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When I was dealing with rosacea, I delved deep into researching histamine because I suspected it could trigger flare ups of redness, heat and inflammation on my face. Of course it wasn’t the only cause since all skin issues are multifactorial, but it was certainly a big factor and once I addressed it, I could see a positive change in my skin and I stopped having occasional itchy skin too. However, rosacea isn’t the only health concern caused by histamine intolerance.
In this post, I’m going to break it all down for you including what is histamine, what is histamine intolerance, the symptoms of histamine tolerance and how to treat it.
What is Histamine?
Histamines are biochemicals that are produced by mast cells in the body and digestive system. While they are commonly associated with allergies since they are produced by the immune system, these chemicals can also function as neurotransmitters that impact neurological function, including your sleep-wake cycle. They are used to help carry messages between cells and modulate inflammatory responses in the body.
The mast cells which create histamine are located throughout the body, but can be more densely located under the skin, in nerves, near lymph nodes and blood vessels, in your lungs, and in your digestive system. These locations are why many of the symptoms of histamine intolerance, listed below, impact these parts of the body.
What is Histamine Intolerance?
When it comes to histamine intolerance, it doesn’t actually mean that you’ve developed an allergy or intolerance to the substance itself. What it actually means is that the levels of histamine in the body have gotten too high, which is causing symptoms (that I’ll share below).
What happens in this case is that the mast cells in the body produce histamine in response to some kind of stimuli. However, if you have a histamine intolerance you don’t produce enough of the enzyme, diamine oxidase (DAO), needed to properly break down histamine.
What are Symptoms of Histamine Intolerance?
Since histamine is secreted in response to an allergic reaction, any symptom related to allergies can be due to histamine intolerance. One of the impacts of histamine is vasodilation, a widening of the blood vessels. That’s why red skin can so often accompany histamine intolerance. The most common symptoms of histamine intolerance include:
Another interesting symptom of histamine intolerance is anxiety. As I mentioned above, histamine is a neurotransmitter and anxiety symptoms like insomnia, heart palpitations, panic attacks, and overstimulation have all been associated with high levels of histamine.
One of the roles of histamine is to help regulate the body’s stress response, so high levels of this neurotransmitter could increase the activity of the nervous system and cause or exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Excess histamine can also impact gut health and the mind-gut connection is so important to mental wellbeing that these digestive effects could also contribute to anxiety.
What Causes Histamine Intolerance?
As I mentioned above, histamine intolerance is caused by a deficiency of DAO, the enzyme responsible for clearing excess histamine from the body. There are several factors that can impact your body’s ability to produce DAO and adequately clear histamine:
While you may be genetically predisposed to DAO deficiency or have to be on medications that impact its production, there are foods and supplements that you can incorporate into your routine to decrease symptoms. I’ve outlined some of my favourites below! If you are taking medications, it’s always important to work with your natural healthcare provider before adding in any supplements.
Foods High in Histamines
As you’re working on lowering histamine in your body, you may want to avoid certain foods that are high in histamines or that can trigger the release of histamine. I’ve combined both types of foods in this list. For the time being limit or avoid the following:
While it may look overwhelming, remember that some people can tolerate small amounts of these foods even while healing. And the goal is not to eliminate all of them forever, but to get to the root cause of your histamine intolerance so you can enjoy most foods without worry.
Top Foods to Naturally Lower Histamine
While nettles can be both a food or supplement, since they are often enjoyed in their whole form as a tea I added them to the foods list. Certain compounds in nettles, specifically 5-hydroxytryptamine and acetylcholine, work similarly to antihistamines and have been shown to reduce symptoms of histamine intolerance in this study.
My favourite way to enjoy nettles is in a cuppa delicious tea, specifically Hello Joyous Pure Radiance Tea! It contains both green tea, tulsi and nettles all which support balanced histamine levels in the body, plus other compounds such as moringa and rose that promote a healthy gut.
You know I love healthy fats and olive oil is an incredible anti-inflammatory food . Another benefit of this nourishing oil is that it contains oleic acid and other fatty acids that can increase the amount of DAO in the blood by up to 500%!
Onions are a rich source of quercetin, a natural antihistamine. Incorporating onions and other foods that provide a boost of quercetin can help decrease your symptoms associated with an intolerance. Other foods that contain this phytonutrient include apples, broccoli, and blueberries.
These humble little seeds are seriously underrated. Not only are they rich in plant-based protein and healthy fats, they are also a super source of zinc! Decreased DAO production may be caused by a zinc deficiency, so incorporating foods that are low in histamine and high in this nutrient can help increase production of this key enzyme.
Best Supplements to Help Clear Histamine
Quercetin is a phytonutrient, a naturally occurring plant chemical that gives plant foods their colour, and it has been found in studies to inhibit the release of histamine.
Side note: histamine intolerance was one of the factors contributing to my rosacea. To this day, I still take quercetin for prevention. Quercetin is a great choice not only for histamine intolerance, but for allergies or itchy skin in general as it is well tolerated and very safe.
This vitamin functions as a potent antioxidant that has been shown in some studies to reduce symptoms of histamine intolerance since it helps metabolize histamine. Since citrus fruits are one of the most popular ways to get vitamin C supplementation may be the best option since they can be contraindicated on a low-histamine diet.
As I mentioned above, sometimes histamine intolerance is caused by bacterial overgrowth in the gut and some strains of probiotics may even exacerbate histamine intolerance. Look for strains such as L. plantarum and L. longum that can help degrade histamines.
Another strain of probiotic that may be worth adding to your routine is actually a beneficial yeast called Saccharomyces boulardii. It can help improve the integrity of the digestive tract and prevent leaky gut by supporting the mucosal lining. Poor gut health is often a major contribution to histamine intolerance. I’ve personally had great results taking S. boulardii for my rosacea and improved histamine tolerance.
This phytochemical is concentrated in the stems of pineapples and is well known for its anti-inflammatory benefits. In addition to being a potent anti-inflammatory, it can also help reduce many of the symptoms of histamine intolerance.
B Vitamins & Zinc
B vitamins, especially vitamin B6 and zinc supplements can help reduce histamine intolerance symptoms since a deficiency in these nutrients can impact DAO production.
I hope this knowledge empowers you to take steps to support your body’s histamine levels, naturally! If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s always best to work with a certified nutritionist, functional medicine or naturopathic doctor for a personalized plan.