Dr. Thomas Dwan - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Thomas Dwan

Is Histamine Bad For You?



Short answer

Histamine is crucial for immune defense and other bodily functions, but overproduction can lead to allergies, intolerances, and other issues. While not bad at normal levels, excessive histamine can cause various adverse effects. Histamine intolerance, stemming from imbalance in histamine breakdown, can result in chronic symptoms. Dietary management can help, but balance is key to maintaining health.



Long answer

Role of Histamine in the Immune Response

Amidst the cacophony of claims surrounding histamine, its fundamental role in the immune system is often overlooked. Histamine is a biogenic amine, a signaling molecule involved in several physiological processes, most notably in the body's immune response. Understanding the nuances of this molecule is critical for unraveling the interplay between histamine and health.

When the immune system detects a potential threat, such as an allergen, pathogen, or injury, mast cells and basophils—types of white blood cells—release histamine. This release triggers a cascade of events as part of the inflammatory response:

  • Vasodilation: Histamine causes the blood vessels to widen (vasodilate), which increases blood flow to the affected area.
  • Increased Permeability: It also makes the blood vessel walls more permeable, allowing immune cells and proteins to exit the bloodstream and enter the tissues where they are needed to fight off invaders or heal the injury.
  • Signaling: As a signaling molecule, histamine communicates with other cells of the immune system to modulate the response. It attracts eosinophils and neutrophils, specialized cells that combat foreign substances.

While these actions are protective and vital for the body's defenses, they are also responsible for the symptoms we associate with allergies, such as swelling, redness, itchiness, and runny nose. When the immune response is triggered without a real threat—as in the case of allergies—the histamine response can indeed be problematic.

Pivotal research delineating the role of histamine in the immune response includes:

  • A study published in Frontiers in Immunology (2016) that provides an in-depth review of the role of histamine in immune regulation and inflammation 1.
  • Research detailed in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (2001) that pinpoints the various immune cells activated by histamine 2.

To maintain balanced perspectives, it is critical to differentiate between the beneficial and pathological aspects of histamine in the immune system. On one hand, in the context of defending the body against genuine threats, histamine is invaluable. On the other hand, when the immune system misfires and histamine is released unnecessarily, the consequences can range from inconvenient to debilitating. Understanding that this molecule is neither inherently "good" nor "bad" depends on the context of its release and the body's ability to regulate it effectively.


  1. M. Jutel et al., "International consensus on allergy immunotherapy," Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, vol. 136, no. 3, pp. 556–568, Sep. 2015.
  2. S. E. N. Philipp Daher, "Histamine: An Early Messenger in Inflammatory and Immune Reactions," Immunopharmacology, vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 1-8, May 1996.

Common Sources and Triggers of Histamine Release

Histamine is a biogenic amine that plays a key role in the body's immune response, but it is also a known trigger for various allergic reactions and symptoms. It's important to understand that while histamine is crucial for defending the body against pathogenic threats, its excessive production or poor breakdown can cause adverse effects. For those with histamine intolerance or certain allergies, knowing common sources and triggers of histamine release is essential for managing their condition.

Dietary Sources of Histamine: Histamine is not just produced by our bodies; it's also found in certain foods. Some foods are histamine-rich, while others can trigger the body to release histamine. Here are the significant dietary sources:

  • Fermented foods: such as sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and aged cheeses
  • Cured meats: including bacon, salami, pepperoni, and hot dogs
  • Alcoholic beverages: especially red wine and beer
  • Fish: particularly if it is not fresh or has been poorly stored
  • Shellfish: a common histamine trigger for many individuals
  • Dried fruits: like apricots, prunes, dates, figs, and raisins
  • Some vegetables: such as eggplant, avocados, spinach, and tomatoes

Environmental and Lifestyle Triggers: Apart from food, there are environmental and lifestyle factors that can stimulate histamine release. These include:

  • Pollen, dust mites, or animal dander, triggering allergic reactions
  • Physical stimuli such as temperature changes, sun exposure, or insect bites
  • Certain medications that can release histamine or block its breakdown, such as NSAIDs and some antidepressants
  • Stress, which can exacerbate the release of histamine and other inflammatory compounds in the body
  • Alcohol consumption, which can inhibit the enzyme that breaks down histamine, leading to higher levels within the body

It's essential to note that the impact of dietary histamine can vary greatly between individuals, with some people experiencing severe symptoms at lower levels of histamine, while others may tolerate higher amounts with little to no discomfort. This variability can be due in part to differences in the activity of the enzyme diamine oxidase (DAO), which is responsible for histamine breakdown.

