HIT: Info from Dr Joneja

This week I received a lovely comment from Michell at Foodsmatter.com who is going to place a link to my blog on her website.  Having not read the Foods Matter website before I headed on over and found some really useful information on histamine, particularly from Dr Janice Joneja.  Dr Joneja is one of the world’s leading researchers on Histamine Intolerance (HIT) and the diet listed on my blog is based on information from her.  This article on the Foods Matter website is well written and easy to understand and I hope answers some of the questions visitors to my blog have about HIT.

She also does a Q&A list here and I found the section on cheese informative.  Hard cheeses, eg Cheddar, are always excluded from a low histamine diet.  Hard cheese is aged and anything aged is always high in histamine.  However the waters become muddier with young soft cheeses.  Dr Joneja excludes cottage cheese, but allows mascarpone cheese.  Why?  There are two ways to produce soft cheese: curdling without starter cultures (OK) and fermenting with starter cultures (not OK).  Cottage cheese is a fermented milk product made with a starter culture, whereas mascarpone cheese is a curdled milk product made without a starter culture.

Fermented milk products made with starter cultures include:

  • Creme fraiche
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Yoghurt
  • Buttermilk
  • Kefir
  • Feta?
  • Soured cream

Curled milk products made without starter cultures include:

  • Mascarpone cheese
  • Mozarella cheese (however, some mozarellas are made with cultures and should be avoided.  If the ingredients list states “cultured” don’t use).
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Cream cheese – I think!
  • Panir (paneer) – I think!

I’m still confused over some milk products.  Panir (paneer) appears on ‘fermented’ milk lists if you Google it, yet Dr Joneja says it’s a curdled milk product so should be on the ‘allowed’ list. I’ve been using Quark cheese in some of my recipes, but having Googled extensively have found that Quark is usually made with cultures, so it will now be excluded until I can check with the local company I buy from as to how they make theirs – bugger 😦  I do also use a small amount of soured cream in my diet, which I technically shouldn’t and will remove from my ‘allowed’ list, but I don’t think the tiny amount I eat will kill me and I really like it 😉

Curdled cheeses are made with acids, often lemon juice or citric acid.  Obviously lemon and vinegar are excluded from low histamine diets, however, Dr Joneja states “as to vinegar, lemon juice, etc. as a curdling agent: all liquid is removed in the making of the cheese, so any minute residue will not be an issue.”  So that’s good news 🙂

Fish oils are good for heart health and joints but unless the fish is gutted soon after capture fish is not allowed on a low histamine diet.  I was, therefore, interested to read Dr Joneja’s answer to a question on fish oil supplements: “Histamine is poorly soluble in fat, so any histamine that may have been present in the fish from which the oil is derived is unlikely to contain histamine”.  Also good news.

She goes on to clarify other contentious foods.  Nuts are fine – the only exception being pumpkin seeds as pumpkin is a high histamine food.  Legumes (ie peas, beans and lentils) are all allowed as are bananas.  I personally get increased brain fog when I eat bananas, so I avoid them, so it just goes to show how unique and individual each person’s reactions are and why food lists are should only ever be viewed as a guideline and tailored to meet your own needs.

Dr Joneja advocates using anti-histamines for those people in whom restricting diet alone does not significantly control symptoms : “Often, a histamine-restricted diet is not adequate in keeping histamine levels below a person’s limit of tolerance (the level above which symptoms appear) when endogenous histamine (histamine produced within the body) rises significantly. At these times you might try controlling your symptoms of histamine excess with an antihistamine.”  Diet is not the be all and end all and many people also require medication to get their HIT under control.

She also mentions what many of us have already discovered – hormonal changes make our symptoms worse: “hormonal fluctuations contribute quite significantly to histamine sensitivity, as oestrogen and progesterone influence histamine metabolism. Both hormone levels change at ovulation and just prior to the onset of menstruation and many women experience an increase in histamine, and therefore occurrence or worsening of symptoms, at those times.”  Menopause is a prime time for HIT and MCAD to go bonkers and many women have had few or no histamine symptoms until they reach 40+.

