Histamine 101: Histamine Intolerance and Mental Health (What you need to know)

By Dr. Nicole Cain ND, MA

Key Points:

What is histamine intolerance?

Histamine intolerance (HI) is a condition that occurs where your body cannot process histamine properly. This may be due to too much intake of histamine in food and drinks, poor detoxification, or imbalances in the gut-brain-axis resulting in over production of histamine.

What is histamine?

It is a naturally occurring chemical that is both a hormone, and a neurotransmitter. It is made from an amino acid called Histidine, which gets converted into histamine by many parts of your body such as your brain, lungs, and even the mast cells in your immune system. Histamine is produced by the body’s immune system and is involved in a variety of physiological processes. It has many jobs in your health with its primary role being in activation of your body’s inflammatory response.

It is also found in certain foods, such as fermented foods, aged cheeses, and cured meats, as well as in alcoholic beverages like wine and beer. In these foods, histamine is produced by bacteria during the fermentation or aging process.

In the body, histamine binds to specific receptors, causing various effects such as dilation of blood vessels, increased permeability of blood vessels, and stimulation of acid secretion in the stomach. It is also involved in allergic reactions, where it causes symptoms such as itching, redness, and swelling.

While histamine plays an important role in the body’s immune response, an excess of it or an inability to break down histamine properly can lead to symptoms of histamine intolerance.

High Histamine Foods

If you have high histamine, you may consider doing a detox diet. Foods that are high in histamine that you might want to avoid include:

1.     Fermented dairy products such as yogurt, kefir, and cheese

2.     Fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles

3.     Fermented soy products such as tempeh, miso, and soy sauce

4.     Smoked or cured meats such as bacon, ham, and salami

5.     Seafood such as tuna, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines

6.     Certain fruits such as strawberries, citrus fruits, and pineapple

7.     Certain vegetables such as spinach, eggplant, and tomatoes

8.     Alcohol, especially wine and beer

What are histamine intolerance symptoms?

Symptoms of histamine intolerance can vary widely and may include:

Symptoms of HI can occur shortly after consuming high-histamine foods or drinks or may develop gradually over time with repeated exposure. In some cases, symptoms may be more severe or chronic.

It’s important to note that the symptoms of HI can be similar to other conditions, and a healthcare professional can help determine the underlying cause of symptoms and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

What causes histamine intolerance?

Balance is key. Balance is achieved when the amount of histamine incoming and being produced by the body, correspond with your body’s ability to detox it out.

Some factors that may contribute to HI include genetics, medications that interfere with DAO function, methylation detox, and acetylation detoxification pathways, digestive disorders such as SIBO or leaky gut, and dietary factors such as consuming a diet high in histamine-rich foods or low in nutrients that support DAO function.

How does your body detox histamine?

Your body uses three pathways to eliminate histamine:

All of these detoxification pathways require support which you can get in the form of nutritional supplementation. But the key is the right amounts, forms, and process of introducing each nutrient which I teach on in detail in the High Histamine Protocol.

Get access to the High Histamine Protocol in the Holistic Wellness Collective.

What causes high histamine levels?

There are several factors that can cause high levels in the body, including:

  1. Poor DAO function: Diamine oxidase (DAO) is the main enzyme responsible for breaking down histamine in the gut. If DAO levels are low, or if DAO is not functioning properly, histamine can accumulate in the body.
  2. Poor methylation detoxification: Methylation is a process where a molecule called a methyl group is added to another molecule so something new can be made, or a chemical reaction can continue. Methylation is necessary for histamine detox, and if your histamine is accumulating, methylation support may be useful.
  3. Poor acetylation detoxification: Acetylation is a detoxification in Liver Phase II metabolism, this pathway needs certain nutrients and enzymes in order to work. Supplementation with these ingredients can aid in improved histamine detox.
  4. Histamine-rich foods: Certain foods are naturally high in histamine, such as aged cheeses, fermented foods, cured meats, and some fruits and vegetables. Consuming these foods can increase levels in the body.
  5. Food additives and preservatives: Some food additives, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) and artificial food colors, can trigger the release of histamine in the body, as well as preservatives like sulfites, which are commonly added to processed foods.
  6. Alcohol and certain drugs: Alcohol can stimulate histamine release in the body, while certain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and antibiotics, can interfere with DAO function and increase levels.
  7. Digestive disorders: Conditions such as SIBO (yes there is a SIBO histamine connection), leaky gut, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can damage the gut lining and reduce DAO activity, leading to increased levels.