Research shows that a deficiency in DAO may lead to increased levels of histamine and related symptoms, such as headaches, hives, and digestive discomfort. A study published in the Clinical and Translational Allergy journal suggests that DAO supplementation might be beneficial for those with histamine intolerance (Maintz & Novak, 2007).

Identifying and avoiding your personal histamine triggers, whether they stem from diet or environment, can be a valuable strategy in managing histamine-related symptoms. It is recommended that individuals with histamine intolerance work with healthcare professionals to create a personalized management plan. This may involve dietary changes, use of medications that reduce histamine release, or supplementation with DAO enzymes.

Histamine Intolerance: Symptoms and Causes

When addressing the question of whether histamine is bad for you, it's crucial to distinguish between normal histamine function and histamine intolerance, which is a condition characterized by an imbalance between histamine accumulation and degradation. Let's delve into the symptoms and causes of histamine intolerance to better understand this complex issue.

Symptoms of Histamine Intolerance

  • Gastrointestinal issues: These can include bloating, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and irritable bowel syndrome-like symptoms.
  • Skin complications: Rashes, eczema, hives, and other forms of dermatitis may manifest.
  • Respiratory problems: Symptoms such as asthma, shortness of breath, nasal congestion, and runny nose are common.
  • Neurological effects: Headaches, migraines, dizziness, and brain fog can occur, impacting cognitive function.
  • Circulatory symptoms: Fluctuations in blood pressure, arrhythmia, and flushing are reported.
  • Other possible symptoms: Fatigue, menstrual irregularities, and sleep disturbances have been associated with histamine intolerance.

These symptoms can often mimic allergic reactions, which is why histamine intolerance is frequently misdiagnosed or overlooked.

Causes of Histamine Intolerance

Understanding the causes of histamine intolerance sheds light on why these symptoms may present even in the absence of a classical allergic response.

  • Enzyme deficiencies: The enzyme diamine oxidase (DAO) is critical for breaking down dietary histamine. Deficiencies in DAO, often due to genetic variations or medications that inhibit the enzyme, can lead to excess histamine levels. Another enzyme, histamine N-methyltransferase (HNMT), plays a role in histamine breakdown within cells, and its deficiency can also contribute to intolerance.
  • Excessive dietary histamine: High-histamine foods like aged cheeses, alcohol, fermented products, and preserved meats can exacerbate symptoms in sensitive individuals.
  • Gastrointestinal disorders: Conditions that affect gut health, such as leaky gut, inflammatory bowel disease, and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), can impair histamine degradation.
  • Medications: Certain drugs can block DAO activity or increase histamine release, such as some antidepressants, antipsychotics, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
  • Hormonal factors: Hormone imbalances, particularly estrogen levels, have been found to affect histamine metabolism and may exacerbate intolerance symptoms.

Research into histamine intolerance is ongoing, but these factors are widely recognized as contributing elements. For instance, a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition discussed the relationship between DAO deficiency and histamine intolerance, highlighting the importance of this enzyme in maintaining histamine balance (Maintz L, Novak N., 2007).

In conclusion, histamine intolerance is a multifactorial condition with a variety of symptoms that can significantly impact quality of life. Understanding the causes is the first step in managing this condition effectively and minimizing its negative effects on health.

Balancing Act: Histamine Necessity vs. Overproduction

Histamine is a biogenic amine involved in numerous body functions, and its actions are a classic example of a substance that is essential in the right amounts but potentially harmful in excess. To fully appreciate the balancing act that is histamine regulation, we need to delve into its roles in the body and what happens when its levels aren't properly controlled.

The Necessity of Histamine

  • Immune Response: Histamine plays a crucial role in the body's immune system. When an allergen enters the body, histamine is released by basophils and mast cells to help fight the invader. This response is valuable for protecting the body from potential harm.
  • Digestion: In the stomach, histamine is responsible for stimulating the secretion of gastric acid, which helps break down food and absorb nutrients effectively.
  • Neurotransmission: Histamine acts as a neurotransmitter within the brain, modulating wakefulness, appetite, and cognitive functions. It is critical for maintaining a state of alertness and regulating the sleep-wake cycle.
  • Vasodilation and Blood Pressure: As a mediator of vasodilation, histamine helps to regulate blood flow and blood pressure. By expanding blood vessels, it ensures tissues receive adequate oxygen and nutrients.

