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Reflux, anxiety, Itchiness? The Histamine Link

By Filipa Bellette
from Chris & Filly Functional Medicine

What does reflux, anxiety and itchy eyes/skin have in common? They are all common signs of histamine intolerance.

Histamine is a substance that is made inside the body, as well as in certain foods. It’s normal and natural, and if your body is balanced you can easily excrete any excess histamine. If, however, you have imbalances in your body that are increasing your histamine load, you can develop histamine intolerance symptoms.

Other symptoms include allergy-like symptoms, like runny nose, sneezing, hives, asthma, chronic cough, as well as gut issues, headaches, joint pain, fatigue and insomnia.

Where Is Histamine Made In The Body?

Histamine is found in almost all tissues of the body. It is stored in the granules in mast cells, as well as in white blood cells. Mast cells are especially high in areas of the body that are more at risk of injury, such as the nose, mouth, feet, gut lining and blood vessels.

Histamines act like soldiers in your immune system. They stand guard and fight against harmful substances. These could be allergen foods, dust, pet hair, pollens, and harmful toxins. When you are exposed to these allergens, histamines release to fight against the inflammatory substances.

Histamines also play a role in the day-to-day functioning of your body. It controls your heart rate, gastric acid production, and even your appetite.

Histamines are not bad. They are natural and normal and help us to thrive. However, when they reach a high level in the body, you can develop what is called histamine intolerance.

What Are The Root Causes Of Histamine Intolerance?

There are a few key factors that can lead to an excessive build up of histamine:

  • Dysbiois – some pathogenic bacterial and yeast species in the gut produce histamine during fermentation. When there is an overgrowth of these species, it increases your overall histamine load.
  • Enzyme deficiencies – there are specific digestive enzymes in the gut lining that help to breakdown histamines, especially in the food you eat. If these enzymes become damaged, which is common when there is inflammation in the gut, you can struggle to break down foods high in histamine.
  • Nutrient deficiencies – Vitamin C, B2, B6, and copper are all important nutrients to help breakdown and clear excess histamines. Deficiencies could occur due to poor diet, gut issues, genetic mutations or inflammation.
  • Oestrogen dominance – oestradial can increase histamine, and vice versa! If you have oestrogen dominance (often caused by poor detoxification), this could cause histamine buildup.
  • Stress – when you’re under psychological and physical stress, histamines can be released. Chronic stress, then, can cause histamine excess.

Is Eating Foods High In Histamine Bad?

You might’ve noticed I didn’t mention foods high in histamine as being a root cause. That’s because I believe a healthy body should be able to eat all healthy foods (including foods high in histamine) without any issues. So no, eating foods high in histamine is not “bad”.

However, if you have a histamine intolerance, you will do better on a low-histamine diet for a short time, to reduce your load, while underlying root causes are addressed. In my practice, I’ve seen histamine symptoms reduce dramatically within a week or two. I’ve had clients who were experiencing asthma and reflux and anxiety and headaches, see a complete disappearance of symptoms.

How To Use A Low Histamine Diet For Therapy

If you suspect you have a histamine intolerance, I usually advise trialling a low-histamine diet for 2-4-weeks, to see if it improves symptoms.

During this phase, you will want to avoid the following high histamine foods:

  • Seafood, pork, eggs, aged meats
  • Dairy products
  • Capsicum, eggplant, olives, spinach, tomato
  • Fermented foods and drinks
  • Bananas, dried fruit, citrus fruits – lemon, orange, tangerine, avocado, kiwi, raspberries, strawberries, pineapple, papaya.
  • Gluten-containing grain
  • Soy, green peas, red beans, sugar snap beans, sweet peas.
  • All nuts and seeds (except macadamias and coconut)
  • Alcohol and caffeinated drinks
  • Chocolate, cacao, sugar, maple syrup, sugar alcohols, artificial sweeteners
  • Pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamon
  • Nut and seed oils, soybean oil, palm oil.
  • Bone broths and slow-cooked meals cooked longer than 2-hours

If after the 2-4-week elimination, you don’t feel any improvement, you likely do not have a histamine intolerance. Bring back all foods, and see how you feel. If, however, you feel an improvement in symptoms – or your symptoms flare up when you bring back foods – this is a strong sign that you have histamine issues. I would encourage you to work with an accredited Clinical Nutritionist, to address underlying causes, and help you to reintroduce high histamine foods safely and effectively.

And don’t worry, most people are able to bring back most (if not all) histamine foods, without ongoing reactions, after root causes have been addressed. You will be able to eat avocados and nuts and cacao again!

p.s. Check out my Low-Histamine Zucchini Bread recipe in the “Recipes” tab at the top of the Natural Medicine Week webpage.

More about the author

Reflux, anxiety, Itchiness? The Histamine Link
Filipa Bellette
– Chris & Filly Functional Medicine

Filipa Bellette is Co-Founder of award-winning health practice Chris & Filly Functional Medicine. She is an accredited Nutritional Medicine Practitioner, specialising in Functional Medicine. She is also a PhD Scholar, writer & regularly featured in the media, such as nine.com.au, Forbes and The Daily Telegraph.

Together with her husband Chris Bellette, Filipa has worked with over 2,000+ busy, burned-out clients in the past combined 20+ years. Their practice is best known for helping high-achieving parents with energy, mood and gut issues, end their body burnout…for good! They were recently awarded as Highly Commended in the ATMS Natural Medicine Clinic of the Year Awards 2021, and also the Tasmanian State Winner for the Telstra Best of Business Awards 2022 in the category Accelerating Women.

Filipa’s own passion for helping parents, especially mums, have more energy, productivity and connection, came from her own personal experience of Mummy Burnout, after having babies and juggling the demands of business, family, and her failing health.