Reading up on health and wellness can cause no small amount of hypochondria. And with more and more people recognizing their own sensitivities to certain foods, special diets are more common than ever.
While nuts, gluten, fish, shellfish, and dairy are some of the most common food allergens, these days, it seems like the list is growing longer and longer. Even foods as seemingly innocent as legumes and quinoa can also cause painful reactions for some people.
Sometimes a stomachache or an allergic reaction are just that, but there is a possibility an allergy might not be just an allergy. There's a little known condition people are growing more curious about: histamine intolerance.
Only 1 percent of the population will be affected by histamine intolerance, but for those who suffer from this disorder, the symptoms can be severe. Unlike typical food allergies or sensitivities, this intolerance all has to do with the malfunction of one compound: histamines.
If you have any kind of allergies, you've probably heard of histamines before. When you come in contact with something you're allergic to—say, pollen or mold—the body releases tons of histamines to try to protect itself from the allergen it has mistakenly identified as a threat. This causes the symptoms of an allergic reaction: sneezing, itching eyes, runny nose, and so on.
Of course, this isn't the only role these compounds play in the human body. Histamines are also crucial to immune responses, and can help the body fight inflammation. And then there are the histamines we eat. Most foods contain some histamines, and typically, the enzyme diamine oxidase (DAO) metabolizes them.
In histamine-intolerant people, however, this enzyme doesn't do its job, causing a build-up of histamine and triggering what looks like an allergic reaction. Because these "allergy-like" symptoms—including rashes, itching, headaches, abdominal pain, and diarrhea—are so common, this disorder can be incredibly difficult to diagnose.
Though most foods can trigger the release of histamines in your body, some foods are particularly high in these compounds. These foods include:
- Fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and pickles
- Vinegar and dressings
- Sausage and other processed meats
- Smoked or canned fish
- Canned vegetables
Thankfully, treating histamine intolerance is fairly simple—and similar to how you would treat an allergy. Once your doctor has confirmed your symptoms are in fact signs of an intolerance, you can try an elimination diet to avoid foods high in histamines. Your doctor might also prescribe an antihistamine medication to counteract excess amounts in your body. So, no need to worry if you've started to see this condition gaining traction as the next intolerance to be feared.
Illustration by Karley Koenig