By Christina Reeves (Bio below)
“It’s 8am on a Sunday, and a sharp pain in your chest wakes you up. “Weird” you think, as you make your way over to the bathroom for a glass of water… Over the bathroom sink you notice your reflection in the mirror. Your face is flushed and your neck seems like it’s swelling. “What the…??” you exclaim out loud.
You rush back to the bedroom, your hands flying through the covers and pillows, looking for the possible insect that could have caused the sting, all the while your mind is at work—trying to think of the possible cause for this unexplainable breakout. That’s when you realize–there’s nothing. Absolutely NOTHING that could have caused this breakout! You don’t eat wheat, gluten, processed foods or sugars—not for months. Okay, so maybe you had a couple of fruits, cheese, and steaks at last night’s dinner. Maybe even a dark chocolate bar. But those are WHOLE foods, and you’re not allergic to them. You’re a healthy person; you shouldn’t have these breakouts! So what is happening, and what could it possibly be?”
If this sounds like you or someone you know, then I have the answer for you. There are very big chances you could be suffering from something called a histamine intolerance. Doesn’t sound familiar? Don’t worry; most people have no idea what histamine is, or how it could affect them.
Thankfully, that’s all about to change. Hopefully this article can shed some light into what could be causing your random breakouts and give you the solution on how to fix them.
How to know if you have a histamine intolerance?
A histamine intolerance is becoming more common, as the number of people making the switch to healthier lifestyles grows. Before going into specifics, it’s important to first clarify what I mean by the term “healthier.”
I’m talking about those of you eating less processed sugars and foods, who have cut out/greatly minimized known allergens like wheat and gluten, pasteurized/processed dairy, and soy products. I’m referring to people who believe in natural foods and follow a Paleo, primal or a similar whole foods diet. You know, the types that have increased the amount of vegetables, fruits and nutrients in their diet and consume quality meats, eggs and fish. The type of person who sometimes has a cheat day, but isn’t really the first one to suggest having McDonald’s for lunch.
If you can associate with at least some aspects of these groups of people, but sometimes find yourself in a similar situation to the histamine-analogy person above, then let’s get right into it, because this article is for you!
(However, if you’re NOT one of these people, then I would suggest FIRST looking into your diet and getting rid of any known allergens BEFORE considering histamine as a trigger for your skin problems or heart pains.)
What and where is histamine?
Histamine can be commonly found in two main places: our body and food.
In the body, histamine plays a very important role. It acts as a bioactive neurotransmitter chemical that aids in the efficient functioning of many body systems. Some ways that histamine helps us is by defending the body against bacteria, dangerous foreign bodies, or toxins that could potentially cause us to get sick. As humans, we have a high amount of histamine found concentrated in our stomach, lungs and skin.
In food, histamine is usually found in aged or fermented foods, (think blue cheese or red wine) but can also be found in fruits, like citrus and some berries.
How the body handles histamine
Because histamine is found naturally in humans, certain amounts are okay and even necessary for proper body function. Medical studies have shown that histamine levels of .3 to 1.0 nano grams per millilitre in plasma are considered to be normal. This varies from each individual, but in general this means that everyone has a “safe level” of histamine that their body is able to tolerate without experiencing any negative symptoms. Basically, as long as you don’t go over your safe levels, you’ll be fine.
Now, because the body is smart (and knows that you can’t resist those histamine foods that sometimes push you over safe levels!) it has also created an enzyme called Diamine Oxidase (DAO). This DAO enzyme helps the body to break down any excess levels of histamine that we might get from food. In short, DAO makes it possible for you to have histamine-rich foods (like strawberries for example), without having any negative side effects.
In a perfect world, this DAO enzyme would break down excess histamine without problems, and we could eat cheese and chocolate while drinking wine to our heart’s content. Unfortunately, it’s not always the case.
There are two main factors that make this impossible for some:
1) In many people, excess histamine is strongly linked to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) causing unhealthy gut problems. There are certain bacteria in the gut that create excess amounts of histamine, even without you consuming histamine foods. When these bacteria grow out of control they create excess histamine from an amino acid called histidine, which is found in proteins and foods. This means that if you have a bacterial imbalance in your gut (an unhealthy gut), cutting out all the histamine-rich foods still won’t do you any good, because of these bacteria creating excess histamine.
2) Some people have a low-level of the DAO enzyme. This means that their body doesn’t break down histamine as fast, making them more sensitive to histamine-rich foods. This is why some people on Paleo or whole food diets, that allow for a lot of histamine rich foods like cheese, red meat, and fruits can experience problems.
