Note from Magdalena: This article was contributed by my good friend Beth O’Hara is a Functional Naturopath, specializing in complex chronic health conditions related to Mast Cell Activation and Histamine Intolerance.


Menstrual problems, digestive issues, fatigue, acid reflux, weight gain, hair loss, trouble sleeping, and anxiety — Do any of these symptoms sound familiar to you?

A patient of mine, “Mary,” had been dealing with histamine intolerance and hormone imbalance for years. She had seen numerous medical specialists who all treated these symptoms separately. Yet, she never seemed to get better. Mary had tried numerous medications, all with a host of side effects she didn’t like.

When Mary and I started working together, I knew pretty quickly there was one major issue linking all these symptoms: too much histamine.

This excess histamine was the root of all her symptoms.

Histamine plays a major role in hormone balance, and it could be the culprit behind your own symptoms too.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • What Is Histamine?
  • Signs and Symptoms of High Histamine
  • What is Histamine Intolerance?
  • The Histamine and Hormone Connection
  • 7 Ways to Naturally Lower Histamine
  • High Histamine Foods
  • Histamine-Reducing Foods
  • A Very Important Tip

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
  • Rashes
  • Nasal and sinus congestion
  • Excess mucus
  • Swelling and redness of eyes
  • Heartburn, reflux, indigestion
  • Diarrhea
  • Sleep issues – falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Low blood pressure or high blood pressure
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Food sensitivities
  • Fatigue
  • 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
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Anxiety or panic-like symptoms
  • Depression
  • 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, histamine can build to high levels.

Think of histamine intolerance like a sink with a drain. Histamine flows in from the faucet and the enzymes are the drain that get rid of histamine.

Think of histamine intolerance like a sink with a drain. Histamine flows in from the faucet and the enzymes are the drain that get rid of histamine. If you don’t have enough of the histamine degrading enzymes, the sink will overflow and you will start to experience symptoms. Likewise, if the flow of histamine from the faucet is faster than the drain can keep up with, the sink will also overflow and cause 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
  • Folate (as methylfolate)
  • Vitamin C

If you are low in those nutrients, your body might have trouble producing those histamine-busting enzymes.

When I checked Mary’s genetics for those enzymes, she had a lot of variants for that HNMT enzyme. When we looked at her nutrients, she was very low in vitamin C, B5, and B6. Addressing these deficiencies helped her symptoms considerably.

Here are additional factors that can lead to high histamine levels:

  • Hormone Imbalances
  • Eating too many high-histamine foods
  • Autoimmunity
  • Gut infections (like SIBO or Candida)
  • Chronic infections like Lyme or Epstein Barre
  • Mold toxicity
  • Certain medications
  • Lack of deep sleep
  • Stress

In Mary’s case, she was dealing with most of these listed above. Her diet consisted of many high-histamine foods. She had SIBO and mold toxicity. She was taking medications that were making her histamine intolerance worse. She also wasn’t sleeping well. Yet, the biggest factor for Mary’s high histamine levels was hormone imbalance.

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.

7 Ways to Naturally Lower Histamine

In order to fix histamine intolerance, you need to figure out what the root causes are. (You can read more about mast cell and histamine root causes here.) To figure out your unique root causes, you’ll likely need some lab testing and to work with a histamine specialist. Still, there are a number of steps you can start now to naturally lower your histamine levels.

  1. Balance your hormones naturally
  2. Reduce high histamine foods (listed below)
  3. Emphasize high nutrient foods (listed below)
  4. Take a good quality multivitamin supplement
  5. Avoid high niacin levels in supplements
  6. Take histamine-lowering supplements
  7. 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. You can get the full High and Low Histamine Foods list here.

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
  • Coffee
  • Bone broth
  • Fish and seafood
  • Beef
  • Dried fruits
  • Peanuts and cashews
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Pineapple
  • Citrus

Mary was eating a number of these foods. She would make a big batch of a meal and eat it for 5 days. She also really liked red wine and was drinking a lot of kombucha. She was using bone broth and eating canned salmon. Mary would also have a spinach smoothie every morning. These foods have a lot of great healing properties, so they aren’t bad. However, these may not be the best choices for you if you have histamine intolerance.

