Histamines

cheese-and-salame

Histamines are present in many foods, especially those that have been aged. Foods with the highest histamine levels are aged cheeses, yogurt, sour cream, meats, salami, bacon, wine, sauerkraut, pickles, soy sauce, and vinegar. However, they are also found in some fresh fruits and vegetables like spinach, tomatoes, papaya, pineapple, strawberries, eggplant, and citrus fruits. They can also form in meats that have been ground, cyovac’d, canned, smoked, frozen, and stored in the refrigerator after being cooked.

Some people – like myself – have histamine intolerance, and ingesting even the smallest amount can produce a wide variety of unpleasant and disabling symptoms. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Pruritus (itching of the skin, eyes, ears, and nose)
  • Urticaria (hives)
  • Rashes
  • Acne
  • Angioedema (swelling of the face, mouth, and throat)
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Tachycardia (racing heart rate)
  • Arrhythmia
  • Chest pain
  • Panic attack
  • Asthma attack
  • Nasal constriction
  • Flushing of the face and skin
  • Nasal mucus production
  • Conjunctivitis (irritated and watery eyes)
  • Migraines and other types of headaches
  • Dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation)
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Vertigo (dizziness)
  • Balance problems
  • Irritability and impatience
  • Digestive upset
  • Heartburn or gastro-esophageal reflux
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea

The cause of histamine intolerance may be multifaceted. One of the most likely causes is a deficiency of one or both of the enzymes responsible for breaking down and eliminating histamines from the body. As Maintz and Novak explain in their comprehensive review article,

“Histamine intolerance results from a disequilibrium of accumulated histamine and the capacity for histamine degradation. Histamine is a biogenic amine that occurs to various degrees in many foods. In healthy persons, dietary histamine can be rapidly detoxified by amine oxidases, whereas persons with low amine oxidase activity are at risk of histamine toxicity. Diamine oxidase (DAO) is the main enzyme for the metabolism of ingested histamine. It has been proposed that DAO, when functioning as a secretory protein, may be responsible for scavenging extracellular histamine after mediator release. Conversely, histamine N-methyltransferase, the other important enzyme inactivating histamine, is a cytosolic protein that can convert histamine only in the intracellular space of cells.”

Many things can potentially interfere with the production of Diamine oxidase and N-methyltransferase. According to Dr. Amy Meyers in her blog post on this subject, these including Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative colitis, Inflammatory bowel disease, leaky gut, gastointestinal infections, genetic mutations, mitochondrial dysfunction, and a wide variety of medications such as pain relievers, antidepressants, immune modulators, and even certain antihistamines.

The most powerful thing someone with histamine intolerance can do is to simply avoid foods that are known to be high in histamines. However, this can be a real challenge for someone who wants to do a low carb ketogenic diet or even a zero carb diet, as high-histamine foods often play a central role in low-to-no carb diets. And, if you are unaware that you are histamine intolerant, following the food recommendations espoused by most of the low and zero carb advocates can leave you feeling down right awful. When I first embarked upon a low carb ketogenic diet and then a more restricted zero carb approach, this is precisely what happened to me because almost everything I ate was high very in histamines. The only thing that did not make me feel too bad was raw egg yolks and heavy cream! I knew and felt that what my body really wanted was red meat, but every time I tried it I got a terrible migraine, severe digestive upset, and lots of mucus.

Fortunately, I did not have to flounder around in the dark for to long. Amber, a Zero Carb blogger with food sensitivities similar to mine referred me to an excellent article on histamine intolerance by Dr. Georgia Ede who – incidentally – also has a long history of bizarre reactions to a great many foods herself and eats a mostly meat diet as a result. I could not believe what I was reading! I had practically every symptom on the list. It was an incredible relief to finally understand why I was reacting badly to so many foods, but it was also stunning to me that no doctor I have consulted during the past 20 years every suggested histamine intolerance (or salicylate intolerance) as a possible cause of all my problems.

Now, the only thing I needed to do was find a source of unaged meat. However, that is easier said than done. It took me a few weeks, but I finally found a small local butcher shop that carries fresh-frozen, unaged, grassfed veal. It is likely that there are still some histamines present in this meat, as histamines continue to form even while meat sits passively in frozen storage. But the level must be considerably less because I respond to it way better than any of the other meats I tried previously. Discovering that I am histamine intolerant is just as huge as discovering that I am salicylate intolerant. It has provided me with enormous clarity regarding the path I need to follow, and I can finally move forward with confidence.

