Histamine. Ever heard of it? If you haven’t, then don’t worry, you’re not alone. Most people don’t know what histamine is, where it comes from, or how whole foods could cause skin problems.
I wanted to write an article about histamine because I had received a letter from one of my clients asking me for help with her skin. She had been through my 30-day program to clear her eczema and was living a pretty healthy lifestyle.
Through the program she was able to heal her gut and experienced her skin clearing! Later, however, she randomly started to break out in rashes again and she wrote me very frustrated without knowing what to do.
I like emails like this because it gives me an opportunity to continue to help people, even after they’ve finished the program.
It also makes me aware of issues that could be a problem for other people.
I had noticed that there was a similar trend going on with many people living “healthy” lifestyles, extending to those who are following a Paleo-type diet, whole foods diet, low carb diet, etc. These people had cut out things like gluten, dairy, sugar, etc. and by far eating better than most, but yet were still experiencing breakouts and unexplainable rashes.
In my response to my client’s (Rachel) email, I addressed the full issue of histamine and how whole foods could potentially cause rashes. Here’s an excerpt:
Rachel, 32, New York
I recently started your 30-day program, and overall it really helped my eczema to disappear!…But, about 2 weeks after stopping the program I had a breakout all around my chest and neck. The weird thing is that the spots are red and blotchy (not like my previous eczema) and I had really bad itching…it comes and it goes like almost randomly, and I can’t understand why! Sometimes I’ll have it right after I eat, and sometimes it’s when I wake up in the morning. I’ve also had headaches, but I’m not sure if it’s linked to the rashes, or from stress? I’m eating healthy….(no gluten, no dairy, low sugar!) I eat lots of vegetables, I’m pretty active and do yoga regularly, and I’ve even changed soaps and detergents. Overall I don’t feel like I’m doing anything “wrong”, so what is happening to my skin? I just don’t understand….
Thanks in advance!
You can read my full response to Rachel’s email in the full post here, but let me also give you a short intro.
What and Where is Histamine?
Histamine is found in two main places.
1) Our body
In the body:
Everyone has a certain amount of histamine found in their body. As humans, we have a small amount in our brain and heart, stomach, lungs and skin. Histamine acts as a neurotransmitter chemical in our body, and has many important roles in the functionality of many body systems. One of its main duties is helping to defend the body against foreign bodies that could potentially cause us to get sick.
Histamine can also be found in whole foods like shellfish, certain acidic fruits, berries, red meat, alcohol, fermented cheeses, and drinks like kefir, kombucha, etc.
The problem with too much histamine:
As with anything, whether it’s good or bad, an excess amount can be harmful for the body. Histamine, in its proper levels, is perfectly safe and even good for the body, however when you have an excess of histamine it can trigger negative side effects such as rashes, hives, flushed skin, tissue swelling or bloating, bruising, heartburn, fatigue, or migraines.
Thankfully, there is one way that the body naturally keeps histamine levels in check: an enzyme called Diamine Oxidase (DAO). This enzyme breaks down any excess histamine that we consume from foods, so that we don’t have a build-up of too much histamine in our body. Basically, this enzyme makes it possible for you to consume histamine foods (like red meat for example) without experiencing any negative side effects.
However, there is one problem. Studies have shown that some people have a low level of this DAO enzyme, making them unable to consume too many histamine rich foods. In these people, if there is an excess of histamine they could develop some “allergy-like” symptoms. This is why some people (like Rachel) or others on whole food or Paleo diets that allow for a lot of red meat, cheeses, fruits, and fermented foods, could have unexplainable skin breakouts.
How to heal a histamine intolerance
A histamine intolerance is a REALLY tricky thing. In fact, most doctors have a hard time diagnosing it because its symptoms look a lot like allergies. It also greatly varies from person to person. I know of some people who can’t tolerate any kind of histamine-rich foods at all (these people are in the minority), and some who only have bad reactions when they eat foods with the highest amount of histamine.
