What is Histamine Intolerance?
At Viome, we love to talk about the power of our food and how essential a healthy diet is. With each passing day, we’re learning how our food goes further than simply providing us nourishment. When we digest it, the food we consume is broken down into a number of different compounds that affect our energy, resilience, health, and even how we age.
But occasionally, our bodies aren’t equipped to break down every part of the food we eat – and sometimes certain foods can cause an immune (or allergic) reaction. The symptoms of food allergies vary, but many of these interactions can cause fatigue, bloating, migraines, vomiting, and lead to significant GI discomfort. Although scientists are still trying to understand why the issue of food allergies is becoming more common than ever, research has shown that many seem to stem from issues within the gut.
Gut dysbiosis – or an imbalance in our gut ecosystem – has been linked to the development of many food-related allergies and intolerances. Some of the conditions you may have heard about before, such as the rise of gluten intolerance and Celiac disease. But other reactions can mimic food allergies and are lesser-known (but cause very similar symptoms).
Unfortunately, the reality is that it may be hard to pinpoint which foods (healthy or not) may be the source of your discomfort. What more, you may be experiencing symptoms associated with an entirely different, yet related, issue: histamine intolerance.
What Exactly are Histamines?
If the word ‘histamine’ sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking about many seasonal allergy medications, known as antihistamines. These drugs work to combat the production of histamines, a compound our body generates to trigger an allergic reaction. You might recognize these symptoms several times a year, as histamines are responsible for your stuffy nose, rashes, and sneezes during peak allergy season. Though normal, histamines are used as a beneficial signal to our body that a foreign invader is afoot and helps alert the immune system to respond to a potential threat. It’s only when their production gets out of control that we feel the uncomfortable side effects of their rising levels.
Ordinarily, our bodies are well-equipped to tackle the rise of histamine production through a helpful enzyme called diamine oxidase (or DAO). Like most systems in our body, everything is about balance. DAO is produced when histamine levels rise to help clear them out and keep them within a healthy range. But if the rate we generate DAO is too slow to help lower their production, their levels can escalate and cause more severe symptoms that may even mimic food poisoning. Over time, this can lead to developing ‘Histamine Intolerance,’ i.e. someone who isn’t fully equipped to overcome histamine production.
There are many medications that may help in alleviating some of the symptoms associated with Histamine Intolerance, like your typical over-the-counter remedies. They work to block the production of histamines. However, most people who experience histamine intolerance may not know which foods are triggering their immune response. Moreover, it can be very difficult to determine if your symptoms match up with a specific food allergy or if it’s actually a true histamine intolerance. So rather than treat the symptom – it may be better to direct your efforts and identify the source overloading your immune system time and time again.
Finding the Root Cause
Even if you’re tamping down histamine production in your body with the help of an over-the-counter medication, it might be difficult to completely prevent symptoms of Histamine Intolerance. That’s because histamines aren’t just produced in our body - they can also be found in many of the foods we consume. If your body has difficulty clearing out histamines, foods rich in them can cause almost food poisoning-like symptoms.
Histamine-rich foods are more common than you think. Some of the top histamine-rich foods out there include aged meats, cheeses, and wines (both white and red) – but you can find sources in many other ‘healthy’ foods as well. And to confound the situation more - you might even be consuming foods that don’t contain them but actually release histamines into your bloodstream. These histamine-releasing foods may be responsible for inducing a reaction even without containing the compound themselves. That can make it even more difficult which foods to avoid.
Foods that have been reported to have higher levels of histamine*:
Pickled or canned and fermented foods – sauerkrauts
Smoked meat products – salami, ham, sausages….
Beans and pulses – chickpeas, soy flour
Long-stored nuts – e.g peanuts, cashew nuts, almonds, pistachio
Chocolates and other cocoa-based products
Salty snacks, sweets with preservatives, and artificial colorings
Foods that have been reported to release histamine (histamine releasers)*:
Most citrus fruits – lemon, lime, oranges…
Cocoa and chocolate
Papaya, pineapples, plums, kiwi and bananas
Additives – benzoate, sulphites, nitrites, glutamate, food dyes
It’s one thing to know if you’re more sensitive to histamines, but it could take a significant amount of trial and error to find what’s impacting your symptoms.
When you’re looking to optimize your health and seek out the right foods for you, reducing foods rich in histamines may help address symptoms associated with histamine intolerance.
Certain supplements you might find may even naturally impair the production of histamines – such as bromelain (commonly found in pineapple). Even specific probiotics have also been found to help limit these levels. In fact, various species of yeasts and bacteria have been shown to combat histamine production by boosting your immune system and defending against histamine-related inflammation. Other natural antioxidants - like vitamin C - can actually aid DAO in breaking down histamine production.
Other herbs and extracts have shown beneficial antihistamine properties such as Quercetin. Quercetin has proven to be a widely beneficial supplement that exhibits natural anti-inflammatory properties that can soothe and support your immune system.
Though Histamine Intolerance is an acquired disease that develops over time and often correlates with other conditions, experiencing continual symptoms can lead to long-term inflammation in your gastrointestinal tract which can perpetuate an imbalance in your gut microbiome. Moreover, some studies have suggested that it can exacerbate or even trigger inflammatory bowel conditions like IBS.
Whether histamine intolerance may be impacting your health, it reminds us - and scientists - that the foods we put into our body can have a significant impact on our overall wellness. At Viome, we are dedicated and committed to improving the health of each person at the cellular level - and that means continuing our efforts to learn more about how even the smallest changes in our nutrition can affect our health. Fortunately, with our scientific partnerships and the research that stems from our Viome Research Institute, we’re pulling back the curtain bit by bit on topics like Histamine Intolerance to finally unveil the secrets toward optimal health for all.
The information on the Viome website is provided for informational purposes only and with the understanding that Viome is not engaged in rendering medical advice or recommendations. Viome provides this educational information to share the exciting developments being reported in the scientific literature about the human microbiome and your health. Viome products are not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.