You may have heard of an antihistamine before. This is a type of medicine commonly given to people that have seasonal allergies to help reduce sneezing, runny nose, and other allergy symptoms. What you may not have heard of is a histamine intolerance. Histamines are what are known as anaphylactic reaction mediators. In other words, they are the chemicals produced by the body during an allergic reaction that cause common allergy symptoms.
Histamines are part of the inflammatory response, which is part of the body’s overall immune response. All of us have had histamines released in our body before. This is because histamines also help to regulate gut function and sleep. However, when there is an imbalance of the histamine produced and the ability of the body to break it down, a histamine intolerance ensues. Let’s talk a little more about what a histamine intolerance is and how a low FODMAP diet may help.
What is a histamine intolerance?
Histamines are needed to regulate certain functions in the body. During allergic reactions, histamine dilates the blood vessels which helps the white blood cells travel to the site of the infection. Also, these dilated vessels help the body rid of allergens. In digestion, histamines help the body produce stomach acid which helps break down the food we eat into usable energy and nutrients. However, when the body produces more histamine than it can break down, then you can develop a histamine intolerance.
This can be caused by having an impaired system for breaking down histamine in the body or a reduced activity of the enzyme diamine oxidase (DAO). DAO is the enzyme that helps break down histamine in the body. Therefore, when histamine is not being broken down and is instead accumulating in the body, it can cause symptoms of histamine intolerance that include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Nasal congestion
These symptoms can be very uncomfortable and can affect your daily life. They can be caused by a variety of factors such as allergies, bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), gastrointestinal bleeding, or histamine-rich foods. Some histamine-rich foods include:
- Fermented foods and drinks like sauerkraut, kimchi, beer, wine, soy sauce, kefir, yogurt, and kombucha.
- Vinegar-containing foods like pickles, mayonnaise, and olives.
- Soured foods like sourdough bread, buttermilk, and sour cream.
- Cured meats like deli meats, sausages, and hot dogs.
- Aged cheeses.
- Smoked fish and certain species of fish like sardines, tuna, and anchovies.
- Certain vegetables like eggplant and spinach.
Symptoms can also be caused by consuming foods that release histamine. Such foods include some citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and limes, as well as other plant-based foods like nuts, tomatoes, pineapple, strawberries, and papaya. Since many of the histamine-rich foods listed are also excluded in the low FODMAP diet, then this diet plan may be helpful for those diagnosed with a histamine intolerance.
Low FODMAP diet and histamine intolerance
The low FODMAP diet is an eating regimen that cuts out foods that contain compounds known as fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. Such foods include those made from cow’s milk and wheat, as well as beans, vegetables like garlic and onion, and high fructose foods like apples, pears, peaches, and processed foods made with high fructose corn syrup. There are of course many other high FODMAP foods. However, it can be seen that many of the histamine-rich foods listed above like processed meats, sauerkraut, buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, and sourdough bread are also high FODMAP.
The histamine-rich foods include fermented drinks like alcoholic beverages too. This is similar to the low FODMAP diet since the low FODMAP eating regimen limits alcohol to one standard drink a day. Not to mention, that those who follow the low FODMAP diet with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) also avoid these drinks because the carbonation of beer and some wines can cause bloating and gas.
There are some places where the low FODMAP diet and histamine intolerance diet differs a bit though. The histamine intolerance diet avoids some citrus fruits, aged cheeses, tuna fish, and vegetables like spinach, tomatoes, and eggplant. These same foods are allowed on the low FODMAP diet in certain serving sizes.
Take home message
If you experience any of the symptoms of histamine intolerance, then it may not hurt to try a low FODMAP to see if it helps. However, if symptoms continue, then other additional foods may have to be avoided and it would be recommended to visit your healthcare provider to see if anything else may be causing your symptoms. Find more information on the low FODMAP diet on the Casa de Sante website.
-written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD of LighttrackNutrition.com