The Low Histamine Diet: How Can it Benefit You?
The low histamine diet is gaining attention and for good reason. It is commonly used to treat problems such as rashes, allergies, headaches, bloating, or other symptoms occurring after eating foods containing histamine. Though there are many food plans, a low histamine diet will benefit those who have histamine intolerance (HIT) or mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS). You’ll have to shun high-histamine foods, often for a short period while the root cause of your symptoms is addressed. Though we don’t believe in diets, we do believe that finding the right nutrition plan for you is crucial for your health and longevity. Working with a functional medicine practitioner can also help you uncover any food sensitivities that might be contributing to your symptoms.
So what exactly is histamine? Is it a friend? A foe? Or both? Why do some people frequently have problems keeping histamine in balance?
Histamine isn’t totally bad. It’s a chemical your immune system produces. Practically every tissue in your body contains it. Some of its essential bodily functions include:
- Internal clock regulation
- Release of gastric acid
- Dilation of blood vessels
- Smooth muscle contraction
- Immune modulation
Interestingly, histamines act as neurotransmitters from one cell to another. Your immune cells make antibodies that alert other cells. They emit histamine to ward you against foreign or harmful invaders, such as microorganisms.
But it’s a different story with allergens, such as pollen and pet dander. Histamine, at this point, becomes your foe. Your immune system overreacts even to these harmless substances, causing allergic symptoms.
The symptoms of HIT are comparable to those of other allergies, illnesses, and infections. So, I do not advise anyone to self-diagnose. I highly urge working with a qualified practitioner if you suspect an intolerance.
How do you develop histamine intolerance?
Histamine intolerance occurs when you’ve got too much histamine. As I said earlier, an allergic reaction may cause this. And don’t forget: many foods and drinks have high histamine content or can trigger its production.
But how much is too much histamine? There is no conclusive answer to this. Your overall health and well-being determine your capacity to handle histamine. This histamine threshold is often called a histamine ‘bucket.’
When your histamine bucket is full and your enzymes are not breaking down histamine as they should, your bucket begins to overflow. And the result? Symptoms start to appear.
One primary digestive enzyme is called diamine oxidase (DAO). If you lack DAO, your body cannot break down the histamines you consume from foods. Then histamine might get through your gut lining and into your blood. This can lead to an immunological response.
Another enzyme, histamine-N-methyltransferase (HNMT), also breaks down ingested histamine. A deficiency of this enzyme can raise histamine levels in the brain.
Several factors can reduce DAO and HNMT enzyme activity in your body, including:
- Poor gut health
- Certain medications
- Histamine-rich foods
- Foods that inhibit DAO
- Foods that trigger histamine release
Understanding your personal histamine ‘bucket’ is crucial. And I can’t stress this enough. It explains why you might enjoy eating a whole chocolate bar while others may experience symptoms after just one small bite.
Symptoms of Histamine Intolerance
Common reactions associated with histamine intolerance include:
- Digestive issues
- Sinus issues
- Nasal congestion
- Headaches or migraines
- Irregular menstrual cycle
If your histamine intolerance is more severe, you may experience:
- Irregular heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Abdominal cramping
How can a low histamine diet help?
There is no quick treatment or supplement that resolves histamine intolerance. But on the bright side, it can be easily managed through proper dietary intake. You will only need to reduce your dietary sources of histamine. This way, troublesome symptoms are relieved.
However, it is challenging to identify histamine intolerance. Symptoms can overlap with those of other conditions. Hence, it is always best to seek professional guidance before attempting any restrictive diet. Your diet needs to remain adequate in all nutrients.
Remember that histamine is necessary for your bodily functions. So, you still need moderate amounts of histamine in your diet. A functional medicine practitioner can determine how you can best absorb nutrients with the right supplements as needed.
Since everyone reacts to histamine uniquely, I create a custom diet plan for my patients. It’s the best approach for people with histamine intolerance.
Pros of a low histamine diet
The benefits of a low-histamine diet (which my patients are happy with) include the following:
- It is natural. You don’t have to take antihistamines and other medications. This will break dependence on synthetic drugs. Also, you will not consume unhealthy foods, such as anything packaged or processed.
- It is cost-effective. You don’t have to buy expensive ingredients or prepare special meals to avoid foods high in histamine. Whole foods can be pricey, but you can take advantage of local and seasonal foods.
