Guest blog written by current client, Georgia
For the first 28 years of my life, I had only ever heard of histamines when talking about hayfever medication. So when I went to a naturopath to discover the underlying causes of my dry skin and acne, I was shocked to hear that my many ailments were all caused by high levels of histamines. “But I don’t suffer from hayfever,” I thought. How could this be accurate?
Fast forward twelve months and I am now a histamine expert, well, at least compared to before. I have learnt what histamines do in your body, why we need them, why some people suffer from intolerances and the triggers. I’ve learnt how it affects me physically and mentally, and I’ve been able to understand what it is my body needs to lower my histamine levels and maintain a healthy balance.
So what are histamines?
Histamines are chemicals that your immune system makes to help rid your body of potential danger (allergens). Histamines are part of your body’s defence, causing you to itch, sneeze or tear up, to expel the allergens from your system. They are these to protect us. So how then do they cause so many of us problems?
Usually it’s when they overreact to the danger, or allergen. Often, our body sees the triggers (such as pollen, pet hair, etc) as a more serious threat than it is in reality, and our immune system reacts accordingly, releasing higher levels of histamine to try to eliminate these dangers.
Histamines are stored in our mast cells, and the body sends a signal to these mast cells to release the histamines. Mast cells are found in your skin, blood, gut, lungs, nose and mouth. After the histamines are released from the mast cells, they cause blood flow to the area in which the histamines travelled to, causing inflammation. Histamines, therefore, are an essential and natural part of our body’s defence system.
So, how come there are those of us who are intolerant?
First of all, histamine intolerance does not mean we have a sensitivity to histamines, but rather we produce too much of it. Our bodily systems believe us to be nearly constantly under threat, meaning we can have a constant and high release of histamines all the time.
Although the symptoms vary depending on the individual, some of the common reactions to high histamine levels are:
- Itchy skin
- Dry or irritated eyes
- Hayfever-like symptoms
- Runny nose
- Abdominal discomfort
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Acne, eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis
For my whole life I believed most of these symptoms to be normal and I would endure them daily. Specifically itchy skin, acne, fatigue, anxiety and irregular menstrual cycles.
Many things can trigger histamine releases. Aside from the common triggers such as pollen, pet hair and grasses, some others are:
- Non-natural fragrances found in perfumes, candles and cleaning products
- High-histamine foods (which I will go into further detail about below)
- Leftovers or old foods
- COVID and other viruses
- Some medications
The two biggest triggers for me personally were foods and fragrances, two things I had a relatively high level of control over. So these were the two things I changed in my lifestyle straight away.
When researching and learning about histamine levels in foods, it seemed complex and not many websites seemed to agree. Some sites said raspberries were high, others said they were safe – it was very confusing! Because every body reacts differently to triggers, I decided to test it myself, to find out what my big triggers were and what my body was happy with.
Here is what I found:
*please keep in mind these were my specific findings*
High Histamine (high triggers)
- Tomato (including ketchup, tinned tomatoes etc)
- All dairy (except ricotta)
- Aged cheese
- Fermented foods (except miso paste)
- Leftovers (especially chicken)
- Refined Sugar
The foods listed above were basically non-negotiable trigger foods that I had to eliminate straight away. Interestingly enough, my body reacted to each food differently. For example, when I ate tomato I had extreme hay-fever like symptoms, when I ate avocado I became extremely fatigued, when I ate spinach my anxiety was through the roof and when I ate dairy I broke out in pimples. This was a process of trial and error, but I found them to also be the most commonly high-triggers for others experiencing histamine intolerance as well.
Many website state foods such as miso paste, sourdough bread and raspberries to be high in histamines, but none of these were a trigger for me.
It’s also important to keep in mind that histamines grow in foods that have already been cooked. Hence why leftovers and aged foods have high levels of histamines. So even if you prepare a low-histamine meal, if left in the fridge over night and consumed in the few days to come, the histamine levels can rise nearly 20x.
Here are some dietary tips and tricks I found helped when substituting high- histamine foods:
- Smashed avocado
- Tomato Sauce
- Red capsicum
- Blueberries, blackberries
- Coconut milk
- Smashed pumpkin
- Coconut milk
- Green sauce (below)
- Peppermint or herbal tea
Other foods that I found really calmed my gut and lowered my histamine levels are:
- Herbs (especially basil and mint)
- Broccoli and broccolini
- Bok choy/Pak choy
Finding low-histamine recipes was also a challenge. Although there are a few blogs out there for people suffering from histamine intolerance, the recipes were limited. What I started to do was modify regular recipes and swap out high- histamine foods for neutral foods.
