I continue to receive a lot of questions about the status of my histamine intolerance, an issue that I only realized WAS an issue after I went Paleo in 2012. Histamine intolerance isn’t discussed too frequently in the Paleo community but I suspect that more and more people are considering it as part of their health puzzle based on the increase in members of histamine intolerance Facebook groups, inquiries from readers and number of organic search referrals I receive for people Googling it. I won’t discuss the symptoms for histamine intolerance in this post, but I will send you over to this one I wrote in 2014: Is Histamine Intolerance Your Missing Link?
The day of my wedding I feared I would have a histamine reaction at my own wedding dinner! In fact, the weather that day was so bad, that the stress of possibly canceling my outdoor yacht ceremony was so high that my face started swelling even without food in me! Thankfully, I had thought ahead to bring a cooling face mask and turned the lights off in my room and meditated for 10 minutes. The inflammation calmed down shortly after.
I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s in 2008 at age 19 and had experienced some food reactions for the two years prior, specifically to monosodium glutamate (MSG) and sodium benzoate. I’ve always preferred to prepare my own food, so I wasn’t exposed to these artificial ingredients often but when I was the consequences were grave – weeks of depression, fevers, rashes, and food fear. In 2012, I had an exercise-induced anaphylactic reaction to fried fish when I was visiting family in Canada. I had been dealing with new GI symptoms for the 6 months prior to that day, but this reaction was so scary I decided I needed to see a specialist. I had a feeling my food reactions were connected to my gut health and not a spontaneous new allergy that I would be dealing with for the rest of my life. To this day I do not know what caused that reaction but there was clearly a massive release of histamine that my body did not handle nicely. It turned out that anaphylaxis led to a positive outcome: finding a physician who recommended I try the Paleo diet to see if my gut issues improved.
It’s not common for adults to develop immediate reaction IgE-mediated food allergies as most are diagnosed in childhood (think of the kid whose throat swells up when he wipes his mouth with a peanut-contaminated napkin). But an increasing number of adults are developing food hypersensitivities and delayed reactions often times a result of increased intestinal permeability and/or autoimmune disease. This is why you find people on the autoimmune protocol who also have to eliminate AIP-friendly foods like cauliflower or carob because those foods showed up on food sensitivity/intolerance panels. We may call them allergies, but they are not IgE-mediated immediate immune responses. They’re delayed food intolerances that may cause some of the same symptoms of a Type I allergy response but generally less severe and symptoms may only present 2 or 3 days after exposure. These symptoms can affect the same systems as a Type I allergy such as the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract, but they usually won’t send you to the hospital. So while my food intolerances were getting out of hand in 2012 to 2014, so were my histamine intolerance symptoms. In tandem, they worsened and worsened until my tolerable food list was limited to chicken, butternut squash, fresh herbs, carrots, and coconut oil.
My histamine intolerance symptoms really started ramping up after that event in 2012 and became progressively worse by 2014. It seemed I reacted to every food remotely high in histamine and suddenly my leftovers for lunch were making me sick within an hour of consuming them. My face and hands would swell, I would get a headache, feel extremely exhausted after eating the offending food, and mood swings were the norm. Around this time I also got food sensitivity panels done and my yellow list (mild intolerances) was incredibly long (30+ foods) and about 10 foods between the moderate and severe lists. I remember the week before my wedding in July 2014, I was reacting to everything – even drinking fountain water. I couldn’t even tolerate meat that had been cooked just 2 hours prior (since the histamine content of meat rises once cooked). It was getting ridiculous and I was so sick of either batch cooking all my very simply prepared (and boring) foods and freezing them immediately in individual containers to prevent histamine build-up OR cooking all of my meals fresh 3 times a day! I was determined to get these histamine intolerance symptoms under control because they were affecting my quality of life in every sense of the word. I was very religious about removing all of these offending foods for the recommended six months (and the severe ones for over a year) and I am now able to enjoy those foods again without reaction. Interestingly, as my tolerance for my previously intolerable foods increased, my tolerance for high histamine foods increased too! That is some very non-controlled, case-study based proof that the cause of my histamine intolerance was likely rooted in gut dysbiosis and leaky gut, similar to my food intolerances.
When I was trying to heal my gut, I had been nervous to get on a regular probiotic regimen as I didn’t know whether or not probiotics would make my symptoms better or worse since some can increase histamine in the gut. I had had poor reactions to probiotics in the past, but knew that I had to change my gut biome if I wanted my symptoms to improve. After all, histamine only became an issue when my leaky gut hit its peak. I religiously took histamine-degrading probiotics twice a day, included 1 green juice in my diet each day, and maintained a low histamine diet for a long time (probably 9 months). Slowly and slowly (and ever so slowly) I began to see a decrease in my symptoms. I went from not being able to tolerate avocados, salmon, or olives (to name a few) to being able to enjoy them by themselves in small amounts, and then in different meals in a 24-hour period, and then to eating them all in the same bowl with no reactions at all! I know that my dedication to eating anti-inflammatory foods most days like parsley, cilantro and lemon and gut-healing bone broth, l-glutamine, and gelatin were big factors in my healing.
A year later, I had conquered a very severe Hashimoto’s flare while still healing my histamine intolerance at the same time. Anecdotal proof that despite hiccups in my healing journey, I still came out on the other side better than I was before. I am at a much healthier weight now and have more positive eating behaviors now that I don’t live in fear that a seemingly harmless food choice could leave me feeling cruddy for days. I rarely wake up with a histamine hangover anymore, thank goodness! A hangover without the drinking the night prior is just not fair!
I truly woke up one day and realized, “Hey facial swelling hasn’t been a daily occurrence in weeks and I haven’t had to ask my husband to rub my temples because I had a headache in I can’t even remember when.” Around that time, my digestion also started to improve and I no longer was waking up with painful bloating in my lower abdomen every morning. The drastic decrease in histamine intolerance symptoms has truly been my greatest achievement while following AIP because they were so life altering. I continue to be unable to tolerate fermented foods (those tend to be highest in histamine) such as kombucha and sauerkraut and I can only enjoy smoked salmon in 2-ounce quantities. And alcohol? Forget about it. But that’s okay – I know more healing will come in time and right now I’m relishing in my new ability to eat fresh salmon multiple times a week, avocado on every salad, and bananas in my smoothies.
And if I do have any symptoms crop up (they tend to flare during stressful situations like traveling or moving), I know exactly what to do to nip them in the bud. So I encourage any of you dealing with histamine intolerance or food intolerance to be patient as healing and re-balancing the gut takes time. It may seem like you’re “stuck” this way forever but just remember a time when you were well. I’ve done that many, many times as a coping mechanism during my dealings with Hashimoto’s, histamine intolerance, and hormonal balance, and it always gives me hope that I will be able to restore my health to what it was once before. If you deal with histamine intolerance and would like support, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am not a medical professional and cannot diagnose or treat, but I can share with you my stories and encourage perseverance in finding a solution.