Histamine Intolerance – Natural. Not Alternative
Anti-histamines like Zyrtec, Allegra and Benadryl have almost become staples in every American’s cabinet. (Even though they cause liver damage) Whether its seasonal allergies or food allergies most people are familiar with the relief one gets from taking an antihistamine.
What most people don’t know is that histamine is an important transmitter in the nervous system, immune system (allergies) and is also required for proper digestion.
The role of histamine is to produce an immediate inflammatory response.
This is actually a good thing. It is a signaling molecule that helps blood vessels to dilate and signals other cells to come and attack infection or repair local damage. In fact, this is one way in which anti-histamines are dangerous as they can allow infection to linger and injuries to persist.
The new term histamine intolerance has been circulating the internet, but this is something any nutritional biochemist has known about for many years. Histamine intolerance refers to elevated levels of histamine which can affect your gut, lungs, skin, brain and heart and is often the cause of many vague symptoms and especially in difficult cases of migraines. Histamine intolerance can be broken down into two major components:
- Overproduction of histamine (an unhealthy situation)
- Improper breakdown of histamine (an unhealthy situation)
So how do you know if you have histamine intolerance?
Headaches or migraines
Difficulty falling asleep and easily aroused
Vertigo or dizziness
Nausea or vomiting
Nasal congestion, sneezing, difficulty breathing
2 Major Root Causes of Overproduction of Histamine
Food Allergies – IgE reactions are common to people with true food allergies. When allergists do skin prick tests and you see red spots or swelling, these are histamine responses.
Bacterial Overgrowth & Leaky Gut – Leaky gut also known as intestinal permeability can allow certain proteins to get passed your protective gut lining and then your immune system creates a response to those proteins. Unhealthy gut bacteria themselves create histamine and can lead to a histamine overload.
Treating Your Own Histamine Intolerance
In my office I have found that there histamine intolerance is usually developed over a period of time. I also find that most often that it is secondary to an improper functioning immune system, nutrient depletion over time or as a result of poor digestive health.
In order to give the immune system and the digestive tract a chance to recover, a low histamine diet can be beneficial for many individuals and is the best way to treat yourself at home.
Histamine-Rich Foods (bad)
Eliminating histamine rich foods is something that can be done at home as either a test or in addition to treating your root causes with a physician. Most of my patients don’t usually require this after treatment, but some of the things above like bacterial overgrowth, leaky gut and hidden food allergies can be difficult to treat on your own at home.
Foods to avoid
Many types of alcohol like beer, champagne and wine contain high amounts of histamines and should be eliminated from the diet. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, vinegar, soy sauce, kefir, yogurt and kombucha also contain high histamine levels. Cured meats, soured foods (sour cream, sour bread), dried fruits, citrus fruits, walnuts, avocados, spinach, tomatoes and smoked fish also contain high levels of histamine.
Histamine Poor Foods (good)
When thinking about what foods to eat, in general the fresher the better. Freshly cooked meat, freshly caught fish, eggs, rice, real peanut butter, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables (except those listed above) coconut milk, almond milk, coconut oil, olive oil, herbs and spices can all be consumed.
Breaking Down Histamine
The process of breaking down histamine requires many vitamins, nutrients and 3 specific enzymes. Two of these enzymes occur more at the system wide full body level and one is more prevalent in the nervous system. Aldehyde oxidase and DAO (diamine oxidase) are more systemic in nature while HMT (histamine N-methyltransferase) is more prevalent in the central nervous system.
DAO is the main enzyme responsible for the metabolism of foods that you eat. Unfortunately DAO can get low due to gluten intolerance, leaky gut, dysbiosis, SIBO, alcohol, IBS, IBD, NSAIDs, antidepressants, and histamine (H2) blockers like Pepcid, Zantac and Tagamet.
You would think that histamine blockers would help, but in reality they can deplete the DAO enzyme leaving you with only the option to take antihistamines for the rest of your life.
Some of the major nutrients needed for these enzymes to work properly include:
HMT – Mg, Zn, B6 (P5P), MethylB12, Methyl Folate
DAO – Iron, Folic Acid, B12, Vitamin C, Iron, P5P
AO – NAD (B3), FAD (B2), Molybdenum, Iron, Vitamin K
How to Treat Histamine Intolerance Naturally
As discussed above decreasing high histamine foods for 1 to 3 months can be beneficial for decreasing symptoms. Other physicians recommend using a DAO enzyme supplement, but if you choose this route it should only be temporary.
To be completely honest, using a DAO supplement is not completely natural and holistic. You see this is a natural enzyme that the body should make itself if it has the right basic ingredients. The vitamins and minerals listed above should be assessed to see which ones are lacking in the individual patient.
Going back to the holistic picture it is important to address root causes first. Hidden food allergies can be discovered by finding a physician trained in the nuances of food allergies or going on an antihistamine elimination diet.
If you have any hidden gut infections, SIBO, leaky gut or any gastrointestinal symptoms at all, those must be addressed first before trying to overcome histamine intolerance. The reason why is if you are producing an excess of histamine, you will run out of DAO enzyme, or better stated you will deplete the vitamins and minerals necessary for the DAO and other enzymes to work properly. So yes, you may have low DAO and a DAO enzyme may help, but if you are missing something like magnesium, zinc, B6 or methylated B12 in your system, you will have many more problems too that don’t go away even though you go on an antihistamine diet.
Rarely is histamine intolerance a lifelong sentence. It is more often a manifestation of dysfunction somewhere else in the body. Even though some people may have a genetic predisposition towards histamine intolerance, the body can almost always compensate so that a low histamine diet is not required for an entire lifetime. Keep searching for root causes or find someone help!
UPDATE! See my latest article on a 3rd major factor that can cause histamine intolerance. (Click here)