If you suffer from ANY of these symptoms — diarrhea, headaches (including migraines), nasal congestion, asthma, wheezing, low or high blood pressure, heart palpitations (when your heart skips, flutters or beats irregularly), hives, itching, or flushing, you could be histamine intolerant.
If you are, this means that, as much as your symptoms seem like allergies, it could be a reaction to histamine in foods, such as hard cheese, fish, shellfish, dried nuts and fruit, and fermented and aged products more generally.
But can you trust the lists you find on the internet of which foods to avoid? In this episode I look at the data on histamine in foods — and it’s messier than you might think.
Tune in to see which foods you should be most concerned with.
This episode is brought to you by Ancestral Supplements. Our Native American ancestors believed that eating the organs from a healthy animal would support the health of the corresponding organ of the individual. Ancestral Supplements has a nose-to-tail product line of grass-fed liver, organs, bone marrow and more… in the convenience of a capsule. For more information or to buy any of their products, go to https://chrismasterjohnphd.com/ancestral
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Read the Transcript
If you ever get diarrhea, migraines or other headaches, nasal congestion, asthma or wheezing, low blood pressure, heart palpitations where it feels like your heart is skipping a beat, or fluttering, or beating irregularly, hives, itching, or flushing, you may be histamine intolerant.
These symptoms can have other causes, including allergies, but histamine intolerance is one of the causes, and that might mean that you’re reacting to histamine in the food you eat. But you may, if you know about this, be out on the internet looking for information about histamine in the diet and what foods are high in histamine. And here I’m going show you some data that questions the reliability of a lot of the information.
So check out the rest of this video to see which information we can trust.
Hi. I’m Dr. Chris Masterjohn of chrismasterjohnphd.com. And this is Chris Masterjohn Lite, where the name of the game is “Details? Shmeetails. Just tell me what works!”
And today we’re going to be looking at how reliable is the information about histamine in the diet that’s floating around on the internet.
So first of all, take a look at this paper.
This paper is from 2016, and its title is “Histamine intolerance and dietary management: A complete review.” In this paper they compiled all the sources that they could find in the scientific literature about the content of histamine in foods. And you can see on the left they have individual food composition tables that used laboratory analysis. Right next to that, they have compilations of laboratory analyses, and then in the right half of the table, they have reviews, table compilations, and proposals of content in food for the general population.
So on the left half of this, we should consider the data more reliable than what’s on the right. But one of the things that we want to look at is how consistent is this data? So, to make it easier to visualize, they have red where the content of histamine is said to be very high, yellow where it’s relatively high, and green where the food is low enough in histamine to not worry about it in a diet designed for histamine intolerance.
So first of all, look at how many foods are in this table. We have lots of cereals, we have fruits, we have vegetables, we have dairy products, we have legumes, we have fish, we have meats, we have eggs, we have nuts, we have fats, we have sweets, we have drinks, and we have condiments.
Now, look at how many rows have conflicting data. To see a serious conflict, look for the Christmas colors green and red being combined. We see, for example, barley, one source has red, one source has green. We see in malt, we have mixtures of red, green, red, green. We come down here for cherries, we have red, and we have green. We have kiwi showing green in laboratory analysis but red in most of the other sources.
But even in the left side here, we have some laboratory analyses saying red, some laboratory analyses saying green, so severely conflicting information. For olives, we have one green source, but a lot of red and yellow. For pears, we have red and green. For strawberries, we have red and we have green. For eggplant, we have a lot of red, but the more reliable results from the laboratory analyses are yellow or green.For green peas, we have one red source, but we have a lot of green in the picture. For mushrooms, we have a lot of red over in the reviews, and we have one compilation of laboratory analyses saying green.
For the cheeses, look at all the specific cheeses listed here, and then see that there are laboratory analyses showing they’re all green, a couple laboratory analyses saying they’re red, and then a lot of red and yellow with only spatterings of green on the recommendations on the right side.
