What is histamine?

Histamine is a protein that occurs in almost everywhere in the animal and plant kingdom; it can also naturally be found in the human body. In addition, histamine is found in many foods, particularly when mature or fermented.

The data on histamine intolerance is still minimal, which is why we, at Frusano, work together with universities, among others, that specifically analyze our products for histamine and other ingredients in detail.

Some scientists estimate that around 1% of the population suffers from histamine intolerance, and about 80% of those affected are female.

The symptoms of a histamine intolerance are quite similar to those of an allergy. This includes:

  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Dizziness
  • Racing heart
  • Swelling
  • Stomach aches
  • Skin flushing
  • Itching

Diagnosing a histamine intolerance is still a challenge that requires ample time and analysis, and it is considered to be more complex than most allergies.

How a histamine intolerance influences your life

There are many types of intolerances that can affect a person's life and diet. Histamine intolerant people experience symptoms of an intolerance after consuming food containing histamine proteins. The symptoms usually resemble those of an allergy, which is why an histamine intolerance is also called a "pseudo-allergy."

A histamine intolerance is caused by an enzyme deficiency. Some people break down the histamine derived from food either too slowly or incompletely. The enzyme Diamine Oxidase (DAO) is involved in breaking down histamine. If the enzyme is not avaible in sufficient quantities for histamine digestion, histamine enters the bloodstream and triggers symptoms that are similar to an allergy.

In order to avoid these symptoms, it is important to maintain a specific diet for this type of intolerance. However, finding the right products can be a challenge, as it is not always clear which products contain histamine and which do not.

Why is there so much uncertainity around histamine intolerance?

There are many reasons why people are still unsure about histamine intolerance:

  • Consuming histamine in large amounts leads to discomfort in every human being.
  • Histamine content in foods varies widely: two equally sized pieces of the same cheese can have different histamine concentrations; the variance lies in the lengths and circumstances of the aging process.
  • An enzyme defiency may be the cause, but there is no absolute threshold value from which the diagnosis is made; anyone who is affected must find their personal tolerance threshold.
  • How well a human being tolerates histamine not only depends on quantity of their DAO and the amount of the absorbed histamine, but also with other subtances in food or drink that is consumed. For example, alcohol slows down the degradation of histamine even further.
  • Even foods without histamine can cause symptoms: examples for such foods include pineapple, kiwi and strawberries, all of which contain a very small amount of histamine, which activates the body to generate its own.
  • In additon to food, external influences such as stress or anxiety strongly affect the tolerance level of affected persons. The more stress the person has, the less histamine is usually tolerated. The reason for this is the patient's mast cells. Mast cells are part of the human body's immune defense system. These cells in our body contain many messenger substances, one of which is histamine. Certain triggers cause the cells to release histamine. Stress, medication, or underlying infections are among the best-known triggers.

Frusano carefully tests every batch of our products that is declared histamine-free. Those affected can confirm which foods are histamine-free by looking at the histamine-free label in the shop. For these products, we have also carried out storage tests to keep the risk for consumers as low as possible.

In general, we recommend careful testing of each individual's tolerance threshold. Since histamine intolerance is something which still needs further research, there is no standard diagnosis or treatment at present. Therefore, a histamine intolerant person needs to self-assess by keeping a food and symptom diary which can be communicated to a health professional. 

Eating healthy with a histamine intolerance

As with every allergy or intolerance, there are also some foods that are no-gos for histamine intolerant people.

Histamine intolerant people must stick to a low-histamine diet. Foods can be categorized into histamine-rich and low-histamine foods. However, it is important to note that the histamine content in foods can vary quite a bit. Histamine concentrations strongly depend on maturity, storage condition, and processing.

Nevertheless, there are some products that should be avoided for most histamine intolerant people:

  • Hard cheeses
  • Sausage products or aged meats
  • Processed fish
  • Pickled or fermented food
  • Soy sauce
  • Chocolate
  • Nuts
  • Drinks containing high levels of caffeine
  • Alcohol

That being said, there are many more foods that a histamine intolerant person should be aware of, and unfortunately there is still some lack of clarity whether certain products they contain histamine, or not.

Further reading:

Symptoms of histamine intolerance

Diagnosing histamine intolerance

Treatment for histamine intolerance