Itchy skin, headaches, runny nose, hives...histamine intolerance isn't fun! I know this from personal experience.
When I first started on my health journey, I was eating all the fermented foods, avocados, mackerel, bone broth and raw cacao I could get my hands on.
These are some of the healthiest foods on the planet, right?!
Not for me.
I'd never felt worse!
My face was covered in deep, cystic acne, my scalp felt like it was on FIRE, I had headaches, my skin itched and I had the WORST anxiety.
I know it sounds ridiculous, but I was adamant it was just a detox reaction. *face palm*
Eventually, I came to realise that in fact this wasn't normal, and I was actually dealing with classic signs of histamine intolerance.
Just a few days after removing the histamine laden foods I was consuming and adding in some of the best anti-histamine foods and nutrients, I felt amazing.
If you haven't already, I recommend you check out part 1 of this post called 'Histamine & Your Hormones' , as I cover what histamine actually IS, symptoms of overload and how it can negatively affect our hormones.
Put simply, histamine is a natural molecule found in certain foods and is also a natural component of our immune system. When levels are regulated in the body, it supports our immunity, stomach acid production and brain function, however when we are exposed to too much (from excessive dietary intake, production or impaired breakdown) it can promote inflammation and dysfunction across the entire body.
We all have an individual histamine threshold, however if your tolerance is very low and you seem to be reacting to everything or you struggle with some of the symptoms I described, thats a sign you likely have internal imbalances that need to be addressed.
Read more about the potential symptoms and root causes of histamine intolerance here.
I don't believe histamine intolerance is a condition that we need to suffer with for the rest of our lives.
More complex conditions involving histamine such as Mast Cell Activation Disorder (MCAD) and Mastocytosis, may be more difficult to improve, but I do think it can be possible.
Your body can do amazing things when you give it the right resources and environment.
Here are the main steps to take, in order to improve histamine intolerance naturally...
#1 Improve gut health
Intestinal permeability (aka 'leaky gut'), small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and certain pathogenic infections can all lead to excess histamine production or a reduced ability to breakdown histamine, as the DAO enzyme is located on the brush border of the small intestine.
Consider running a comprehensive stool test like the GI MAP or a SIBO breath test to identify what is going on in your gut. You may not necessarily have ANY gut based symptoms, but that doesn't rule out dysfunction.
Practice mindful eating through not consuming meals in a stressful state, chewing your food until its completely broken down and avoiding distractions at mealtimes. Turn off the news or social media and instead sit in a relaxing environment, whilst really paying attention to the food you are eating.
>> FREE DOWNLOAD: YOUR GUIDE TO A HEALTHY GUT <<
>> FREE DOWNLOAD: YOUR GUIDE TO A HEALTHY GUT <<
#2 Manage stress
When stress hormones are too high or low, this can negatively affect our immune function and inflammation levels. Stress is actually beneficial, to a point, then it becomes destructive and can elevate our blood glucose levels, damage our tissues and affect our hormonal balance.
Consider running a DUTCH Test to assess the state of your adrenal glands and sex hormones. This will help you to determine if high or low cortisol may be exacerbating your symptoms, as symptoms of both can be similar, but treatment can be different.
If possible, remove certain stressors from your environment. For the others that you have less control over, you can change your perception of these 'threats' (this can actually prevent stress hormone release!) and spend some time every single day to help put your body in a calm, relaxed state. This could be through a meditation practice, yoga, walks in nature, epsom salt baths, mantras, dance - whatever you love!
#3 Restore nutrient deficiencies
A bad diet, poor absorption due to digestive issues and excessive stress, can all lead to nutrient deficiencies. We need crucial nutrients such as vitamin C, copper, calcium, magnesium and B6 to support the breakdown and detoxification of histamine. Other nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin D, zinc, folate, selenium and omega 3 fatty acids help to support optimal immune function. Your doctor or health practitioner may be able to test you for some of these nutrient deficiencies.
Start by consuming a nutrient dense, histamine friendly diet (see below) and if you already are, consider supplementing with digestive enzymes to support absorption, whilst you investigate your gut health (if necessary).
I recommend working with a skilled practitioner who can analyse your diet and symptoms, to determine which nutrients you may need to increase, using supplementation.
#4 Support detoxification
When our toxic burden is too high, we are constipated or our liver doesn't have the nutrients needed for detoxification, histamine can build up in the body. Our main organs of detoxification (emunctories) include the lungs, large intestine, kidneys, bladder, skin, lymph, liver and gallbladder. Because the whole body is connected, any dysfunction in one of these systems may actually contribute to histamine sensitivity, inflammation or immune imbalances.
