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Managing Histamines: A Natural Approach

December 21, 2017

Histamines are biochemicals produced by normal human immune cells and gut bacteria.

And they are fascinating. The first surprise? Histamines mainly function as neurotransmitters.

It’s a brain chemical, like serotonin or dopamine. Antihistamines are sometimes used to treat anxiety!

So, how come when we say histamines, most people think antihistamines, as in something to get rid of allergy symptoms? Histamines get connected to allergic response because it is stored and released by mast cells. Mast cells are specialized white blood cells, which are part of our immune system.

There are four types of histamines that we know of:

  • H1 histamine is known for its role in hives, allergies, and the sleep/wake cycle. (If an H1-blocking antihistamine ever made you drowsy, that’s why!)
  • H2 releases hydrochloric acid in the stomach (Pepsid is an H2-blocking antihistamine).
  • H3 is more like a classic neurotransmitter, likely involved in OCD, sleep disorders, and ADHD.
  • H4 is involved in hives and asthma.

Histamines that are released by mast cells get broken down, or degraded, in the nervous system and the gut. This breakdown involves certain bacteria and two specific enzymes.

Some people don’t break down histamines very well. This is called Histamine Intolerance, or HIT.

HIT is common. It happens when a person is unable to produce one or both necessary enzymes that break down histamines, or the enzymes are inhibited.

When histamines build up in mast cells, we might have asthma, migraines, fatigue, hives, or allergy-type symptoms. This is where anti-histamines come in. Benadryl or Claritin can block H1, but an herbal antihistamine, butterbur, works equally well. The butterbur herb was found in clinical trials to be just as effective as the medications Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra.

Like herbs, food also affects the degree with which our cells store or release histamines. The histamine-degrading enzymes need vitamins and mineral co-factors to work, therefore good nutrition can help solve histamine reactions.

Getting adequate vitamin C, B1, B2, B3, B12, and zinc could improve histamine-related symptoms.

However, many healthy, nutrient-dense foods carry a high histamine load, so beware!

If you adopted a Paleo diet or got hooked on fermented food and noticed some symptoms got worse, this could be why. Many natural foods like yogurt, nuts, shellfish, smoked and fermented foods, mature cheese, vinegar, tomatoes, and citrus are high in histamine.

Some red wines also have a high concentration of histamines. Worse still, alcohol causes the release of histamine. Do you say no to wine at holiday parties to ensure you don’t fall asleep?

People with HIT have a lower than normal tolerance for food that contains histamines, so if a single glass of red wine has ever made you flushed, anxious, or fatigued, it could be a clue.

This kind of reaction can be caused by a gene mutation—a single nucleotide polymorphism—often called a ‘snip’—for the enzyme diamine oxidase.

Now, don’t go rushing to self-diagnose.

Histamines are released during allergic responses, but people with allergies don’t necessarily have HIT, and vice versa. Knowing the true cause of your symptoms is crucial and will help you understand why you have symptoms that disappear or recur.

My suggestion? Play detective, not doctor.

Also, play defense: if you are sensitive, especially during allergy season, avoid a histamine double whammy by staying away from alcohol, especially red wine.

Diet changes can reduce histamine intake, and altering the balance of our gut bacteria can regulate histamine release. Adding gut-healing foods, while avoiding high-histamine ones, might help.

The exciting news is some probiotics degrade histamines. They can help to lower our histamine load. But be careful with probiotics. Just like in fermented food, some probiotic supplements may produce unhelpful kinds of histamines.

Research is underway to determine the effects of each strain. Some probiotics, like Saccharomyces Boulaardii and some soil-based organisms, don’t seem to produce or degrade histamine but are potentially helpful anyway.

Many kinds of Bifidobacterium degrade histamines.

Each strain is different, but some Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium breve, Bifidobacterium infantis, and Bifidobacterium bifidum have been found beneficial. The strains we use at Flora are currently being studied to learn more.

Many strains of various Lactobacilli produce histamines and provoke HIT reactions. Yet some strains of Lactobacillus plantarum, rhamnosus, and salivarius are degraders. And, at least one Lactobacillus reuteri is a producer of a helpful kind of histamine. Studies happening now might offer more insight in 2018.

Another approach is to stabilize the mast cells, where the histamines are stored.

Quercetin, found in onions, can work as a stabilizer, but we absorb it badly. Holy basil herb seems to be an effective choice. Holy Basil also works as a mast cell stabilizer, and it also helps to manage our experience of stress.

As for other good natural option to explore, I would recommend milk thistle, green tea, and nettle. And of course, if you are wondering if you have HIT, be a good diet detective, and keep a food journal!


How about you? Do you have allergies, HIT, or mast cell dysfunction? Have you ever tried a natural approach to manage histamines? What worked, what didn’t? If you have HIT, what approach are you willing to try?

Let us know in the comments!