It may be possible to restore one’s ability to properly metabolize histamines, but the process is complex and may take years to accomplish. Nevertheless, if you feel that you may have histamine intolerance, I encourage you to read Joseph Cohen’s comprehensive blog post outlining the possible avenues for investigation. One of the easiest things you can do is a trial run with DAO enzymes to see if they make any difference in how you feel. I am planning to experiment with this myself in the near future. But for now, I am simply going to seek out and eat only those meats that have not been subjected to any intentional aging process. It is possible that my gut will heal on this diet, and one day I will be able to eat a wider variety of meats. Time will tell.

63 thoughts on “Histamines

  1. “Histamine, tyramine, cadaverine, spermine, spermidine, putrescine, tryptamine, and agmatine are considered to be the most important biogenic amines occurring in foods ”

    true… but even joe cohen is clueless WHY this happens, WHAT is deranging the intricate and complex regulatory system
    .
    I have found that jawbone cavitations are most of the time the root cause of histamine hypersensitivity. I have my patients remove all root.canals teeth (always badly infected with huge production and download of the abovementioned poisons) and have all the extraction sites, wisdoms on top, re-opened and curetted, ozonated and finally neuraltherapy (procaine) applied to the clean bone to restore cellular and meridians function..
    after this job is done (by a specifically trained neurofocal dentist, like this one, http://naturaldentistry.us/holistic-dentistry/meridian-tooth-chart-from-encinitas-dentist/
    stay away from others!!) , ,ALL ALLERGIES usually disappear within weeks or months, having freed the body from its toxic, metabolic burden that is “SHORTING” up a gazillion of enzymatic patways, histamine included..
    few NAET treatments with histamine vial and sensitive food groups might help to speed up the process .
    i have seen hundreds of cases, with pretty awesome results when the job, diet and dental work is managed properly.. being already on a zero carb diet is the best starting point!!
    I suggest reading
    cr. munro hall book : Toxic dentistry exposed
    video:

    below: dr. adler about wisdoms, the worst offenders… when still in or when taken out as video above…
    http://www.healingteethnaturally.com/impacted-wisdom-teeth-testimonials.html

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    • Thanks for your comments and links, Ricky. In my case, I believe is started with a GI infection I acquired in India at age 16. That, coupled with a vegan diet high in wheat, lead to the expression of Celiac disease. I have no root canals and very few fillings (no more Mercury). I do have a friend who has severe mastocytosis and many of the same issues as me who had extensive work done for jaw bone cavitations where his wisdom teeth had been removed. It helped for a while, but the benefits did not last more than about a year. He then had more surgery, but experienced no benefits this time. As far as NAET is concerned, I did that for 8 months without any benefit. But they are all issues worth exploring.

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      • yes… as a NAET therapist i can now state that without ruling out all the dental issues, such technique is often useless.
        once cavitations and wisdoms are out , neuraltherapy has been applied to jump-start teeth meridians, works like magic! :-O
        sadly, I am probably one of the few that made the connection… most others abandon naet after a while, as I almost did.
        i now use it only AFTER dental job, (if needed) or in the (very rare) cases non needing dental care.
        if your friend did not follow cavitation with neuraltherapy , no results, sorry… missing the last crucial step often times is fatal for missing the finish line…
        do you still have wisdoms in your mouth? even if apparently “normal”, they affect heavily metabolism, small intestine, blood count, circulation.

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    • Ricky, I am hoping you are still active on this site. I am going through this very thing. I have had 2 operations so far and have 2 to go. I have been following up with ozone injections weekly into the cavitation sites and am starting the procaine this week. Apparently my dentist does the procaine into acupunture meridians from the jaw down through the neck. everything I eat makes my throat raw and ear plug up. I feel like I have strep throat and an ear infection24/7. On top of that every single time I eat I feel sick. I have started the all meat diet with the tiniest bit of relief. Is there any advise you can give to push things along a little quicker. This has been going on about ten years and has gotten really bad the last three. Thanks in advance

      PS. My problems all started from an accident where I broke several back teeth had root canals that became infected.