For example, if a chicken and veggie soup required spinach, I would substitute it for kale. If a pasta recipe had mushrooms and peas I would swap out the veggies for broccolini and capsicum. I stopped eating strawberries with my granola and started eating blueberries. I found an amazing recipe called ‘Green Sauce’ which is basically a herb sauce which I use for nearly EVERYTHING that requires a sauce.
We also stopped using nearly anything that came in a packet due to the high levels of preservatives and started to cook with only whole foods. Our recipes became more simple, but our bodies preferred them.
In relation to leftovers, this was something that I struggled with the most, as we cook extra food every evening to take to work for lunch the next day. For the first few months I had to avoid this and I ate lots of fresh salads, platter food (cucumber, crackers etc with homemade dips) and cooked my lunches on the day. This ensured my histamine levels throughout the day stayed low.
I didn’t drink alcohol anyway so I didn’t need to find a substitute, but if you suffer from histamine intolerance, alcohol, especially wine, are huge triggers and really need to be eliminated. The benefits of not drinking alcohol are immense, so all of your bodily-systems will thank you!
If you wear perfume, STOP. If you light candles at home, STOP. If you are using store-bought cleaning products, STOP. These fragrances and myriad of chemicals used in these products are so detrimental to your health in so many ways. Histamines just being one. I have friends who suffer from headaches all the time, and the moment they stopped using their candles around the house, those headaches went away. Pure essential oils in diffusers are a great alternative and not only smell great, but can also bring with them an array of health benefits. I have found Lavender, Frankincense and Peppermint to be three oils that actually helped with my high levels of histamine. In addition, when mixed with fractionated coconut oil, essential oils can make an effective perfume.
In regards to cleaning products, fabric softeners etc. Try and make your own. Vinegar, Bi-carb and Castille Soap are life changing and can clean nearly anything. I have some recipes below for you to try!
In addition to eliminating food and environmental triggers, creating a relationship with your local naturopath, like my current naturopath Charmaine D, and discussing a treatment plan can also be beneficial. There are many natural supplement and herbal solutions that can work as anti-histamines that actually retain low-levels of histamines, rather than just block histamines like regular over the counter anti-histamine medication.
The goal is to create a sustainable plan for the rest of your life. Often, we are battling histamine intolerances for our whole lives, but with strict action early on to reduce our histamine levels to a more maintainable amount, we are able to slowly but surely introduce histamines back into our life and diet without drastic damage. For example, I can now drink coffee with now histamine reaction. I can also have small amounts of tomato without being triggered. The most exciting thing is I can now eat leftover meals with no reaction!
Although at the beginning of your journey it may seem daunting and impossible, please know that with a few lifestyle and dietary alterations, you can live and eat in a varied and sustainable way. It took 2-3 months for me to really wrap my head around it all. And a little while longer to stop craving the foods I would eat all the time (bye bye smashed avo and tomato on toast). Once my palate became accustomed to the substituted foods, I stopped thinking about all the foods I couldn’t eat and started focusing on all the foods I COULD eat.
Another thing to remember is to practice mindfulness while you eat. Really focus on how your body and mood is reacting to the foods you ingest, and that will be the biggest factor in sticking to foods your body loves. When you are in-tune with how foods make you feel, you tend to naturally stay away from those that make you feel worse.
Good luck on this journey, and here’s to finally figuring out why we didn’t feel well for such a long portion of our lives!
To your health,
- 2 large handfuls of herbs (my favourites are basil and mint)
- 1 tbsp capers
- 2 garlic cloves
- Pinch of salt
- 1⁄4 – 1⁄2 cup olive oil
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp honey
- Add all ingredients of food processor.
- Blench until smooth.
- If too thick, add more oil or a bit of water.
- 1 cup Castille Soap
- 1⁄2 cup salt
- 1⁄2 cup Bi-carb
- 3.5L warm water
- Add all ingredients into a bucket.
- Mix well until combined.
- Transfer with a funnel into glass jars.
- Shake before each use.
- Depending on the dirtiness of your clothes, use 1⁄4 – 1⁄2 cup of liquid per wash.
- Add a couple of drops of your favourite essential oil to create your frangrance
- 500ml glass spray bottle
- 2 tbsp onGuard cleaner concentrate (or cleaning vinegar)
- 10x drops lemon essential oil
- 10x drops grapefruit
- Fill glass bottle with cool boiled water.
- Simply add all the ingredients into the glass jar and shake.
- 30-40x drops of your favourite essential oils (can be 2-3)
- Fractionated coconut oil
- Glass 10ml roller bottle
- Add essential oil into the roller bottle.
- Top up with fractionated coconut oil.
- Apply to wrists and behind ears.
Charmaine D, our naturopath, is here for you and is committed to helping you move through your ailments and forward into the rest of your life.
Book in for a free 30 minute skincare consult and see how she can help you!