The side effects of too much histamine:
If you have an unhealthy gut, or a low-level of the DAO enzyme, then you could have a histamine intolerance. Some of the side effects of a histamine intolerance include:
- Anxiety or symptoms of a panic attack
- Acid reflux
- Digestive tract (gut) problems like indigestion
- Eczema-type breakouts
- Flushed skin
- Fatigue or grogginess, irritability
- Heartburn and chest pain
- Headaches or head throbbing
- Hives and swelling
- Itching and rashes (especially around the eyes, ears, nose and neck)
- Tissue swelling or bloating
- Watery, reddened eyes
A histamine intolerance is a very tricky thing, because (as you can see from the list above) a lot of times it can look like an allergy. Even doctors have a hard time pinpointing histamine as the cause. However, if you find yourself eating well and healthy, but are still having these types of side effects, then you could very well be suffering from a histamine intolerance.
How to heal a histamine intolerance
In the order of importance, here are some ways to treat it:
1) Heal your gut.
Like I mentioned earlier, you could be cutting out all the histamine-rich foods and still have a problem with excess histamine if there is a bacterial imbalance in your gut. One way to heal your gut is to get rid of inflammatory foods (like gluten, dairy, and high amounts of sugar) that feed the bad bacteria, and increase the amounts of probiotics and Omega 3’s in your diet to feed the good bacteria. Once your gut is healed, you should be able to tolerate most histamine-foods again!
2) Cut down on histamine-rich foods.
If you’ve already taken steps to heal your gut, but still suspect you’re suffering from a histamine intolerance, then the next step is to minimize your intake of histamine rich foods.
Here are a few histamine-rich foods that you should try to avoid:
- Fermented milk products: yogurt, kefir, bleu cheese and aged cheeses
- Shellfish: smoked, canned, fresh or frozen
- Processed, cured, or smoked meats: bacon, sausages, pepperoni, smoked/cured ham, etc.
- Citrus fruits: oranges, lemons, limes, grape fruits
- Tomatoes and tomato products
- Artificial food colorings and preservatives
- Aged drinks: like red wine, cider, kombucha
3) Eat quality foods low in histamine
If you want to continue to keep histamine levels low, you can replace the high histamine products with foods that don’t contain high amounts of histamine.
- Change things in your diet and eat more fresh meat and fish, fresh chicken, and cage-free eggs. The fresher the product the better!
- Go for safe starches like rice, rice noodles, potatoes, vermicelli or sweet potato noodles.
- Increase healthy fats and natural oils like coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil and butter.
- Have lots of leafy vegetables, fresh fruits (not citrus or berries).
- If you can tolerate dairy, opt for the non-fermented kinds like ricotta, cream cheese, whole milk and whole cream.
Stay in your body’s safe levels
One last thing to keep in mind is that histamine is NOT an allergy, but rather intolerance. Remember, everyone is able to tolerate a certain amount of histamine in his or her body that is considered “safe.” This means that you don’t have to necessarily quit all histamine foods cold-turkey. An intolerance (unlike an allergy) can be controlled and even healed.
In my research, I’ve found that the majority of people with histamine problems have had a lot of success in healing their gut first, and afterwards are able to return to histamine-rich foods. In my case, I suffered from an unhealthy gut, and couldn’t consume ANY histamine food without breaking out in a rash or eczema. After finally healing my gut and getting rid of the bad bacteria that was causing the excess histamine in my body, I’m now able to drink red wine, eat bacon and have lots of chocolate! I can even eat some fermented dairy like greek yogurt and kefir without having any negative side effects.
Of course this may not be the case for you, and that’s okay! If you’re lucky, you may only react to the foods with the highest amount of histamine, making it possible for you to eat lower histamine foods more often.
The key is to stay within your body’s safe levels, and most importantly, find out what specifically triggers your histamine intolerance. Whether its healing your gut or reducing histamine-rich foods, going slowly is a good way to determine the direct cause of your unexplainable skin problems or body pains.
Heal your histamine intolerance and get rid of the healthy person’s problem!
Bio: As a former eczema sufferer, Christina Reeves made it her goal to develop a method that would clear eczema, fast and naturally. Her book, The Flawless Program, focuses on gut health as a way to permanently clear skin issues in just 30 days! With her website, she hopes to give insightful information to anyone looking to heal their gut or fix their skin, naturally and forever!