Is it an allergy - or histamine intolerance?

A quick walk down the health food aisle of any major retailer shows that food allergies are on the rise - or are they? What causes allergic reactions, and how do they differ from histamine intolerance?

What is Histamine?

According to Wikipedia, histamine is an organic nitrogen-based compound.  This natural substance is produced by the body, and is released during stressful times, or in response to an allergy. It is also found in many foods.

Histamine plays an important role in the body’s immune responses. It also regulates physiological functions in the gut and acts as a neurotransmitter.

How Does Histamine Work?

When you consume or come into contact with an allergen, your body releases antibodies to fight off the perceived threat. These antibodies attach themselves to mast cells, which stimulates those cells to release histamine.

That’s a very detailed way of saying that you have an allergic reaction. This reaction can range from mild to severe - even life threatening. Which is why it’s so important that you know what to look for. Next week we’ll look at the symptoms that should alert you to a problem in your body’s ability to break down histamine and dispose of it.

It’s important to note that the release of histamine under stress is a necessary process, as it helps the body get rid of the dangerous substances it’s fighting.

How Does The Body Break Histamine Down?

Once the histamine has done its job, it should be broken down by an enzyme. According to MindBodyGreen, “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).”

The American Society for Clinical Nutrition ran a study which found that DAO is the primary enzyme responsible for breaking down histamine. If your body is deficient in DAO, you’re likely to have symptoms of histamine intolerance (check back next week for a list of those symptoms).

What Causes DAO Deficiency?

The top culprits for a deficiency of the diamine oxidase enzyme are:

  • Gluten intolerance
  • Leaky gut
  • SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)

The problem is compounded by a diet rich in DAO-blocking foods, including:

  • Alcohol
  • Energy drinks
  • Coffee and tea

Certain people are genetically predisposed to DAO deficiency, especially those of Asian extraction. And gut disease such as Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and IBD create the ideal environment for the condition to flourish.

There are also many medications known for contributing to the deficiency. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin, antidepressants, immune modulators, and even - ironically enough - antihistamines have all been reported to contribute to a depletion in DAO. (For a more comprehensive list of medications, click here.)

When your body can’t break down histamine after a period of stress, or in response to an allergy, histamine intolerance can result. Next week we’ll investigate histamine intolerance in more detail. We’ll take at the symptoms, and what can be done to rectify the problem. The week after is all about eating the right foods for yur health - and which ones you should steer clear of. Don’t miss it!

A healthy gut is the foundation of a healthy life. If you are feeling tired, prone to food allergies, enslaved to headaches, or generally listless, it could be the result of histamine intolerance. Call Dr Alain Sanua on on 011 463 1614 or email him on and get the help you need.


« back to Articles