Can a histamine intolerance diet improve your skin condition?
There is an increasing awareness that a food intolerance can affect skin conditions. As a result, more people are learning about their sensitivity to certain foods and testing different elimination diets. We’ll look at the biggest food intolerance culprit, histamines, and discuss whether a histamine intolerance diet can improve your skin condition. After looking at some evidence that such a diet can help, we’ll go over the various ways to tackle a histamine intolerance.
Overview of Histamine Intolerance
What Is Histamine?
Histamine is a natural chemical that your body uses for many functions. One of the most important functions is to regulate your immune system, and in particular inflammation. When you have an mosquito bite, cells release histamines in the area, which is what makes the bite red and itchy.
Histamines are an important part of how your body works. They help deal with infections, like from any bacteria introduced by the mosquito bite. Normally, the histamine level will go back to normal when there is no problem.
Now, imagine that your histamine regulation is not correct and your body has too much histamine, or responds too strongly to small amounts. You would be inappropriately itchy and red all the time. This, in a nutshell, is what happens with histamine intolerance.
Histamine From Your Food
Why do some people suffer from histamine intolerance? One of the main causes of histamine intolerance is how your body digests and absorbs food. While your body can produce histamine on its own during an immune response, you also obtain histamine from the food you eat.
Food naturally contains histamine, with different foods containing more or less amounts. In healthy people, your digestive tract breaks down the histamine in your food so that only a small amount is absorbed. In unhealthy individuals, enzymes for breaking down histamines are defective or weaker than normal. As a result, a large amount of histamine is absorbed by the intestines, and the resulting histamine travels through the body in your bloodstream. The high level of histamine throughout your body can cause itchiness, congestion, redness, swelling, and other signs of inflammation.
Diamine oxidase, or DAO for short, is the most important enzyme for breaking down histamine. In healthy individuals, DAO in your intestines breaks down about 99% of the histamine in your food so that you only absorb 1% of your food’s histamine. DAO is also present in the kidneys and helps to remove existing histamine from your blood. DAO deficiency from genetic causes is likely a major contributor to histamine intolerance.
Histamine Intolerance Symptoms
The symptoms of histamine intolerance can be similar to a generic allergy, such as during hay fever season. Some common symptoms are:
- Itchy skin near the face
- Low blood pressure
- Increased pulse rate
- Chest pain
- Runny nose
- Panic attack
- Swelling around the face
Food intolerances interact badly with existing skin conditions. As you might imagine, itchy and red skin will make existing eczema even worse. Sometimes a mild skin condition can turn severe from a histamine overload, such that eliminating the histamine intolerance will be enough to restore healthy skin. We will go into further detail on this point later.
More About Food Intolerance
Food Allergy Versus Food Intolerance
While some of the symptoms between food intolerance and allergies are similar, it is important to point out that a food allergy is not the same as a food intolerance. Food allergies involve antibodies called IgE molecules reacting with your food. An allergic response can be fast and life-threatening.
In contrast, food intolerances do not involve these antibodies, and your body may not respond to a food intolerance for several hours or even a day or two.
Allergy tests check for antibody responses using blood or skin tests. Because no antibodies are involved in a food intolerance, you can have a food intolerance while still having a negative food allergy result.
Other Types of Food Intolerance
While we are focusing on histamine intolerances, it is important to note that other food intolerances can trigger similar reactions. If you are having skin problems and think food is part of the issue, you should also consider these other common food intolerances. Troubleshooting your diet for food intolerance, though, is similar regardless of the source of the problem.
Salicylates are plant-derived chemical found in nuts, vegetables, fruits, herbs, honey and some drinks such as tea or alcoholic beverages. Salicylates are part of a plant’s immune system against plant-eating insects or microbes. Normally, salicylates in your vegetables should not cause problems. However, if your body is hypersensitive, salicylates can cause allergy-like symptoms.
Here are some foods that contain high amounts of salicylates: watercress, cucumber, red chili, radish, apples, cherries, grapes, apricots, oranges, strawberries, pine nuts, almonds, peanuts, all types of spices, etc.
Glutamate is a natural amino acid present in all protein. It is present in most foods, but in some individuals are sensitive to high levels of glutamate. Glutamate intolerance can appear similar to other kinds of food intolerances, leading to inflammation, itchiness, headaches, and similar symptoms.
A famous culprit of glutamate sensitivity is the flavor enhancer MSG, which stands for monosodium glutamate. People with glutamate should avoid foods that are extra high in glutamates, with the “big 4” being gluten, soy, dairy, and corn.
Histamine, salicylate, gluatamate, and other food intolerances can often be mitigated by following dietary guidelines. This is the basis of elimination diets and or methods to determine and control food intolerances.