- It is manageable. It doesn’t take much time or effort to keep a food diary for a few weeks to track your symptoms and identify the trigger foods.
- It serves as a diagnostic tool. With the help of your practitioner, you can learn more about your tolerance by eliminating certain high-histamine foods for a few weeks and reintroducing them gradually. Symptoms may alleviate within a week, but I usually advise sticking with the diet plan for a month to reap the full benefits.
- It can help manage other health conditions. Hives frequently appear when your body’s amount of histamines is elevated. A diet low in histamines can help fix this. Many of my patients also benefit from a low histamine diet, specifically those with Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) and Alpha-gal syndrome.
Cons of a low-histamine diet
- It can lead to malnutrition. Some people with HIT symptoms can also have other food sensitivities, like gluten intolerance. It might be challenging to get the right amount of nourishment with other dietary restrictions in place. Hence, work with a functional nutritionist if you can access one.
- It’s a short-term plan. I do not recommend going on a low-histamine diet for an extended time. This is because you’ll be deprived of many foods, leading to an overly regulated diet.
Foods to Include and Avoid in a Low-Histamine Diet
Foods low in histamine
The following are some foods that your practitioner might include in your low-histamine diet plan:
- Fresh fruits: apples, grapes, pears, pomegranates, and non-citrus fruits
- Fresh veggies: broccoli, carrots, peppers, artichokes, and arugula
- Fresh herbs: basil, cilantro, rosemary, thyme, and turmeric
- Fresh fish and meat: salmon, chicken, turkey, lamb, and lean ground beef
- Seeds: chia, flax, and hemp
- Cooking oils: olive oil and coconut oil
- Gluten-free grains: brown rice and quinoa
- Starchy veggies: yam, butternut squash, winter squash, and sweet potato
- Dairy substitutes: almond milk and coconut milk
- Dried legumes: black beans, kidney beans, and chickpeas
Foods to avoid
Here are some foods and drinks which are rich in histamine:
- Fruits: avocados, cherries, strawberries, and citrus fruits
- Veggies: eggplant and spinach
- Seafood: clams, mussels, and shellfish
- Fermented dairy products: aged cheese, buttermilk, kefir, sour cream, and yogurt
- Fermented veggies: kimchi and sauerkraut
- Processed meats: bacon, chorizo, salami, sausages, and ham
- Fermented beverages: alcohol, beer, and wine
- Fermented soy products: miso, natto, soy sauce, and tempeh
- Fermented grains: Sourdough bread
- Canned fish: salmon and tuna
- Spices and condiments: cloves, cinnamon, chili powder, ketchup, and vinegar
Certain foods called “histamine liberators” also trigger histamine production in your body, including:
- Fruits: papaya, tomatoes, kiwi, bananas, and tangerines
- Veggies: green beans and lentils
- Wheat germ
- Food additives: dyes, preservatives
- Nuts: cashews, peanuts, and walnuts
Beverages that inhibit DAO production include:
- Tea: Black tea, green tea, and mate tea
- Energy drinks
Low-Histamine Diet Tips
Go for fresh foods as much as possible. The histamine content rises as food gets old or goes bad. Try to buy fresh food and eat them as soon as possible after purchase.
Check labels. Avoid items that contain high histamine. Look for healthier alternatives. Ask your practitioner if you’re in doubt.
Cook your meals. Preparing your food can decrease your risk of histamine intolerance. You can be sure of the quality of the ingredients. Plus, you don’t have to push yourself to eat whatever is offered if you dine outside.
Avoid food preparations that increase histamine levels. Fried or grilled foods contain higher histamine than boiled or steamed ones. Boiled foods have the same amount of histamine as raw foods, if not less. Histamine levels are higher in fermented foods.
Track your symptoms and triggers. Keep a daily food journal where you record everything you consume. Note the time you ate each food and any bothersome symptoms for comparison.
Take DAO and mineral supplements. Talk to your practitioner about the possibility of taking supplements that restore DAO in your body. Also, ask if you could take other supplements that provide essential nutrients your body might be lacking while on this restrictive diet.
Final Thoughts on the Low-Histamine Diet
A low-histamine diet can feel daunting if you do it on your own. The good news is that you don’t have to figure this out alone. Speak with a functional nutritionist today if you suspect you have histamine intolerance. Learn more about yourself with a tailored diet plan to feel good again soon!