It’s important to note that high histamine levels can be a symptom of an underlying condition, and a healthcare professional can help determine the underlying cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

How to test for histamine intolerance?

There are several tests that can help diagnose histamine intolerance, including:

  1. Histamine elimination diet: A histamine elimination diet involves avoiding high-histamine foods and drinks for several weeks, then gradually reintroducing them to see if symptoms occur. This can help identify which foods are triggering symptoms and determine if HI is present.
  2. Blood and urine tests: Blood and urine tests can measure levels of histamine and DAO in the body, which can help determine if HI is present. However, these tests may not always be accurate, as histamine levels can fluctuate rapidly in response to various stimuli.
  3. Skin prick test: A skin prick test involves pricking the skin with a small amount of histamine or other allergen and monitoring the skin’s reaction. This can help determine if the body is hypersensitive to histamine.

It’s important to note that there is no single definitive test for HI, and diagnosis often involves a combination of medical history, symptom assessment, and testing. Get help in the Holistic Wellness Collective to learn more about testing, so that you can determine the most appropriate diagnostic approach for you.

How to treat histamine intolerance?

The treatment for HI involves identifying and avoiding triggers that cause histamine to build up in the body. Here are some ways to manage HI:

  1. Follow a low-histamine diet: Avoiding high-histamine foods and drinks is the most effective way to manage HI. This may involve avoiding fermented foods, aged cheeses, cured meats, and certain fruits and vegetables.
  2. Support DAO histamine detoxification: Take DAO supplements: DAO supplements are available in capsule form and can help break down histamine in the gut. However, they may not be effective for everyone, and it’s important to talk to a healthcare professional before taking any supplements.
  3. Support methylation histamine detoxification
  4. Support phosphorylation histamine detoxification
  5. Restore health to gut and microbiome
  6. Manage stress: Stress can trigger histamine release in the body, so managing stress through practices like meditation, yoga, and deep breathing can be helpful in reducing levels.
  7. Consider medication: In some cases, medications like antihistamines and mast cell stabilizers may be prescribed to help manage symptoms of histamine intolerance.
  8. Treat underlying conditions: If HI is caused by an underlying condition, such as SIBO or leaky gut, treating that condition may help reduce histamine levels.

My favorite supplements:

There are several supplements that can help support histamine metabolism and manage symptoms of HI. However, it’s important to note that supplements are not a substitute for a healthy diet and lifestyle, and should be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Here are some supplements that may be beneficial for histamine intolerance:

  1. Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a natural antihistamine and can help stabilize mast cells and reduce histamine release in the body.
  2. Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 is involved in the production of DAO, the enzyme responsible for breaking down histamine in the gut. Supplementation with vitamin B6 can help increase DAO levels and improve histamine metabolism.
  3. Quercetin: Quercetin is a flavonoid that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It can also help stabilize mast cells and reduce histamine release.
  4. Probiotics: Probiotics can help improve gut health and reduce inflammation, which can help improve histamine metabolism.
  5. Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce inflammation in the body, including inflammation that may contribute to HI.

You can find all of these supplement options at my supplement shop here!

(You will need to create an account to browse and order, it’s free to create one and gives you access to 1,000’s of high quality products!)

Concluding remarks

Histamine is an important part of your body’s ability to activate an immune response and protect you from pathogens, but too much can cause wear and tear on you physically and mentally. Is high histamine at the root of your symptoms? If so, getting your levels back on track can be life-changing.

Learn more about how to heal from Histamine Intolerance and get access to the High Histamine Protocol in the Holistic Wellness Collective.

This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Whenever considering changing your protocol whether it includes a change of medications, supplements, diet or lifestyle, always speak with your primary care physician first.

Dr. Nicole Cain is an advocate for empowering people around the world to help themselves via her educational free resources, online courses, and membership group. You can receive the tools you need to find the root cause of your symptoms and feel healthy again.