You may be familiar with the term “histamine” in the context of allergy medications known as antihistamines, but histamine plays a far bigger role in health than most people realize.
Histamine is important for keeping us healthy, as it defends our bodies against viruses, bacteria, and other illness-causing agents. But sometimes histamine production goes overboard, leading to a condition called histamine intolerance that can disrupt our wellness — and our lives.
What causes histamine intolerance, and what are some natural options for treating it? Let’s take a closer look at this increasingly common condition.
To understand histamine intolerance, we must first examine how histamine works in the body. Histamine is produced in the body and is involved in many body functions, including the regulation of stomach acid and blood vessel permeability.
Perhaps its most notable job, though, is that of defender against potentially dangerous “invaders” like viruses and bacteria that can make us sick. When the body detects a foreign substance, it releases histamine that triggers an allergic reaction. This reaction is the body’s way of keeping the invaders from causing us harm.1
If you have seasonal allergies or have experienced any type of allergic reaction, you know that the histamine your body releases can cause symptoms like runny nose, itchy eyes, and hives. Although unpleasant, these symptoms are a normal part of the body’s response to allergens, which are perceived as a potential threat even if they’re harmless substances like dust or pollen.
This same process happens when you have a food allergy. As soon as the body senses the allergen, it releases histamine to protect against the invader. And foods themselves contain histamines, so eating foods like aged cheese and shellfish that are high in histamine can cause you to experience symptoms of an allergic reaction.
So it’s normal for the body to release a certain amount of histamine when triggered by an allergen. What happens when your body produces more than the normal amount of histamine? You may develop a condition called histamine intolerance.
Histamine intolerance occurs when the body is unable to break down excess histamine produced internally or from food. An enzyme known as diamine oxidase (DAO) does most of the work of breaking down histamine in the body. When there’s an imbalance between the amount of DAO and histamine in the body and breakdown can’t keep pace with production, you may experience symptoms associated with too much histamine, or histamine intolerance.2 These symptoms include:
Some people with histamine intolerance also experience symptoms that mimic those of a panic attack.1
As a functional medicine specialist, I take a holistic approach to treating histamine intolerance. Lifestyle changes like adjusting diet can make a big difference in balancing histamine levels.
First, you’ll want to avoid foods that are naturally high in histamine. Some of these are:
Next, you’ll want to add foods that are high in DAO to your diet. By increasing your intake of this enzyme, you can provide your body with what it needs to break down excess histamine.
Foods that are a good source of DAO include those rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like:
Phosphorous is another nutrient that can help boost DAO levels. Phosphorous-rich foods include:
Calcium and magnesium are also important for DAO production. Some foods rich in these minerals are:
You should also make sure you’re getting plenty of iron to raise DAO levels. Good food sources of iron include:
Nutrients like vitamin B12 and “good” saturated fats can also help fuel DAO production, so you’ll want to include those in your diet, too.3
Do you feel like your life is one long allergy attack? You may be experiencing histamine intolerance. At My Pure MD, we can make a diagnosis based on your symptoms and work with you to create a treatment plan, including dietary changes, that can help treat your histamine intolerance naturally. By avoiding excess histamine and boosting DAO levels, you can bring your body back into balance.