need to get rid of them.
3. Nourish the Liver
The liver is key in breaking down excess histamine, and supporting the liver in this process can speed healing time. Glutathione is the antioxidant superstar in this process. A tired, overworked liver doesn’t have enough glutathione available for this important detox process, and over time, these waste products accumulate. As waste products accumulate, bile becomes thicker, not flowing as easily, which slows down detox even more, creating a vicious cycle.
A diet rich in dark, leafy greens, sprouts, and sulfur-rich foods is a good source of glutathione. It is also helpful to give your liver a nourishing and cleansing boost with healing artichoke, chlorophyll and taurine. If your gallbladder has been removed, or you’ve had health issues for a long time, you may also benefit from supplementation to encourage healthy bile production.
4. Support Adrenals and Fight Fatigue
Your body fights high levels of inflammatory histamine by putting the adrenal glands to work producing high amounts of anti-inflammatory cortisol. Over time, the adrenals can get tired and stressed, causing fatigue. Avoiding caffeine and sugar is the dietary key to taking stress off these important organs.
Adequate restful sleep and managing stress will also help keep adrenals healthy. Sometimes, extra supplementation is needed while healing the adrenal glands. Look for an Adrenal Formula that contains bovine adrenal glandulars to provide the building blocks to rebuild healthy adrenal function.