Histamine is a natural substance produced by the body and is also naturally present in many foods and can trigger symptoms that mimic allergy. This is particularly true of fermented foods that contain high quantities of the vaso-active amines such as Histamine, Phenylethylamine, Serotonin, Tyramine and Dopamine.
Histamine is also released by the body during times of ‘stress’. In an allergic response, an allergen (any substance) 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 reactions:
Eyes: itch, burn, watery
Nose: itchy, sneeze, produce more mucus
Skin: itchy, develop rashes or hives.
Sinuses: become congested and cause headaches
Lungs: to wheeze or have spasms
Stomach: cramps and diarrhea.
There are many foods that either contain histamine or cause the body to release histamine when ingested. These types of reactions are food intolerances, and are different from food allergy in that the immune system is not involved in the reaction. However, the symptoms can be the same as a food allergy or trigger 'allergy-like' symptoms.
The chemicals contained in foods that are responsible for triggering headaches are tyramine, histamine and other amines, including phenylethylamine. Fermented foods may cause allergy symptoms because they are either rich in histamine or because yeast or mold is involved in the fermentation process.
Alcohol: Beer / Wine
Dairy: Milk & milk products
Eggs: especially uncooked Egg White
Fish: Shellfish & Fish
Fruit: Bananas / Citrus fruit / Papayas / Pineapple / Strawberries
Meat: Pork / Chicken
Vegetables: Tomatoes / Spinach
Alcohol: especially Beer, (including some non-alcoholic beers and home-made root beer) Cider.Wine, red Wine (especially Chianti), Port, Sherry, Vermouth and distilled spirits.
Cheeses: Most Cheeses, especially aged cheese and other strong-tasting hard cheeses such as mature Cheddar, Roquefort, Stilton, Parmesan, Camembert, Gruyere, Mozzarella.
Cocoa: Chocolate (tyramine & phenylethylamine)
Dairy: Sour cream, crème freché, sour milk, kefir, buttermilk, yogurt -especially if not fresh-
Dried fruits: Apricots, Dates, Prunes, Figs and Raisins, Citrus fruit / Oranges (octopamine)
(you may be able to eat dried fruits - without reaction - if the fruit is thoroughly washed).
Fermented soy products (soy sauce), Soured breads, such as authentic Rye bread, pumpernickel. All fermented vegetables like Sauerkraut
Fish: Most fish, including canned fish, Mackerel, Sardines, Anchovies. Smoked fish.
Meat: Pork sausage, Beef sausage, hot dogs, salami and ham, especially 'dried' (cured). Smoked meats.
Vegetables: Avocados, Eggplant / Aubergine, Mushrooms, Spinach. Tomato (especially tinned tomato, tomato puree and ketchup)
Vinegar or vinegar containing foods such as: salad dressing, ketchup, mayonnaise, relishes and pickles, pickled onions / beets / gherkins / olives.
Yeast: Brewer's yeast, Bakers Yeast : Marmite, Stock cubes, Supplements
It should be noted, that conventional allergy tests for these foods (skin tests or blood tests) are likely to be negative. This is because in strict medical terms it is not a ‘food allergy’, even though the symptoms usually mimic the same reactions as in food allergy.
The cause of these kind of reactions are in matter of fact ‘Histamine Intolerance’ (HIT). Although this is most confusing, the significant difference between an allergy and HIT is that in allergies the immune system is involved whereas HIT is the lack of an enzyme called diamine oxidase (DAO).
However if this enzyme is lacking or does not work properly histamine levels are likely to rocket sky high and cause us to feel unwell or very ill. Some people may have suffered from this condition - with predominant symptoms of diarrhoea - and likely been misdiagnosed with IBS.
We experience allergic symptoms when an allergen-antibody complex causes mast cells to release histamine and other allergy mediating chemicals. Vitamin C helps to stabilize mast cells so they are less likely to release these substances.