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        • I am not a doctor but do have no root canals, no wisdom teeth and a vast majority of the symptoms listed. Any insult in the body can cause mastocytosis like symptoms, if you have a Mast Cell Disorder, like MCAS.

          Often, higher doses of anti-Histamine, healing histamine diets, and supplements like Quercetin can help.

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          • I only learned about Mastocytosis and MCAS last year. I have read Dr. Lawrence Afrin’s book. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the underlying cause of all my food intolerance issues. Thank you for your input.

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    • For future readers, check out MTHFR.net, histamine intolerance is usually caused by MTHFR and Dao genetic mutations leading to a lack of ability to digest or clear histamine from the body. Not your dental work.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello Esmee,

    Thank you for this amazing website and all your hard work to make it happen.

    As with yours, my own health is very sensitive to histamines. I have been looking for a local butcher who has recently slaughtered meat. Thus far, none.

    Once I find one, I might need to buy in bulk and freeze most of it. I am wondering if putting meat in the freezer will slow down the growth of histamines.

    Also, I wonder if freezing meat causes its quality to be degraded somehow.

    Might you have any insights into these things?

    Again, thank you very much,

    Todd

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    • Hi Todd, yes freezing slows histamine production considerably. I buy my meat two days after slaughter and freeze it immediately. I have not had any problems with this. There probably is some loss of quality to the meat once it is frozen, but for me the histamine issue is much more important. If you live liver, you could always try to get your hands on some fresh grassfed liver and eat it for extra nutrition. Thanks for your questions.

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  4. Hello Esmee,

    I just found a local butcher who has freshly slaughtered meat. It is from lamb. The fattiest selection they had was shoulder. I bought five pounds to try it out.

    Unfortunately, it was an un-chewable tangle of tendons and bones. Also, it was not nearly as fat as, say, a rib eye from beef.

    I wonder if you might share which low histamine cuts work best for you?

    Thank you again for trying this zero plant food approach, as well as for all your hard work to share your discoveries with us!

    Todd

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    • Hi Todd, I have found a butcher who gets fresh pork in once a week. They are able to grind it and put it in the freezer within two days of the animal being slaughtered. They portion it into 1 lb. packages for easy use. I have not been reacting to this meat. I thaw a package in warm water just before use. I add butter to my meat for extra fat because that seem to work better for me. Nest time, maybe you could have your butcher take all the toughest parts and grind them for you and package in meal size portions for you. Your other option would be to buy lamb shoulder chops and pan fry them. The main thing is to not cook more than you think you will eat because any left overs will become high in histamines by the next day. Also, the meat needs to go in the freezer as you bring it home unless you plan to eat it immediately. Long slow cooking, like in a crock pot, will also create more histamines. Ground meat creates histamines really fast too, so if you are buying meat from a fresh lamb, don’t buy ground meat that has been sitting in the case. Have the butcher grind it for you fresh, and then get it in the freezer as quickly as possible. I hope this helps. Esmee

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      • Hi Esmee, thanks for such a useful article and blog in general. One thing I don’t quite understand is why grinding or mincing results in higher rates of histamine production – can you point to some other articles or research papers dealing with this? Does it make a really big difference? I’ve tried searching around elsewhere for information but haven’t found much. Thanks, Joe.

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        • It causes a lot more surface area exposure to oxygen and bacteria. Histamines are created by bacteria on the surface of the meat. So mincing and grinding creates more surface area for bacteria to reach. If you buy meat from a market that is already ground, it has a sour taste. But if you buy a whole piece of chuck roast from the market and grind it fresh yourself just before eating, it has no sour taste. Plus, butchers often make ground beef out of many scraps which are smaller and have also been exposed to more oxygen and bacteria, and thus have more histamines before even going into the grinder.

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          • Thanks very much. I have noticed that sour taste of pre-minced raw meat, even when the butchers have said it was only minced a day ago.
            If the bacteria only exist on the surface, surely storage in an antibacterial liquid would prevent histamine formation? And when large chunks of meat are aged and the outer layer is scraped off, would that not remove almost all of the histamine? Do the amines diffuse into the meat or are they only present on the surface?
            Thanks, Joe.

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          • Cutting off a thin outer layer of the whole piece of meat does reduce histamines. Sometimes washing it is sufficient. I would never eat anything soaked in an antibacterial solution though.

