The science of histamine intolerance

This section will probably take me the longest to get together. There is much to explain about receptors, basophils, mast cells and other technical things. But the most important thing to understand is probably simplest to explain with an analogy.

Histamine is an extremely important component to our lives, but sometimes we have too much of it. Think of a bucket of water with holes punched in the bottom. When it rains, the bucket starts to fill. The amount of water in the bucket depends on how hard it rains and how quickly it can empty. A person with histamine intolerance, their bucket does not empty fast enough so the water basically overflows.

Your bucket overflows because the histamine in foods raises the histamine level in your body until your mast cells spill their histamine into the blood. Once that happens, whatever your evil is, mine being itching, gets unleashed.

For me, once my histamine level is too high and I itch I take a Quercetin capsule or two and wait a few minutes. It usually works. If I am having a huge reaction I might add a Ginger capsule and an Olive Leaf capsule. And often, before I go out to dinner and know I’m going to eat off my safe foods diet, I take an Olive Leaf capsule to stem the tide of histamine I know I could be hit with.

Living with histamine intolerance is a balancing act. That’s why that food diary is so important. You must know what foods fill your bucket!

Until I fill in with my own information, I suggest you use the terms mast cells, histamine intolerance, h1 receptors, and histamine to find the more scientific information about this issue. You will also stumble over many, and I do mean many, forum sites where people share information on bulletin boards. In all my readings it would seem the folks who suffer from rosacea know a lot about mast cells and histamine. It’s on those sites where I have learned so much about how extensive the problems with histamine can be. And it’s nice to know you are not the only one suffering some weirdness all of a sudden!

Other links to look at:

These are a few of the sites I’ve used to educate myself about histamine intolerance.

This site explains what mast cells are and their relationship to histamine intolerance. Because I haven’t had the time to compile all the more scientific information I’ve read about histamine intolerance, I suggest you take a look at this site first.

Histamino is one of my favorite sites. The writing is clear and concise and accurate to what I’ve researched. There are good food lists here to get you started with some of the basic dos and don’ts.

The low histamine chef is another site I really like. This blogger has a really interesting story to tell, lots of information on foods and books to sell. I’ve purchased one of her cookbooks and have gotten personal advice from her. She seems a generous spirit.

36 comments on “The science of histamine intolerance
  1. rosemary says:

    Good for you! if you help one other woman it will have been worth it.

  2. mocooling says:

    A great way to build collective knowledge and bring some insight into (and-hopefully, relief from) what is triggering what.

  3. Rosemary says:

    A list of high histamine foods would be helpful.

  4. This is one of the better lists I’ve seen. The writer logs how many times he’s seen a food marked as high histamine or relatively safe to eat. Check it out:

  5. Ellen says:

    Your website is a great help. inspiring and quite empowering. Thanks so much for doing this!

  6. Kathy says:

    Is there a link between this and the low oxalate diet. Do you find yourself eatting more of a Paleo diet?

    • This is a good question. I know many of the foods that are high in oxalates are also high in histamine. And oxalates liberate histamines in the body. I’ve seen a relationship between oxalates, leaky gut, and histamine intolerance, but I don’t think it’s relative in my case since I do not think I have leaky gut. My histamine intolerance was brought on by menopause and hormones.

      But many people have histamine intolerance due to leaky gut, so it would seem to me there is overlap with high histamine foods and oxalates in foods. Spinach is an excellent example. It is both a high histamine food and high in oxalates. When I looked over the list of high oxalate foods, it’s practically all the foods I don’t eat that are high in histamine. So if you eliminate foods by oxalates you are eliminating high histamine foods too pretty much.

      I am vegetarian. I have done extensive reading on the paleo diet and I know there are vegan paleo people, but I am not one of them. I eat beans on occasion, actually chickpeas are a staple of my diet, and I do eat some grains. I do well with rye bread specifically, and brown rice noodles. There is something I like about the paleo diet. Maybe because it touts natural, unprocessed foods. But I don’t like to have rules to eat by. I think it makes people have a weird relationship with food. And being histamine intolerant is already weird enough!

