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Histamine – what is its role in the body?

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We know histamine causes hay fever like symptoms: red puffy watery & itchy eyes, blocked or runny nose, tickly or itchy throat, wheezing bronchial asthma, sneezing, hives, cough and other allergenic like responses. And in order to improve those symptoms we can just pick up some anti-histamines from the chemist right?

But why does our body produce too much histamine ?

Well the easy answer is that it actually doesn’t… it is that our body cannot cope with the histamine that is produced naturally because of the lack of a gut enzyme called DAO or DIAMINE OXIDASE which normally breaks it down. This leaves excess histamine floating around and this affects our cells with histamine receptors.

Histamine does have useful roles in the body. It is produced from Histadine (an amino acid) and is produced in the brain (as a non-mast cell or allergic type of molecule) where it acts like a neurotransmitter to increase wakefulness and prevent sleep. It also stimulates cells in our stomach to produce stomach acid required to digest food. It has many other functions as well.

But when it is produced at mucousal surfaces such as our nasal passages perhaps as a result of exposure to foreign particles (think pollens or dust) it causes capillaries to become more permeable in order to allow the immune system in the form of white blood cells to access this site to help protect the body against this ‘ foreign pathogen’.   It is this movement that causes fluid to move out into our nasal passages for example giving rise to the classic allergic symptoms above.

When this is severe it can result in anaphylaxis reactions which are huge internal releases of histamine by an allergic trigger eg. peanuts. A less severe reaction is a histamine overload where you eat too much histamine at once (>50mg/KG) which overwhelms your defences causing more localized reactions like hives or a histamine intolerance where you feel uncomfortable at even low doses (<50mg/KG) which can happen in some sensitive people.

Foods that are high in histamine are:

  • Red Wine
  • Matured Cheese – the higher the maturation the higher the histamine (in fact having a large glass of red wine with cheese is a good test to see if you are in fact histamine intolerant! Any flushing or other signs above could be a positive)
  • Pickled foods like sauerkraut/pickles (yes I know they are healthy as well!)
  • Smoked meat or fish – salami, ham, sausages, kippers etc…
  • Shellfish or canned fish
  • Beans and pulses
  • Walnuts, peanuts, cashews
  • Chocolate
  • Vinegar
  • Alcohol
  • Ready-made meals
  • Salty snacks & sweets with preservatives
  • Long cooked bone broth

So what are the causes of this DAO deficiency?

Well they can be as varied as having a genetic variant/SNP, nutrient deficiencies like B6, Magnesium, Zinc or having dysbiosis (an imbalance of non-beneficial:beneficial gut bacteria), SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), poor diet/lifestyle, excess consumption of high histamine foods/drinks, excess dosing with NSAIDS like Nurofen and even unrelenting stress.

Some symptoms can be vague including abdominal pain, headache, severe motion sickness, heart palpitations, flatulence or menstrual cycle issues.

Because these high levels of histamine can damage gut tissue, in order to heal it is recommended to reduce food/drinks high in histamine for a period of time. Some factors that may interfere with DAO production for instance: NSAID use, stress and injury, high oestrogen production (anyone with an oestrogen dominant disorder like endometriosis or fibroids may be affected) need to be addressed.  Alcohol consumption very much affects DAO activity so avoiding it may be necessary in the short term.  Even good bacteria in the gut can produce histamine which then competes for DAO with histamine containing foods, thereby reducing the available DAO even more.

There are a number of things we can do to help reduce this histamine build up clinically which may help to improve your symptoms.

One is working on healing the gut wall while balancing the microbiome. Believe it or not some strains of beneficial bacteria (probiotics) can actually produce histamine which obviously is not going to help the situation so the right probiotic needs to be used. And many gut repair supplements may contain glutamine or collagen which are high in amines and can trigger histamine production.

So it is a good idea to book an appointment to see Fin Mackenzie – Naturopath who can

help you find the right individual approach.

AND Detoxing is a great first step… so come along to our Detox Info Night to find out more!

Wednesday 23 October at Green Door Health at 6.30pm

Shop 24 Waratah Court

12-14 Waratah St, Mona Vale

Call to book or reply to this email


02 9979 9888

Hope to see you soon!


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