What is Histamine?
Histamine is a key molecule in your body. You need it to survive. Histamine is made by immune cells called mast cells. These immune cells are present in connective tissue and are part of the immune and neuroimmune systems. Histamine is also naturally found in many foods. (We’ll talk more about those foods later.)
Your body needs histamine to:
- Fight off infections
- Act as a neurotransmitter
- Regulate sleep
- Aid in proper digestion
- Regulate hormones
- Aid in reproduction
Too little histamine can cause major problems, too. Your body can’t function properly without enough of the molecule. On the flip side, too much histamine can wreak havoc as well. Since histamine is present throughout your body, high histamine can cause many different types of symptoms. Let’s take a look at those symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms of High Histamine
These are common symptoms of high histamine:
- Itching of eyes, ears, nose, throat, skin
- Flushing or redness of skin
- Nasal and sinus congestion
- Excess mucus
- Swelling and redness of eyes
- Heartburn, reflux, indigestion
- Sleep issues – falling asleep or staying asleep
- Low blood pressure or high blood pressure
- Headaches or migraines
- Food sensitivities
- Menstrual issues
- Breathing issues like asthma
- Symptoms worsened by fermented foods, wine, beer
Some people with high histamine levels may also experience these symptoms:
- Heart palpitations or irregular heart beat
- Trouble regulating body temperature
- Chest pain
- Anxiety or panic-like symptoms
- Mood changes
- Swelling of face, mouth or throat
You don’t have to experience all of the symptoms above to have histamine issues. However, if you suffer from three or more of these symptoms, it might be a sign you have a histamine intolerance.
What is Histamine Intolerance?
Histamine Intolerance occurs when the body has more histamine than it can get rid of. The body gets rid of histamine with specific enzymes, like Diamine Oxidase (DAO) and Histamine N-methyltransferase (HNMT). If you don’t have enough of those enzymes because of nutritional deficiency, histamine can build to high levels.
If you don’t have enough of the histamine degrading enzymes, you will start to experience symptoms.
You may not have enough of those enzymes due to a genetic predisposition or a lack of certain nutrients. Some of the nutrients that are important to breaking down histamine are:
- B2, B5, B6, B12
- Bio-available Copper
- Vitamin C
If you are low in those nutrients, your body might have trouble producing those histamine-busting enzymes.
Here are additional factors that can lead to high histamine levels:
- Hormone Imbalances
- Eating too many high-histamine foods
- Gut infections (like SIBO or Candida)
- Chronic infections like Lyme or Epstein Barre
- Mold toxicity
- Certain medications
- Lack of deep sleep
The Histamine and Hormone Connection
Women tend to have more histamine than men because women have more estrogen. Estrogen, progesterone, and histamine are closely linked in the body. Estrogen stimulates mast cells to make more histamine.
This can cause a dangerous cycle when estrogen causes mast cells to release histamine and the rising histamine levels produce more estrogen. In turn, the estrogen triggers the mast cells to make more histamine, creating a snowball effect.
This is also why you may have experienced more histamine issues at certain times in your cycle – likely when your estrogen levels were higher than your progesterone levels.
Estrogen dominance happens when you have more estrogen than progesterone. So if you are estrogen dominant, you are very likely to have histamine issues. It is important to note that estrogen dominance doesn’t just happen with high estrogen. Even if you have low estrogen, you can be estrogen dominant if you have more estrogen than progesterone.
On the other side of the coin, progesterone helps stop mast cells from making histamine. This is a big reason why the estrogen-progesterone balance is so important. If you can support your progesterone, you will likely have lower histamine activity. This translates to lower histamine levels and fewer high histamine symptoms.
Histamine: Menopause, SIBO, and Low Thyroid Levels
There is a big connection between histamine issues and menopause too. Women are more likely to develop histamine intolerance during menopause. This is because both estrogen and progesterone drop during menopause. For many women, progesterone ends up even lower than estrogen. So you can be estrogen dominant while in menopause.