For sausages, we have red all over the general recommendations, and then we have green in the laboratory analyses.For chocolate, the recommendations are all red, and the laboratory analyses are all green. For tomato sauce, the laboratory analyses conflict between green and red.So what does this all mean? Well, it doesn’t mean we should just throw out all this information, but it does mean that we have to look for the consistency to see which information is most reliable.
So, let’s see what we can glean from this table. So, what are the things that are consistently red or yellow? Yeast is consistently red or yellow, although there’s no laboratory data supporting it. Avocado is consistently red or yellow. Bananas are consistently red or yellow. Mandarins are consistently red. Pineapples are consistently red or yellow.
Semi-hard or hard cheese is consistently red. Shellfish are consistently red. Smoked salmon and other fish are consistently red. Cold deli meats are consistently red. Dried fruit and dried nuts are consistently red. Curry is consistently red or yellow. Mustard and soy sauce are consistently red or yellow. All right, so there are some things that are consistently high in histamine.
Now let’s see if we can get anything from the table that’s consistently low in histamine. Potatoes are consistently green, although there’s no laboratory data supporting that. Fresh soft cheese is consistently green. Fresh meats are consistently green. Coffee is consistently green, though there’s no laboratory data supporting that.
So if you go on the consistent data alone, then what you would say is if you wanted to design a low-histamine diet, then the foods that you want to emphasize are fresh soft cheese, but not hard or semi-hard cheese, fresh meats, white potatoes, and although I didn’t mention it before, white rice, and another thing I didn’t mention before, egg yolks but not egg whites. So, soft cheese, fresh meats,
white potatoes, white rice, and egg yolks.
The foods that you would clearly want to avoid on a low-histamine diet are semi-hard or hard cheese, canned anchovies, smoked fish, all shellfish, deli meats, curry, mustard, soy sauce, yeast, avocados, bananas, dried fruit, dried nuts, lemons, mandarins, and pineapples.
Unfortunately that leaves a giant question mark on almost all the other foods. So what can we say practically about this? Well, I’m inclined to say that it would be far easier to boil this down into some general principles. So if you’re looking to reduce the histamine content of your diet, you overwhelmingly want to emphasize fresh foods, and that means foods that are not fermented, and it also means foods that are not preserved or aged, and it also means foods that are as fresh as possible.
So the more you know about where your food comes from and how fresh it is from the farm to the table, the better. We could also say that we want to avoid dried food, such as dried fruits and nuts, which are consistently high in histamine. And then that still leaves the curry, mustard, lemons, mandarins, pineapples, avocados and bananas, that appear to be consistently high-histamine foods that should be
added to that list.
Now, one thing you’ll notice is that this diet would be incredibly difficult to implement long-term, especially when you consider how much inconsistent data there is about so many dozens of foods that I had shown in that table. In fact, take a look at what this paper said about compliance with a low-histamine diet.
The quote I’m about to show you is from this paper, “Serum diamine oxidase activity in patients with histamine intolerance.” Take a look at this paragraph: “All 14 patients reported that the previous and/or newly prescribed low-histamine diet impaired their quality of life (to variable extents depending on the patient) and that it could not be maintained permanently. In most cases, a culprit food whose elimination from the diet was instrumental to radically prevent relapses of symptoms could not be identified.”
Now, all of this becomes much more complicated when you consider that some foods have other compounds like histamine that compete with histamine for histamine metabolism. And some foods contain inhibitors of the enzymes that help you get rid of histamine. Those together mean that the histamine content of a food might not be, or certainly isn’t the be-all, end-all of whether that food contributes to your histamine intolerance.
So trying to eliminate all of the foods with those characteristics as well just makes it more difficult to comply with this type of diet long-term. Not only that, but when you limit your foods on a restrictive diet like this, you compromise your ability to get the nutrients you need, including some of the nutrients that you need to help you tolerate histamine and get rid of it.
So I do think that knowing some of the biggest offenders in histamine intolerance can be very helpful for number one, using a diet that lowers them temporarily to actually identify whether it helps and therefore whether you’re likely to be histamine intolerant; and two, short-term management of histamine intolerance while you figure out how to improve your tolerance for histamine.And that topic, how to improve tolerance to histamine, will be the subject of the next few episodes.