This is probably the most asked question I get on this blog.
After months of suffering and research, someone stumbles over my blog and sees themselves in the description of symptoms. And that’s a great feeling actually, because once you know what’s wrong with you, you can start to fix it. And now you also realize you are not crazy! But where do you start?
Here’s your primer on what to do to get the histameenies under control.
First and foremost, start a food diary. Well, wait, no, first and foremost, try to come to terms with the fact that you need to make some major changes to your diet to get your situation under control. You’ll pay big-time if you cheat, so you need to accept this situation and go from there. You’re really starting an elimination diet. But keep in mind this diet does not cure you. It only gets the intolerance under control. Once that happens, you can start adding foods back in to see what happens. The idea is to heal, not be forever on a restricted diet. How long this takes is about how long your body takes to heal.
Ok, now that you’re ready, start that food diary. I can say within the first day of starting mine I knew I was on the right track. I ate a piece of avocado and my arm itched immediately. I looked up avocado and there it was, high in histamine.
So I wrote it down. And from there on I wrote down every single thing that went into, or onto, my body. And it wasn’t just foods and body care products. I noted things like: bleached the bathroom-had horrible reaction to the bleach, left bicep itch, lower left arm…
I found there was a big correlation between the intensity of the itch, how long it took to manifest and where it was on my body to which foods I had ingested. A food I should never eat made my left bicep itch immediately. If my bicep and my forearms itched, I knew I had overdone it over time. Spinach made my forearms itch, chocolate triggered the bicep, and it all triggered hot flashes and insomnia!
Keeping the food diary and keeping lists of foods that I could eat and couldn’t helped me navigate this new terrain. I had a list of foods I would not touch: cheese, chocolate, spinach, cauliflower, avocado…foods I can have a little of: strawberries, raisins, nuts…and foods that were completely safe: apples, butternut squash, broccoli…Of course there are more foods on each list but those are the ones I remember off hand. I also had a list of not sure, and those foods came and went from the lists with copious amounts of notes reminding me why I could and couldn’t eat something. I even had a shorthand for things like the bicep itch. I called that my hotspot because it was the most intense, awful thing ever!
It turns out I had a real issue with things that were touted as curative for histamine intolerance such as nettle tea. (bicep itch) The only tea I could drink for months was ginger. And it probably took me another two months to finally realize that hot showers were causing hives on my thighs. I’d always itched after a hot shower, but I just wasn’t paying attention yet. After that I realized using a razor on my legs was also an issue and I switched to an electric razor. Sure it doesn’t work as well but I also don’t get hives anymore.
And this is key. It’s not only food. Even when I was eating safely I was still filling that histamine bucket with hot showers and razors. Until I tracked it all, I was still having problems. To this day I do not take hot showers and I do not use a razor.
So to build your lists you have to keep the diary, which now that I reread what I’ve written was more like a journal than just a food diary. I also noted how well I slept, did I have to pee four times a night, and how many hot flashes I had. These were all key because all of those things are symptoms of intolerance.
It was actually keeping that information that I realized ginger was such a savior for me. I think I had an upset stomach one evening and ate some crystallized ginger. I noticed the itching I was having at the same time as the upset stomach abated and I slept well that night. That’s when I started doing research into ginger.
I also noted the supplements I was taking and what combinations seemed to produce the best night’s sleep. That’s how I developed the supplement regimen I was on until very recently. (I still use the supplements but I take a lot less of them. To see the whole regimen, visit the supplements page) Same thing with taking the olive oil. I noticed after using it on my skin I slept better, so I started to take a teaspoon before bed. I slept like a baby for the first time in months when I started it. Now I put a tablespoon in my smoothie every morning.
Once you’ve gotten started the pieces of the puzzle fall into place quite quickly and easily. That’s not to say it’s going to be easy. Social eating can be difficult. I’ve eaten many things that were on the off list to avoid the awkward conversations and explanations. And, if you’ve kept up with my blog, you know I’m also weak around tasty “off-limits” foods. If I had a quarter for every salad with blue cheese dressing I should not have had…
But it was ok because I knew the consequences and I made an informed decision. It took the crazy out of the itch. I could control it completely.
So there you have it. It’s not rocket science. If it makes you itch, or whatever your reaction is, don’t eat it. If it stops the itch, eat it again. Write it all down and analyze it. You will see a pattern. And once you start to identify what you can and cannot eat, you start to regain control of yourself. And from there you can concentrate on healing.
For me, just knowing I could control my intolerance was a relief. Those few months of itching “for no reason” were hellish. I felt like a lunatic trying to explain it. And some of the disorders I’d read about that it could be were frightening! How many of you thought you had some deadly form of cancer?!
In summary, keep a food diary or a journal. Start an elimination diet to regain control of your body. Take a look at the supplements I’ve taken to control acute attacks and keep that histamine bucket from filling. And let me specific here about my supplements. I needed them. I could not have survived my situation without them. I still keep myself stocked with them even though I do not take them all every day anymore. But the minute I feel that first itch come on, I’m into the quercetin. That’s the supplement that took an attack down within minutes. I used to panic when the bottle got too low, and I have them in my purse at all times.
I’d also like to suggest, keeping in mind I am not a doctor and I am not dispensing medical advice, that if you are taking anti-histamines you think about stopping. They are terrible for you and won’t cure you. They will only mask the symptoms. I hear over and over again that people will get off the anti-histamines as soon as they get the hives under control, but you can’t get the hives under control using only anti-histamines. I realize this sounds a lot easier than it is, and I’m not trying to be insensitive. If anything I’m really trying to get you to understand that anti-histamines do not heal the issue. They might make it bearable for the moment, but you have to figure out what’s making you itch and hive up.
And for those of you who think I’m being cavalier about the antihistamines and I must not have itched as badly as you, I say that it’s only recently that the scars have faded from my forearms from the damage I had done scratching. And the brown leathery patch of skin on my bicep from trying to burn the itch off with Capzasin while raking my nails over it is healed too. In the worst of it I had insomnia, had 6 hot flashes a night, and had to pee 4 times a night all while my entire body itched. (I feel like I’m establishing my histamine intolerance cred here!)
I’d rethink probiotics too. That’s the other thing I hear all the time. That you have to heal your gut. Most probiotics and fermented foods are terrible for histamine intolerance. So those of you thinking you’re going to heal your gut with probiotics and then you’ll address the intolerance might just be making the intolerance worse. There are some probiotics that I think are alright to take but I’m not sure which strain. Head on over to the Low Histamine Chef’s site and look it up there. I think she’s suggested a certain strain. Now that I think of it, you might be able to search my blog and find it down in the comments somewhere. I think someone suggested one that was safe to take.
After all this, the next question I often get is I’m restricting my diet but I am still getting hives and you’re telling me to get off of antihistamines, what should I do now? My advice is remember, it’s not just diet. What laundry detergent do you use? What bath products, hair products, or lotions? What else is in your house? Flowers? Perfume? You have to be a detective. Nothing should go un-vetted when you are having issues.
Most of all be patient. It takes a while to get it all under control. You must be disciplined and diligent. But you are not crazy and you can do this. I did. And now you know how I did it.
Listen, I remember the horror that washed over me the day I understood it all wondered if I’d have to suffer a lifetime of eating a limited number of foods and be able to lead a “normal” life without itching to the point of insanity. I mean I never even got hives. I had an invisible itch. I’ll never forget that feeling. But even as scary as that was, I was relieved to know I wasn’t crazy and I could control this.
I hope this helps you get started on your healing journey. Now let me go grind up some fresh ginger. I’m making my own capsules now…but that’s yet another post!