There has been a lot of talk about histamine in the circles I run in lately. Could it be that Spring is in the air? In the Spring, it is not uncommon for people to have the sniffles or sneezes as the immune system responds to allergens in our environment by releasing histamine. Histamines in the diet can really become an issue this time of the year as we exceed our threshold for tolerance of histamines.
Histamine is really a rather complicated issue. Everyone has a threshold for the amount of histamine their body will tolerate, and this tolerance is determined by many factors. Our mast cells release histamines during allergic or inflammatory reactions. There are histamines released in response to our environment. There are foods that release histamines from mast cells, and then there are foods with actual histamine content. Chocolate, cheese, vinegars, wine and beer, mushrooms, tomatoes, bananas, strawberries, citrus fruits, fermented foods, and bone broths are just some examples of foods that provoke a histamine reaction. Additionally, temperature changes, sunlight, stress, some medications and other factors can affect our histamine load.
Histamines can be an issue with any diet. I often see histamine issues with people on grain-free diets such as the Paleo Diet, Specific Carbohydrate Diet and GAPS. A diet higher in meats and certain vegetables and lower in grains could by default be higher in histamines. When we eliminate the lower histamine grains and rely on more nuts to replicate SAD (Standard American Diet) baked goods like breads, cakes and cookies, we do increase our histamine load. When we add some of the staples in traditional diets, such as bone broths and fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut we can really increase the histamine load. But I suspect that the connection between the grain-free diet and the histamine issue has less to do with the diet itself and more to do with underlying issues in those that are attracted to a grain-free diet in the first place, as I will explain in this article.
Everyone has a different tolerance for histamines. Some have serious mast cell disorders and need to be extremely vigilant about histamines in the diet. Some people need to restrict histamines in their diet to avoid migraines and terrible insomnia. Others just need to watch their histamine load to avoid crossing their threshold and feeling a little cranky or noticing a decline in their digestion. Whatever your tolerance, you may find your tolerance change as Spring rolls around each year.
Two mechanisms are often talked about with respect to the histamine problem. The first is a lack of the enzyme DAO, or Diamine Oxidase, which can be supplemented by purchasing Histame or similar products. These enzymes are expensive and while they do seem to help many people they don’t seem to get at the root of the problem for most. Another mechanism often discussed is a lack of function by the enzyme histamine N-methyl transferase, which since it requires a methyl group, could be lacking in those of us with methylation cycle polymorphisms such as MTHFR, or a toxic load that interferes with methylation. It has been said (and although it is really an oversimplification) that “undermethylators” run higher in histamine. I suspect this is the root of the issue for many people, but it takes time and effort to correct this situation. Quercetin is a supplement often recommended for histamine reactions as it stabilizes mast cells and can therefore reduce histamine release, but perhaps the main reason quercetin is effective is the fact that it is a methyl donor. Another approach used by Dr. Amy Yasko is the supplement SAM-e, which is the universal methyl donor in the body. Both of these supplements are methyl donors and can therefore provoke detox, particularly in those that are deficient and they are also contraindicated for some people so discuss these options with your doctor.
Chris Kresser wrote a great article on this topic rather recently in which he talked about the role of gut bacteria in histamine intolerance. A fabulous clue to histamine issues that he shared in his article is that “reacting to fermented foods is a classic sign of histamine intolerance, especially if probiotic supplements are well tolerated”. I do think gut bacteria imbalances are a huge factor in histamine issues as it is known that some bacteria produce histamine and other bacteria degrade it.
One aspect of histamine intolerance that is not being discussed and inspired me to write this blog post is the connection between histamine and amylase. You may be familiar with amylase as an enzyme that breaks down starch. Well, it has another role. It is released by the body in response to histamine because it has a role in anti-inflammatory reactions. It is possible that running high histamine over time, we can deplete our amylase, and then don’t digest starch well. Does that explain why there is so much talk of histamine in the grain-free world lately? Could that explain some of the improvements people experience when they go grain-free? Histamines can affect the digestive system in many ways, but can it be that those that have found their way to a grain-free diet may be those very people that have depleted their amylase as a result of an underlying histamine issue? Allerase is a product that contains amylase and is designed to be taken on an empty stomach to balance out the high histamine/low amylase seasonal issues. You can discuss this option with your doctor as well.
I always caution people not to get too far out of balance when implementing a special diet for themselves or their children. Usually I recommend adhering to a traditional diet, as it is time-tested, rather than, for example, relying too much on nut flour and coconut flour to replicate baked goods on a grain-free diet. But in the case of histamines, you may find that even certain traditional foods are not your friends. For some people, and I suspect this is more common than understood, too much bone broth and too many fermented foods can actually cause digestive issues! Too often people are encouraged to push through reactions as if they are just “healing crises”, or the temporary effects of “die-off” or detox. But sometimes you just need to listen to your body. In our modern world, toxins in the environment affect the function of enzymes in our bodies and prevent them from working ideally. This does not mean that healing is hopeless, but that we have to be patient and work with our bodies as we may heal at a slower pace than desired.
I hope this article gives you something to think about and discuss with your doctor, and while you are addressing the underlying issue perhaps your doctor will feel that Allerase or Histame can help. I hope this information helps you Peel Back another Onion Layer toward vibrant health!