Treating Skin With Histamine Management
Connecting food intolerance and skin
The distinction between food intolerance and allergies is important when trying to treat skin conditions. Many doctors do not believe that your food can influence your eczema or other skin condition. We touched on this before in our discussion of eczema treatments. This is because they are thinking only of allergies. If you do not exhibit classic immune responses like the rapid onset of hives, they will tell you that your food is not affecting your skin.
However, a histamine sensitivity can worsen you skin condition in response to the foods you eat even in the absence of an allergic response. A slow buildup of high histamine can cause chronic skin issues in an allergy-independent manner.
Because food intolerance responses are slower and less severe in the short run, they can be harder to find and treat. If you are deathly allergic to peanuts, you’ll find out within hours or even minutes of eating peanuts. If you are intolerant to a substance in peanuts, you might just feel a bit worse in the next few days without being able to pinpoint why. But if you continue to eat peanuts every day, your skin would get worse and worse.
For some people with skin problems, managing histamine intolerance is enough to heal the skin. Such people may have very minor natural skin issues that combine with histamine sensitivity to create a severe problem. The skin issue may be so mild as to disappear in the absence of excess histamines.
Stories of Treating Skin with Diet
We’ll go into more detail on what you should eat on a histamine intolerance diet. However, let’s look at some success stories from around the web that use diet to treat skin conditions such as eczema.
- Yasmina Ykelenstein collects testimonies on her site devoted to low histamine diets. Several testimonies mention using a histamine intolerance diet to improve skin conditions:
- One patient said that after a few months of histamine intolerance diet, he lost some weight, and his skin condition started to fade.
- Another patient says that before going into a histamine intolerance diet, his skin suffered a great deal of damage because of the high histamine foods he used to consume. The diet helped him heal his skin.
- A third person with skin issues reports that after the diet, he no longer had to scratch his skin every few minutes. He reports that his skin started to heal after a few weeks.
- Ulla Kaczmarek reports that her daughter’s eczema was healed with a raw food diet. While this was not an explicit histamine intolerance diet, it is highly likely that a raw food diet will also be low in histamine. We discuss later the types of foods that are generally low in histamine, and fresh fruits and vegetables are usually good low-histamine foods.Source: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-15509/i-healed-my-daughters-eczema-with-a-raw-diet.html
- Harrison Li has a website describing his experience overcoming eczema. The basis for his cure was a careful diet, and while he doesn’t focus on histamine intolerance, food sensitivity and nutrition is an overlapping approach.Source: http://cureeczemaslowly.com/my-story/
Note on Doctors and Histamine Intolerance
Not all doctors recognize histamine intolerance as a condition, despite the “on the ground” evidence and stories of successful treatments. For example, histamine intolerance is more widely accepted in Europe, and it was only in 2012 that the German Society for Allergology and Clinical Immunology recognized histamine intolerance as a disease (source: http://theceliacmd.com/2014/03/histamine-intolerance-causing-symptoms/).
There’s an interesting article on healinghistamine.com about diagnosing histamine intolerances that lists the best countries for obtaining a diagnosis, depending on the specific type of histamine intolerance. See the article here.
Histamine Intolerance Diet Basics
We’ll cover the basics of a histamine intolerance diet. This simply involves eating more foods that are low in histamine and eating less foods that are high in histamine. Always consult a qualified professional before proceeding on a diet.
High and Low Histamine Foods
Below is a general list of some foods and drinks that are high in histamines. These should be avoided if you suffer from histamine intolerance.
- Coffee and drinks that contain caffeine
- Chocolate and cocoa-based food
- Alcoholic beverages
- Tree nuts and peanuts
- Products that contain fermented soy
- Select fruits including pineapples, grapes, oranges, bananas, tangerines, strawberries
- Select vegetables including aubergine, pumpinks, tomatoes, spinach
- Hard, matured cheeses
- Cured meat
- Canned foods
- Tuna, herring, salmon, sardines, shellfish
Low histamine foods include most other fruits, vegetables, fresh meat, eggs, milk, and grains. In general, fresher foods will be lower in histamine. Note that a vegetarian diet can help, but you still need to be careful, as some vegetables are very high in histamines.
Why High Histamine Can Occur in Food
Many, but not all, sources of high histamine in food are from microbes or bacteria in your food. For example, bacteria in fish gut break down proteins and release large amounts of histamine. Once a fish is caught and dead, the bacteria in the gut begin generating high histamine levels. That means you should avoid old fish or fish that have not been gutted. Shellfish are not gutted before being sold, which is why shellfish also tend to have high histamine levels.
Other processes that use microbes in fermentation or curing also generally lead to high histamine levels. That’s why alcohol, mature cheeses, and cured meats are all on the high histamine food list. In general, look for fresh meats for lower histamine levels. Avoid improperly stored meats as well.
