Tag Archives: histamine content foods

Don’t believe the lists!

I’ve been diagnosed with Histamine Intolerance (HIT) and Mast Cell Activation Disorder (MCAD) for over 5 years now and I forget that people newly diagnosed don’t have the same level of information, and skepticism, about the diseases as myself.  So this post is aimed at the newly diagnosed, or those who think they might have problems with histamine.

I’m only going to talk about diet, because that’s how I control my HIT – I don’t take any supplements because my mast cells hate supplements.  MCAD isn’t controllable by diet because mast cells can be triggered by just about anything in the environment, such as hormones, stress etc, but many people with MCAD follow a low histamine diet to reduce their bodies histamine load.

There is loads of information ‘out there’ on histamine in foods and for the most part it is absolute rubbish.  Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there is currently no lab which is testing the histamine content of foods.  None.  I urge you to read my Histamine in Foods: the Evidence page which outlines the situation.  Most of the current lists rely on one paper for their information, but it is years old and has been discredited.  Sadly, however, most of the histamine food lists online use this research paper as their source without checking its validity or accuracy.  The histamine content of food is simply chinese whispers – it is not based on fact, no matter which list you look at (including the one listed here on my blog).  Bare in mind that many popular online histamine sites are making money out of their books and online courses – they’re not suddenly going to turn round and say ‘oops, turns out everything I’ve been telling you for the past 5 years is a pile of poo’.  I don’t make a bean out of my blog and am just trying to be objective.

If you’re following a low histamine food list have you checked where the author has gleaned their information from?  I mean, really checked it?  Have you followed the research links (if they’re available) and actually read the research?  How old is it? Has it been replicated by another research group or testing facility?

The problem with the histamine content of foods is that histamine formation and degredation depends on how old the food is and how it’s been stored.  Just because a lab in Norway has found a level of, for example, 5mg/kg of histamine in yoghurt doesn’t mean the yoghurt you’re eating contains that amount because you have no clue how the milk the yoghurt is made from was stored or handled.  This is why the only accurate way to test for histamine in the food we eat is by actually testing the food we eat – which is why I’m so excited by the home testing kit I’m hoping to try next month!

Information on the histamine content of food is changing all the time.  The most recent reseach paper to come out about the histamine content of foods was undertaken by the University of Barcelona and focused on the histamine content of non-fermented plant based foods, including fruits, nuts and legumes.  It’s a really good paper and I urge you to read it.  Hardly any information on the histamine content of plant-based foods is available, and this new research found that the only products of plant origin with significant levels of histamine were eggplant (aubergine), spinach, tomato and avocado – which is good news and makes most plant based foods fairly safe in histamine terms.

Most of the online foods lists say people with MCAD or HIT should avoid citrus fruits, berries etc., yet this new research demonstrates that no fruit is high in histamine.  The food lists say that strawberries, for example, may not be high in histamine themselves but liberate histamine in our bodies.  It’s tosh.  There is no way of testing whether or not any food liberates histamine stored in our mast cells and you need to be questioning the author of any such information on how they’ve reached this conclusion.

The histamine content of wheat products, eg bread and pasta, all showed undetectable amounts of histamine.

The authors state that storage temperatures are the main contributor to histamine formation in plant based foods, so the rule is to eat plant foods within a day or two of buying them and to keep them refrigerated.

The way we cook food can also affect histamine formation.  It appears that boiling vegetables decreases histamine, sometimes quite dramatically, as the histamine transfers to the cooking water.  In a very small study frying, however, increased histamine (though this hasn’t been replicated in other studies as far as I know).

Having said all that, although the only plant based foods which were found to be high in histamine were eggplant (aubergine), spinach, tomato and avocado, some foods were found to contain other biogenic amines such as putrescine and spermidine.  How much these other amines are implicated in HIT is completely unknown, so how much you want to worry about them is up to you.

The conclusion of the research was that: “the exclusion of a high number of plant-origin foods from low histamine diets cannot be accounted for by their histamine content” which is what I’ve been saying for a long time now.  We are cutting out nuts, fruits, wheat and most veg from our diets for absolutely no good reason!  The authors do conclude that some of these foods contain putrescine and if you have an issue with them it might be because of that, but the foods aren’t high in histamine and if anyone tells you they are they’re fibbing.

