What Is Histamine?

Histamine is one of many biogenic amines.

There are two types of biogenic amines:

  • Endogenous – pre-existing within the tissues of the body
  • Exogenous – ingested into the body from food, drugs and drink.

Endogenous (pre-existing) amines are the main players in Mast Cell Diseases.
Exogenous (ingested) amines are the main players in Histamine Intolerance (HIT).

The distinctions between these two diseases are very important. They both involve histamine, but in totally different ways meaning cause and treatment are also totally different. Please see my Guide to Mast Cell Disease page for the difference between Mast Cell Disease and Histamine Intolerance.


Endogenous Histamine

Endogenous (pre-existing) amines are found in tissues and organs all over our bodies and are vital for health. They include important neurotransmitters such as:

  • Histamine: vital for digestion, produced as a response to allergy or tissue damage and a neurotransmitter which regulates wakefulness and sleepiness.
  • GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid): involved in nerve transmission in the brain, calming nervous activity.
  • Norepinephrine (noradrenaline): involved in sleep and wakefulness, attention, and feeding behaviour, as well as a stress hormone which regulates the sympathetic nervous system.
  • Epinephrine (adrenaline): a stress hormone.
  • Melatonin: regulates our sleep/wake cycle.
  • Serotonin: regulates mood, sleep, appetite, and sexuality
  • Dopamine: involved in motivation, reward, addiction, behavioral reinforcement and coordination of bodily movement.

Exogenous Histamine

 Exogenous (ingested) amines from food and drink are also equally vital for health. They act as a source of nitrogen and to assist in complex bodily functions such as hormone production, digestion and cell functioning.

Many foods contain the biogenic amine histamine. It’s just that some foods are naturally higher in histamine than others. Quite which foods contain high levels of histamine are currently a source of heated debate!

In addition, biogenic amines are present in all natural foods in which aging, fermentation or spoiling has taken place. Some foods spoil more quickly than others. Fish, for example, is a rapid producer of histamine.

The main biogenic amines in foods are:

  • histamine: neurotransmitter, local hormone, used in gastric acid secretion, cell growth and differentiation, regulation of circadian rhythm, body temperature, food intake, learning and memory, immune response, allergic reactions
  • tryptamine
  • tyramine: neurotransmitter, causes peripheral vasoconstriction, increase cardiac output, increase respiration, elevate blood glucose, release of norepinephrine
  • cadaverin
  • putrescin: involved in the regulation of gene expression, maturation of intestine, cell growth and differentiation
  • spermine
  • spermidine

So, that’s the basics of Biogenic Amines of which histamine is all important. The next 2 pages in the Low Histamine Food Info section look at histamine-related illnesses, in particular Histamine Intolerance and Mast Cell Disease though there are others such as SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) which I won’t be covering.


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