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          • Nor would I eat meat soaked in an antibacterial solution. Butchers usually do trim the outer layer off aged meat I think. It seems the histamine-producing enzymes can diffuse deeper into the meat from the surface bacteria.
            Cooking is supposed to destroy the enzymes but it seems the rate of histamine formation is even higher afterwards compared with raw meat. Thanks, Joe.

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          • Do you know if pure fat, eg. suet, contains significant levels of histamines? Same rules apply regarding ageing and mincing? (I eat a lot of raw minced suet.) Thanks, Joe.

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          • Suet is specifically fat that is around the kidneys. It is unique in texture, very dry, dense, and hard. I have tried to grind it in my own grinder with leaner cuts and it clogs up the machine and shuts it down. It has a bit of a gamey taste like the kidneys themselves. I have tried it and do not do well with it. Organ meats are high in histamines and I believe suet may be also simply due to its proximity to them. Tallow is cooked, rendered beef fat and it is very high in histamines in my experience. Raw beef fat from beef muscle meat, if fresh, seems to be fairly low in histamines. It all depends on how long the meat was aged.

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          • Yes, suet has a distinct taste and texture. It is hard but less rubbery and so very easy to chew, similar consistency to cheese. I’ve found eating body fat really causes digestive problems and usually unpallatable, although the muscle fat that comes with steaks is fine. However the steaks I get are not nearly fatty enough to provide enough energy so I eat them with suet in a roughly 1:1 ratio. The taste of suet takes some getting used to but after a while you can eat large amounts raw. It is unfortunately pre-minced by butcher which may mean high rates of histamine production, but only stored for around 2 days at cool (not freezing) temperatures. I had assumed all fat would be low in histamines because there is less protein available to convert to histamine but perhaps this is mistaken. Why are organ meats high in histamines? I was under the belief that all animal products (whether meat, fat, internal organs etc.) had virtually no histamines when fresh and the levels depended on storage time and temperature, and processing.

            I don’t really know where I would get sufficient amounts of fat aside from suet, so am a bit stuck.

            Thanks, Joe.

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          • If you are eating suet and feeling good, then I see no reason why you should discontinue doing so. I wish it worked for me! I find there is a big difference in the digestability of CHOICE vs. PRIME grade with the New York Strip Loin I buy from Costco. The fat is different between these two grades even though it is exactly the same cut of meat. I have no idea why, but the PRIME feels softer and gentler from top to bottom as it travels through my digestive tract.

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          • Hi Esmee,
            I’ll reply to your comment here since I don’t seem to be able to directly. I find I can eat quite a bit of suet but it can cause serious digestive and bowel problems. I’m trying to find find steaks that are high in fat but not the really popular, expensive cuts like rib-eye steak. After searching online it seems that any rib steak is high in fat (eg. short ribs) so I will be trying to get some more of that. Tongue seems to be another high fat, inexpensive cut. Chuck steaks seem to have moderate fat content while loin and rump / round is moderate to low in fat. There are no choice or prime distinctions where I live, but it’s all from a grass-fed local supplier.
            Joe.

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  8. Another part of the histamine puzzle may be this:

    How long will it take to heal histamine intolerance and how long will it take before
    fermented veggies can be introduced? Are there any specific supplements you suggest
    to help with this intolerance?
    It is very individual how long it takes to heal. Keep testing if you are getting more
    tolerant by trying to eat tomato, eggplant or spinach before trying to eat fermented
    vegetables. I believe that it is the abnormal gut flora that produces excessive amounts of
    histamine and also impairs enzymes which break the histamine down in the body.

    This is from the FAQ’s on the site of dr. Natasha Campbell McBride, author of the GAPS program. She advises to use the GAPS dietary protocol to eliminate histamine producing bacteria from the gut. Elswhere in this document she tells that she has a number of patients that are very healthy following a no plant diet.

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  11. Hello Esmee,

    I cannot find any information on the histamine content of beef tallow. I know aged beef has more histamine than some people can tolerate but I am wondering if that is true of beef fat alone. I want to try restricting histamine from my diet but would like to cook lamb in beef tallow if it is suitable as I have a good supply of tallow on hand.

    If it is not low in histamine I will use butter instead.

