Have you ever noticed a slight raised bump on your arm which goes away after a while? Do you realize that your skin feels flushed after eating certain food? Some people get hives after eating cheese or drinking wine. What is causing this reaction to our skin?
What is histamine?
Histamine is a natural substance produced by the body and is also present in many foods. It is released by the body during times of stress and allergy. In an allergic response, an allergen stimulates the release of antibodies, which attach themselves to mast cells. When histamine is released from the mast cells it may cause one or more of the following symptoms:
- Eyes to itch, burn, or become watery
- Nose to itch, sneeze, and produce more mucus
- Skin to itch, develop rashes or hives
- Sinuses to become congested and cause headaches
- Lungs to wheeze or have spasms
- Stomach to experience cramps and diarrhea
Histamine is a vasoactive amine which causes dilatation of the blood vessels (flushing, rash, itching) and increased mucus production (runny nose, productive cough), and bronchoconstriction (wheezing, cough). Because histamine is contained in almost all body tissues, especially the lungs, nose, sinuses, skin, intestinal mucosa and certain blood cells (mast cells, basophils), it is able to cause a wide variety of symptoms.
What is the difference between allergic reaction and intolerance?
A true food allergy causes an immune system reaction that affects numerous organs in the body. In some cases, an allergic reaction to a food can be severe or life-threatening. In contrast, food intolerance symptoms are generally less serious and often limited to digestive problems.
If you have a food intolerance, you may be able to eat small amounts of the offending food without trouble. You may also be able to prevent a reaction. For example, if you have lactose intolerance, you may be able to drink lactose-free milk or take lactase enzyme pills (Lactaid) to aid digestion.
Typically a food intolerance can be prevented if the culprit food is avoided totally for 4-8 weeks, and then re-introduced again in smaller amount after when the gut is healed.
What are some of the histamine-rich food?
If you suspect that you get some form of rash or above symptoms in less severe degree or after consuming certain food, you can try to observe/avoid these histamine-rich foods :
- Fermented alcoholic beverages, especially wine and beer
- Fermented foods: vinegar, soy sauce, miso, yogurt etc
- Cured meats: bacon, luncheon meats and hot dogs
- Dried fruits such as apricots, dates, prunes, figs and raisins (you may be able to eat these fruits – without reaction – if the fruit is thoroughly washed).
- Cheeses, especially aged or fermented cheese, such as parmesan and blue cheese.
- Vegetables: avocados, eggplant, spinach, and tomatoes
- Smoked fish and certain species of fish, especially canned: tuna, anchovies, sardines
Here’s a list of low-histamine foods:
- freshly cooked meat, poultry (frozen or fresh)
- freshly caught fish
- gluten-free grains: rice, quinoa
- pure peanut butter
- fresh fruits: mango, pear, watermelon, apple, kiwi, cantaloupe, grapes
- fresh vegetables (except tomatoes, spinach, avocado, and eggplant)
- dairy substitutes: coconut milk, rice milk, hemp milk, almond milk
- cooking oils: olive oil, coconut oil
- leafy herbs
- herbal teas
If you suspect you are suffering from histamine intolerance, do not fret. You may not have to avoid these foods forever. After totally avoiding these food for period of time, at least 2 months, you can slowly re-introduce in a smaller portion.
So the next time you reach for your glass of wine with cheese and feel a little itchy afterwards, you may have histamine intolerance.