However, there are some things that you could do (in order of most important).
1) Heal your gut
In my book I’ve talked about how gut health is important in order to help you clear your skin and eczema as it plays a big part of the digestive and immune system. Well, a histamine intolerance also has to do with the gut. There are over 100 trillion bacteria in our gut, both good and bad. Generally, in order to have a healthy gut there needs to be a balance of bacteria, usually in a ratio of 80% good to 20% bad. Now this is where histamine comes into play.
Studies have shown that an overgrowth of certain bacteria found in the digestive tract could be causing an overproduction of histamine. Now what makes these bacteria dangerous is that they don’t need ACTUAL histamine found in food, in order to produce histamine. These bacteria have figured out a way to produce histamine from inside the gut. How? Well, they’ve found another source: an amino acid called histidine.
In biochemical terms these bacteria decarboxylate the histidine using a decarboxylase enzyme that converts the histidine into histamine. What that means, (in general terms) is that when given enough time, these bacteria take the histidine (found in proteins and foods) and ferment, break, and decompose it and turn it into an excess amount of histamine.
In other words, you can be avoiding histamine-rich foods all you want, but if you don’t have a fully healthy digestive tract system and a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut, there is a chance that your body will STILL end up with too much histamine—not from food, but due to these bad bacteria that are producing an overgrowth of histamine in your gut. The fastest way to stop these bacteria, is to focus on healing your gut and restoring the balance of good to bad bacteria.
Before you consider cutting out all histamine foods like chocolate, wine, red meat, and fruit, it’s important you’ve taken steps to help heal your gut first. Avoiding histamine-rich foods won’t help you as much as healing and restoring your gut will.
2) Avoid histamine rich foods
For those of you who have already focused on gut health, but are STILL experiencing rashes, then you could consider cutting down on foods high in histamine.
In general, any fermented/aged foods or foods containing a lot of bacteria have high amounts of histamine. Fermented dairy (blue cheese, yogurt, buttermilk, kefir), fermented/aged drinks (kombucha, wine), and aged meats (bacon, sausages, cured ham, etc.) are a few main triggers you should try to avoid. Some citrus fruits and berries also contain high levels of histamine.
3) Vitamin B6
In the histamine intolerance studies, it’s been shown that the nutrient B6 is an important vitamin that helps the DAO enzyme (the enzyme that breaks down histamine and lines our gut) to function well. Vitamin B6 also helps other enzymes in our digestive tract lining to function. Along with gut health, getting optimal vitamin B6 in your diet is one way that you can help lower the histamine in your body.
Just because you may be suffering from a histamine intolerance, doesn’t mean that you have to right away drop everything. Some people can take small amounts of histamine at a time, without experiencing negative side effects. Until you know exactly what your trigger could be, it’s important to take everything into moderation.
If you think you’ve been excessively consuming histamine rich foods (bacon and yogurt for breakfast, red meat for lunch, sausages for dinner with strawberries, cheese and red wine…..etc.) then maybe you should consider cutting down on your intake for a while. Maybe just have one histamine food a day, or limit the amount to 2-3 times a week.
Reducing slowly–as opposed to quitting cold turkey– will also help you to determine exactly what your histamine triggers could be, and will help you know your histamine limits.
Histamine and the Gut
Well, there you have it. The reason for why some healthy people might still suffer from rashes, hives, or skin breakouts. However, that doesn’t mean that histamine is always the reason for skin problems.
I cannot stress enough how important gut health is, and before considering histamine as a trigger for your eczema or rashes, it’s important you look first into your gut health.
An unhealthy gut is usually one of the main causes for eczema and could also be the reason for bacteria to create excess histamine in your body.
How about you? Do you have a histamine intolerance? Any questions on histamine and eczema? Leave your comment below!
PS: Don't know where to start? Sign up to my free series The Clear Skin Plan !