 

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Home testing for histamine

Back in October I wrote in this post about some researchers from Hong Kong who were in the process of inventing a sensor which works with your mobile phone to test for histamine in foods.  There are a handful of other researchers around the world who are also working on ways to test for histamine in foods, but the Hong Kong group seemed to be the closest to development so I contacted them to find out more.

They had principally built the device for use in the food industry, so that supermarkets and food manufacturers could test their foods for spoilage, but when I told them about MCAS and HIT patients they were extremely interested in our plight – they didn’t know there was a patient population out there who were desperate for a way to test for histamine in foods and had never considered selling the device to the general public.

They were still working on a prototype but asked me if I’d like to test it and give them feedback.  Is the Pop Catholic?!  I said I’d love to, but by Christmas had heard nothing from them.  Last week I emailed the team again who replied straight away to apologise for not being in touch.  Apparently they had had some issues with the chip inside the sensor device, and one of the researchers was currently in Taiwan liaising with another company to produce the chip.  He did, however, send me a video of the device and asked for my comments.  I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say as obviously there is the competition to think about, but the device looks straight forward enough to use if a little fiddly.  It isn’t the case of sticking a probe into a food item and taking a reading which is what I’d kind’ve had in mind, but once I’d got my head around the fact it will be more complex than that I still think it’s going to be usable by the public, at least in a home environment if not in restaurants or on the run.  They are hoping to streamline some parts of the process before it becomes generally available.

One of the researchers is coming over to London in February and asked for a meeting with me, but unfortunately he’ll be in London and I’m not sure I feel up to travelling 600 miles just to have a half hour meeting :-/  I was hoping one of my good friends who lives nearer the capital would be able to attend instead, but unfortunately she’s really unwell at the moment and doesn’t feel up to it.  It feels like a hugely wasted opportunity 😦

Obviously I’ll keep you all informed of developments.  Any chance to test for histamine in foods would be a massive bonus in mine, and many of your, lives.  The first thing I’d look at is tomatoes………….how I miss them……..closely followed by tea!

 

Food Histamine Q&A

Someone obviously very new to the world of histamine in foods asked a question on my blog recently and it took me right back to when I was first really ill and totally confused and bewildered about the whole subject.  I’d barely heard of Histamine Intolerance when I was diagnosed and little of what I read online made sense.  All the low histamine food lists differed from one another and no-one seemed to be able to tell me exactly what to do or what to eat to get myself better.  So I thought I’d do a post of the questions I had 5 years ago in the hopes it helps my readers new to the world of histamine intolerance.  Bear in mind this is just my personal opinion based on my experience and research which I have read – I am not the Oracle of all things histamine and just a (still) bewildered patient alongside the rest of you.

Q. Why are all the lists different?  Why are some more strict than others?
A. All the low histamine food lists online are based mostly on the personal opinion of the Author.  No spice, food preservative, food additive, citrus fruit, chocolate, tea leaf, herb or much of anything else has been tested for its histamine content.  In fact, only a handful of foods (mainly fish, soya, sauerkraut, aubergiene/eggplant, dairy) have been tested for their histamine content, so the lists are mostly pure speculation.  I know that’s not what you want to hear, but it’s true.

Q. Is pak choi/vodka/lentils/bagels/insert-your-food-of-choice-here high in histamine?
A. I have no clue and neither does anyone else.  That’s because it hasn’t been tested for its histamine content.  Even foods thought to be high in histamine, eg. cheddar cheese, will differ depending on how it was produced, stored or transported.  A certain brand of cheddar cheese in Italy may test lower, or higher, than another brand of cheddar cheese in America.

Q. So which low histamine food list should I use?!
A. It’s entirely your personal choice.  None of them are THE definitive food list because that doesn’t exist.  My advice would be to choose a list you think you can stick to, give a go for 4-6 months and see if it helps.

Q. Does the cooking method affect the food’s histamine content?
A. There was a recent study showing that frying and grilling specific types of food increased its histamine content, whereas boiling sometimes decreased it.  However, it depended on the type of food.  Eggs, for example, showed little rise or fall in histamine regardless of how they were cooked but fried vegetables had more histamine than raw vegetables.  As with all things histamine it’s not as simple as fry or don’t fry, boil or don’t boil.  It’s not something I personally worry about.

