Histamine safe ferments?

yogurt in small jars on a table, selective focus

As I’ve pointed out a number of times over the years (in almost every post!) cutting histamine containing foods out of the diet isn’t a great idea for long term healing. I came up with this theory when all other bloggers and the handful of practitioners actually somewhat schooled in histamine disorders were pinning all our woes on a lack of the histamine-degrading enzyme DAO (diamine oxidase), telling us that salvation lay solely in avoiding histamine containing foods and popping a pork supplement filled with nasty fillers.

Why do I think it’s not the answer for most of us?

Going on the standard low histamine diet was the gluten/dairy/nut/soy free straw that broke this camel’s back.

It didn’t just break my body – it broke my mind.

And those of many thousands of my readers.

Think I’m exaggerating? You try being diagnosed with something no-one has ever heard of (or self-diagnosing and having no one believe you), being sent away with a list of dozens of foods to avoid, and spending the next few years crying into your dinner plate, avoiding scents and social situations, while suffering increasing symptoms.

I’m not going into all the gory details of what we go through – odds are that if you’re reading this blog, you know exactly what I’m talking about.


Now I’m sure a lot of people are going to be much more receptive of this post than any of my hundreds others on why we shouldn’t remove high nutrient high histamine foods from the diet while continuing to “enjoy” low histamine ones that are still highly inflammatory (for more on that read my post – the inflammation bucket), simply because it deals with something that’s turned into a national dietary pre-occupation.


What’s the deal with it?

Those with histamine issues are supposed to stay away from ferments, because bacteria = histamine.

Here’s the catch though: as I mentioned in a previous post on probiotics – some probiotics exert an antihistamine or just generally exciting anti-inflammatory effect, by stimulating histamine receptors. Yes, you heard me right, that was what I wrote in that post a few years back.

When I first started researching this topic a few years back, there wasn’t much information out there. The best study I found at the time, on kimchi (Korean fermented cabbage), showing that the bacteria found in it after a few weeks exhibited antihistamine and anti-inflammatory effects. The study shared that the probiotic found in kimchi, Lactobacillus sakei probio 65, can inhibit IgE (the stuff involved in allergies) and interleukins (involved in mast cell disorders and inflammation generally), and that it shows promise in treating atopic dermatitis caused by IgE mediated histamine release [0].

An example of this opposite day doozy is laid out in a Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology study [1] discussing the importance of the microbiota (gut bacteria) in ongoing “immune homeostasis” and that activation of the H2 histamine receptor is “associated with potent immunoregulatory effects”. The study authors found that the anti-inflammatory effects of the histamine-secreting L. Rhamnosus were down to its stimulation of the aforementioned receptor.

In the case of kefir, a study appearing in the peer-reviewed Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin of Japan showed that rice kefiran was able to inhibit degranulation and cytokine production in bone marrow mast cells exposed to an antigen [2].

In English: kefir was able to stop mast cells exposed to an antigen (examples of which may be an allergen, bacteria or virus), from releasing inflammatory elements (like interleukins and histamine for example).

I have to point out here that this study was not conducted on mammals, but rather in test tubes. The study authors comment in their paper that in vivo studies (on animals) have shown kefiran to have anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects, but it remained unclear in these studies whether kefiran influenced mast cells.

Crazy right? Not so much…it’s what I and others have found over and over again; that making cutting all dietary histamine from the diet your goal is probably counter productive. I’ve wondered if severely restricting it may even cause the body to produce more histamine to make up for the shortfall.

I first discovered this by accident, when feeling crappy. I was so miserable with my life of restriction, that, as had happened many times in the past, I decided to go nuts and eat what I wanted. But this time, I decided to do it within the confines of a high nutrient diet. So I gave in to my urges and ate cacao, quite bit of it in the end. The glorious raw, organic, cacao, processed with a couple of dates and pecans, and rolled into little balls, gave my body exactly what it needed, and suddenly, all was well in my world.

