Reacting to Histamine – Allergy or Intolerance?

histamine

Many of us will have heard of histamine intolerance, and know about anti-histamines (tablets usually taken for hayfever or allergic reactions), but what causes histamine intolerance and how does that relate to allergy?
Histamine is a chemical which occurs naturally in some foods. It is also a biochemical that is produced by the body as part of an allergic reaction, causing swelling, rashes and itching, sneezing, sickness, diarrhoea, stomach pains and respiratory problems.
If you have an allergic reaction such as hayfever or a food allergy, allergy to animal hair or house dust, moulds or latex then the immediate response will involve an immune response involving production of IgE antibodies and high levels of histamine in your body.
Histamine can also be found in high levels in some foods, for example:

  • Champagne, wine and beer
  • Cider and fermented drinks
  • Chocolate
  • Cola
  • Yeast extract
  • Dried fruits
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Tinned vegetables
  • Mushrooms and Quorn
  • Processed meats
  • Pickles
  • Mayonnaise and ketchup and some dressings
  • Tofu and soya sauce
  • Vinegar
  • Smoked fish and crustaceans
  • Mature cheese

In most healthy people histamine that is ingested is broken down by an enzyme in the body called diamine oxidase. However, some people have low levels of this enzyme and the histamine cannot be broken down properly. When these people eat histamine rich foods then they react in a way almost like they are having an allergic reaction. They then experience headaches, rashes, itching, diarrhoea, sickness and/or stomach pain associated with allergy. This can be very distressing.
There are other foods too which, whilst not high in histamine, can trigger the release of histamine in the body. Foods such as tomatoes, spinach, strawberries, kiwi, aubergine, most nuts, many spices and citrus fruits can also be problematic.
If you suspect that you have histamine intolerance you should be followed up by your doctor to get checked out. Diagnosis of histamine intolerance, however, is achieved by following a low histamine diet for a few weeks to see if there is improvement. You might like to contact a BANT-registered Nutritional Therapists who would be able to advise you.

Everyone is different and so some people with histamine intolerance will be able to tolerate some foods but not others, it may take time to find out what suits. Taking a regular antihistamine is often helpful but not ideal long term.
In terms of whether reacting to histamine is an allergy or intolerance? Well technically it’s both, and understanding the mechanisms involved can often help in managing the condition.
Why not chat to our friendly and knowledgeable team on 0800 074 6185 to find out more about how our testing could help you.