Key takeaways

Histamine sensitivity (also known as histamine intolerance) may not be something you've heard of before, but it's a surprisingly common factor in a myriad of health issues we see people present with within our clinic.

Histamine sensitivity may not be immediately apparent and often requires some deep investigation to pinpoint. If you think you might have an issue with histamine, this article gives an overview of what it is, some common symptoms, and causes, and the first steps to take to resolve histamine sensitivity.

What is histamine?

Histamine is an amine found in foods, though is also something our body produces. It's known for its role in allergic responses, including hay fever, but histamine also has many other functions. For example, histamine works as a neurotransmitter, meaning it helps to relay messages between nerve cells in the brain.

It's also a precursor to stomach acid, which helps to break down food in the digestive process. Additionally, histamine is an inflammatory mediator, meaning it plays a role in the body's immune response to infection and injury.

Finally, histamine receptors are found all over the body, so histamine's effects can be wide-ranging and varied.

What is histamine intolerance or sensitivity?

Histamine intolerance is a non-allergic food sensitivity, due to the reduced ability at the intestinal wall to metabolise histamine. Histamine metabolism in the digestive system is dependent on the enzyme DAO (diamine oxidase), and those with histamine intolerance may have DAO deficiency, which can lead to increased circulating levels of histamine.

Symptoms / conditions of histamine intolerance

People experiencing symptoms of histamine intolerance could experience any number or combination of the following:

  • Respiratory - nasal congestion, rhinitis, sneezing
  • Nervous system - headaches/migraines, dizziness
  • Cardiovascular - tachycardia, hypotonia
  • Gastrointestinal - bloating, flatulence, IBS-like symptoms (diarrhoea, constipation)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Post-prandial fullness (fullness after eating)
  • Reproductive - menstrual cramps
  • Skin - dermatitis, swelling, flushing, urticaria

Histamine levels can be affected by hormone levels, so at different life stages, women in particular may experience the onset or worsening of histamine intolerance. Women going through perimenopause are particularly vulnerable to this, and may experience increased histamine sensitivity due to fluctuating hormonal levels.

What causes histamine intolerance?

Histamine intolerance can develop by consuming histamine-containing foods in amounts that exceed the body's ability to metabolise histamine. If your body doesn’t make enough of the DAO enzyme that can also lead to histamine intolerance. Certain medications can also contribute to the development of histamine intolerance due to their effect on DAO.

Another cause of histamine intolerance can be dysbiosis, with certain gut microbes like staphylococcus, proteus, enterobacteriaceae, and clostridium having the potential to release histamine, leading to increased levels of histamine in circulation.

The first steps to help clear histamine from the body

Here are five steps you can take to reduce histamine levels:

  1. Avoid high histamine foods such as aged or fermented foods (see our patient resource here)
  2. Support production of DAO with vitamin C and B6, which are cofactors in DAO enzyme production
  3. Avoid or minimise alcohol as this impairs DAO production
  4. Lowering the use of NSAIDs like ibuprofen and anti-histamines (cimetidine, promethazine) can help as they disrupt DAO production
  5. Work with a functional medicine practitioner who can tailor a treatment plan and look for other underlying causes that might be contributing to histamine sensitivities, and the symptoms you're experiencing

Once you've identified histamine intolerance as contributing to your symptoms, by addressing the histamine sensitivity through supporting DAO production, improving gut health, and minimising histamine intake, you can experience lasting relief.

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Vicki van der Meer
Vicki is a seasoned naturopath with postgraduate qualifications in Functional Medicine and Evidence Based Complementary Medicine. She has a big clinical focus on perimenopause/menopause, menstrual irregularities, PMS, PCOS, irregular periods, cardiometabolic conditions, digestive problems and fatigue.
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Vicki van der Meer
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{ "datePublished": "Mar 21, 2023" }