If you aren't already, make sure that you are having at least one bowel movement every day! If you aren't, experiment with slowly increasing fibre intake, hydration, stress relieving activities and exercising daily. Exercise is a great way to support detoxification, however activities that are too intense (such as running, HIIT, Crossfit and hot yoga), may actually trigger a histamine reaction in some people.
Detoxification processes are up-regulated during the night, whilst we sleep, therefore if we aren't getting 7-9 hours each night or struggle with restless sleep, our body can't cleanse, detoxify and renew like it should. A lack of sleep also worsens hormonal balance, increases stress hormones and impairs immunity.
#5 Reduce inflammation
Pretty much every disease and health issue has an inflammatory aspect, histamine intolerance included. A big way that we can influence our inflammation levels, is through the type of fat we consume. Dietary fats can influence the production and release of prostaglandins, which are hormone-like substances, that help control inflammation within the body.
Too much omega 6 fats from dietary sources such as conventionally raised meat and dairy, industrial seed oils, processed foods and nuts can raise inflammation within the body. Omega 3 fats from oily fish, krill oil, algae and small amounts in plant sources like hemp, chia and flax seeds, are actually anti-inflammatory! The ideal omega 6 to omega 3 ratio is 4:1, however the average Western person has a ratio thats anywhere from 12:1 to 25:1! Fish that isn't extremely fresh or flash frozen can be high in histamine. You may tolerate a high quality, omega 3 fish oil supplement though (see supplements below)
Food sensitivities can also lead to inflammation within the body. I recommend being mindful of your intake of histamine rich foods (see diet below) if you are currently struggling with H.I, however you may have other unknown food allergies or sensitivities such as gluten, dairy, corn or eggs too. There are food sensitivity tests available however I'm not a big fan as they are very expensive and not 100% accurate. Instead, I like to recommend a short term elimination diet to help you determine your personal intolerances.
It is important to know that some people who are sensitive to histamine, may also react to other natural food compounds such as oxalates, lectins, salicylates, nightshades or sulphites. Consider looking into these if you are failing to see positive results after making all of the other changes I share in this post. I commonly see people fall down the rabbit hole of these less common food sensitivities, when it isn't necessary. But do keep it in the back of your mind.
#6 Balance sex hormones
Oestrogen increases histamine production and excess histamine stimulates oestrogen...its a vicious cycle! If you are overweight, or dealing with issues such as PMS, endometriosis, PCOS, ovarian cysts, fibrocystic breasts or heavy periods, you are likely oestrogen dominant. This could be due to very high levels of oestrogen, or even 'normal' levels of oestrogen, but low levels of progesterone (relative oestrogen dominance).
Progesterone is needed to 'balance' oestrogen, and counteract some of the potential negative effects. We only produce progesterone after ovulation, therefore if we aren't ovulating or just have very high oestrogen levels, we may have issues with excess histamine in the system too. Reasons for these imbalances include stress, nutrient deficiencies, insulin resistance, thyroid dysfunction, gut infections and excessive body fat.
Start by managing your stress levels, as this is one of the main ways that our hormones can be thrown 'out of whack'. Consume plenty of fibre, particularly from cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale, as these help to detoxify excess oestrogen. Avoid endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC's) in the environment such as plastics, phthalates and parabens, as these can enter our bloodstream and start to mimic/interfere with our own sex hormones.
>> FREE DOWNLOAD: CYCLE SYNCING GUIDE <<
>> FREE DOWNLOAD: CYCLE SYNCING GUIDE <<
#7 Investigate medications
Certain medications such as NSAID's, pain medication, antibiotics and hormonal birth control can actually affect our immune system and either trigger or worsen histamine intolerance in some people. Antihistamine medications can actually lower DAO enzyme in the gut, which is the enzyme that degrades histamine (thats an oxymoron!).
Antihistamines don't actually prevent the release of histamine from mast cells, they just prevent the histamine from reaching the cell receptor sites, stopping histamine from causing symptoms. The problem is that you haven't lowered the amount of circulating histamine and these symptoms will return as soon as the medication wears off.
Many of these medications work by negatively impacting the enzymes which degrade histamine, however they can also deplete nutrients needed for immune function and histamine detoxification. Consider if the drug you are taking is absolutely necessary or speak to your Doctor about trying something else.
