The Relationship Between Food Sensitivity & Histamine Intolerance

Risa Groux, CN
 | Published: 
March 23, 2021

The signs and symptoms of food sensitivities range from gastrointestinal effects to neurological, psychological, and dermatological manifestations. Bloating, diarrhea, acid reflux, acne, and anxiety are all issues that may have their underlying cause in food intolerance. The most common culprits are gluten, dairy, and soy. Most elimination diets call for removing these three categories of food for at least some period of time before re-introducing them to test an individual’s sensitivity. Stricter elimination diets such as those employed for ameliorating the effects of autoimmune conditions may call for removing eggs, nuts, and nightshade vegetables. 

But when one has already eliminated the classic culprits of food intolerance yet still experiences a wide-range of seemingly unrelated symptoms, there are other potential food sensitivities that should be explored. Two of the additional factors that may provoke unresolved symptoms are histamines and salicylates.

Many species of bacteria and yeast contain an enzyme called HDC, which results in certain foods having high histamine content. Specifically, wine and beer foods that are aged or fermented and meats that are not consumed at their freshest may be high in histamine. 

Histamine is responsible for many of the uncomfortable symptoms of allergies such as nasal congestion, sneezing, hives, itching, and even the dangerous drop in blood pressure that results in anaphylactic shock. So it is not surprising that ingested as a food component, histamine can trigger these same effects. But the influence of histamine doesn’t end there. Sensitivity to histamine can also result in things as diverse as headache, nausea, vomiting, vertigo, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and skin flushing.

With such a wide range of potential symptoms—and keeping in mind that individuals with histamine sensitivity will typically only manifest a few of them—it’s important to know which foods contain the most histamine in order to help identify the foods that might be adversely affecting a peron’s health. Since aging and bacterial and yeast fermentation of foods increases the histamine content, aged cheeses, cured meats, fermented vegetables, wine, and vinegar are high in histamines. Considering some of these foods are included in popular low-carb Paleo diets, which more people are adopting in order to avoid foods that are problematic for them, people may be inadvertently exposing themselves to foods they don’t even realize they’re sensitive to. Histamine content also increases in fresh meats that are not frozen quickly after processing. The bacteria naturally present in the animals convert histidine to histamine and histamine is not broken down or destroyed by cooking. People with extreme sensitivity to histamine may have trouble consuming meat that has been refrigerated for some time after slaughter rather than being frozen immediately. 

When a person has already eliminated the more common food sensitivities yet still experiences some of the symptoms listed above, they may be interested in trying a low-histamine diet--particularly if high-histamine foods make up a significant portion of their diet. I offer food sensitivity testing in my office, so book a session with me if you would like to explore this further and eliminate some of the discomfort you may be experiencing.

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