Managing Histamines: A Follow-Up


Worsening allergies? Blame climate change! Then, choose your probiotic.

In my last blog on histamines, I introduced four types of histamine, their functions, and nutrients to manage Histamine Intolerance (HIT). I mentioned herbs to stabilize mast cells and how to be careful with probiotics, saying that studies, underway at the time, might offer more insight in the future. As artist Paik Nam June is credited with saying, “the future is now”.

What are histamines?

Histamines are chemicals your immune system makes to clear away or remove things that may bother you, like an entourage clearing a path for a VIP. One of these offending things might be pollen, and the path might be your respiratory passages.

Where do histamines come from?

Histamines are produced by the body. They can also be generated by bacteria. Histamine-producing bacteria can be in our bodies or in foods, such as fermented foods. That means that we can make histamines directly or indirectly or ingest them in food or probiotic supplements.

What can trigger histamine responses?

If you have seasonal allergies, the offenders might be tree, grass, or weed pollens. High-histamine foods can provoke a gut response with various symptoms, like abdominal cramps. Some foods are considered histamine liberators, meaning they act on mast cells, prompting the release of stored histamine the way an allergen does.

What do they do? – The histamine response to a trigger like pollen

Pollen might trigger a chemical reaction in you that signals your mast cells to release stored histamine. Histamine might then try to clear the pollen from your nasal passages, throat, and other invaded areas.

How do they work?

Some removal methods the body uses are somewhat unpleasant. Eyes may be flushed out by a stream of tears, the nose cleared by sneezing or “running”. Lungs may spasm in coughs. Facial sinuses or skin may itch to get you to rub and clear away the offender (pollen, for example).

Why does pollen trigger histamines more now?

Two words: climate change. The yearly growing season in the Pacific Northwest has increased by 40+ days since my grandma was born. Pollen season is longer, too, and more concentrated; as CO2 goes up, ragweed makes more pollen. The further north, the greater the change. In Fairbanks, Alaska, ragweed pollen is increasing by more than 12 percent each year.

The problem is ubiquitous

Even in low-pollen November or January, people react to healthy, histamine-rich food and histamine-releasing food. Seemingly unrelated reactions, from migraines to heart arrhythmia to eczema, can all result from histamine. Large amounts of histamine can raise or lower blood pressure or cause nausea or vomiting, too.

Food-based histamine responses happen all year

Feel bad after eggplant, spinach & egg white omelets, or wine and chocolate? Blame histamine. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, soy sauce, and kefir have histamine. Aged foods like cured meat, cheese, or leftovers develop histamines. My favorite white fish recipe, with avocado, pineapple and tomato salsa, is a histamine nightmare! Itchy after eating pork or strawberries? They’re histamine releasers.

Why bacteria matter

As mentioned way back at the beginning of this post, histamine can be generated by bacteria. Some bacteria are histamine producers, like those involved with fermented foods, fish products, or aged cheese. These bacteria use an enzyme to convert the amine l-histidine into histamine. Other bacteria are neutral and some degrade histamine.

Less diverse gut bacteria and allergic response seem to be related

In general, people raised in urban areas seem more sensitive and allergic. They might be low in histamine-degrading bacteria. There may be other reasons, but we know they have more allergies on average.

Why everyone you know is affected

We are living in cities more than ever. Urban conditions correlate with less diverse gut bacteria inside of us and more air pollution. This includes irritants like dust and mold indoors, as well as ragweed that “grows faster and larger and produces much more pollen” outdoors.

Managing what you ingest to manage histamine

Last time, I suggested getting adequate nutrients, watching your diet, and trying herbs. I was asked if this approach could work for food allergies as well as environmental ones and overall, yes. It should help you feel better, reduce your overall histamine load, and stabilize your mast cells, regardless of the cause of the histamine trigger.

Ingested histamine and gut bacteria

Healthy, balanced gut flora may naturally produce less histamine. Many problematic bacteria like E. coli and Klebsiella are known histamine producers. They seem to be triggered into this production in the presence of amines (like histamine) in food. Reducing high-histamine foods while addressing bad bacteria in the gut might pay off exponentially.

Managing histamines with probiotics

Last time, I mentioned that some Bifido-type bacteria may degrade and break down histamine. More confirmation is still needed before specific strain recommendations can be made. The good news is that our Flora probiotic strains have all had their genomes checked and none contain any genes related to producing histidine decarboxylase (the enzyme that bacteria use to make histamine). That means you can safely use Flora probiotics to increase your gut diversity and overall gut health without any worry about them contributing to histamine production.

Dana Green Remedios, RHN, RNCP, NNCP, is a Vancouver-based educator and coach. She is a regular contributor to the FloraHealthy blog and can answer your questions in English, French, and Spanish as a Product Information Specialist at Flora.