I’m hoping you can help me with my current skin health situation, or I should say overall health situation since it all starts within the gut. Around October of 2014 I changed my diet drastically because I had just learned about the Weston Price diet and basically what real food really is.
I’ve been struggling with acne and eczema. I’ve had my first patch of eczema when I was 16 (I am 22 now), and it has just gotten worst over the years. I got acne about two and a half years ago. Since I switched my diet to a clean and real food diet, I have not had any acne breakouts since. I’ve learned about how important it is to have a properly functioning gut and so I’ve been working on healing my gut ever since by taking a probiotic, increasing my omega 3 vs omega 6 intake, drinking bone broth, etc. Now during this time (from October 2014 up until mid February 2015) I’ve been trying to figure out the exact regimen to be on to finally get rid of the eczema since I now cleared up my acne issue. It has been super stressful and I regret it till this day for stressing myself out like that because about two weeks ago I broke out in very bad hives.. And it has been ongoing ever since.
I did some research and came to the conclusion that I may have a histamine intolerance. I contacted a naturopath and I am currently working with her but she hasn’t really been able to tell me how or where this issue has come about. I asked her if a sudden change in diet could’ve caused these current hives that I am experiencing and she said its possible. Then she went on to say that stress plays a big role in this. Now I did mention I’ve been stressing with trying to figure out “the perfect” diet so that I can get rid of this eczema (which I now know takes time to figure out because everyone’s bodies reacts differently to things and such). I’m not sure if the stress has got me to where I am at with these intense hives… Or if it is the drastic change in my diet. I don’t know the exact reason.
Coming across your website as I am trying to figure this out sparked my interest because I really like how you know what’s real. I hope to hear from you as I am really trying to heal myself so that I can get on with my life in terms of studying this stuff so that I can help those in the future.
Hey there Gina, it’s so wonderful to hear that you’re focusing on gut health to heal your skin, thanks for taking the time to leave me a message!
Hives is a common symptom of a histamine intolerance, and too much histamine can also affect existing eczema. If you suspect that this is the cause for you, start with lessening the amount of histamine-rich foods that you eat daily (as mentioned in the article).
Also, I’m not sure what probiotic you’re taking, but in my research I’ve found that certain probiotics can cause a build-up of histamine in the gut. I actually have a post on using probiotics for your skin, click here to check it out. If you have issues with histamine, your skin might do better by not taking a probiotic at all. Let me know! 🙂
So even though kimchi or sauerkraut is beneficial against eczema, you should actually avoid it if you feel it triggers outbreaks? During a period of consuming sauerkraut and apple cider vinegar I actually did feel it maybe made my skin worse…
Good question! If histamine is your eczema trigger, then yes, you would be better off avoiding fermented foods.
Thank you for the reply Christina.
Do you think it could be an initial outbreak because of the body adapting to the new flora and maybe pushing out toxins or would you stop as soon as the skin reacts badly?
Giorgina Branca says
I no am struggling with skin breaks eczema rashes, face rednes and ecsessive pimples, worsening psoriasis and food intolerances for 6 months.
I am trying really hard to heal my gut and it all was helping, but I started taking an enzyme Innovzyme combined with a 14 stam probiotic. This is now giving me rashes and eczema all over my body.
Can you please help me fix this, I don’t know wether I should continue the enzyme and probiotic or detox my liver or deminish my histamine level?
Elizabeth March says
thank you for this interesting article , after reading it I think I am a histamine sufferer. I have been on a diet of no dairy, wheat , sugar potatoes , tomatoes and apples now for two months taking slippery elm daily and still the eczema is extremely bad . I have stopped kombucha as I wondered about my reactions I had but thought sauerkraut would be ok , I only have it occasionally . I feel there is no hope shall I persist with another month of this diet , I do have protein ,fats ,carbohydrates and green vegetables like you suggest
Your website has been a wealth of information for me and my new journey with Eczema. I feel like you’re giving answers to questions Dr.s have just ignored. Thank you for your research and sharing your findings to help others manage their eczema from the inside out!