There are a couple of exceptions with fresh fruits and vegetables having high histamine levels, and we’ve listed some of the main culprits above.
Histamine Intolerance Diet Supplemental Steps
The focus of a histamine intolerance diet should be removing the high-histamine foods from your diet. If you have a histamine intolerance, this will have the greatest effect. There are other steps you can take, but these may have only minor effects or are less well-established.
In addition to avoiding high histamine foods, to combat a histamine intolerance, you can also try to eat more of foods that reduce your existing levels of histamine or histamine response. An antihistamine diet includes foods that reduce inflammation and histamine release. Some of these foods are the following:
- Garlic: No one can deny the anti-septic and anti-inflammatory value of this ingredient. Apart from those two properties, garlic also helps regulate the histamine release in your body.
- Thyme: Rich in vitamin C, this wonder herb can be used in many dishes to help keep the histamine levels under control.
- Chamomile: This herb also fights against histamine releases. The easiest way to consume chamomile is by drinking a cup of tea made out of it.
- Watercress: Studies show that watercress is able to inhibit histamine released in the body.
- Onions: If garlic isn’t your thing, maybe you can try consuming more onions to help keep histamine levels at bay.
- Ginger: This ingredient reduces allergy-type symptoms.
- Peaches, apples, and pomegranates: All these fruits are great histamine inhibitors and can fight against inflammation.
In general, these are all healthy foods that can be a part of any diet as well. However, in terms of absolute potency, eliminating sources of histamine is probably far more effective than eating more antihistamine foods. Antihistamine foods are only meants as a supplement to a histamine intolerance diet.
Probiotics for Histamine Intolerance
Some studies suggest that probiotics can regulate histamine responses, although research is not complete in this area. Probiotics may also help the stomach by protecting its wall from pathogenic bacteria, so that the gut will not produce a high level of histamine.
According to one manufacturer of probiotics, the following bacteria strains are good for lowering histamine levels: B. infantis, L. plantarum, L. rhamnosus, B. longum, and L. reuteri. Strains to avoid are L. casei and L. bulgaricus.
DAO and other Supplement Pills
You can purchase DAO pills from several online retailers. These pills are meant to increase the amount of DAO enzyme in your intestine to compensate for a low amount of natural DAO. DAO pills are similar to lactase pills for people who are lactose intolerant.
Do DAO pills work? They might help, but they will not overcome a fundamentally poor diet. Most people use them occasionally for when they have to eat a high-histamine food on social occasions or for other reasons. The effectiveness of DAO pills for treating histamine tolerance is still debatable, and your own experiences may vary. Again, we recommend focusing on a low histamine diet first. Of course, DAO pills or a diet cannot immediately reduce high histamine levels in the body. They simply reduce the amount of new histamine entering the blood through the gut.
There are a number of other proposed histamine reducers that you can buy over-the-counter in concentrated pills.
- Fisetin – flavonol that can be found in apples, onions, cucumbers, strawberries
- Forskolin – labdane diterpene that is produced by the plant Indian Coleus
- Cromolyn – mast (immune) cell stabilizer that is marketed as cromolyn sodium salt
- Quercetin – said to be the most efficient against inflammation. A flavonol naturally found in most of the fruits and vegetables.
The support for these supplements is probably even weaker than for DAO pills. We don’t think you should go out and buy a large number of pills, but just be aware why people market these supplements.
While a histamine intolerance diet and some DAO supplements might help lower your histamine levels, lifestyle changes can also play a role. Here are some tips:
- Exercise: Exercise daily anywhere between thirty to sixty minutes. Having a good diet is not sufficient to keep your body in peak working order.
- Vitamins: Taking vitamins and minerals like B6, Vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and zinc can also help in relieving you of the high-level histamine reactions.
- Relax: In combination with exercising and dieting, make sure you relax and avoid stress. This will keep your body in the best condition. It’s no surprise that your skin can break out when you are overly stressed.
- Sleeping: In order to have a good rest, you should sleep between seven and eight hours per day. It’s not called beauty sleep for no reason.
- Moral support: To go along with relaxation and low stress, make sure you have support from family and friends.
- Avoid unpleasant environments: keep your mind and body happy and whole by avoiding annoying, dirty, or otherwise unpleasant environments.
Histamine intolerance is not always the sole cause of a skin condition. However, it can make the difference between a manageable skin condition and a severe problem.
If you have a chronic and seemingly untreatable problem with itchy, swollen, or irritated skin, we suggest that you take a look into a histamine intolerance diet and find out more about your potential food intolerances. It’s not always easy to find a doctor that understands histamine intolerance, but they are out there, so keep looking.