Q. Why can’t I eat leftovers?
A. It’s the freshness of food which affects its histamine content.  The older the food, the more histamine it has.  So 2 day old leftovers are going to be higher in histamine than fresh food cooked and eaten on the day it’s bought.  At least that’s the theory, but again it’s not that simple.  Who knows whether “fresh” unripe bananas picked in the Caribbean, taken on an open truck in forty degree heat to a warehouse, sorted, repacked onto another truck to go to the docks, travel in an unfridgerated container for a week to reach England, put on another truck to a warehouse, then forwarded to Tescos in Preston, then packed in the boot of your car for an hour as you drive home, then sat in a fruit bowl for three days before you eat them are going to be lower in histamine than chicken soup you made yourself yesterday but have reheated?!

Q. Does refrigeration affect histamine levels?
A. Most of the research on this has been done on fish.  Little is known of the effect refrigeration has on eggs or carrots for example.  However, from the limited research refrigeration slows down histamine formation.  But if the food already contains histamine, eg the banana example above, it won’t reduce it.

Q. Does freezing affect histamine levels?
A. Freezing is the only thing which halts histamine formation.  However, it doesn’t destroy histamine which has already formed.  So if you freeze a week old uncooked chicken breast which already contains high levels of histamine the histamine will still be there.  My advice would be to freeze foods as soon as you buy them or freeze meals as soon as you’ve cooked them, then cook from frozen whenever possible or at least cook or eat as soon as they’ve defrosted.  I never defrost stuff for hours overnight in the fridge, preferring to defrost at room temp for 1-3 hours then cook and eat.

Q. What about histamine levels of canned foods?
A. As far as I’m aware no tinned goods have been tested for their histamine content and in any event it would probably depend on the type of food and how it had been stored and prepared prior to canning.  I guess tinned goods are on the ‘excluded’ lists of low histamine diets because they contain preservatives (which haven’t been tested for histamine either!) and because they’re considered ‘old’ and assumed to be high in histamine, but it is just an assumption.  The truth is no-one knows.  I eat tinned beans and don’t react to them in any way, but that’s just me.

Q. What about dried goods, eg. pasta.
A. Again, they haven’t been tested for their histamine content so no-one knows.

Q. What’s the deal with histamine liberators?
A. Histamine liberators are irrelevant in histamine intolerance as HIT involves DAO and HNMT not mast cell activation per se.  However, I know many people with mast cell disease also follow a low histamine diet, which is why I’ve included this question.  There is no such thing as a histamine liberating food as far as we know.  No research has been conducted that shows any particular food liberates histamine stored in mast cells.  This includes egg whites and stawberries.  Which doesn’t mean to say you don’t have a reaction to a food, but that it’s your immune system which is over-reacting to a harmless substance and nothing intrinsic in the food itself which causes a reaction.  I react badly to apples, for example, because I have a birch pollen allergy and they are related – it doesn’t mean apples are histamine liberators.  I take no notice whatsoever of information online which tells me some food or other is a “histamine liberator” and will continue to do so unless it’s proved otherwise through research.

I’m sure you’re now thinking “well what the hell do I eat and how can I know it’s low in histamine?!”.  The fact is the whole low histamine food area is a very very complex subject with so many variables it makes your head spin.  There is no easy “eat this and don’t eat that” solution, I wish there were.  The histamine content of any particular food depends on so many things including its age and the way it’s been picked, handled, transported, processed and stored.  It will differ from food to food.  A button mushroom in China may differ in its histamine content compared to a button mushroom in Wales.  Strawberries picked out of your garden will differ from strawberries imported from Israel.  And so on ad nauseum.

Nearly every article online about HIT refers to the same single research paper.  However, the paper is fundamentally flawed as explained in my Histamine in foods: the evidence page.  For example, it lists egg whites as a histamine liberator based on a worthless solitary study of animals in 1956 which was never published or replicated let alone tested on human beings.  Yet this has gone viral and now everyone treats it as fact when it is anything but.  The truth is the research evidence on the histamine content of food is poor and much of it is decades old – there were no refridgerated lorries in the 1950s.  In fact there were hardly any fridges in the 1950s.  We have come a long way in the last 70 years in how we pick, transport and store food which is why research needs to be up-to-date.

However, there is hope on the horizon.  A home testing kit is being developed in Germany which will enable us to precisely measure histamine in food.  This is the only way we will know for sure how much histamine is in the actual food we’re eating and it can’t come soon enough.

 

 

There are none so blind..

…as those who don’t wish to see.

Y’know as a kid when you didn’t want to hear something you’d stick your fingers in your ears and go “la la la la, can’t hear you!”  I’m starting to think that’s the way most people feel about histamine.  They only hear the bits they want to hear and ignore everything else.