Thanks so much, I’m so glad to hear that!
I think my daughter has eczema caused by histamines. She used to test as allergic to high histamine foods. We did the GAP diet for a few months,the and now she only has a peanut allergy, as far as the skin test goes. I would like to support her gut health. What is the best way to do that? She has frequent flare-ups of eczema. I know I need to keep a food diary, but is there a good probiotic?
Hi Jhen, personally I try to support gut health by keeping a low-inflammatory diet. I found this really helps because you don’t disrupt the natural bacteria, and the bad bacteria don’t get out of hand. I’m also sensitive to histamine, so in general I try to keep my histamine levels low. Seems to be working great for my skin so far!
Helen Hill says
I have recently joined you to see if I can get some relief from sever eczema breakouts. I got it from flannelette sheets as it only broke out on each ankle that was in contact with them after changing to them at age 68. I was told it was just a heat rash but after 6 years of scratching it has now progressed almost to my knee and a doctor finally diagnosed it 3 years ago. I was told to cut my nails, use good quality moisturisers and cover it! I cannot sleep with covers on my legs and as most sufferers will know it doesn’t stop the bad nights itching. Worst nights i have gone to sleep with huge sheets of frozen ice in bubbles tied to each leg with a towel underneath. Ian off sugar and trying to get my gut clean.
thanks for your assistance I really find you a godsend!
Some fermented foods and even red meat like beef are good for healing leaky gut, aren’t they?
Do you think we should keep on eating those even though there is the histamine intolerance?
Hi! I eat those sometimes even if I have a histamine intolerance. Although I try not to have it too often otherwise I get itchy (esp the fermented foods)
I have histamine intolerance, I can’t have wine, cheeses or any kind of dairies, citrus, farmed fish and tree nuts or I’ll get red cystic acne and pustular rash all over my face. What is the best probiotic indicated for me?
What causes milia under my eyes
Thanks for mentioning the histamine. I have a 3 year old daughter suffering from severe eczema and breakouts. She doesn’t stop scratching everyday. We took her to doctors and been giving high steroid cream. Ricently we took her to naturapath and did blood test. We been told to cut gluten, rice,oats, eggs, peas. She’s been on diet for a month and her skin is still very itchy. I went back to the naturapath this Monday ask if it’s histimane. She gave me a list of food to avoid (dairy, banana, chocolate, sugar) and gave us different probiotics. The red meat is not on the list to avoid. The hardest one to avoid for my daughter is the diary. She is very picky eater and I’m worried if she is getting enough nutrition. She eats buckwheat pancakes (no eggs) with syrup everyday, cooked on pan ground beef for lunch and sweet Patatoes, raw carrots, cucumber, blueberries, apples, pears. That’s the only thing she eats everyday. I would appreciate any suggestions.
Have you considered Salicylate intolerance? The foods you listed are very high in salicylates! It can cause eczema in some, asthma in others, and behavior problems as well.
Hey, I just came across this article and everything makes so much sense. I tend to eat a lot of high-histamine foods, and although this may not necessarily be my reason for my eczema, it makes a lot of sense. I am so happy and motivated to help my skin, and try to strengthen my gut, and that I found this post! I wonder however, are there other tips you might have, besides taking vitamin B6 to help strengthen the gut?
I found your article very helpful actually. My dermatologist told me that my body naturally produces too much histamine and it mostly gives me rashes and eczema.
Can you tell me what you suggest to heal the gut and restore the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut please.
Prakash K Parmar says
My wife has recently started drinking Water Kefir for balancing her gut bacteria. She has been suffering for a long time with stomach gas and severe bouts of burping. We are vegetarians and she is the fruit lover. My question is whether she should stop consuming Water Kefir. Please advise. Thanks