Histamine is a natural substance produced by the body and is also present in many foods. It is released by the body during times of stress and allergy.
What is Histamine?
In an allergic response, an allergen stimulates the release of antibodies. Mast cells release histamine which may cause one or more of the following symptoms:
- Eyes to itch, burn, or become watery
- Nose to itch, sneeze, and produce more mucus
- Skin to itch, developing rashes or hives
- Sinuses to become congested and cause headaches
- Lungs to wheeze or have spasms
- Stomach to experience cramps and diarrhoea
Histamine is a vasoactive amine which causes dilatation of the blood vessels (flushing, rashes, itching) and increased mucus production (runny nose, productive cough), and bronchoconstriction (wheezing, cough). Because histamine is contained in almost all body tissues, especially the lungs, nose, sinuses, skin, intestinal mucosa and certain blood cells (mast cells, basophils), it is able to cause a wide variety of symptoms.
The release of histamine can be caused by almost any allergen. Examples include inhalant allergens (ragweed pollen, dust mite, dander), drugs (penicillin, sulphur, aspirin), stinging insect venoms, and foods (egg, wheat, milk, fish, etc).
Histamine in Foods
There are many foods that contain histamine or cause the body to release histamine when ingested. These types of reactions are food intolerances, and are different from food allergy in that the immune system is not involved in the reaction. The symptoms, however, can be the same as a food allergy.
Foods that contain the chemical tyramine can trigger headaches. Foods that may have large amounts of tyramine include: fish, chocolate, alcoholic beverages, cheese, soy sauce, sauerkraut and processed meat.
Fermented foods may cause allergy symptoms because they are either rich in histamine or because yeast or mould is involved in the fermentation process.
- Fruits and vegetables that are just ripe
- Fish that has only been caught within 12 hours (it’s okay to then freeze it)
- Meat that is freshly culled.
Safest cooking methods;
- Baked, steamed, boiled or poached avoid char-grilling or BBQ’d foods
- Don’t cook over 220 degrees celsius
- Freeze on the day of purchase and eat within 30 days
High histamine level foods:
- Fermented Alcohol such as; red wine, white wine, beer
- Fermented foods such as; Kefir, Kombucha, home-made sauerkraut
- Pickled or canned foods – supermarket sauerkrauts, pickled onions, gherkins etc, pickles
- Matured/Aged cheeses
- Processed and smoked meat products – salami, ham, sausages….
- Meat that isn’t fresh, including meat in cryovac packs in the supermarket
- Chicken Skin
- Beans and pulses – chickpeas, soy beans, peanuts, lentils, kidney beans,
- Nuts – walnuts, cashew nuts
- Chocolates and other cocoa based products (carob is okay)
- Ready meals and processed and packaged foods
- Salty snacks, sweets with preservatives and artificial colourings
- Sour cream and buttermilk
- Bread made with large amounts of yeast
- Dessicated/shredded coconut
Histamine liberators: (these release naturally occuring histamine in the body)
- Most citrus fruits – lemons, limes, grapefruits, mandarines and oranges.
- Other fruits include; all dried fruits, strawberries, kiwi, papaya, banana, pineapple, avocadoes and tomatoes
- Cocoa and chocolate (carob is okay)
- Beans and pulses
- Wheat germ and other cereals
- Additives – benzoate, sulphites, nitrites, glutamate, food dyes
Diamine Oxidase (DAO) blockers, DAO removes histamine from the body:
- Fermented Alcohol
- Black tea
- Energy drinks
- Green tea
- Mate tea
Diamine oxidase (DAO) is the main enzyme that metabolises histamine. Interestingly anti-histamines can block DAO, thereby inadvertently increasing histamine levels in the body.
Debatable, these can cause problems in some people, but not in others. It would be worth keeping them out of the diet while you’re reducing histamine load;
- Yoghurt – depends on the bacterial culture used
- Milk and Cream
- Egg white – it is a histamine liberator only when in its raw state
- Bananas; firm
- Additives such as preservatives and flavourings
- Some spices such as; cumin and turmeric
- Yeast- even though yeast doesn’t contain histamine as such, it can serve as a catalyst for histamine production during manufacturing.
- Distilled Spirits
Low histamine level foods:
- Fresh meat (cooked, frozen or fresh)
- Freshly caught fish
- Fresh chicken (skinned and fresh)
- Egg yolk
- Fresh fruits – with the exception of the fruits listed above, most fresh fruits are considered to have a low histamine level
- Fresh vegetables – with the exception of tomatoes and eggplants, and possibly spinach, rocket and capsicums
- Grains – rice noodles, yeast free rye bread, rice crisp bread, oats, puffed rice crackers, millet flour, pasta (spelt and corn based)
- Fresh pasteurised milk and milk products (although some people do better on a lactose free milk such as; Zymil)
- Milk substitutes – coconut milk, rice milk
- Cream cheese, butter (without the histamine generating rancidity)
- Most cooking oils
- Most leafy herbs
- Most non-citric fruit juices
- Herbal teas – with the exception of those listed above
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net