To me, the most important page on my entire blog is the one about the evidence of Histamine in foods, yet it receives the least visitors and has no comments.  Not a single one.   The article proves that there is basically zero evidence on which to base any of the current Low Histamine Food lists and that the histamine content in food is just a guess, and oftentimes not even an educated guess.  It’s very important to know this, particularly if you have HIT and could go into anaphylaxis if you eat too much histamine-rich food.  But it seems no-one cares.  No-one is shocked at the lack of evidence for histamine in food.  And that shocks me more than anything!

In comparison, The Low Histamine Food list page has the most traffic, even though I’ve proven it’s not based on fact or much of anything else.  It seems no-one’s bothered how accurate, or not, the low histamine food lists online are despite the fact their lives could depend on it.

We see what we want to see, especially when we’re desperate.  We see a list of research references at the end of an article and think to ourselves “oh well, it must be based on fact then”, even though we don’t bother to read the research references to find out how old they are, how big the study was, if it was replicated, if it appeared in a peer review journal and was scrutinized.  In other words, whether the research the article is based on is just a theory or whether it’s fact.

All the low histamine diets online tell you should avoid egg white.  Did you know this is based on one single miniscule study done in the 1950s on mice which was never published or scrutinized?   Would you let someone operate on your heart, based on a single research study on mice done just after the Second World War?  No, I thought not.

No food is innately high in histamine.  Histamine is produced during the aging process (eg mature cheese), the production process (eg. yoghurt, vinegar) or during storage and transportation.  The latter is very important.  A banana straight off the tree will be zero histamine.  A month old, brown, soggy banana will be high histamine.  Our food storage and transportation has come on leaps and bounds in the last 60 years.  We now use refridgerated lorries and food often appears in supermarkets within days of being picked or produced which impacts its histamine level.

I wish if nothing else people would take away from my blog the fact that there is no such thing as a Low Histamine Food list.  They don’t exist.  It’s pointless Googling for whether or not Pak Choi is low or high in histamine, cos no-one knows.  No-one knows whether the blackberries I pick off the bush in my garden contain histamine, or are higher in histamine than the blackberries shipped in from Israel for sale in the supermarket.

No-one knows how food affects DAO in the gut.  We can’t even accurately measure DAO in the gut, so how on earth would we know if any food increases or decreases it?  No-one knows if particular foods (eg. lemons) releases histamine stored in mast cells.  And if you read differently online the person or company saying otherwise is either lying, guessing or simply hasn’t done their homework properly.

I know what I’m saying is deeply unpopular.  I know sick people don’t want to hear it.  But we should all know the facts about this stuff.  It’s important.  People following low histamine diets are cutting out all sorts of foods for absolutely no good reason.  Aren’t our lives hard enough without that?  If you don’t believe my research, do your own.  Try and find evidence for the histamine content in foods – real evidence.  Properly conducted up-to-date research published in medical or food Journals.  And you’ll find it’s virtually non-existent.  Just because there’s an app listing foods high in histamine doesn’t mean it’s accurate for heaven’s sake!  And any app which lists foods which liberate histamine from mast cells, or which increases or decreases DAO is wrong, wrong wrong!  Ask the people who produce the app to provide you with the evidence on which they base their information.

Knowing all this, I’ve been re-introducing some foods back into my life which I’ve avoided for the past 3 years.  There is no evidence for baker’s yeast being high in histamine, and I really miss proper bread especially when I’m out and about, so I’ve been eating it in small amounts for a few months now.  I still have my yeast-free bread when at home because I like it, it’s organic and doesn’t contain any of the crap of supermarket bread, however it’s only nice toasted so when out of the house I eat ‘normal’ bread in cafes and for my sanis.  I’m happy to report no effects on my symptoms whatsoever.  None.  Yayyy 🙂

I’ve also re-introduced milk chocolate.  I’m careful to use brands without soya of any kind (one of the only foods for which there is proper evidence of high histamine content) and am again happy to report that it has not affected me one iota.  My hormones are ever so grateful – having a menstrual period without chocolate was sheer hell 😉

There is not a shred of evidence for the histamine content of fruit or how fruit affects histamine in the body.  Not lemons, not oranges, not strawberries.  No research has been done on it.  So over the summer I intend to try various fruits I’ve been avoiding, one by one, and see how it goes.  Bananas are not purported to be high in histamine, yet they make me brain fogged, so it may be I react badly to some fruits for reasons no-one understands and which has nothing to do with histamine.  Or bananas may be high in histamine.  No-one knows, as they’ve not been tested!

