Histamine, the good guy?
It’s time to expand on the “not all histamine is bad” comments I’ve been making in my posts and the support groups I frequent. I get a lot of emails asking why my books include this or that food – after all, don’t I realise it’s high histamine? We’re usually speaking of chickpeas, bananas, sunflower seeds or blueberries, rather than burgers, spaghetti, whatever. That’s because in my cookbooks you will never, ever, find junk food or any medium/high histamine food that’s nutritionally null.
Interestingly I am often asked this question by people who still feel it’s ok for them to indulge in pizza (no tomato though!), or the “infrequent” Taco Bell; those who still drink coffee or black tea (with just one spoon of sugar!), or who restrain themselves to “only licking off the frosting” when baking cupcakes for the family. Present them with the idea of eating a banana though, and they run a mile.
Then there’s those who absolutely cannot part with their scented hair products, formaldehyde rich nail polish and commercial make up brands (all histamine triggers – read more here), who constantly question how I can eat the odd tomato or macadamia nut. I live on raw/natural foods. No bath products touch my skin. I have five pieces of make up made from hemp and flax seed oil. I do not use commercial nail polish. I do not eat anything from a packet. That may be why I am able to tolerate (high nutrient) higher histamine foods. At the end of the day, not enough is known about the delicate histamine balance in the body to prevent me from gaining essential nutrients from higher histamine foods. But that doesn’t mean you’ll find them in my books!
My primary answer is that lists vary according to the ripeness of the fruit when picked, whether pesticides were used, method of testing, bacterial contamination, mode of transport, variety of fruit/veg and more. Add in that reactions vary depending on how overloaded you are that day, what other intolerances you may have, whether the food has any other benefits (antihistamine, anti inflammatory, high in nutrients). Not to mention that the very act of digestion itself causes histamine release,which pretty much explains why sometimes I react to everything I eat. There’s just too many variables. I was given a list, years ago, and (eventually) followed it like gospel. But I kept ignoring the advice that if left unchallenged my immune system would stage a revolt against the low histamine foods too (true dat!). What I did follow blindly, was the “allowed” list, to the point of ignoring my body’s pleas to make it stop. Eventually I understood that there wasn’t a one-fits-all list and that the only way I was going to get better was by making my own list of high nutrient antihistamine foods (more on that in my upcoming cookbook).
The list I was given mostly agrees with the one used by people with an extreme form of histamine disorder called mastocytosis. It’s a serious condition that causes anaphylaxis if high histamine foods (amongst other triggers) are ingested. I mostly use their list, as created by allergy expert Dr. Janice Joneja, and featured on the Mastocytosis Society of Canada‘s website. I vary in that I eat mango and other pitted fruit like peaches (but not plums and apricots). My personal diet is based on a list given to patients of my nutritional role model, Dr. Fuhrman.
My more personal answer is that it shouldn’t really matter whether chickpeas have double the histamine of an apple. What matters more is your reaction to it, and what other good the nutrients in that food do for you. Your food diary is indispensable for this reason. This is of course contraindicated when you have a history of anaphylaxis and really can’t afford to eat now and ask questions later.
While we’re on the subject, I don’t know how many of you are aware of histamine’s role in the body? Histamine helps get digestion going, controls appetite and metabolism, is a neurotransmitter, keeps us awake and acts as an immune system trigger. One of histamine’s most important functions is to help white blood cells fight pathogens in infected tissue. If you had too little of it, you’d find it hard to fight infection. It’s at this point that I’m told: “but we have too MUCH histamine”. Yes, we do. But histamine has four receptors. At a recent Mastocytosis conference I’m told that mast cell expert Dr. Theoharides shared that the H3 receptor actually helps regulate the others. So in effect, histamine lowers histamine. This is one of my many arguments for not taking antihistamines.
Here’s the interesting part, did you know that some foods/supplements lower inflammation by raising histamine? I reported that Lactobacillus reuteri causes histidine to convert to histamine, but this particular histamine raises cAMP (this is good), and kills inflammation. Once again, more proof that histamine is not all bad. In a similar vein, did you also know that researchers are experimenting with histamine as a way of shrinking cancer tumors? I found an amazing study that finds histamine, (once again) specifically histamine metabolised from the amino acid histidine which is created by our bodies (mostly with the help of alimentary sources like egg white, rice, sesame seeds, nuts and beef) lowers inflammation, thereby restricting tumor growth. (Read the full study here.) That’s the plan. Unfortunately some of us are let down when our bodies don’t do what they’re supposed to!
To summarise, going low histamine while still eating a standard diet doesn’t necessarily kill inflammation. It just deprives the body of nutrition. Anti inflammatory foods, the kinds that stop cancer, are often also antihistamine and therefore may be better for us than nutritionally average foods with little benefit.
So who’s to say that completely cutting out all higher histamine foods is a good thing? Maybe our body needs a fresh supply of high nutrient foods to help it keep the negative effects of histamine in check. I really need more information on that but there is enough for me to justify trying to keep introducing high nutrient higher histamine foods. Not junk.
In my next post (one that you won’t want to miss), I’ll be talking about low histamine vs. anti inflammatory foods. Don’t miss it – sign up to my newsletter for that, and this month’s low histamine recipe.
In the meantime, I leave you with today’s breakfast.
GREEN MANGO SMOOTHIE
Mango (anti inflammatory and antihistaminic properties)
Parsley (anti inflammatory and antihistaminic properties)
Broccoli (brassica family have mast cell stabilising properties)
Mint (antihistaminic properties)
Juice the parsley and broccoli.
Add some water, blend with the mango and mint.
Add some ice cubes and whiz again.