You’re breaking out in hives, experiencing nasal congestion or a runny nose, have red eyes, or are sneezing a lot. You figure you have an allergy and pop antihistamines to quell the symptoms, and you feel better…temporarily…maybe.
Perhaps your symptoms seem less related to allergies, like diarrhea, asthma-type, headaches, brain fog, or irregular heartbeat, among others. So you see a specialist and your tests come back negative, leaving the only option a prescription or recommendation for an OTC medication that may suppress those symptoms for a while so you can return to some level of comfort.
After a while, neither of these “solutions” works well, or maybe they stop working altogether. Your problem may be that you have a histamine intolerance – this doesn’t mean that you’re allergic to histamines, it means that you either have an overabundance of histamines in your system or your body can’t break them down as quickly as it should.
In a balanced immune system, histamines – a natural biochemical – are released as an inflammatory immune response to allergens when your body senses an attack. Although the reactions they create cause us discomfort, they’re actually serving a purpose in sending blood rushing to the source of the problem. But when the enzymes that break down histamines don’t do their job or there aren’t enough of them, you end up with histamine intolerance. It’s a reaction caused by foods with higher histamine levels that trigger a “pseudoallergy” reaction – the body reacts as if allergens are present when none are actually there.
If you think you might have a histamine intolerance, you can try an elimination diet to avoid foods that are high in histamines, trigger the release of histamines, or block the histamine-controlling enzyme called Diamine Oxidase (DAO). Some (but certainly not all) of these foods include:
- processed foods
- fermented foods
- smoked meats
- energy drinks
Now, you’re probably thinking, “But some of those things like avocados, spinach, and tomatoes are part of a healthy diet!” And you’d be right. But eliminating these known histamine triggers will tell you whether you have a histamine intolerance and relieve your symptoms. Your functional medicine doctor can guide you in this practical approach, determine the correct supplements for your individual issues, and/or order lab tests.
While on your elimination diet, replace problematic foods with low-histamine choices (avoiding any you may have allergies or sensitivities to); here’s a very small sample:
- gluten-free grains
- fresh meats
- sweet potato
- summer squash
There are a number of reasons why you may have a histamine intolerance, and as a functional medicine doctor, my job is to find the underlying cause rather than just treating the symptoms. Among the possible root causes of histamine intolerance are poor gut health, DAO deficiency, high histamine intake, or impaired histamine breakdown (possibly caused by medications or other health-related issues). Lab tests, a detailed review of your medical history and/or any current or long-term medications you take, and more can help make a final determination as to whether you’re suffering from histamine intolerance.