    Thanks for all the great information.

    Derek

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    • Hi Derek, unfortunately I do not know the answer to your question. I have wondered about that myself because I do not personally do well with tallow or any rendered fat. Butter that has been cultured can be very high in histamines as well. It makes me feel really bad. I have never actually tried uncultured butter for comparison. I have just been sticking to rare chuck roast steaks and not adding extra fat. That has been working pretty well for me.

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  12. something is messing me up. I am trying to figure out if its eggs. I feel like crap for a couple days. I only am eating meat, eggs and water right now. Esmee, should i cut the eggs out and see if that helps?

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  13. Esmee, I tried posting once but the page disappeared. I hope I’m not reposting. Anyway I’m 30 days in and doing quote well except for gerd and histamine issues which are probably responsible for the gerd. Anyway, my question is have you had any relief from this horrible histamine issue. Does broth help? Does fasting help? Will time cure this? I can only find out what it is and can’t find anyone who has actually cured it. Any thoughts?

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    • I did a 16 water fast about 8 months after starting ZC, and it significantly increased my tolerance for histamines. I am now able to eat beef from a regular market without getting a migraine. The GERD mayor may not be related to histamines. Many people have found that they simply do not do well with rendered or overly cooked fats and meats. Dairy can also be a problem for some in this regard. Can you give me more details of what you are eating?

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      • Thank you for the answer. What I am eating exactly is alot of steak with fat (blue rare). I have a fair amount of bacon and sausage sort of a side dish. Occasionally I will have sausage patties for lunch but lately I’ve been intermittent fasting every other day.
        I have eliminated all dairy and eggs they make me sick

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        • Sausage and bacon are both very high in histamines. I cannot get near them. The best thing to do is just fresh fatty beef and water for 30 days. This will give you a baseline from which to test other ZC foods.

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  15. Did you ever try a DAO enzyme? I have problems with Histamine intolerance and I want to try this but I’m not sure which brand I should go with. I like to be very selective when it comes to supplements as there are some very unscrupulous companies out there and I’d like to not waste my money on something that either doesn’t work or is filled with junk. Any help would be appreciated.

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  17. Try finding a halal or kosher butcher.
    By law, they must sell meat within 24 hours of slaughter.
    Any city with large moslem or large Orthodox Jewish communities should have a butcher. Lamb isn’t usually aged, so that’s a safe choice.

    But they probably won’t be grass fed, organic. If you live in NYC or Toronto, you might find grass fed kosher meat, but otherwise, you can’t even find it on the West Coast.

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    • I ‘ve found kosher pastured turkey at Sprouts. Not that I’m a big fan of ground turkey, just paasing along the info.

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  18. sorry if this is a stupid question. I have killer seasonal allergies. completely fine in the winter. spring summer fall, unbarebly itchy throat, sneezing, snotty mess. so im not sure, are you saying that what I eat can help alleviate this too? (been LC 6months/preparing to begin ZC journey!)

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    • Histamines present in aged foods are a different thing than histamines produced in our bodies. But it is possible that by eliminating all plant foods from you diet, your seasonal pollen allergies will become less. Only way to find out is to try it.

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  19. I’ve had mysterious health issues since teens, now in my 30s. I’m under the care of several brilliant doctors here in Boston. Most recent theory was systemic mastocytosis after severe reaction (bone pain and CRP of 160) after infection/penicillin/sugary high gluten food combination. (Also have history of aseptic meningitis after sugar/alcohol/sun/antibiotic combination.) I also am responding well to high dose antihistamine (Zyrtec). I react to mastocytosis triggers and have many of the typical reaction symptoms. Bone marrow biopsy was normal and disproved systemic mastocytosis. Young son has same symptoms along with neuromuscular issues since birth, also unknown origin. Does this sound familiar to you who have histamine intolerance? Or does this some more complex/different? We were referred to genetic center at Boston Children’s to look into what genes my son and I have in comparison to other two sons and husband. Any ideas/tips for us? I gained a lot from this post and comments section. Thank you!

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    • I only learned about Mast Cell Disorders last year. I read Dr. Lawrence Afrin’s book and an now 100% convinced that I have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. I am still not officially diagnosed, but it is the only thing that makes any sense to me after 30 years of reacting to pretty much all foods on the planet.

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