Histamines: The what, where, why and how to avoid!

If your family are experiencing symptoms of seasonal allergies, rashes, itchy watery eyes, brain fog, fatigue, gastrointestinal issues, reflux or heartburn, migraines, palpitations, mood swings and other unexplained symptoms… 

…then histamines may be more relevant than you think!

Histamines may sound familiar because you’ve heard the term anti-histamines; the medication made specifically to assist with an allergic response.  

So, what are histamines?

Histamines are chemicals made in your body via mast cells; and mast cells predominantly reside in places where an intruder may attempt to enter your body, such as your eyes, nose or skin. In small quantities, histamines are required, however high levels may be a problem for some people. 

See histamines act like security guards, keeping out things that trigger you, such as an allergen like dust or pollen. They’re responsible for getting the process started (kicking unwanted visitors out like security guards do!) Except when it’s your body, they’re making your eyes water, your nose sneeze, or your skin itch – whatever gets the job done of removing that intruder!

Basically, they are part of your bodies defence system. When you have an allergy, such as dust, it’s viewed as a threat and there is a defence mechanism activated to remove it. This is your body’s way of trying to keep you safe, which can often be an over-reaction, and this is where anti-histamines come in to place.

What is a histamine intolerance?

Histamine intolerance is not a sensitivity to histamine, but an indication that you’ve developed too much of it.  When histamine levels get too high or when it can’t break down properly, it can affect your normal bodily functions and create undesirable symptoms that affect your daily quality of life.

Whilst we do make histamines naturally, there can be too much of a good thing. If you imagine a cup that is ¼ of the way full, this would indicate a healthy level that is tolerable. It’s when this cup becomes fuller that you may find it’s too much, and it starts to overflow.

When these levels become too much, such as the cup filling to ¾ or almost full, it can affect your normal bodily functions. This is where you may find symptoms start to not only develop, but also increase substantially. When the histamine bucket gets full…it’s time to reduce exposure. More details below on that.  But first let’s check out the symptoms.

Symptoms of histamine overload & intolerance:

When you come across your allergy trigger, your immune system launches a chain reaction to defend you. First, it sends a chemical signal to “mast cells” in your skin, lungs, nose, mouth, gut, and blood. The message is, “Release histamines,” which are stored in the mast cells. From there a chain reaction of events happen to remove the trigger and inflammation is caused. The result? If your nose was affected, by pollen for example, histamines prompt a thin wall, called membranes to make more mucus. You end up with a runny or stuffy nose and you’ll sneeze. Similarly, it can make you cough and make your eyes and nose itch. 

Other symptoms can include:

  • Rashes, itchy skin, eczema
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Fatigue
  • Digestive issues
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal cramping
  • As well as other ‘random’ symptoms

What causes high histamines levels?

There are a number if causes. Our bodies naturally produce histamine along with an enzyme called diamine oxidase (DAO). This enzyme is responsible for breaking down histamine that we consume through our food. We produce and consume histamines, and DAO balances out the process. 

There is the possibility some people may have a DAO deficiency, and therefore are not breaking down histamine. 

Factors that can affect DAO levels include the state of your gut health (due to gastrointestinal disorders, such as leaky gut syndrome, IBS and inflammatory bowel disease), some medications, and a diet high in histamines or foods that either block DAO or trigger a histamine release. 

Bacterial overgrowth is another factor for developing a histamine intolerance. Bacteria grows when food isn’t digested properly, causing histamine overproduction.  Normal levels of DAO enzyme can’t break down the increased levels of histamine in your body, causing a reaction.

Applying gut healing strategies can improve your tolerance levels. Make sure to add your details to be notified when my next free Gut Health For Kids cooking series is available by adding your details to the waitlist page. 

Controlling histamines with diet:

Histamines naturally occur in some foods and being aware of high histamine foods can help your symptoms by reducing exposure.  Remember that cup that is already ¼ of the way full? Eating foods with high histamine levels may be what makes it overflow. It’s this overflow that may be responsible for your symptoms, and not the food themselves. They are the trigger…not the cause.

The following list of foods are high in histamines: 

  • Aged or fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt or kefir, kimchi, kombucha, any aged cheese, alcohol, vinegar, and cured meat.
  • Processed or smoked meats, like ham and smoked salmon.
  • Fish and seafood, particularly canned, shellfish or smoked fish.
  • Some fresh fruit and vegetables like avocados, eggplant and spinach as well as dried fruit

There are also a number of foods that trigger a histamine release in the body such as: alcohol, bananas, tomatoes, papaya, citrus fruits, chocolate etc.

As foods age, the histamine levels increase at a rapid rate, so try to buy your meat and seafood fresh, and either eat it straight away or freeze immediately.

How long you store food is also something to be mindful of, as the histamine levels in leftovers, or cooked foods increase rapidly. Ensure you cool and freeze foods as soon as possible if you are not going to eat it straight away.

Histamines and the Allergy Free Club

For more support and information on managing a low histamine diet, check out the Allergy Free Club.  Our members have access to delicious low histamine recipes, meal plans, food lists, kitchen and prep guides as well as a nutritionist support sharing everything you need to know about going low histamine and if it’s the right thing for you.

You can check it all out, at the Allergy Free Club here >>

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