By Nancy Mehlert
Most of the time when we guide patients toward a whole food, ancestral type of diet, and we work to clean up the digestive tract and repopulate favorable microflora with probiotics and fermented foods, our patients are amazed at how much better they feel. Occasionally though, there are some individuals who do not improve initially, sometimes due to what is called Histamine Intolerance. Because the symptoms can easily be confused with a variety of other conditions and because the response is cumulative, it can be difficult to diagnose.
It is important to understand that the body needs and uses histamine for very important functions. Histamine intolerance occurs when the body’s enzymatic process to break down excess histamine is impaired, or when the body is producing too much of it. When this happens, the symptoms of excess histamine resemble allergic reactions. Common symptoms include:
- Itching, especially of skin, eyes, ears and nose
- Drop in blood pressure, dizziness when standing up quickly
- Swelling of the face, mouth, and throat
- Increased pulse rate or the sensation of heart racing
- Some types of headaches
- Nasal congestion, runny nose or seasonal allergies
- Indigestion, heartburn or reflux
- Fatigue, confusion or irritability
- In very rare cases, blacking out very briefly
Overproduction of histamine can occur directly as a result of imbalanced gut micro-bacteria (aka dysbiosis). There are certain types of bacteria that produce histamine and if they are overpopulated, excess histamine can result. Another cause of excess histamine is slow clearance from the body, such as with impaired methylation. Impaired methylation can be a result of nutritional deficiencies and/or genetic mutations.
Another aspect of histamine intolerance is that it is cumulative and the spectrum of tolerance levels varies greatly. In other words, some excess histamine may not trigger any response, but every person has a unique tolerance level and once hit, will trigger the response. Because of this, the person experiencing these symptoms searches for a single food that seems to trigger the response when it is more likely a series of foods that add up and accumulate too much histamine. Any one food is not necessarily a trigger. Some people have responses that are triggered by only some of the foods listed below, while the other foods seem to not pose a threat.
As stated above, histamine intolerance appears to be very closely connected to gut imbalances of microflora and, in most cases, restricting consumption of high histamine foods can serve as the first line of treatment for symptom relief. Moreover, restoration of gut health and correction of methylation issues are vital to resolving the problem. Once these things are done, many people are able to add many of their favorite foods back into their diet.
Many people are surprised to learn that the foods which trigger these responses are often included in very healthy diets. While most foods generate some histamine, the most common high histamine foods include:
- Fermented foods such as cultured vegetables, yogurts, and mature or ripe cheeses
- Beans and pulses
- Nuts, especially cashews and walnuts
- Chocolates and other cocoa based products
- Most citrus fruits and berries
- Vinegar, including ketchup, salad dressings, sauces, BBQ sauce
- Certain spices including cinnamon, chili powder, and cloves
- Processed and cured meats such as salami, ham, bacon, sausages
- Leftover meat (cooked meat increases in histamine as it sits)
- Pickled or canned foods including sauerkraut, pickles, relish
- Wheat and wheat products such as pasta and couscous
- Salty or sweet snacks with preservatives and artificial colorings
Histamine intolerance may be on the rise, especially in light of the increase in gut dysbiosis in our population. It has not yet been established fully as a distinct medical condition in the conventional medical arena, so there are a lot of people who don’t believe this condition exists. Regardless, if you suspect you are, or someone you know is, suffering with this, functional medical practices, such as TWIHW, are the ideal places to get help!