Histamine Intolerance: What You Need to Know and Why Antihistamines Aren’t the Solution

Most of the time, when the word “histamine” comes up, people are speaking about the dreaded symptoms that present with IgE-mediated allergies, like runny nose, itchy eyes, and sneezing.  These types of allergies tend to be seasonal for most people, and they are typically quite predictable.  However, histamine can be a part of so many more problems than just those associated with seasonal allergies.  Elevated histamine levels in the body can contribute to indigestion, GERD, rashes, migraines, and even pain.  Because these issues tend to be so global, it can be a misdiagnosed or undiagnosed problem that is fairly easy to solve!  Now, take that with a grain of salt because while explaining the issue and how to correct it is fairly simple, actually taking the steps to do so can be more difficult.

Where does histamine come from?

Histamine lives abundantly in immune cells called mast cells.  When mast cells burst, they release all of their contents, including copious amounts of histamine.  Anyone who has true seasonal allergies knows exactly what that feels like because when you breathe in allergens, they attach to the outside of mast cells and cause them to burst open.  Boom.  Itching, watering, misery.  Over the counter meds, antihistamines, try to address all that excess floating around; however, supplements actually stabilize the mast cell, so even in the presence of allergens, the mast cell doesn’t burst.  This allows patients to feel relief of symptoms without having the drowsy-inducing chemicals that cross the blood brain barrier.  Not that that topic isn’t important, BUT, we are here to talk about all the reasons someone can have histamine issues WITHOUT seasonal allergies. 

There are tons of things that cause mast cells to explode and release all their histamine:

  • Stress
  • Heavy metals such as aluminum and mercury
  • Infections
  • Autoimmunity

Now, histamine doesn’t just live in mast cells.  We eat food with histamine every single day!  Most of us know nothing about this because when it reaches the intestines, our body produces an enzyme called diamine oxidase (DAO) that breaks it down and we never feel any ill effects from it.  However, many people have damaged gut linings where that enzyme is made and that means that when they eat foods high in histamine, it goes unbroken down and ends up in our system, causing issues like indigestion, brain fog, migraines, pain, or rashes.  You may be thinking: “Can’t I just take that enzyme and be good?!” or “Can’t I just avoid histamine foods and be good?!”  The answer to both of those questions is “You could absolutely take DAO or avoid histamine foods to decrease histamine load in the body, but that doesn’t fix the problem and is a very expensive or difficult-to-sustain bandaid.  The better solution is to reestablish the health of your gut lining, so your body makes enough of its own DAO, and you no long have unbroken down histamine causing issues.

High histamine foods:

  • Alcohol
  • Mature cheeses
  • Shellfish
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Chocolate
  • Processed meats like sausages and lunch meats
  • Leftover foods
  • Fermented foods

You can see how avoiding this list may be challenging, not a long-term solution, and may even contribute to nutrient deficiencies!

What are the symptoms of histamine intolerance?

  • Skin issues (eczema, hives, rashes, itching)
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Joint pain
  • Racing heart
  • Anxiety
  • Allergies

What are natural ways you can decrease the histamine load and heal the gut?

  • Stabilize mast cells with supplements containing quercetin and consuming plenty of onions, kale, broccoli, and asparagus
  • Healing gut cells by consuming bone broth daily and/or taking supplements with glutamine
  • Getting your gut bugs in check by consuming probiotics and/or eating fermented foods if tolerated
  • Treating any infections with antimicrobials like berberine
  • Do yoga or meditation to decrease stress
  • Cut out alcohol for a period of time
  • Take B-vitamins or eat lots of colorful plants because many medications deplete b-vitamins which are necessary for DAO to function and breakdown histamine.  Think birth control, blood pressure meds, and mood regulators
  • Try to decrease the intake of high histamine foods because histamine is dose dependent.  That means a little isn’t an issue, but it just takes a little once you’ve reached the threshold to cause a response.

It shouldn’t be any surprise that, once again, lifestyle choices matter for you to live a life free from histamine intolerance.  There’s no magic bullet.  There’s no quick fix.  It takes a few months before you can really see optimized gut restoration, so give yourself 3 months before assessing your progress.  Hope this was helpful, and if you want to establish if this information pertains to you prior to trying the things listed above, I encourage you to meet with a knowledgeable functional medicine doctor.

2 thoughts on “Histamine Intolerance: What You Need to Know and Why Antihistamines Aren’t the Solution

  1. Tiffany

    This makes so much sense. And yes I struggle with allergies. Ever year they get worse. Food allergies and seasonal both. It’s challenging to be a busy working person. Going to college and working full time and finding time to eat healthy, and afford it. So much is processed and GMO its disgusting.

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