In this post, learn about the condition of histamine intolerance, including facts, myths, symptoms, foods to help manage it, foods to avoid, and histamine intolerance supplements that may help you feel better.
Histamine is a biogenic amine, another name for a neurotransmitter, that is naturally found in some foods, but is also made within the body in response to allergies. Serving as a neurotransmitter, histamine has functions that are essential in our bodies, such as alertness, focus, and sleep regulation.
However, too much histamine can result in a lot of symptoms, and can result from diet factors too.
Evidenced-based with 21 research studies to back this post.
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Symptoms of Histamine Intolerance
Histamine intolerance is recognized as a type of food intolerance that plagues people with various belly symptoms, but also many other issues. In fact, over 20 percent of the Western world has some form of intolerance to foods [R].
Research shows that the following symptoms are the most common symptoms of histamine intolerance and people often have a combination of 3 or more total symptoms, including digestive symptoms along with respiratory, skin or cardiovascular symptoms.
All of these symptoms are very similar to non-celiac gluten sensitivity and other gastrointestinal diseases as well. Digestive symptoms of histamine intolerance include [R]:
- Fullness after eating
- Abdominal pain
- Intestinal colic
Skin conditions occur in about 25-50% of people with histamine intolerance and include:
- Red eyelids
Heart and lung symptoms
Cardiovascular and respiratory symptoms are almost as common as digestive symptoms and include:
- Palpitations or irregular heartbeat
- Runny nose
- Difficulty breathing
Hormonal symptoms of histamine intolerance include:
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Menstrual pain
- Excessive bleeding
What Causes Histamine Intolerance?
A histamine intolerance is different from a food allergy.
A food allergy causes the body to mount an immune response after eating allergic foods.
With histamine intolerance, your body doesn’t have the ability to break down histamine in the body, which can result in a number of symptoms.
Our bodies normally break down histamine with an enzyme that is produced in the gut and in the uterine tissue called diamine oxidase or DAO. This enzyme prevents a buildup of histamine.
However, levels of DAO enzyme are often low in the blood in people who have histamine intolerance.
Levels of DAO in the blood, also known as serum diamine oxidase, may increase due to stress, so interpretation of lab values may be difficult [R].
Many experts believe that the condition of histamine intolerance is related to leaky gut and that focusing on healing the gut, including a gluten free diet, may help improve histamine tolerance. Genetic factors may also play a role.
Research shows that impaired intestinal permeability, known as leaky gut, does indeed contribute to food sensitivities like histamine intolerance [R].
By following a gut-healing diet and including supplements for leaky gut, symptoms of histamine intolerance may be reduced.
It is no surprise that stress is bad for you, but did you know that stress may make histamine tolerance worsen?
Our bodies also naturally make histamine in response to stressful citations and environmental allergies. Natural antihistamine remedies are often helpful in this type of situation, but also adapting stress-relieving habits like meditation, herbs like holy basil tinctures, and yoga may really help people who suffer from histamine intolerance.
Hormones like estrogen also play a role in histamine too, as women are more likely to have histamine intolerance than men.
Research shows that estrogen production is closely linked to DAO production. This is probably why more women tend to suffer from histamine intolerance than men do.
Estrogen and DAO
Basically, the more estradiol you have, the more histamine your body likely has. This is because estradiol breaks down DAO and another enzyme called monoamine oxidase, both which break down histamine in the body [R]. For estrogen-dominant women, they may suffer from reduced DAO and therefore, more histamine intolerance.
Progesterone also causes a breakdown of DAO but to a lesser degree than estrogen. This all likely explains why women have many varying symptoms from histamine throughout their menstrual cycle and even as they hit menopause [R].
Other biogenic amines in foods
Another interesting fact is that other types of food compounds also use up the DAO enzyme in the body and these include biogenic amines called spermidine and putrescine [R].
This means that while histamine foods may seem like a trigger, spermidine-rich foods and putrescine-rich foods may also be a trigger for symptoms.
