I rarely talk about food on my blog these days. For the first 2 or 3 years it was all I could talk about because I’d spent 18 months battling severe reactions after eating, not to mention after any kind of medication, and honestly thought I’d die so, naturally, the topic was all-consuming. But my Histamine Intolerance and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome are, for the most part, under control now and have been for at least a couple of years so I’m happy to not have to think about every single thing I put in my mouth any more and the relief is HUGE.
Now and again, some lovely person out there in the Universe will leave some catty comment here on my site. Something like “you’re talking shit” or “this site is a joke” which is hurtful considering how ill I am and the effort which has gone in to 6 years of writing twice weekly posts, not to mention the thousands of hours that have gone into research, putting together information, links and photographs, or all the recipes I’ve made available here for free, but not everyone in the world is nice or has manners so you just have to take it on the chin. A couple of weeks ago, one of these kind people left a message on one of my histamine-related food pages to the effect that the information was out of date and I might like to sort that out. I was taken aback, as I’d only revisited the page in January this year and hadn’t heard on the grapevine of any significant new information on histamine in food lately (or ever), so I asked the poster to please point me in the direction of said new information so that I could share it with all my followers. She didn’t reply. They rarely do when asked to provide proof to back up their claims.
I had some free time today and, despite the most god awful thumping bloody headache, I decided to do some digging to see if I could find any new information on histamine in foods. I failed miserably, but I did find an abundance of low histamine food lists and every single one had a big list of “histamine liberators”, ie those foods not actually high in histamine themselves but capable of forcing mast cells to release histamine. Things like egg whites, strawberries, ‘additives’ (unspecified), pineapple, peanuts, fish, pork, liquorice, spices (again unspecified), tomatoes and of course citrus fruits. Seriously? No, really. Seriously?! And then people have the gall to say that my painstakingly researched information on histamine in food is out of date!
I spent nearly a year researching histamine in foods and could find zero evidence for any food “liberating” histamine from mast cells. If you don’t believe me, Google til your fingers bleed. There is no such thing.
Hardly any of the low histamine foods lists, even really popular ones like SIGHI, reference the research on which they base their information. Most freely admit it’s gathered from patients, which is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. There is a reason we have laboratory tests and double-blind randomized controlled trials and it’s so there is a level playing field, all the participants have exactly the same disease and no other disease (like fructose intolerance, or coeliac disease, or an issue with nightshades), and the resulting information is accurate.
So where has this myth that egg whites, citrus fruits or strawberries liberate histamine from mast cells come from? It took me ages to work that little puzzle out and eventually I realized that where research was cited on a low histamine food list it usually came from a single source: a paper called ‘Histamine and histamine intolerance’ by Laura Maintz and Natalija Novak in 2007 which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and their information came from various sources cited at the end of their paper. I followed the trail and discovered that the myth about egg whites came from ‘research’ (and I use the term loosely) by Schachter and Talesnik in 1952 (!) that egg white releases histamine in non-sensitised animals when injected intravenously. A 64 year old single animal research study which didn’t even involve the animals actually eating anything is the basis for everyone excluding egg white on low histamine diets – jaw dropping isn’t it? And the myth about strawberries liberating histamine came from unpublished data by Schachter in the 1950s but the paper is so old and obscure no-one has actually been able to obtain a copy to see what it actually says! In the Jul-Aug 2005 edition of the Netherlands Journal of Medicine is a paper entitled ‘Mastocytosis and adverse reactions to biogenic amines and histamine-releasing foods: what is the evidence?’ in which the authors conclude “We could not find any study on histamine-releasing effects of most of the foods suggested of having histamine-releasing capacities.” I rest my case.
Everyone is a lot more savvy and clued up on histamine these days and there are now dozens of sites giving information on low histamine diets………….and they are all, without exception, wrong. I simply can’t understand why these myths linger or why sites that really should know better perpetuate them.
Most of the people who write low histamine food lists are genuinely trying to be helpful and offer guidance to patients suffering from HIT and MCAS and it is nice to hear about other patients’ experiences of their safe, and not so safe, foods but it’s merely anecdotal and you simply can’t treat this kind of information as fact. For example, buckwheat is listed on many lists as a safe food low in histamine, but I simply can’t tolerate it. The truth is no-one has ever tested buckwheat for its histamine content as far as I’m aware and I have no clue where the testing figures or research information is that says it’s ‘safe’ for someone with HIT or MCAS to eat.
I could be wrong, of course. There could be exciting new and accurate information on the histamine content of foods out there which I know nothing about and if so I hope one of you, my lovely readers, will tell me all about it. I’d like nothing more than to know which foods are safe to eat for someone with raging HIT and delinquent mast cells and which foods aren’t, but I suspect I’ll still be guessing by Christmas…………2030!