Histamine, a naturally occurring compound in the body, plays a crucial role in our immune response, but an excess can lead to discomfort and a host of allergic symptoms.
However through careful dietary choices, it's possible to support your body's histamine balance and immune response. In this article we delve into the science of histamine, identify natural anti-histamine foods, and introduce the basics of an antihistamine diet.
Medical Disclaimer: as with everything on this site, this article is provided for information only. I strongly urge you to speak with your doctor or a licensed medical professional in order to assess whether or not you have histamine issues and/or other medical issues.
So what are histamines?
Histamine is a natural inflammatory substance released by the mast cells, which are a type of white blood cell responsible for immediate reactions to perceived allergens. When your histamine level overloads in one area of the body, it leads to inflammation, which can result in food allergy symptoms and even have a cascading effect upon the body.
Histidine decarboxylase (HDC) is the sole member of the histamine synthesis pathway, producing histamine out of the amino acid histidine in a one-step reaction (with Vitamin B6 as a cofactor).
This means that histamine can be produced very quickly, an evolutionary trait which is helpful for alerting you to danger, but less helpful if your immune system has begun interpreting everything as dangerous.
So while mast cells are an integral part of the body's immune response to foreign substances, sometimes they can become unstable and overreact to certain foods.
What happens when mast cells destabilize?
They release histamine (and other inflammatory substances, albeit in smaller amounts), causing an inflammatory condition known as Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS). MCAS is a type of Mast Cell Activation Disorder (MCAD), a group of immune conditions which affect the functioning of mast cells.
Mastocytosis is a similar disorder, and treatment similarly involves lowering the body's histamine load. The first step towards calming this histamine reaction is to clean up your diet, and slowly add in more anti histamine foods.
How do antihistamine foods help with histamine intolerance symptoms?
Food is really the best antihistamine for histamine intolerance, as most of us aren't necessarily overloaded by our environment— as with traditional histamine toxicity (a.k.a. seasonal allergies)— but by our food.
This goes back to the three main ways that histamine levels become problematic: ingested histamine, low DAO (diamine oxidase, which clears histamine), and histamine-liberating foods.
There can be genetic contributions, but these factors most commonly arise when we consume high histamine food, DAO-blocking food, and food which releases histamine from other foods.
Anti histamine foods are all naturally low in histamine, but they also bring other histamine-clearing benefits to the table. The foods' superpowers range from helping to stabilize mast cells to increasing DAO production or simply reversing oxidative damage from inflammation.
Some of them even interrupt the making of histamine itself, by affecting volume & rate of HDC production (thereby slowing the body's ability to produce histamine).
Most of them also contain a significant amount of one or more co-factors in the production of DAO, such as vitamin B12, saturated fats, zinc, magnesium, iron, and omega-3 fats.
Natural Antihistamine Foods List
The antihistamine foods list below is a living document that I'll continue to update as I discover new ingredients which may help us in our pursuit of health and happiness— you should never have to prioritize one over the other.
If you've found this post because you're just getting started with a low histamine diet, I recommend beginning by reading my 5-day low histamine diet plan. Jumping into a whole new lifestyle headfirst can work for some people, but for others, adding or taking away a large variety of foods at once can send your system into a tailspin.
So before adding in a bunch of foods that lower histamine, consider a three-pronged approach of: 1) removing the highest histamine foods; 2) eating more low histamine foods in their place; and 3) adding in anti histamine foods last. All that said, below are dozens of foods with natural antihistamine properties.
Because I'm a science-minded individual who loves to cook, I've sorted each of these natural antihistamine foods based on their function in the kitchen. Most foods have multiple reasons why they're listed here, so I've done my best to link sources for further reading.
Other Natural Antihistamines
- Aloe Vera (anti-inflammatory in small doses; Thrive Market has a great selection)
- Fresh Capers (preserved in salt & rinsed before use are also ok)
- Hibiscus (great as a tea or chopped up and added to stews)
- Manuka Honey
- Monk Fruit Powder (as a powerful sweetener)
- Moringa (stabilizes mast cells)
- Spirulina (inhibits histamine release)
- Stinging Nettle (great for tea, or adding to smoothies in powdered form)
Whether you're struggling with a runny nose or a leaky gut, it's important to understand how natural antihistamines can help you heal. For those who've also chosen to consume your antihistamine in food form, do you have any others to add to the list?
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