The bottom line is that while histamine may trigger symptoms, other foods like aged foods can trigger symptoms identical to histamine intolerance.
What Foods Contain Histamine?
According to research, the histamine levels in foods are typically high only in a few select foods [R]. These histamine foods include:
- Soy sauce
- Fermented anchovies
A low histamine diet should reduce the intake of those foods. It is impossible to be on a histamine-free diet because there are probably trace amounts of histamine in many other foods that are not yet identified.
Interesting fact: boiling foods may decrease the histamine content of foods, while frying may increase the histamine content [R]. Foods have less histamine and other biogenic amines when they are at their freshest [R].
Other foods to avoid?
While some foods don’t actually contain histamine, they may make your body release more histamine or block the ability of your body to make the DAO enzyme.
There are a couple of foods known to prevent histamine degradation by inactivating DAO and these foods worsen histamine intolerance. Alcohol blocks the body’s ability to make DAO, so avoid alcohol if you have histamine intolerance or suspect you do [R].
Alcohol is a big issue for people with histamine intolerance because it actually encourages the body to make more histamine while blocking DAO.
The biggest alcohol culprits include [R]:
- Red wine
- White wine
Logically, it is best to avoid all alcohol in general because it alters estrogen levels, damages intestinal cells, reduces our body’s ability to detoxify, and reduces your body’s absorption of nutrients.
Gray areas for histamine avoidance
Fermented foods typically get lumped into the high histamine food lists, but some of this is based on myths not actual histamine content.
For example, fermented foods like sauerkraut, when analyzed for histamine amount, are measuring the amount of histamine content per 100 grams of food, which happens to be only around 0.6 mg per 100 grams.
That’s a lot of sauerkraut: about ¼ pound. Most people realistically wouldn’t eat more than 10 grams of sauerkraut at a time, which translates to about 0.06 mg of histamine and this is a very minute small amount of histamine.
In other words, most people, even with histamine intolerance, can probably enjoy some sauerkraut, especially if they are using some histamine intolerance supplements. The same goes for fermented soy foods [R].
Some fermented foods may actually help scavenge histamine and help histamine intolerance too.
More histamine intolerance myths
You will notice that a lot of low histamine food lists out there today conflict with one another. That is because some lists are based on theoretical content of histamine and not a proven content of histamine.
A good example of this is vinegar. In research, the histamine content of vinegar is usually quite low, around 16 mg per liter, yet it ends up on high histamine foods lists.
The average serving of vinegar would contain less than 1 mg of histamine [R].
Apple cider vinegar with the mother, or with its natural probiotics, has the bigger potential to heal a histamine intolerance than cause it. Still, if you notice you feel bad after eating apple cider vinegar, you should avoid it.
Spices like cinnamon end up on the foods to avoid lists too, which really shouldn’t be restricted on a low histamine diet either. The reason is simple: cinnamon reduces the release of histamine from mast cells. Ultimately, this effect helps a histamine intolerance, not hurts it [R].
The same is true of cloves, anise, nutmeg, and curry powder-no need to avoid them. Enjoy them.
Black and green tea also inhibit histamine release-enjoy them. I couldn’t find any research to suggest that they reduce DAO activity [R].
Citrus also has anti-histamine effects. No reason to avoid them unless you are sensitive to these foods specifically according to research [R].
Nutrients that may increase DAO
When it comes to histamine intolerance, increasing DAO is a good thing because it helps you break down histamine in your gut. Certain foods and several nutrients may help your body make more DAO. They include [R]:
- Omega 3 fats
- Monounsaturated fats
- Saturated fats
Fats, particularly the omega 3 fats from fish, may be especially helpful to increase the production of DAO according to research [R].
Foods to eat that are rich in healthy fats AND all of the minerals listed are foods like wild sardines, grass finished beef liver or chicken liver, and hulled pumpkin seeds. Most people need more magnesium, so try boosting your intake of leafy greens like Romaine, kale, collards, and mustard greens.