Please, think about what you read online.  Just because 100 people are saying one thing, and 1 person is saying the opposite, doesn’t mean the 1 person is wrong.  Do your homework.  Look at the evidence and make informed choices.

I’m still baffled

This week I had yet another delightful comment on my Recipe page basically saying that my site was a joke.  How on earth can I call my recipes low histamine when they contain mushrooms, chillis and lemon juice?! (with an excalamation mark just to shove the point home).  I was not amused, particularly as the writer had obviously not afforded me the courtesy of actually reading my blog.  The Read This First! page in the Low Histamine Food section, and the links contained therein, explain the information my food choices are based on and if you can’t be arsed to read it before mouthing off you’re just being  rude.

I’ve also had a, thankfully much nicer and more polite, comment from SIGHI (the Swiss Interest Group on Histamine Intolerance) informing me that their cookbook has now been translated into English.  I had a look through the excerpt on their website and it’s obviously taken a lot of hard work and is very professional – I’ll add the details to the Links & Resources page when I get the chance.

If you look at the start of the cookbook it lists allowed and excluded foods, some of which differ from those on other low histamine food lists, the list I follow included.  The whole histamine in food thing still baffles me and I know baffles most of you all too.  Here’s the rub: I can find hardly any research on the histamine content of foods, the exception being fish where scombroid poisoning is well documented.

The list I follow was written by Dr Joneja, a world leading researcher on histamine intolerance, so at least has some validity.  The person who told me this week that my site was laughable because I included mushrooms so far hasn’t produced any research to back up their claim that fungi are high in histamine. Barcelona-based nutritionist Adriana Duelo, whose work is regularly submitted to the prestigious Spanish Society of DAO Deficiency  (of which she is also a member) , has tested mushrooms however and found they contain zero to 1.8mg/kg of histamine which is about the same as fruit juice and less than swiss chard or rice.  Having said all that, some people can’t tolerate mushrooms just like I can’t tolerate apples, which are also very low in histamine.

And therein lies another rub: we don’t all have the same immune system malfunctions.  There are people with allergies.  There are people with intolerances, eg to tyramines, salicylates, oxalates, nightshades, gluten, lactose.  There are people with low or inhibited DAO &/or HNMT.  There are people with mast cell disease.  And there are people with immune system problems which don’t fit any of the aforementioned categories.  And although histamine is implicated in all of these illnesses the mechanisms by which it causes symptoms, and the treatment needed, will differ widely.  It is also, in some cases, only a small part of an overall immune system picture.  In MCAD, for example, when mast cells degranulate they produce around 30 mediators – why do we only focus on histamine?  And why do we mainly focus on food, when just about anything can cause mast cell degranulation in MCAD, including the weather, emotions, lack of sleep, hormones, etc. etc.?

To complicate matters further, many people mix low histamine food lists with other issues.  SIGHI exclude wheat on their diet for example, when there is no evidence that wheat is high in histamine.  Wheat may, or may not, be inflammatory and excluded on an anti-inflammatory diet or people may be intolerant to gluten but that still doesn’t make it a histamine rich food.

I’m hoping to have time over the holidays to update my website a bit, including writing a new page tackling these very complex issues.  To be honest though, the more I’ve learned over the last 3 years the more I suspect any low histamine food list.  Who exactly has tested cinnamon, curry powder or nutmeg for its histamine content?  And how on earth is it even possible to test whether a particular food liberates histamine once it’s been ingested?   Are fresh foods always lower in histamine than dried?  Dried oregano, for instance, is miles higher in mast-cell stabilizing luteolin than fresh oregano.  If pumpkin is high in histamine what about related vegetables like squash, or other root vegetables like carrots or turnip?

I can see the logic, if not the research, to back up claims that aged and fermented foods will be high in histamine, eg. aged cheeses, cured meats and dried fruits but where is the science that food colorings are high in histamine (not that I’d ever want to eat artificially coloured food but where is the histamine connection)?

I’m almost certain I inadvertently still eat things which are high in histamine.  I’m also equally as certain that I’m avoiding some gorgeous foods for absolutely no good reason.  And on top of all that I know for sure that histamine in food is only a tiny part of my very complex health issues and I’d love more research on all the other aspects of mast cell mediator release.

I’m just sharing rambling thoughts in this post really and, as I said, will try and put together a more considered and informative page in the near future.