Histamine: Allergies, Brain & Gut Health


If you think that high histamine is only an issue during allergy season, think again. Most people are completely unaware that histamine facilitates a central role in:

  • Brain & neurotransmitter function

  • Digestion

  • Food allergies & intolerances

  • Mental & behavioral disorders such as schizophrenia, bi-polar, OCD and ADHD

Histamine is released by basophil immune cells during allergy season. Histamine release causes those nasty symptoms of nasal drainage, sinus congestion, sneezing and itchy, watery eyes.

FACT: Histamine is a neurotransmiter, and directly influences brain function and behavior.

Back in the 1970’s, Dr. Carl C. Pfeiffer found a direct correlation between high and low histamine and certain mental illnesses. He postulated that problems in a biochemical process known as methylation was a major factor in mental illness. This is because the process of methylation directly affects the formation and breakdown of several of the brain’s key neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and histamine.  Because methylation reactions break down our histamine, Dr. Pfeiffer realized he could identify a person’s methylation activity by monitoring the histamine in their blood. Dr. Pfeiffer’s successful treatment of mental health patients was based largely on this. Dr. William Walsh has trained physicians on the use of whole blood histamine as a way to understand methylation activity among mental health patients.

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According to Dr’s Pfeiffer and Walsh’s research:

“High histamine types” are typically those suffering from:

  • Depression

  • OCD

  • Suicidal tendencies

  • Phobias

“Low histamine types” are typically those suffering from:

  • Anxiety disorders

  • Panic tendencies

  • Paranoia

  • Paranoid schizophrenia

FACT: Histamine is essential for digestion, through the control of stomach acid secretion. Histamine can also be produced in response to certain food allergies and intolerances.

A form of Histamine known as H2 triggers the stomach to secrete acid. Most people are actually deficient in stomach acid, even if they suffer from acid reflux! Too much or too little histamine can cause a problem in this case.

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Histamine & Food Allergies

A number of foods are known to contain high levels of histamine. While anyone can experience intolerance to histamine in foods, it is suspected to be a factor in certain individuals with GI inflammation, leaky gut and intestinal toxicity. Some of the histamine-containing foods include:

  • Fermented foods: saurkraut, yogurt, and alcoholic beverages such as wine and beer

  • Spinach

  • Eggplant

  • Dried, smoked & cured meats

  • Citrus fruits

  • Aged cheeses

  • Nuts

  • Avocado

  • Tomato

Foods that tend to have a low histamine content are typically better tolerated among those with known sensitivities to histamine-containing foods. These include:

  • Most fresh animal proteins are relatively low in histamine

  • Quinoa

  • Rice

  • Eggs

  • Most vegetables

  • Olive oil

  • Coconut oil

Histamine Genetics

A gene known as DAO (D-amino acid oxidase) transcribes the DAO enzyme which degrades histamine. Individuals with a DAO gene mutation may have a tendency towards high histamine. DAO is responsible for breaking down histamine in the gut (3).

The DAO gene is also involved in the metabolism of glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter found to be elevated in those with schizophrenia and bi-polar disorders (1).

There can be epigenetic reasons for low DAO levels. Epigenetics refers to “non-inherited genetic factors that can trigger the expression of certain genes”. So even if you don’t have DAO mutations, you may still have low DAO enzyme activity. Some of the causes of low DAO enzyme expression include:

  • Certain drugs such as: NSAIDs, acid-blocking medications, anti-depressants, immune suppressants

  • GI inflammatory conditions: Crohn’s, IBS, colitis

  • Celiac disease and those with gluten intolerance


Controlling Histamine

Certain individuals with high histamine are considered to be “undermethylated”. This suggests they have too few methyl groups needed to break down histamine. 4 key nutrients that support under-active methylation activity include:

  • Vitamin B-6
  • SAMe and the amino acid L-methionine
  • Zinc
  • Betaine hydrochloride


Additionally, there are natural enzyme formulations that are employed to increase histamine breakdown in the gut. These are commercially available today. Additional herbs and nutrients have been reported as effective for modulating histamine release during allergy flare-ups. This include:

  • Quercitin
  • Skullcap
  • Eyebright
  • Platycodon
  • Silk tree
  • White mulberry
  • Bromelain
  • Vitamin C
  • Calcium
  • MSM
  • Stinging nettles

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