Histamine is a natural substance produced by the body and is also present in many foods. It is released by the body during times of stress and allergy.
Histamine is a vasoactive amine which causes dilatation of the blood vessels (flushing, rash, itching) and increased mucus production (runny nose, productive cough), and bronchoconstriction (wheezing, cough). Because histamine is contained in almost all body tissues, especially the lungs, nose, sinuses, skin, intestinal mucosa and certain blood cells (mast cells, basophils), it is able to cause a wide variety of symptoms.
The release of histamine can be caused by almost any allergen. Examples include inhalant allergens (ragweed pollen, dust mite, eat dander), drugs (penicillin, sulfa, aspirin), stinging insect venoms, and foods (egg, wheat, milk, fish, etc).
Histamine in Foods
There are many foods that contain histamine or cause the body to release histamine when ingested. These types of reactions are food intolerances, and are different from food allergy in that the immune system is not involved in the reaction. The symptoms, however, can be the same as a food allergy.
Foods that contain the chemical tyramine can trigger headaches. Foods that may have large amounts of tyramine include: fish, chocolate, alcoholic beverages, cheese, soy sauce, sauerkraut and processed meat.
Fermented foods may cause allergy symptoms because they are either rich in histamine or because yeast or mold is involved in the fermentation process.
Histamine-Rich Foods (including fermented foods):
- Alcoholic beverages, especially beer and wine.
- Cheeses, especially aged or fermented cheese, such as parmesan, blue and Roquefort.
- Cider and home-made root beer.
- Dried fruits such as apricots, dates, prunes, figs and raisins (you may be able to eat these fruits – without reaction – if the fruit is thoroughly washed).
- Fermented foods, such as pickled or smoked meats, sauerkraut, etc.
- Processed meats – sausage, hot dogs, salami, etc.
- Smoked fish – herring, sardines, etc.
- Sour cream, sour milk, buttermilk, yogurt – especially if not fresh.
- Soured breads, such as pumpernickel, coffee cakes and other foods made with large amounts of yeast.
- Spinach, tomatoes
- Vinegar or vinegar-containing foods, such as mayonnaise, salad dressing, ketchup, chili sauce, pickles, pickled beets, relishes, olives.