By: Rachel Naar, Registered Dietitian
Flushing? Hives? Short of Breath? You may feel like it’s your run of the mill allergic reaction, but histamine intolerance can cause a wide variety of symptoms mimicking that of an allergic reaction, when it’s actually a food intolerance.
Let’s first take a second to explain the differences, and then delve deeper into histamine intolerance, what the signs and symptoms may be, and how to manage the intolerance.
What Is A Food Allergy?
A food allergy is the reaction that happens when the immune system attacks a food protein that it mistakes as a threat to the body. Symptoms may include: itching or swelling of the mouth, throat, face or skin; trouble breathing; and stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting. A severe food allergy can be life-threatening.
What are Food Intolerances?
Reactions that do not trigger the immune system and are not life-threatening (although they may share similar symptoms as an allergy). For example, an adult with a milk allergy must avoid all milk products, while an adult who is lactose intolerant lacks the enzyme to break down sugars in milk.
Introduction to Histamines
Your body naturally creates histamine from mast cells, a type of white blood cells. When there’s a perceived intruder the mast cells produce histamine in an attempt to eradicate the invader. Histamine is crucial in helping maintain our digestive tract, neurological symptoms, blood pressure. It’s the critical mediator in causing the symptoms of allergy, which is why we take antihistamines for allergy relief.
In addition to the histamines your body creates on its own, histamine is found naturally in foods. Histamine levels vary based on the maturation process and degree of freshness. The longer the food is stored or left to age, the higher the histamine content.
Histamine Intolerance (HIT)
Histamine intolerance happens when an individual cannot break down histamine efficiently enough. HIT may also be cumulative, so symptoms are triggered at any time that an individual’s “threshold” is reached.
These symptoms can happen immediately after consuming the offensive food, or even a few hours later, making it difficult to pinpoint what the culprit was.
● Accelerated heart rate
● Abnormal Menstrual Cycle
● Throat or face swelling
Dietary Management of Histamine Intolerance
Foods high in histamine:
● Fermented Foods such as kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut
● Cured and smoked meats/fish
● Citrus fruits
● Aged cheese
● Tomato and tomato Products
● Soy products
Foods that release histamine and can cause trigger reactions:
Low-Histamine Diet Tips
We recommend working with a nutritionist and doctor when adhering to a low histamine diet so you can ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need.
When adhering to the low histamine diet, try preparing as much of your food as you can. Eat the freshest food possible; this is not a time for day-old leftovers.
Record everything you eat in a daily food diary complete with the time of day, portion, and any symptoms.
If you don’t recognize the name of an ingredient, skip it. Additives in processed foods are known to release histamine.
Don’t be too hard on yourself; this diet is very restrictive and should only be done for a maximum of four weeks. Work with a nutritionist and doctor to carefully and strategically add foods back in and monitor symptoms.