I thought it was just me – but many I speak with report exactly the same. Some high histamine foods and probiotic strains appear to potentially trigger the histamine receptors (H2 and H3 according to the aforementioned research) into producing an anti-inflammatory effect. I have no information as to whether the anti-inflammatory benefit outweighs the histamine spike – I can only speak from my experience and those of the readers I have spoken with. What seems to make the difference is if the foods are healthy/high nutrient ones, the kind that I have research showing they’re in possession of some anti-inflammatory or antihistamine benefits. These would be foods that appear on many high histamine lists like pomegranate, dates, certain probiotics (check my post), some ferments (kimchi??), lentils, cherries, raspberries, cacao, turmeric and many others.

Now, I would think that this essentially homeopathic approach (is this the right term? I mean that a little of the poison may be the cure) wouldn’t work for folks whose histamine/inflammation bucket is still full. When your bucket is full, sticking a toothpick between your teeth could  make it spill over! So you’d have to consult with your doctor/nutritionist/faith healer for more on that, should you be lucky enough to have one.

Ok, so given that we know all the above, and that a good many of you are just downright mistrustful of even eyeballing something on the high histamine lists, but are likely to be desperate to return to fermenting, here are some things that may help prevent histamine build up in ferments.


Anaerobic fermentation

I can’t find much research on this, but a number of websites claim it’s the safer way to ferment. I have seen many people online speaking of ferments longer than 16 weeks causing very little histamine reaction – but this is entirely anecdotal and not based on research. I did think it was worth mentioning as so many are reporting it.

Generally when fermenting it would be essential to be absolutely sure you’ve properly sterilised your utensils and jars.

Foods, herbs and spices

A particularly interesting study showed that thyme (antihistamine), turmeric (antihistamine), red pepper, black pepper and salt posses the ability to prevent or slow histamine (and certain other amine) production in foods (but cooking will greatly reduce their efficacy). Also don’t forget, scientists are usually working with extracts, so their potions will be a lot more potent than what we can whip up at home. The antihistamine foods ginger, garlic and green onion have been also been found to delay histamine production. The addition of 5% garlic, for example, to traditional Korean anchovy ferments reduced overall biogenic amine production by just under 10%. It might not sound like much, but I would also factor in that garlic is itself an antihistamine and anti-inflammatory food [3], toss in a couple of the others and we might be on to a bit of a winner?

You’ll find recipes full of foods with antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties my books Anti-Recipes and The Anti-Cookbook

Garcinia cambogia [4]

Many people are confused by the whole fish issue. Fish isn’t inherently high histamine, but histamine formation becomes a problem as the flesh accumulates bacteria.

A study in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition turned up that adding garcinia cambogia to fresh fish slows histamine build up. I haven’t found other studies showing it has any effect on anything but fish. And I definitely wouldn’t try fermenting fish…

Citric acid [5]

While it has been shown to inhibit/lower rates of histamine accumulation in fish, citric acid nowadays is often made from fungus/mold [6] and that’s very definitely a mast cell trigger. So, if like me, you’ve never reacted to lemons/limes, this could be something to add in to try to keep histamine levels lower in ferments.

It’s like what I say about my diet. I prefer to eat my medicine because I believe that phytonutrients work together to create the magic. Antihistamine foods with high histamine, low oxalate with medium to high oxalate, so why not high histamine ferments with antihistamine additions? I really need to change the name of my website, because it’s not about low anything – it’s about the combination of nutrients, a dance of colour, taste, and the balancing of emotion.

As Aesop wrote: “A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety [7]”.

If you’re going to have your cake, eat it in peace and be well with the decisions you’ve made.

I just hope it’s made from soul and body nourishing ingredients.

Same goes for the ferments!

You’ll find recipes full of foods with antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties my books Anti-Recipes and The Anti-Cookbook



[0] http://www.fasebj.org/cgi/content/meeting_abstract/26/1_MeetingAbstracts/lb465

[1] Histamine receptor 2 is a key influence in immune responses to intestinal histamine-secreting microbes

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/22293347/

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995314/

[4] http://healinghistamine.com/middle-eastern-indian-spices-lower-histamine-and-other-biogenic-amines-in-foods/

[5] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995314/

[6] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0734975095000028

[7] http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Aesop