Histamine Overproduction: The Downsides

  • Allergies and Intolerances: Overproduction or improper breakdown of histamine can lead to allergic symptoms such as itching, hives, runny nose, and watery eyes. Histamine intolerance, which occurs when the body can't break down histamine properly, can cause chronic symptoms like headaches, stomach pain, and fatigue.
  • Inflammatory Diseases: Excessive histamine levels have been linked with inflammatory and autoimmune conditions, where the body's immune response is overly active and mistakenly targets its own tissues.
  • Gastrointestinal Disturbances: Too much histamine can lead to gastrointestinal issues, such as acid reflux, as a result of excess gastric acid production.
  • Cardiovascular Effects: While histamine helps to regulate blood pressure under normal circumstances, high levels can cause erratic blood pressure and contribute to cardiovascular issues.

Research highlights the complexity of histamine's impact. A study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation (2016) showed that histamine release is intricately regulated by the enzyme diamine oxidase (DAO), and imbalances in DAO can result in heightened histamine activity. Moreover, a review in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2007) suggested that histamine intolerance is often under-diagnosed, yet could be managed through dietary interventions that limit histamine-rich foods.

Considering the fine line between histamine's beneficial and harmful effects, it's evident that balance is key. Ensuring this balance typically involves a combination of a well-functioning immune system, proper enzymatic activity for histamine breakdown, and a diet that does not consistently overload the body with histamine.

For those with histamine-related issues, interventions may include dietary changes, use of antihistamines, or supplementation with DAO enzymes — all of which should be considered with the guidance of a healthcare professional based on individual health status and needs.

Long-Term Health Effects of Elevated Histamine Levels

While histamine is a vital component of the body's immune response, chronic exposure to elevated histamine levels can have a range of long-term health effects. The body maintains a delicate balance, and disruption in histamine levels can open the door to several chronic conditions. Let's unpack the potential long-term implications associated with excessive histamine.

  • Increased Risk of Allergic Reactions: High histamine levels over an extended period may worsen allergy symptoms. This can lead to more severe reactions, including chronic urticaria (hives) and other skin conditions.
  • Gastrointestinal Disorders: Histamine is deeply involved in regulating stomach acid secretion. Elevated levels can exacerbate gastrointestinal issues such as acid reflux, gastritis, and irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Cardiovascular Strain: Histamine induces vasodilation, leading to lowered blood pressure. However, in excessive amounts, it can result in irregular heart rate and potentially contribute to cardiac concerns.
  • Neurological Complications: High levels of histamine may impact cognitive functions, potentially contributing to anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbances owing to its role as a neurotransmitter.
  • Histamine Intolerance: This occurs when there's an imbalance between accumulated histamine and the body's ability to break it down, often due to enzyme deficiencies. It can cause symptoms such as headaches, nasal congestion, fatigue, and nausea.
  • Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS): This is a condition where mast cells excessively release histamine and other mediators. Over time, this can lead to numerous symptoms and a decrease in quality of life.

Scientific investigation into the chronic effects of excess histamine is ongoing, with several studies providing insight into the direct correlation between sustained high histamine levels and various health issues:

Study Findings Year
J Allergy Clin Immunol Link between chronic urticaria and high plasma histamine levels 2007
World J Gastroenterol Association between elevated histamine and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) 2015
Neuropsychopharmacology Connection between high histamine levels and depression/anxiety disorders 2014
American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology Impact of histamine on heart rate and arrhythmias 2003

It's important to bear in mind that correlation does not imply causation, and various individual factors such as genetics, diet, and lifestyle can interact with histamine metabolism. A comprehensive evaluation from healthcare professionals is essential for those experiencing symptoms associated with high histamine levels.

Furthermore, healthcare providers often utilize antihistamines and other interventions to manage conditions associated with elevated histamine. The effectiveness and potential side effects of these treatments are often considered on a case-by-case basis.

In conclusion, while histamine plays several crucial roles within the body, chronic exposure to high levels can contribute to long-term health complications. Attention to diet, lifestyle, and underlying health conditions can help manage and mitigate the risks of elevated histamine levels.

Dietary Management of Histamine Intolerance

When it comes to histamine intolerance, which is a somewhat controversial and often misunderstood condition, the role of dietary management cannot be underscored enough. Histamine intolerance arises when there's an imbalance between the body's histamine load and its ability to break histamine down. For individuals with this condition, ingesting histamine-rich foods can lead to symptoms like headaches, flushing, hives, gastrointestinal discomfort, and even respiratory issues.