  7. Kim Konash says:

    I found this link today – from the USDA – that said that histamine is the ONLY biologic amine for which there is a LEGAL upper limit…I had no idea. Check it out here: In this particular study (just updated today, though only the abstract is published), 15% of the 86 foods they tested were found to have at or above the legal limit. Furthermore, they state, “Increased exposure to food contaminants and environmental pollution has potential adverse effects on gastrointestinal tract epithelial barrier. Biogenic amines in food may cause a host of pathophysiological reactions and pathogenesis of gastrointestinal diseases.” That kind of puts a different spin on this topic – that at least in some cases it could be more of a food problem than a physiological one. The conclusion of the study was that they need more sensitive indicators to detect histamine levels in foods…

    • Well, I read the link and I have to disagree that it puts a new spin on anything. It really reinforces what I understood was the problem with histamine in foods. Some of us react to the histamine and that’s why we have the reactions we have. What that abstract is pointing out is that as food ages, the amount of histamine grows.

      If you have an intolerance issue, you probably should be very aware that eating leftovers and aging foods could be bad for you because it can trigger reactions even more so than when the foods were fresh.

      And many people stay away from fermented products because they have super high histamine levels.

      I have not eaten off of a salad bar or any thing like it, for example, because I have no idea how long the food has been sitting out, exposed under warm lights and aging away! And very rarely do I have leftovers in the house.

      I hope my reply doesn’t sound contrary. Rather, what you’ve provided is an excellent link to what the issue is with aging and fermented foods and another chance to tell people that those kinds of foods can have a greater impact on histamine intolerance than they might have known.

      Thank you for helping get the information out!

  8. Kim Konash says:

    I think perhaps I was unclear in how I chose to word this. I do agree with what you’ve said, and my understanding is the same as yours to a point. I should probably have said that this article provides an additional perspective. I didn’t know that there was a legal limit to histamine before, and that there is apparently no really good measure for that. Also, it didn’t specify which of the foods analyzed had greater than the legal limit of histamine; it might not be exclusively food that’s been left out too long. Additionally, the end of the article seems to indicate that too much histamine (from any source apparently) can cause gastrointestinal disease, not ONLY problems for those who are “sensitive” or histamine intolerant. From what I read, it’s just broader than what I was aware of before. I can’t help but wonder why some kind of information about histamine isn’t included in the allergy information on food labels; certainly this kind of study supports the fact that it should be, especially since people with mast cell disorders usually have even more severe reactions than the histamine intolerant.

    I’m a big believer in being informed, and do what I can to help the process along. I’m really glad I found your site!

    • Ah, ok I understand.

      I think that one of the problems with the whole legality of a limit to histamine is that people need to admit there is such an issue. How many people have written to me or posted on this site that they’ve been to several different kinds of doctors looking for an answer and not one of them finding out their’s was a histamine intolerance issue.

      I think it’s one of those things that the medical community is completely ignoring. And if big pharma can’t make any money off of it, well then they’re not going to get involved. Although that’s probably a good thing!

      I even read on a site that being histamine intolerant is “like the new thing to have” and I almost fell over from shock at the implication that it’s really fake. As if this is such a cool problem to deal with I’ve decided to suffer from a made-up health issue.

      This is why my site and the Low Histamine Chef’s site are so important in my opinion. Someone has to educate the public, so it might as well be us! But don’t hold your breath that the food industry is going to get involved anytime soon. Or even your gynecologist, who won’t be able to sell you on HRT, or you dermatologist, who won’t be able to sell you on some new skin product, or your endocrinologist, who won’t be able to sell you on a myriad of medical tests…they don’t want the word to get out that if your food is safe maybe you’ll be healthier.

  9. Kim Konash says:

    VERY well-put and I agree whole-heartedly. There do seem to be immunologists who are familiar with this issue, though most will just treat it with an antihistamine or combination of antihistamines (there’s Big Pharma for you!). I have come across some sites that seem to acknowledge histamine intolerance, but not by name; more like weird allergies, since the two look so similar. I even found a list of 34 or 35 common menopause symptoms and one of them was an increase in allergies. I DO think that more education is necessary. I found The Low Histamine Chef and other information (including published studies) on histamine and histamine intolerance with my own research, but most people aren’t as…what’s a good word?…intense, maybe…with that as I am when I’m having a very troubling issue I want GONE.

  10. Kim Konash says:

    🙂 I tried a couple of different ones; one of them really didn’t help and the other one I reacted to. I’ve also tried HistEase and Histamine Blocker (same formula as HistDAO) but haven’t really been able to tell much difference.

