When most people hear the word “histamines,” springtime allergies come to mind. If you’ve ever taken a deep breath of flowers with your nose inches away from pollen and then suddenly have a sneezing attack, you’ve experienced a histamine response.
But histamine reactions aren’t triggered only from windborne allergens such as pollen and dust. Eating certain foods can cause your immune cells to go haywire.
So if you’ve ever had symptoms such as itchy skin or rashes after eating a particular food (or from a beverage), there’s a possibility you have a histamine intolerance. Either an offending food or drink itself contains a high amount of histamines or your body lacks a specific enzyme to break down histamine.
What is Histamine?
It’s a neurotransmitter released from immune cells. Histamine gets released in the body when the immune system perceives a potentially harmful foreign substance. Histamine itself is not a bad thing. Your body naturally releases it to help facilitate communication between brain cells and to regulate the immune system.
So to say someone is allergic to histamines is actually a false term. Nobody is actually allergic to histamines. More accurately, some people develop an overloaded histamine response. When an overloaded histamine reaction occurs, there is a cascading high-inflammatory response in the body.
Does Gluten Contain Histamines?
Gluten is perhaps the most well-known food-sensitivity trigger. According to BeyondCeliac.org, approximately 18 million people are sensitive to gluten, and an additional three million Americans have Celiac Disease, the autoimmune disease that can be triggered by the consumption of a mere crumb of gluten.
But not all gluten is created equally.
Consider ancient, heirloom varieties of wheat such as einkorn. Einkorn has never been hybridized and only contains two sets of chromosomes. Compare that to modern, highly-processed wheat, which has six pairs of genetic material. The more gluten, the more potential for an allergic reaction.
If you eat einkorn, you may not have a histamine overreaction. But if you eat a packaged, conventional baked good, your immune system could launch into histamine overdrive.
But it’s also possible that if you experience symptoms after eating gluten, it’s not necessarily an overload of histamine that’s to blame. That’s because a true histamine overload is caused by an Ig-E antibody response.
Gluten sensitivity and other food allergies can also be caused by an Ig-G response. In other words, the symptoms you experience after eating something may not be a true histamine overreaction.
And the only way to know for sure whether or not histamines or other chemicals, proteins and substances in food are causing the symptoms is to get tested.
How to Improve Histamine Response
One of the best ways to ensure you won’t experience a histamine overload is to optimize your gut health. This is because there’s an enzyme in your digestive tract called DAO (diamine oxidase) that helps break down histamine, thus preventing an overload.
Gut dysbiosis (not having enough diversity of beneficial bacteria) and leaky gut can lower the amount of DAO in the gut, or cause the enzyme to become inactive.
But for some people, improving gut health on their own is a daunting task. The most effective way to reduce digestive symptoms, whether or not they are caused by an overload of histamines in the body, is to work with a functional medicine doctor.
Best Supplements for Normalizing Histamine Response
Vitamin C is one of the best nutrients for controlling histamine response. But the daily recommended value of vitamin C is only 65 mg per day. It may require much more than that to regulate the flood of chemicals like histamine into the bloodstream. Furthermore, some citrus fruits may actually have a relatively high amount of histamine.
Thus, a 1000 mg dose of a Vitamin C ascorbate supplement may help prevent a histamine overload. There’s research that intravenous (IV) vitamin C ascorbate does just that.
Turmeric as well as the antioxidant, quercetin, may also be helpful.
And as stated above, optimizing your gut health will likely improve your body’s histamine response. Eating foods with prebiotic fiber and taking a postbiotic supplement will help improve your gut microbiome.
Histamine is an excitatory neurotransmitter. The amino acid supplement, L-theanine reduces the levels of brain chemicals that can overstimulate the brain, histamine included. The so-called relaxation neurotransmitter, GABA, also counteracts excitatory neurotransmitters.
Worst Foods For Histamine Response
In order to optimize gut health, probiotics are often recommended. However, many sources of probiotics are fermented. Fermented foods and drinks are considered one of the worst things to consume for regulating histamine response.
In general, aged and fermented foods can trigger a histamine overload in some people. That’s why you may want to take a high-quality probiotic supplement rather than eat lots of fermented foods to increase your friendly gut bacteria.
Alcohol, especially red wine, is also verboten on the low-histamine diet.
Some sources of normally regarded as healthy produce can trigger a histamine overload in some people. These include avocados, tomatoes and eggplant.
However, that doesn’t mean if you eat avocado you’re going to experience food allergy symptoms.
The best thing you can do is, if you experience symptoms after eating something, try to first isolate what that offending food is. Then, once you’ve narrowed down the offending food, eliminate it from your diet for a few weeks. And in the meantime, try to optimize your gut health.
You can later reintroduce the offending food and hopefully you won’t have any further negative reactions to it.
Best Foods for Minimizing Histamines
Eat fresh. Eat local. Eat real food. Eliminate or minimize added sugars. That in a nutshell is how to minimize the release of histamine from mast cells (specialized immune cells).
Keep in mind that many symptoms of digestive disorders such as Crohn's Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, etc. share symptoms with histamine overload. It may be the overgrowth of harmful yeast or bacteria that’s to blame rather than histamine, a natural chemical response of your immune system.