Why Do Fermented Foods Make Me Worse?

Do you experience unexplained redness or headaches when you drink wine? Suffer with brain fog or anxiety after eating Cheese? Do you feel bloating, fatigued or itchy after consuming fermented foods? Do you swell up like a pregnant woman after a chocolate binge? Do you experience a stuffy or runny nose when you eat raspberries, yogurt or avocados?

Yes? Then, you could be suffering with Histamine Intolerance.

Histamine is a chemical that is made and stored within Leukocytes (white blood cells) that are necessary for efficient functioning of many bodily systems. As a neurotransmitter, it communicates very important messages from the body to the brain and vice versa. When a foreign protein enters the body, the immune system is activated and histamine is the responding defence chemical that ignites an inflammatory response.

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to any kind of threat (perceived or actual) and histamine is always present alongside the inflammation. 
Histamine is a key mediator of allergic reactions.

Allergens can include: Dust, Dust mites, plant pollens, animal fur, mold spores, environmental toxins, peanuts, and certain other proteins found in various foods.

Inflammatory responses can include; itchy eyes, runny nose, brain fog, flushing, nausea, dizziness, hives, redness, heat, tight throat, watery eyes, fatigue, eczema, digestive upset, reflux, headaches, nasal congestion, tachycardia, heartburn, confusion, conjunctivitis, chest pain, panic attacks, swelling and in extreme cases anaphylaxis.

For most people, histamine isn’t a problem, but there are potential issues that can make it a very big problem for some people. These issues include;

  • IgE Reactions/Allergies
  • Intestinal Permeability (Leaky Gut)
  • Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
  • Gut Dysbiosis (certain strains of bacteria can produce Histamine)
  • Diamine Oxidase (DAO) deficiency or Genetic Issues related to DAO
  • Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS)
  • Impaired Methylation (histamine N-methyltransferase requires methylation to function properly
  • Certain Foods (High histamine foods or foods that block DAO)

Histamine can be found in higher levels naturally in certain foods, including: Alcohol (especially wine, champagne, beer), Fermented foods (Probiotics, Sauerkraut, vinegar, Kim chi, Kefir, Kombucha, Yogurt), Aged Cheeses, Salami, Tomatoes, Citrus Fruits, Raisons, Pickles, Olives, Raspberries, Strawberries, Pumpkin, Eggplant, Meats, Plums, Apricots, Eggs, Fish (if not fresh), shellfish, bone broth, Spinach, Cashews, Walnuts, Peanuts, Cured meats, Chocolate, Sour cream and Cherries.

Although fermented foods are one of the most recommended foods by most health practitioners, they are like kryptonite for individuals suffering with histamine intolerance; this is because the histamine levels are increased during the fermentation process.

Seafood (Fish and shellfish) is known to have elevated histamine levels and is actually capable of converting histidine to histamine. When the fish dies, the gut bacteria begin to break down food-tissue proteins, releasing Histidine and then converting it to Histamine. The level of Histamine in an un-gutted fish can double in as little as 20 minutes. When older non-fresh seafood is eaten, it is very common for people to develop a reaction or seafood sensitivity from the high levels of histamine.

As Histamine is a normal part of the physiological response, If you get exposed to something, histamine will help the inflammatory reaction, and then the Diamine Oxidase or N-Methyltransferase breaks it down and there are no problems. That’s what’s true for most people.

Histamine Intolerance from food occurs when the body is unable to break down absorbed Histamines from the foods 
and an inflammatory response is triggered, this is due to impaired histamine catabolism, or enzymatic break down of the histamine molecules. Histamine in the central nervous system is broken down primarily by histamine N-methyltransferase (HMT), while histamine in the digestive tract is broken down primarily by Diamine oxidase (DAO).

If the amount of generated or acquired histamine exceeds the ability of the two enzymes to degrade them, then the person will begin to suffer symptoms similar to acute allergic reactions.

If a person is suffering from Intestinal Permeability (Leaky Gut) then non-threat food particles that are not broken down correctly and pass through the permeability of the small intestine can be mistaken by the immune system as an actual threat and initiate a histamine response.

What is the solution?

The first step is to follow a low histamine diet (focus on fresh meat, fish, poultry, eggs, fresh fruits (except citrus, raisins, dates, plums, apricots, cherries) and vegetables (except pumpkin, eggplant, tomatoes, spinach), dairy substitutes (coconut, almond, hemp, rice milk, coconut and olive oil) to provide relief symptomatically. If symptoms still persist, it might be useful to take a Diamine Oxidase supplement prior to eating and add in some natural anti-histamines such as; Bromelain and Quercetin. You can also add in specific strains of bacteria called Bifidobacterium Infantis or Lactobacillus Plantarum as they are known histamine degraders.

The next objective is to detect the underlying cause of the problem, this could involve some gut testing (SIBO, Intestinal Permeability, Pathogen analysis, Dysbiosis), genetic testing and/or Serum testing (Diamine Oxidase and Serum Tryptase).

Treatment of the underlying cause usually involves an extensive gut healing protocol( focused on identification, detoxification, reregulation, repair and reinoculation), as the gut becomes strong and resilient again, you should be able to gradually reintroduce higher histamine foods slowly without having an adverse reaction.