Essentially, by eating more whole food types that are nutrient-rich, you will support your body’s production of DAO. This means that you may be able to enjoy histamine foods if you pay close attention to nourishing your body and healing your gut.
For other tips about how to naturally boost your DAO levels, check out an expert functional medicine doctors know-how by Dr. Jill Carnahan at JillCarnahan.com.
DAO Food Superstars
Some people notice that sprouting other legumes and lentils also may help their symptoms of histamine intolerance.
Histamine Intolerance Supplements
Some types of supplements either help the body reduce the production of histamine or supply the body with extra DAO.
Natural Antihistamines and Immune Support Supplements
The following histamine intolerance supplements help to reduce histamine in your body in a natural way. For example, quercetin acts as a histamine block by reducing the release of histamine from mast cells in your body, including your digestive cells.
They also happen to be great for your immune system too [R]:
When taking quercetin, a higher amount works better than a small amount and is perfectly safe because it is extracted from foods like apples and onions. The same goes for vitamin C. A rule of thumb is to aim for about 2 grams of quercetin a day and at least 1000 mg of vitamin C per day.
Both work well when combined together like this one and taken several times a day rather than just once a day. If you have a history of kidney stones, make sure to check with your doctor first before taking high amounts of vitamin C.
Vitamin D supplements should be tailored to your own body’s needs. Check your vitamin D levels at least twice a year with your doctor or you can by vitamin D test kits online. This vitamin D test cost is often better and is just as accurate as the kind at medical offices.
Stinging nettles are very effective as a natural antihistamine and are safe. In fact, many cultures eat stinging nettles as food once they sting is removed by cooking them. Butterbur is another great herb and is as effective as over-the-counter antihistamines without the negative side effects of drugstore antihistamines.
Omega 3 fats work to dampen down inflammation and help support the body’s DAO production. Make sure to choose a good quality omega 3 supplement like this one and also eat omega 3-rich foods like wild sardines, wild salmon, trout, and walnuts.
Most people are low in magnesium, so supplements can both support a healthy gut and support your body’s own natural immunity. Make sure to try a healthy kind of magnesium, and consider Oxy Powder as a natural form of magnesium, especially if you are constipated occasionally.
Some people choose to supplement with DAO enzyme, which can be really helpful in the case of histamine intolerance. Another enzyme that helps break down histamine is called polyamine oxidase, but this is not readily available as a supplement right now.
DAO supplements contain the DAO enzyme that breaks down histamine. If you have sluggish diamine oxidase activity, DAO supplements can be really helpful [R].
Basically, DAO supplements are histamine scavengers, allowing your body to tolerate histamine foods better than if you didn’t have them.
Histamine intolerance supplements for gut health
For short-term use, the following supplements can support the natural actions of the digestive tract. For example, L-glutamine is the primary fuel for intestinal cells. By supporting healthy intestinal cells, you may naturally be able to make more DAO enzymes in your gut too.
- Histamine-lowering probiotics
- Digestive enzymes
A week or two of L-glutamine powder with zinc in powder form like this one can be really helpful for people who suffer from digestive issues, including histamine intolerance.
Digestive enzymes are a huge help for people who have gas, bloating and indigestion. I like this one.
By eating lots of nutrient-rich, whole foods, and skipping processed foods, you will naturally support your body’s ability to break down histamine. If you have a known histamine intolerance, it is best to avoid histamine foods and alcohol in the short-term while healing your gut. Try to slowly reintroduce histamine foods as you begin to feel better.
Supplements may help heal a leaky gut, such as glutamine, zinc, some probiotics, and digestive enzymes. DAO supplements may allow you to enjoy histamine foods as well. And last, but not least, my favorite histamine intolerance supplements are those that reduce the body’s histamine naturally like quercetin, stinging nettles, and vitamin C.
This post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Be sure to consult with your healthcare provider before adding supplements or making changes to your diet.