Chef Ellen


The Stuff Allergies Are Made of… Plus So Much More

Blog Disclaimer: This blog is a long one, reader. I am passionate about bringing more attention to histamine intolerance in the body. As someone who has struggled with many intestinal/hormonal unrests, getting off the hamster wheel and finding answers started with investing the time to learn, facilitating some detective work, and making changes by digging deeper. Please take the time to read through it, grasp what you need, and apply where you see fit, embracing your best health for all the right reasons.


Histamine is a chemical compound stored in the mast and other immune cells. It is most known for its role in allergic reactions. With help from neurons throughout the body, histamine protects by producing itching or hives, most commonly with food allergies, but at times vomiting or diarrhea occurs. Even more severe is the likeliness of life-threatening anaphylaxis. When the central nervous system is overloaded or compromised, this impairment can result in an overproduction of histamine, causing adverse effects on gastrointestinal, mental, immune, and behavioral functions.


Most of us associate the act of histamine with allergy season. Stuffy nose and hay fever, anyone? Pop an antihistamine and get on with your day. But would it surprise you to know that histamine’s diverse actions also include regulating immune responses, gastric acid secretion (necessary to break down food), inflammation, smooth muscle (muscles in the stomach, bladder, intestines, and uterus) regulation, and histamine-producing cells responsible for cognitive functions (regulating attention, alertness, and our ever-critical sleep-wake cycle)?


It’s a mouthful, a duty, and quite a demanding job that this chemical compound receives daily, but what happens when the management of histamine in one’s body goes haywire?


Histamine intolerance occurs when there is an overproduction of histamine or when our body cannot efficiently break it down due to a lack of the enzyme diamine oxidase (DAO). This enzyme breaks down the histamine we take in from food. A lack of the enzyme is also associated with some medications, leaky gut, bacterial overgrowth, and an excess of histamine-rich foods. 


Histamine is a chemical your body naturally makes but is also present in some foods and triggered by others. Other factors associated with histamine intolerance are genetics, kidney and liver disease, medications (blood pressure meds, opioids/narcotics, muscle relaxers, diuretics, antibiotics, antidepressants, and H2 blockers), and age (common in people over the age of 40) 


This imbalance affects normal body function; responses and symptoms include:

  • Cramping

  • Runny nose

  • Sneezing

  • Watery Eyes

  • Digestive issues

  • Dizziness

  • Flushing

  • Headaches/Migraines/Brain Fog

  • Dizziness/Vertigo

  • Reflux/Heartburn

  • Intense PMS

  • Anxiety

  • Heat Intolerance

  • Low blood pressure, irregular heartbeat

  • Hives, rashes, itchy skin, and eczema

  • Sudden excessive sweating


These symptoms may irritate and become bothersome; they are the measures our bodies use to protect against infection. The overproduction of histamine can occur for several reasons. Looking for a root cause is discovering the origin of problems to identify appropriate solutions. Root cause issues associated with histamine intolerance include:

  • Insufficient DAO enzyme (metabolizes histamine)

  •  Leaky Gut/Poor Gut Health

  •  Bacterial Overgrowth

  • Mold Toxicity

  • Chronic Stress

  • Long Term Meds (NSAIDS)

  • Excess Alcohol Consumption

  • Under-Methylation (deficiencies of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, magnesium, B6, and methionine) 

  • Overconsumption of histamine foods (see below)

  • Candida Overgrowth

  • SIBO


One would be more likely to develop histamine intolerance if experiencing a gastrointestinal disorder. Intestinal issues associated with an overproduction of histamine:

  • Colon Polyps

  • Malabsorption

  • Celiac Disease

  • IBS/IBD (Crohn’s)

  • Bacterial Overgrowth

  • Food Allergies

  • Acid Reflux

  • Morning Sickness


Hormonal disorders linked to histamine intolerance:

  • Endometriosis

  • Thyroid Problems

  • Insomnia

  • Anxiety/Depression


Foods containing histamine are aged and fermented, alcohol (especially red wine), canned fish, dried fruit, eggplant, processed and smoked meats, shellfish, spinach, and tomatoes. These foods will feed the imbalance and make symptoms like congestion, headaches, fatigue, hives, or itching more uncomfortable. Foods that can trigger histamine release are alcohol, bananas, beans, some citrus (lemons, limes, and oranges), food dyes, papaya, tomatoes, and nuts (walnuts, cashews, and peanuts), along with preservatives and additives. Because histamine is required for digestion and is released into the digestive tract every time you eat, at times, it may appear that you are reacting to everything you consume. 


We typically take histamine blockers called antihistamines (Benadryl, Claritin, and Zyrtec) to block or counteract the effects of too much histamine. These medicines quickly relieve allergy symptoms like hives, insect bites, and hay fever. If you deal with uncomfortable seasonal allergy responses, consider those trigger foods, and avoid them when you know histamine levels are high—as this action will aid in alleviating short-term bothersome issues. 


Furthermore, more reasons to eat plant-based foods support dietary plant polyphenols, which are a proactive consideration. These naturally occurring compounds with antioxidant properties and natural antihistamine stabilizers counteract high histamine levels. These stabilizing compounds are present in vitamin C–rich foods such as berries, broccoli, cauliflower, citrus, and tropical fruits. Other sources are beverages (coffee and tea), chocolate, flaxseeds, legumes, nuts, oils, olives, and spices. Yes, lemon can trigger a histamine release or tame a reaction because it is also rich in polyphenolic compounds. One size does not fit all. You are your best judge in these situations. 


These various polyphenolic compounds are also associated with reducing inflammation markers, improving insulin resistance, repairing cells, and protecting against oxidative stress to vital cells. One could also keep a food diary to track symptoms, as histamine intolerance can be hard to diagnose. Blood tests can measure the amount, and allergy skin tests can aid in identifying or ruling out food allergies. DAO supplementation is another avenue where studies have positive results in relieving bothersome symptoms in as little as two weeks.


Support positive communication of cells receiving and sending critical information from the body to the brain and back to one’s body. Understanding the underlying mechanisms of histamine dysregulation is vital for developing effective treatments for histamine-related disorders. Optimizing health outcomes comes with knowledge, supportive measures, and awareness. Understanding your body contributes to superior management of potential ailments, a higher quality of life, and aging well.


In good health!


Please check out one of the newest recipes using spaghetti squash and the ever-popular hearts of palm noodles for a nutritious plant-based alternative to pasta.

 Spaghetti Squash Recipe art