Estrogen causes another problem too. It can actually reduce one of the important histamine-degrading enzymes you learned about earlier, called Diamine Oxidase (DAO). If you don’t have enough DAO, then you can get very high histamine levels. DAO is also very vulnerable to gut infections like SIBO. Gut infections destroy the body’s ability to make DAO. So SIBO and estrogen dominance together can wreak a lot of havoc to your histamine levels.
So, balancing hormones should help, right? In theory, yes. However, synthetic hormones used by many traditional physicians in hormone replacement therapy often make histamine intolerance worse. Research shows synthetic hormone replacement is clearly linked to the onset of allergies and asthma. This is because the synthetic hormones are hard on the mast cells, causing them to make even more histamine. Bioidentical hormones tend to work better for women, fortunately. Be sure to do your homework if you are thinking about taking synthetic hormones.
Low thyroid levels can also contribute to histamine issues. Recent research published in 2019 shows this is likely due to thyroid hormones that help regulate mast cells and reduce histamine production. If you don’t make enough thyroid hormones, you could end up with much higher histamine levels.
At this point, you may be wondering if you have high histamine and histamine intolerance. Below are steps you can take to address these issues.
5 Ways to Naturally Lower Histamine
In order to fix histamine intolerance, you need to figure out what the root cause is. To figure out The Root Cause, you’ll likely need to work with a qualified Therapist. Still, there are a number of steps you can start now to naturally lower your histamine levels.
- Balance your hormones naturally
- Reduce high histamine foods (listed below)
- Emphasize high nutrient foods (listed below)
- Take wholefood vitamin supplements as needed
- Relax and meditate daily
High Histamine Foods
There are a lot of high histamine foods lists online. Unfortunately the vast majority of those lists aren’t very accurate. I’ve put together a very good list that is based on research.
Here are some of the highest histamine foods:
- Processed and packaged foods
- Leftovers older than 48 hours
- Alcohols like wine, champagne, beer, whiskey, brandy
- Fermented foods: sauerkraut, vinegar, soy sauce, kefir, yogurt, kombucha, etc.
- Cured meats: bacon, salami, pepperoni, luncheon meats and hot dogs
- Food additives like carrageenan, colorings, sodium benzoate, MSG, guar gum
- Aged cheese like Swiss, cheddar, Parmesan
- Bone broth
- Fish and seafood
- Dried fruits
- Peanuts and cashews
If you are looking at the High Histamine Foods list and you are worried there won’t be anything left to eat – don’t worry. Yes, you’ll need to reduce your intake of those foods, but you can also replace them with plenty of delicious histamine-reducing foods.
This is a list of just a few of the foods that have been shown to reduce histamine. So try to load up on as many of these as possible.
- Fresh herbs like basil, cilantro, rosemary, parsley, ginger, and oregano
- Herbal Teas: Peppermint, tulsi, lavender, ginger
- Brussels sprouts
- Cabbage, Green and Red
- Napa cabbage / Chinese cabbage
- Onions – any kind
- Scallions (green onions – especially the green parts)
- Romaine lettuce, red and green leaf lettuce
The bottom line is to:
- Eat very little processed and packaged foods.
- Reduce the highest histamine foods.
- Replace those foods with histamine-lowering foods.
If you do that, you’ll be well on your way to eating lower levels of histamine!
A Very Important Tip
Another important tip is to avoid long term use of antihistamine medications if possible. This is because antihistamines don’t actually get rid of histamine. They only block the histamine receptors. This helps symptoms in the short term. But in the long term, antihistamines trick the body into thinking histamine levels are too low. The body responds by pumping out even more histamine. The more antihistamine medications you take, the more your body will produce histamine. This can create an unhealthy cycle.
Instead, you can try supplements that actually lower your histamine levels. These tend to work much better in the long run. There are many options here, but these are 2 good ones you can begin with:
- Vitamin C as Camu Camu
If you take these steps and you are still having the high histamine symptoms, then it is time to work with someone who can help you. Look for a practitioner who can help you identify your unique root causes in histamine intolerance and create a plan of action.