Are You Histamine Intolerant?

Updated: Jun 28, 2020

The Carnivore Diet & Histamine Intolerance

This article is about histamine intolerance: what it is, how to determine whether you suffer from histamine intolerance, what a low histamine diet looks like, and how you can modify your diet to discover what you are sensitive to.

You’ve likely heard of “histamine intolerance” - here’s some insight on such. Histamine itself is not a problem, it actually serves many purposes within the immune, digestive & nervous systems.

Histamine is a vital signaling molecule in the immune, digestive, and nervous systems. It is released during an immune reaction to help fight a foreign agent or allergen. Histamine triggers the release of stomach acid to help digestion, and it serves as a neurotransmitter, carrying chemical messages between nerve cells.

A brief 101 of how histamine is made & broken down:

Decarboxylase convert amino acids (histidine) to biogenic amines (histamine) by chopping off the carboxyl group. See the imagine below for the specific pathways involved in this process.

what is histamine intolerance
what is histamine intolerance

For example, during immune reactions, histamine is released and encourages the immune system to fight pathogens. Within the digestive system, histamine aids in the digestion of food by triggering the release of stomach acid. And in the nervous system, histamine serves as a neurotransmitter, carrying chemical messages between nerve cells & modulating a number of important processes in the brain (wakefulness, cognitive ability and food consumption).

After histamine delivers a message, it’s usually broken down by neutralizing enzymes (DAO & HMNT), and this process allows the body to maintain optimal amounts of histamine.

This is where the potential problems arise, aka histamine intolerance.

Everyone has their own threshold -- a level of histamine they tolerate without symptoms. Intolerance occurs when more histamine accumulates in the body than we are able to break down effectively – so ‘histamine intolerance’ can be viewed as an enzyme deficiency.

Individuals with an inability to breakdown and remove histamine leads to a buildup, and a number of different symptoms.

Symptoms of Histamine Intolerance

  • Allergic reaction-like symptoms (such as hives, itching, swelling, nasal congestion, and runny nose)

  • Headaches

  • Fatigue

  • Heartburn

  • Indigestion, nausea, reflux, or other digestive issues

Note: histamine tolerance can change during different phases of the menstrual cycle.

Symptoms of histamine intolerance arise when more histamine accumulates in the body than what we are able to break down effectively.

symptoms of histamine intolerance
symptoms of histamine intolerance

The Carnivore Diet & Histamine Intolerance

Here's how to determine whether you are histamine intolerant and how the carnivore diet can help relieve histamine intolerance.

It is estimated that 3-5% of the Western world suffers from histamine intolerance. However, a lot of individuals go undiagnosed, and of this percentage, 80% are middle-aged women.

Histamine intolerance is a symptom of a deeper problem, including:

  • Gut issues, such as SIBO and Kelly gut. With a combination of a compromised gut lining and inefficient histamine breakdown, histamine can leak through the intestinal lining and cause immune responses.

  • Genetic abnormalities (low levels) in DAO (diamine oxidase - you can learn more about it here). DAO deficiency accounts for over 70% of all histamine intolerance.

  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies, such as Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Zinc, & Copper), which are required for DAO to properly break down histamines.

Tips to Reduce Histamine Intolerance: Creating a Low Histamine Diet

While histamine is made in the body, levels can be amplified by diet. Some foods are naturally high in histamine, can trigger the release of histamine, or can block the enzymes that break down histamine (DAO and HMNT).

Here are three tips to reduce histamine intolerance symptoms:

Increase DAO levels

DAO is one of the enzymes that breakdown histamine. Beef kidney is high in DAO, so eating more kidney or taking a desiccated kidney pill from Ancestral Supplements can help.

Avoid alcohol and be careful with medications

Alcohol is a double whammy, it is high in histamine and it inhibits DAO activity. Some medications can also interfere with DAO activity, such as Aspirin.

Consume a low histamine diet

Unfortunately, once histamine is in food, there is no getting rid of it via cooking or freezing. You will need to consider food choices, food handling, and food preparation to limit your exposures to histamines via food.

reduce histamine intolerance
reduce histamine intolerance

To adopt a low histamine diet, follow these guidelines:

Low histamine diet food choices: generally, fresh foods have low histamine, like fresh animal proteins. This is why a carnivore diet can be powerful in dealing with histamine intolerance. View below for some preparation methods you should pay attention to in order to maintain freshness.

Avoid foods with high histamine levels:

  • Alcohol

  • Aged cheeses

  • Pickled and fermented foods

  • Aged, processed, fermented, smoked, and cured meat (such as sausages, ham, bacon, salami)

  • Vinegar

  • Some fish (especially smoked or canned)

  • Chili powder

  • Cinnamon

  • Cloves

  • Yogurt (depends on cultures used)

  • Breads and cakes with yeast

  • Certain plains (avocados, spinach, and eggplant)

Avoid foods that can release histamine:

  • Some fruits (citrus, bananas, strawberries)

  • Chocolate and cacao

  • Shellfish

  • Tomatoes and mushrooms

  • Raw egg whites

  • Nuts

  • Food additives such as glutamates, benzoate, and colorants

Avoid foods that interfere with enzymes that breakdown histamine:

  • Alcohol

  • Some teas (green, black, and mate)

Proper food preparation and handling can also play a role in the histamine build up in foods. Follow the guidelines below to ensure you’re handling food properly to reduce histamines.

Food handling

The longer meat or food is left at room or fridge temp, the more time enzymes in bacteria have to convert amino acids to histamine.

  • The fresher the better, so avoid leftovers

  • Freezing food prevents and slows histamine development

Food preparation

There’s some evidence that histamine levels can increase based on cooking method.

General tips:

  • Thaw, cook, and consume meat on same day Limit slow cooked meat (brisket, braised meat, etc.) and instead sear meat

  • Limit slow cooked bone broth. When making broth, use a pressure cooker to speed up cooking time

low histamine diet
low histamine diet

foods high in histamines
foods high in histamines

If you are unsure whether suffer from histamine intolerance, design your own n=1 experiment!

There are a few methods, such as measuring DAO activity in the blood & urine, but these results do not seem to correlate significantly with symptoms.

Determining If You Are Histamine Intolerant:

  1. Assess symptoms. If you experience any unexplained allergy-like symptoms…

  2. Try consuming a low histamine diet & following the tips provided above for about 2 weeks.

  3. Assess again. Did your symptoms resolve? Did the symptoms return after reintroducing any higher histamine foods?

Self experimentation will be your best tool to determine your histamine threshold!

Most of us likely do not have to worry about histamines, however, many cases do go undiagnosed.

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