Dr Joneja deals with Histamine Intolerance, not Mast Cell Disease which is a totally separate issue – see her explanation on the differences between these two diseases here.  I’m often asked on my blog why diet has not totally eliminated someone’s symptoms and that’s because Mast Cell Disease is much much more than just a histamine problem.  Dr Joneja addresses the question in the following statement:  “a histamine-restricted diet will definitely reduce the amount of histamine in the body by limiting the amount of extrinsic (from outside the body) histamine contributing to the total.  However, because the excess histamine is being released from mast cells within the body (intrinsic histamine), a histamine-restricted diet would be expected to improve a person’s symptoms, but not to eliminate them altogether.  Furthermore, because inflammatory mediators in addition to histamine are released in mast cell degranulation, other symptoms for which histamine is not responsible, will not be affected (by diet).”

The histamine section of the Foods Matter website is well worth a read.

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20 thoughts on “HIT: Info from Dr Joneja

  1. Alan Lewis

    Impeccable timing Jak. My wife saw Dr. Seneviratne on Saturday and we’re now fully embarking on a low Histamine diet for her, at least until we see him again in c. 4 weeks.

    This will be very helpful. 😀

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    1. Jak Post author

      I’m so pleased your wife has gotten to see Dr S Alan after all this time of having symptoms. I do hope he can help her. Tell her good luck with the low histamine diet from me – I felt rotten for several weeks to start with (sleepy and very low in energy) but it does get better so stick with it. Jak x

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  2. d

    Thanks for this Jak – I have also read Dr. Joneja’s diet and follow it as best I can. I am also confused about the whole cheese issue in terms of the fresh cheeses. Still haven’t really sorted it out – I am waiting for winter when I am less reactive to experiment. The Mastocytosis Society of Canada also lists Dr. Joneja’s diet recommendations – you can find it under Symptom Management. They also have a very comprehensive list of triggers that really helped me figure out some of my more weird ones (like dog saliva).

    Hope your diet issues have calmed down a bit.
    d

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    1. Jak Post author

      Thanks for the info d. I know I’m allergic to my dog, cos it showed on my skin prick tests at the allergy centre 😦 He’s the light in my life though and getting rid of him has never crossed my mind – he’s worth a few symptoms 😉

      Being allergic to tree pollen probably means I should move back to the town, or at least somewhere I’m not surrounded by forest (!) but again I love where I live so it’s a balance between symptoms and environment. It’s all just a balancing act for us isn’t it?

      Hope you’re awap at the moment. Jak x

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      1. d

        I know I am not allergic to dogs and yet I react when I brush my dog’s teeth, more so if I am having a bad day. Now I just wear disposable gloves and we’re good to go : ) I agree – the best place for us sometimes seems the last place we would want to live, but I bet if we stayed there long enough something would become a trigger. Better to go with the devil you know I think!

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      2. Elizabeth Milo

        When my skin lit up to dogs in the allergy testing, my doctor said, “The best thing to do is get rid of your dogs.” I said (because I’m cheeky), “Would you get rid of your children?”

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        1. Jak Post author

          I know my dog makes me sneeze and itch but he’s also the only living creature I ever touch and without him my life would be totally devoid of affection.

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  3. d

    As for the bananas – I can’t eat them either, but it occurred to me the other day that maybe I could try them when they are just getting ripe. Since histamine builds up in foods as they mature, maybe once it gets to optimum ripeness, it’s too ripe? So many things to consider.

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    1. Jak Post author

      I haven’t tried fasting of any description Dot SLady for the simple reason that, due to my ME and the fact my muscles don’t work properly, if I don’t eat a high calorie diet I literally can’t get out of bed. I seem to need a high carb, high calorie food intake to get my muscles to function even halfway decently.

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  4. Livvy Sheep

    Hey Jak, just wondering if youve come across or tried the denaturing natural products you can put safely on your pets to help with allergens.. its called biolife.. not sure if Bertie will tolerate but may help? I use it in my washing when i cant wash delicate clothes above 30/40 degrees. Thank you for the info about HIT and diet, it will be very useful. As for Bananas I cant eat them either but like you I have both true allergies and also MCAS. I think Bananas are related to the latex family, so not sure if you have a latex allergy…this is why i react to them.

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  5. Teresa

    I have to point something out: there is a difference between a food having histamine, being a histamine liberator and having biogenic amines. Bananas can be very dangerous as histamine liberators. Plus Oder biogenic amines that exist, for example in nuts, can case the same symptoms. Of course each person has differente sensibilities but for people like myself that have a serious condition because histamine be very careful with these foods, I mean all foods. If you have some tolerance and you can play with food you are very lucky! But if not do a lot of research. A lot of foods that are supposedly alright ( because they don’t have histamine) are not and then you get sick and didn’t even know how or why.

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