Find butterbur in Migranon II (CA)

Here are sources of the other nutrients mentioned:

MultiVits (CA)/(US)

Super Bifido Plus probiotic (CA)/(US)

Holy Basil capsules (CA) and tea (CA)/(US)

Nettle juice (CA)

Imperial Green Tea (CA)/(US)


Holistic Nutritionist Dana Green Remedios, RHN, RNCP has a passion for helping others break through their blocks to greater health, wealth, and happiness, working with transformational mind-body tools. The Vancouver-based educator and coach answers your questions in English, French, and Spanish as a Specialist working in the Product Information Department at Flora, and is a regular contributor to the FloraHealthy blog.

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  • Reply Keith B. December 21, 2017 at 4:18 am

    Wondering if this holistic approach would assist those who suffer from food allergies?

    • Reply Team Flora Healthy December 21, 2017 at 3:25 pm

      Hi Keith, Thanks so much for the great question and for reading our blog. While histamine creates an inflammatory response, true allergies create an antigen response, and possibly an anaphylactic response. Anaphylaxis is dangerous, an can be fatal, so there is no way I would mess around with that. Total avoidance of those kinds of allergens is best. However, a holistic approach that encourages delving into your story and your history, discovers your personal triggers, and adapts accordingly would probably help with food sensitivities. A plan that emphasizes healing the gut, encouraging a diverse and healthy microbiome and reducing both gut permeability and the total load of inflammatory foods is a great idea and can create massive change. Some people find that they no longer react to foods after trying an elimination diet. Also, incorporating nettles, butterbur, vitamin C and other natural approaches might be worth exploring. I hope that helps.

  • Reply Erin Ward December 5, 2020 at 6:02 am

    Thanks for the article! Does Flora have a probiotic that is low histamine available? If so, which one is it? I checked out the products page, but I can’t tell which ones are safe for histamine intolerance.

    • Reply Robert December 11, 2020 at 2:11 pm

      Hi Erin,
      Our Flora probiotic strains have all had their genomes checked and none contain any genes related to producing histidine decarboxylase (the enzyme that bacteria use to make histamine). Some Bifidobacteria may be able to degrade and break down histamine, but this hasn’t been confirmed for certain with our strains yet. The formulas with the largest % of Bifidobacteria include our Senior’s Probiotic and Super Bifido.
      In good health,
      Robert Dadd
      Product Information Supervisor

  • Reply Deborah Perras January 11, 2021 at 10:14 am

    Interesting read! My husband has been SUFFERING fro idiopathic angioedema for the last 6 months and has yet to find relief…despite eating a bland, low histamine diet and taking 4 24-hour reactine and 2 benedryl a day. He has been referred to a rheumatologist but since that could take quite some time to happen, is there any suggestions for him?

    • Reply Robert January 12, 2021 at 3:39 pm

      Hi Deborah – thanks so much for commmenting. We don’t have any product suggestions for idiopathic angioedema I’m afraid. It seems like an issue best dealt with by a health care provider as it could have a lot of different variables from person to person – a personalized treatment sounds best in other words.

  • Reply January 18, 2021 at 12:03 pm

    Hello, I have HIT, are soaked and cooked beans ok for HIT? I usually soak overnight and cook in my instant pot. Btw, I am compound heterozygous, could this potentially be connected with my issues with histamine?

    • Reply dana January 19, 2021 at 11:10 am

      Hi Lori, thanks for the comment and questions.
      Q1: Soaked and cooked beans like these are great:
      – Pinto, White, Navy, Black Beans
      – Black-Eyed, Split and Chick Peas
      – Lentils (Red, Yellow, Brown)
      A diet that is overly high in protein can trigger histamine issues by affecting the DAO gene, so beans are a nice way to get moderate protein in a way that feeds your gut, which is important for people that need to avoid fermented foods. I might favour these and avoid kidney beans, red beans, fermented soy bean products.
      Cooking them quickly, in the Instant Pot, often works much better than slow cooking methods, for sensitive folks.

      It depend what gene you are speaking of and what alleles are affected. (Compound heterozygotes can behave more like homozygous or more like heterozygous.) Yes, if the gene that you are speaking of as being compound heterozygous for is the MTHFR gene, the one most people look at, there is a connection between that and having histamine reactivity issues. If it is the DAO gene, that is a sure connection, since DAO enzymes help us to have a balenced histamine repsonse. The reason it is also possible for the MTHFR gene to affect this is that if the DAO is overwhelmed, or not functioning well, it is up to the methylation cycle, ruled by MTHFR, to pick up the slack, and if that is is impeded, the downstream effect is that histmine is uncontrolled. The good news is that having a genetic SNP is not a life sentence. Many people have perfect genes and still have symptoms, and others have terrible genes and no symptoms, and lifestyle modifications do splendidly at influencing this.

  • Reply Samantha February 24, 2021 at 1:15 am

    Hi, thanks for an informative article. I have a question….could you use the Super Bifido probiotics as a histamine friendly yoghurt starter culture? I made my own yoghurt for several years but stopped a few months ago after being diagnosed with HIT. If you used non-histamine producing bacterial strains (like the Super Bifido), would the yoghurt be histamine friendly? Or is histamine produced by the fermentation process itself even if non histamine producing bacteria are used? Thanks!

    • Reply Robert February 24, 2021 at 9:13 am

      Hi Samantha – thanks for the question. Unfortunately no, our probiotics would not make suitable starting cultures for yogurt.

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