Today if you ask anyone if they have an allergy, the answer will probably be yes. Others may refer to their discomfort as a “sensitivity”. We all have our threshold of tolerance to substances around us. But what, how and why does our food make us sick? I hope to share some insights on what might be causing your sensitivities in your diet.
Nutrition is the key to all health and wellness and understanding it and how it affects our body is key to understanding allergies and/or sensitivities. Many of the “guidelines” of nutrition have been steering us in the wrong direction.
What happens with food allergies or sensitivities?
Foods are full of nutrition for us but some are higher in histamines than others. For those of us with allergies or sensitivities we have issues with some foods more so than others. What gives?
Yes, genetics plays a role, as does age, but not all is lost. We can learn to overcome the obstacles and learn what to eat and how to “hack” bad biology or find the “fountain of youth” in our food. This paper, Histamine and Histamine Intolerance, gets into the details about how histamines and histamine intolerance works. For those of you who just want the synopsis of what’s going on, I’ll do my best to explain.
The human body is a complex and incredible work that works in an incredible way. The body uses histamine N-methyl transferase (HMT) and Diamine oxidase (DAO) as the two ways to break down histamines. When our body has a problem with one of these two enzymes systems due to bad genes² or the aging process, we lose the ability to digest our food without having a reaction, and I don’t mean the good kind.
The ingestion of histamine-rich food or of alcohol or drugs that release histamine or block DAO may provoke diarrhea, headache, rhinoconjunctival symptoms, asthma, hypotension, arrhythmia, urticaria, pruritus, flushing, and other conditions in patients with histamine intolerance. Symptoms can be reduced by a histamine-free diet or be eliminated by antihistamines.¹
What are Histamines?
First let’s take a moment to look at the bigger picture of how histamines work or don’t work for that matter. Histamines are like water in a bucket within our body. A healthy individual can handle a bucketful of histamines before there is trouble. But if the bucket starts to overflow, a reaction occurs and symptoms appear. But most practitioners may not recognize it as a histamine problem. Why?
The human body is a wonderful thing that balances many different processes and keeps us healthy. When one part of the body gets out of balance it can cause a cascade of issues. A dysbiosis of the digestive tract can allow an imbalance of bacteria to create issues in other ways, like allergic reactions or sensitivities. An overgrowth of the wrong bacteria in our digestive system known as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) can set the stage for the histamine reaction to occur.
Our digestive system is made up of lots of various strains of bacteria that help us digest our food and assimilate the nutrients from our food. However, when our diet contains to much sugar and carbohydrates, this type of diet feeds the bad bacteria that does us more harm than good. We will never eradicate all the bacteria from our system, we need it but we need the bacteria to be in the proper balance. The use of antibiotics in our medical system and the use of them in our food (widely used in CAFO operations raising meat animals) can destroy the beneficial bacteria in our gut. When the “good guys” are destroyed to much it allows the “bad guys” to take over.
Why Does My Body React?
We need the “good guys” to help us digest our food and get the nutrients. When there aren’t enough of the good guys, we don’t make the vitamins, like B6 which is important in making the enzymes that break down the histamine in our food. Without the digestive process working properly our food ferments in our digestive tract and instead of nourishing us, the food turns against us…in the form of histamine reactions.
An interesting article, Fermentation in the Gut and CFS, illustrates the point.
What Foods to Avoid?
The foods that cause the most sensitivities are:
Great news! A device has been developed that can detect the levels of histamines in fish. It is the size of a credit card and uses microchip electrophoresis technology which detects and alerts the user to high histamine levels in fish. Eventually this device would be available for the consumer to detect high histamine levels in real time in food before ingesting an offending food. This handheld device could be just the ticket we’re looking for. I just learned about this gadget today while doing my research. Check it out.
What Can I Do?
Avoid foods high in histamines, eat foods that help support the breakdown of histamines and find a medical professional that understands the biochemistry of the body and can help you with testing for nutritional deficiencies.
Personally I have had success with many of my digestive symptoms by following the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). This has reduced the amount of inflammation in my body and helped address the SIBO issues I was dealing with. SCD eliminates all sugar (except honey), all grains, all dairy (except 24 hour fermented yogurt).
The diet addressed my body’s difficult digestion issues, but allows foods that are considered to be high histamine. The raw honey I use can be a trigger for histamine issues for many, as is the fermented yogurt. However I seem to tolerate them both without major incidence. I am of the firm belief that by reducing the great majority of histamine triggers, such as soy, wheat, dairy and sugar it empties my “bucket” effectively enough for me to incorporate the nutrition offered by honey and the probiotic affects of the yogurt. I heard that the best antihistamine was happiness…and having something to eat makes me happy.
The SCD diet does include healthy fats, proteins, and specific carbohydrates. You can learn more about the SCD diet on the website, Breaking the Vicious Cycle. The inclusion of healthy fats are necessary for many bodily functions and helps to restore digestive issues by encouraging the phospholipid exchange. (I also use digestive enzymes to help me to overcome a gallbladder missing in action).
The SCD diet does include fermented yogurt which is used throughout the diet. I prefer yogurt made with goat’s milk when available. Whether I use cow or goat milk, I drain the whey from the 24 hour fermented yogurt which minimizes my reaction to it. It’s like having my cake and eating it too. I’m getting the probiotics without the digestive upset caused by most dairy or commercial yogurts.
The Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Allergy Unit website has a lot of useful information on the page Food Allergies and Intolerances from Friendly Foods. This is considered the strictest diet with regards to eliminating high histamine foods, but it is comprehensive enough to help even those with considerable issues. Their explanation to food intolerances is well defined here:
Understanding the difference between intolerance and other types of food reaction is an important starting point because the approach to dealing with them is quite different. Unlike allergies and coeliac disease, which are immune reactions to food proteins, intolerances don’t involve the immune system at all. They are triggered by food chemicals which cause reactions by irritating nerve endings in different parts of the body, rather in the way that certain drugs can cause side-effects in sensitive people.
Food intolerance reactions
Symptoms triggered by food chemical intolerances vary from person to person. The commonest ones are recurrent hives and swellings, headaches, sinus trouble, mouth ulcers, nausea, stomach pains and bowel irritation. Some people feel vaguely unwell, with flu-like aches and pains, or get unusually tired, run-down or moody, often for no apparent reason. Children can become irritable and restless, and behavioural problems can be aggravated in those with nervous system disorders such as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Even breast-fed babies can have food intolerance reactions due to chemicals from the mother’s diet getting into the breast milk, causing colicky irritable behaviour, loose stools, eczema and nappy (diaper) rashes.
Find a good support group to get ideas and share your experiences as you continue to heal your body. There is hope, keep up the good work and keep the faith. Your body can heal itself, given the proper nutrition, a healthy environment and a stress free lifestyle.
I just met the Low Histamine Chef and I learned a lot from her website and I would like to introduce you to her. She will help you learn to cook foods that you’ll love, and foods that love you back.
The Anti Diet (Food as Medicine) – The Low Histamine Chef
² Dr. Ben Lynch discusses histamines and DAO enzyme and the effects of MTHFR on the process.
³ The Food List, Histamine Intolerance Awareness
For more information on histamines, genetics and nutrition, check out the following links:
The Food List, Histamine Intolerance Awareness
7 BEST Foods for Histamine Intolerance
DAO Deficiency and Histamine Intolerance: The Unlikely Connection (MTHFR Support – Australia)
Histamine-Driven Anxiety Attacks Reversed Naturally and Holistically with the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)