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.

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
  • Asparagus
  • Arugula
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage, Green and Red
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Fennel
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Napa cabbage / Chinese cabbage
  • Onions – any kind
  • Scallions (green onions – especially the green parts)
  • Radishes
  • Romaine lettuce, red and green leaf lettuce
  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Cherries
  • Mangos

Mary replaced her spinach smoothie with a blueberry, romaine lettuce, and fennel smoothie. She switched her canned salmon to frozen, wild caught salmon. Instead of kombucha and red wine, she switched to histamine-lowering herbal teas.

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 3 good ones you can begin with:

  • Quercetin
  • Diamine Oxidase
  • Vitamin C as Camu Camu

Let’s review again the steps you can take to lower your Histamine levels.

  1. Balance your hormones naturally
  2. Reduce high histamine foods (listed below)
  3. Emphasize high nutrient foods (listed below)
  4. Take a good quality multivitamin supplement
  5. Avoid high niacin levels in supplements
  6. Take histamine lowering supplements
  7. Relax and meditate daily
  8. Avoid long term antihistamine use if possible

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 Histamine Specialist who is a Functional Practitioner. This kind of practitioner can help you identify your unique root causes in histamine intolerance and create a plan of action.

You want someone who has been working with histamine intolerance for at least 5 years. This is because histamine intolerance is a very complex issue for many people. Luckily, working with the right Histamine Specialist can go a long way to helping you recover your health!

When I worked with Mary, we figured out her underlying root causes to her histamine intolerance. I laid out a step-by-step plan to address these root causes. With a proactive approach, Mary started feeling better within just a few days. Within a couple months, most of her symptoms were gone. Six months later, she felt better than she’d felt in her life.

If you need help, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or to a Functional Practitioner who is a Histamine Specialist to start your journey to healing.

Wishing you the best with your health, hormones, and Histamine levels!

Beth O’Hara is a Functional Naturopath, specializing in complex chronic health conditions related to Mast Cell Activation and Histamine Intolerance, including Autism Spectrum Disorders, Mold Toxicity, Chemical Sensitivities, and Food Sensitivities. She is the founder and owner of Mast Cell 360, a Functional Naturopathy Practice designed to look at all factors surrounding health conditions – genetic, biochemical, mental, emotional, social, and environmental. She holds a Doctorate in Functional Naturopathy, a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, and a Bachelor’s in Physiological Psychology, She is certified in Functional Genomic Analysis. She is also a Research Adviser and educator for the Nutrigenetic Research Institute, presenting at Functional Medicine Conferences and online webinars

If you need help with your Histamine levels, there are tons of free resources at www.mastcell360.com. You can also download the free Root Causes report at www.mastcell360.com/mcas-resources.

 

 

References

Adams, C. (2012). Natural Solutions for Food Allergies and Food Intolerances: Scientifically Proven Remedies for Food Sensitivities. Logical Books: Wilmington.

Bonds, R. S., & Midoro-Horiuti, T. (2013). Estrogen effects in allergy and asthma. Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 13(1), 92-99. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3537328/

Jarisch, R. (Ed.). (2012). Histamine Intolerance: Histamine and Seasickness. Heidelberg: Springer.

Joneja, J. (2017). Histamine Intolearnce: The Comprehensive Guide for Healthcare Professionals. Berrydales Books.

Landucci, E., Laurino, A., Cinci, L., Gencarelli, M., & Raimondi, L. (2019). Thyroid Hormone, Thyroid Hormone Metabolites and Mast Cells: A Less Explored Issue. Frontiers in cellular neuroscience, 13, 79. doi:10.3389/fncel.2019.00079

Maintz, L., & Novak, N. (2007). Histamine and Histamine intolerance. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1185–1196.

Schneider E1, Leite-de-moraes M, Dy-M. Histamine, immune cells and autoimmunity. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2010;709:81-94.

Zierau, O., Zenclussen, A. C., & Jensen, F. (2012). Role of sex hormones, estradiol and Progesterone, in mast cell behavior. Frontiers in Immunology, 3(169). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3377947/

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