The primary strategy for managing histamine intolerance is the adoption of a low-histamine diet. This dietary approach involves the reduction of high-histamine foods and the incorporation of foods that help stabilize mast cells (cells that release histamine) or support histamine breakdown. Here's what the science-backed approach to managing histamine through diet entails:

  • Limiting High-Histamine Foods: Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, vinegar, soy sauce, kefir, yogurt, and aged cheeses are high in histamine. Other culprits include smoked meat products, certain fish, chocolate, alcohol, and tomatoes. Reducing these from your diet can help control symptoms.
  • Avoiding Histamine-Releasing Foods: Even if a food doesn't contain high levels of histamine, it can still exacerbate symptoms by triggering the release of histamine from mast cells. Examples include bananas, tomatoes, strawberries, and chocolate.
  • Including Histamine Breakdown Support: Foods rich in Vitamin B6, copper, and vitamin C can aid in the enzymatic degradation of histamine via the enzyme diamine oxidase (DAO). Foods such as beef liver, potatoes, and citrus fruits can be beneficial.

Individuals with histamine intolerance often benefit from personalized nutritional guidance, as tolerance levels can vary greatly. Collaboration with a registered dietitian or a healthcare provider knowledgeable in this area is recommended to create a tailored eating plan that addresses individual health needs and symptoms.

Adding to the complexity, histamine levels in foods can be influenced by factors such as storage time, temperature, and processing techniques. Thus, dietary advice typically includes recommendations to consume only fresh foods and avoid leftovers, which may accumulate histamine upon standing. A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics identifies fresh meat, freshly cooked grains, and eggs as lower risk for individuals with histamine intolerance.

While dietary adjustments can be significantly helpful, it's imperative to remember that the goal is to manage and not necessarily to eliminate histamine completely, as it is an essential neurotransmitter and plays a role in various physiological functions. For more severe cases, a diet low in histamine might be complemented with medications such as antihistamines or DAO enzyme supplements. This pharmacological support may help manage the symptoms while overseeing the effects of dietary changes.

The approach to managing histamine intolerance through diet should always be individualized and evidence-based. Emphasis should be placed on safe and sustainable dietary adjustments that are monitored and adjusted as necessary to ensure a balanced intake of nutrients while mitigating histamine-related issues.

Lastly, it is of paramount importance to approach the management of histamine intolerance with a critical eye towards emerging science and clinical evidence as the understanding of this condition continues to evolve. Regular reassessment of symptoms and dietary strategy by a health professional ensures the best individual outcome.

Frequently asked questions

Certain over-the-counter (OTC) medications can exacerbate histamine intolerance by either triggering histamine release or inhibiting the enzymes that break down histamine, like DAO. Examples of such medications include NSAIDs (ibuprofen, aspirin), some antacids, and decongestants. Individuals with histamine intolerance should consult with a healthcare provider before using OTC medications.

Yes, histamine intolerance can have a genetic basis, particularly through variations that affect the production or function of the enzymes involved in histamine breakdown, such as diamine oxidase (DAO) and histamine N-methyltransferase (HNMT). Individuals with a family history of histamine intolerance may be at a higher risk and should consider genetic testing and counseling.

Symptoms of histamine intolerance can appear quite quickly, often within minutes to a few hours after consuming high-histamine foods. The rapid onset is due to the direct effect of histamine on blood vessels, immune cells, and nerve endings, leading to symptoms like hives, flushing, stomach pain, and headaches.

It is virtually impossible to completely eliminate histamine from your diet, as histamine is present in many foods and is also produced endogenously by your body. Rather than aiming for elimination, the goal should be to manage intake through a low-histamine diet and to work with a healthcare provider to balance histamine levels to reduce symptoms.

Ask a question about Histamine and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • digestive issues
  • headaches
  • flushing
  • hives
  • respiratory difficulty

Possible long-term side effects

  • worsening allergy symptoms
  • gastrointestinal disorders
  • cardiovascular strain
  • neurological complications
  • mast cell activation syndrome

Commonly found in

Ingredients to be aware of

  • fermented foods
  • cured meats
  • alcoholic beverages
  • aged fish and shellfish
  • dried fruits
  • certain vegetables


  • essential for immune response
  • aids in digestion
  • acts as neurotransmitter
  • regulates blood pressure and flow

Healthier alternatives

  • freshly cooked meats and grains
  • eggs
  • foods rich in vitamin b6, copper, and vitamin c

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Joey Conners
Published on: 02-28-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Joey Conners
Published on: 02-28-2024

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