#8 Clean up your environment
Stressors in the environment such as mould, heavy metals and endocrine disrupting chemicals, can cause our body to release histamine as a protective mechanism against these 'threats'. Pay attention as to whether your symptoms are worse in different environments, as this could indicate potential mould exposure or different allergens in the air, that you may be sensitive to.
At the end of 2019 I discovered that mould was actually driving my histamine & mast cell issues. I did the Great Plains Lab (GPL) Mycotoxin Urine Test and the results lit up like a Christmas tree! I have since moved homes as my I discovered that it was in fact my HOME that was making me sick.
Try to buy organic food and household items as much as possible. Not only are the foods more nutrient dense but you are also lowering your toxic burden and exposure to pesticides, which have an antibiotic affect on the gut microbiome, therefore impacting our immunity. If you can't afford to buy all organic, check out the Dirty Dozen & Clean Fifteen list, created by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), as this shares the crops that are most and least sprayed.
I also recommend buying a high quality water filter to purify your drinking water (I love the Berkey), an air filter for your bedroom or office and non toxic products for both personal care and cleaning. There are more simple recommendations, for reducing your toxic burden, in my free guide below.
>> FREE DOWNLOAD: LIVE A LOW TOX LIFE <<
>> FREE DOWNLOAD: LIVE A LOW TOX LIFE <<
The first place to start when trying to lower your 'histamine bucket' and prevent it from spilling over and causing symptoms is to reduce your intake of high histamine foods.
This should be done at the same time you are trying to address the underlying imbalances, as diet changes alone aren't enough to overcome histamine intolerance.
In fact, becoming too restrictive will actually make it harder to reintroduce foods in the long run and may actually lead to nutrient depletion which may negatively affect your immune system.
The goal is to keep your diet as broad as possible and it is important to know that everyone's personal sensitivities are different. You may be absolutely fine eating avocados and walnuts, but for someone else, these could be their biggest triggers.
It may be useful to keep a food and symptom journal, to track your progress and monitor your reactions to different foods.
Histamine rich foods
Fermented alcoholic beverages, especially wine, champagne and beer
Fermented foods: sauerkraut, vinegar, soy sauce, kefir, yogurt, kombucha, etc
Vinegar-containing foods: pickles, mayonnaise, olives
Cured meats: bacon, salami, pepperoni, luncheon meats, hot dogs
Soured foods: sour cream, sour milk, buttermilk, sourdough bread
Most citrus fruits
Aged cheese (including goat cheese)
Walnuts, cashews, and peanuts
Vegetables: avocados, eggplant, spinach, and tomatoes
Smoked fish and certain species of fish: mackerel, mahi-mahi, tuna, anchovies, sardines
Old, spoiled or left over foods
Low histamine foods
freshly cooked meat, poultry (frozen or fresh)
freshly caught fish
gluten-free grains: rice, quinoa, oats
fresh fruits: mango, pear, watermelon, apple, kiwi, cantaloupe
fresh vegetables (except tomatoes, spinach, avocado, and eggplant)
dairy substitutes: coconut milk, rice milk, hemp milk, almond milk
cooking fats: olive oil, coconut oil, ghee
The freshness of your food is also a very important factor. When foods degrade or spoil, this increases the histamine content, due to bacterial fermentation.
Here are my top tips...
Eat seasonally and locally as much as possible
Cook from scratch at home, the majority of the time
Purchase meat that is fresh and freeze immediately
Avoid consuming leftovers, if you do make extra food, freeze it
Use an InstantPot to cook meat from frozen and to reduce food preparation time in general
Other supportive nutrients/supplements include:
High quality fish oil (some people cannot tolerate this)
Magnesium & B6
DAO enzymes (very expensive but helpful for some people)
Probiotics (avoid the histamine producing Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus delbrueckii, and Lactobacillus bulgaricus strains)
Once you have addressed your diet and you are starting to work on the root cause of your histamine intolerance, you may find benefit in including one or two of these supplements.
Please DO NOT just go out and buy them all and start supplementing as this can actually make your symptoms worse, in some cases. The body does well with a few, well chosen supplements. So do your research and work with a practitioner who has access to high quality, practitioner grade supplements.
If your supplement is rancid, oxidised or filled with a bunch of fillers or binders, this can actually trigger a histamine reaction, so be careful!
(Speak to your health practitioner if you are taking medication or you are dealing with other health conditions, as these products may be contraindicated)
Histamine intolerance can SUCK, but the good thing is there are so many things we can do to improve our quality of life and improve this condition naturally.
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