Histamine intolerance

November 12, 2012

Histamine intolerance

Histamine is produced by the body to counter allergic reactions, and some foods contain high levels of histamine.

Histamine is part of a group of compounds known as amines; it has biological effects on the body, as it binds to bodily tissue it may then cause skin, gastrointestinal, cardiac and/or nervous system symptoms.

Histamine intolerance

In a normal allergic reaction the body produces its own high levels of histamine in response to something it perceives to be attacking the body be it food, drink, dust, bee sting etc. This reaction then causes the familiar symptoms of rash, hives, edema, wheeziness, anaphylactic shock etc. for which anti-histamines may be prescribed.

However, histamine intolerance varies from this in that people with this condition react to foods that have high levels of naturally occurring histamine, the reaction to a high level of histamine is not necessarily instant – it has been found that for those with the condition the histamine can gradually build up in the body over time before causing widespread symptoms.

Research has shown that those who are intolerant to histamine also appear to have low levels of one of two enzymes which bind to and metabolize histamine.


The most common symptoms of histamine intolerance are:

  • Migraine

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms

  • Hives, eczema, allergic rhinitis

  • Flushing

More serious symptoms include:

  • Asthma attacks

  • Anaphylactic shock

  • Arrhythmia

It is also thought that histamine intolerance may be associated with serious illnesses such as Crohn’s disease.

Foods that are high in histamine

As a rule of thumb foods with high histamine levels are generally highly processed, fermented or aged and include – wine; aged cheese; foods containing yeast; sauerkraut’ spinach and tomatoes.

Citrus fruits are not recommended for anyone following a strict histamine free diet because although they do not have a high level of histamine they can release it in the body after ingestion.

‘Red wine migraines’ may well be the result of histamine intolerance, but, again, anyone following a strict histamine free diet should abstain from all alcohol since it can reduce the effectiveness of DAO, one of the enzymes associated with histamine.


Giving a definite diagnosis of histamine intolerance is difficult. If the patient has recurring symptoms then he or she will probably be asked to keep a food and symptom diary for a number of weeks, should this then indicate possible histamine intolerance the patient will be advised to follow a strict histamine free diet for a further few weeks. After this a double blind test will be administered the results of which will afford the best diagnosis.

Treating and living with histamine intolerance

The strict adherence to a histamine free diet is the only long term treatment for intolerance to histamine and will alleviate the symptoms thereby bringing relief to the patient. Your medical practitioner will advise that you avoid fermented and aged foods as well as those vegetables which contain high histamine levels.

Some medications can interfere with that actions of both the enzymes associated with histamine – you may therefore have to have medication switched or the dose altered.

Some supplements which may be taken alongside the histamine free diet – but definitely not instead of – include high dose vitamin C and B6, plus DAO capsules.

Category: Articles