What Is Histamine Intolerance?

Could histamine intolerance be causing your mysterious food reactions? Nutrition Diva investigates the science behind this increasingly common diagnosis.


Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
3-minute read
Episode #294

Nutrition Diva listener Bronwyn writes, "I came across a magazine article in which a woman extolled the virtues of a histamine-free diet. Is it true that there are histamines in food? Does eating a low-histamine diet help with allergies, and improve the look of your skin? Will it give you more energy?”.

I’ve been hearing a lot about the low-histamine diet lately, as well. It’s recommended as a treatment for histamine intolerance, a condition that is not widely recognized in the conventional medical community.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist! The theory behind histamine intolerance is plausible. But pending more and better research, the diagnosis and treatments are still somewhat speculative.

With that in mind, can a low-histamine diet be a panacea for clearer skin and better energy levels, as this magazine article implies? Not likely. At most, a low-histamine diet might offer relief from chronic and mysterious symptoms (which can include skin rashes and fatigue,) for a small percentage of the population.

What are Histamines?

Your body produces histamines as part of its immune response.  If you suffer from hayfever, for example, the histamines that your cells release when they are exposed to pollen are what causes the itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, wheezing, and general misery you experience. Antihistamine drugs bring relief by blocking the activity of those histamines.

See also: How to Treat Seasonal Allergies

Some foods—including many things that we think of as healthful-- also contain histamines. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, cheese, or cured meats can be especially high in histamines. Yet eating these foods does not provoke itchy eyes and sneezing fits—at least, not for most of us.

Histamine from foods is normally be broken down in the digestive tract by an enzyme known as DAO. If, however, you were to consume histamines faster than your system could degrade them, they might build up to the point where you would start to have symptoms that would look and feel an awful lot like an allergic reaction—even if you haven’t been exposed to anything you are allergic to.

What is Histamine Intolerance?

People who suffer from histamine intolerance may be extremely sensitive to small amounts of histamine from foods. They may have a reduced ability to break down histamines, due to genetics or drugs that interfere with the production, or activity of the DAO enzyme. Or even a little bit of both. 


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.