  11. Mia says:

    Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!!!!
    I have been breaking out in hives (I mean head to toe hives, including tongue and throat) for over 18 mons.
    In the last 6 mons. I put it together with the ceasation of my menses and possibly food and chemical interactions. Basically a chemical imbalance. But I’ve been flying blind trying to get it under control.
    I’ve gone organic with foods as well as cleansing supply’s. Tried multuliple detox therapys ( some do help ). And though I’ve had some success I still find myself with hives.
    I didn’t consider specific foods or histamines.
    Your site and the links have been a HUGE help!
    Thank you So Much!

    • I’m so glad to hear I’ve helped. It is like putting a puzzle together isn’t it? It was amazing to me when I realized some of the healthiest foods I’d been eating, like spinach, were causing my biggest problems. That’s hard to explain to most people who don’t itch.

      Feel free to keep in touch and let us know what works for you. I always like to hear success stories!


  12. Teresa says:

    There is a lot of good information on this blog site, Thank you, Dale!! I wanted to add a link I stumbled onto at the US National Library of Medicine website containing an article by the Journal of Hematology and Oncology “Mast Cell Activation Disease: a concise practical guide for diagnostic workup and therapeutic options.”

    After reading it I shared the journal article with my primary physician. It seemed to catch her attention, perhaps because its talking in a language she understands (beware it’s written in very technical medical terms). Anyway, the article explained to her what I’ve been trying to explain for over a year i.e. my symptoms, my episodes…Finally, I no longer feel like I’m just crazy! Sharing this article with my primary care physician is what got the conversation going about histamine intolerance and conditions related to it. I’m in the very early stages of testing and diagnosis however my doctors and I now have a plan and we’re working towards finding answers and treatment. I do believe, like the author of this blog, a low histamine diet and essential supplements will be an necessary element of my treatment and to all who suffer from histamine intolerance.

    Once to the site click on the .pdf version (upper right corner). Go to link:

    • Teresa, thank you for sharing. I’m always quite happy when I hear that someone is going to a doctor with an open mind who is listening. More times than not I hear the opposite.

      I am familiar with the medical abstract you’ve provided a link to. I’ve read lots of those. But I’m happy to have another link to it in the hope that someone else will find it and see themselves in it.

      I hope you are on a healing path now. Please come back and share again!


  13. Kathy says:

    Thanks so much Dale ! You are a life saver. I’m been suffering with this for approximately 4 years. I can finally put a name to it and treat myself differently.


  14. Danon says:

    That is a very good tip especially to those fresh to the blogosphere.

    Short but very accurate info… Thank you for
    sharing this one. A must read post!

  15. mel says:

    I just stumbled onto this site. Wow…. I’m quite sure what’s been happening to me recently i.e. the itching and eczema on my face and neck that has been driving me crazy these couple of months (I’ve had good complexion since puberty) is my pre-menopusal state and the histamine food connection. Cant wait to read on.

  16. Leeanne says:

    Wow. I have been suffering a lot from burning skin. Feel like I have a heater under my skin. I am also constantly itchy. I am going to start elimination diet and see what is causing my reaction. 46 peri menopause.

  17. Sinead says:

    Hi can any one help? I was scrolling through this yesterday and came across a post where a lady from the uk recommended a very good dr. The dr was in England somewhere. Now I can’t locate post. Anybody know where it may have gone to?


  18. Kristina says:

    Also if you are in the UK, join the FB group of Mast Cell Activation UK you’ll get good recommendations

  19. Linda says:

    Hi Dale, After suffering symptoms for a few years now it just occurred to me that my hives and IBS might be related to perimenopause. This works in with the hormonal migraines I’ve had for 15 years. I’m thankful to have found your site. At the moment it’s the IBS that is uncontrollable despite several elimination diets. I wondered it you can recommend a particular elimination diet as I’m existing on a handful of food items but nothing seems to be working for me.

    • I’m sorry but because everyone is so different there isn’t one diet that will work. I can only suggest you keep a food journal to help figure out what you can eat with no ill effect and what you can’t. I lived on broccoli, apples, and butternut squash for three months until I could add more into my diet. It was boring but it was nutrient dense which was important. So even if you’re bored, if you can start feeling better you’ll get things under control and then be able to experiment with more foods.

      Hang in there and thanks for writing!

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