It all started one afternoon, in April 2019, when I experienced a panic attack right after my dinner. I must say it was not at all something common in my life, hence the surprise was big, and not pleasant. I was home alone, and I had eaten a super tasty vegan meal, all things I have eaten countless times before. Since then, I’ve been asked so many times about my experience, but I wasn’t ready to write about it. Even the thought of it was triggering me. Plus, “histamine intolerance” is a very confusing topic because is one of those things that not two people agree on it. I didn’t want to add to all this confusion, and I wanted my experience to empower you, rather than scare you. So read on, if you want to hear details about how I handled it, but keep in mind that not two people will experience an “histamine overload” the same. I just hope that by talking about my experience will help you handle the fear and confusion around weird symptoms, rather than give you a yes and no food list, which can vary from person to person.
The episode was happening while I was living a healthy lifestyle for a while, lectin-light, gluten-free, sugar-free, you know, all the good stuff. In fact, the days previous to this episode I was feeling on top of the world. I had a lot of energy, was feeling inspired, creative and productive. Now when I look back, it was probably more of a type of overstimulation. In fact I can see many things when I look back. For example, I was experiencing weird symptoms like tingling all over my body, pins and needles and I was wondering what that was. I thought I was stressed (I was working a lot), which was probably the case, combined with some food sensitivities I was developing.
The confusion and fear
I don’t think the panic attack was the direct result of what I ate, but rather my reaction to feeling some really strange things for the first time in my life, like my throat closing and ears blocking. That episode was followed by sleepless nights, with racing heart out of nowhere. You can imagine how I felt, all this was happening while on my best behaviour.
I was scared and in complete dark because I had no idea what was happening, but my first thought was to blame it on seasonal allergies, even though it was not something I had much trouble with in the past. I think is when I started searching about seasonal allergies that I started to read about histamines. Well, all the articles online were absolutely scary. They were saying I can’t get out of the house for a few months a year, that I have to take steroids, injections, anti-histamines, that I have to wash my hair and clothes immediately after I entered my home, things I couldn’t concieve can be part of a normal life. All this information added even more to my stress and made me even more fearful of getting outside. Can you see the thread? More than anything, I was scared. Can you imagine how this was messing with my nervous system and amplifying things?
After another panic attack episode (I remember it happened after I ate a mix of roasted nuts I made at home), we went to an emergency room nearby, hyperventilating. At this point I still thought is the pollen or something in the air. Again, I was very scared. The doctor did some basic tests which were normal, basically told me is stress and anxiety and gave me anti-anxiety medication (things I never took in my life before). I fulfilled my prescription but never took one pill. Under some pressure from my family I took some anti-histamines one day and they didn’t do anything. All this time, I was looking for answers.
What are histamines, anyway?
“While histamine is naturally found in certain foods, it is also a compound that is found in the cells of the body. Histamine is a very important part of the immune system and also plays a role in inflammation in the body. We also need histamine in order to digest food, move our bowels, boost exercise performance, increase attention, and get blood as well as nutrients and oxygen delivered to different parts of the body. With the right amount of histamine, the body is able to perform these functions as it should.
However, the problem occurs when there is too much histamine. When your histamine levels increase, your tolerance decreases. At this point, histamine can cause a wide variety of symptoms, and these symptoms can vary depending on where it is released in the body.”
My first aid kit
I like to keep this in mind: histamines are good for us in so many ways, but not if there is too much. I don’t remember exactly how and what I discovered first about histamines, but after being given the anti-anxiety medication and read that anxiety can be a symptom of histamine overload, I ordered Ali Miller RD’s anti-anxiety bundle (I was already following her on Instagram and knew about her book, The Anti Anxiety Diet). Even to this day, I think that was the best decision I made given the circumstances. Somehow, intuitively, I knew what I needed. The Relax and Regulate powder, with magnesium bis-glycinate and inositol helped me sleep and relax in the evenings which made things already so much better (I found out later that histamine issues get aggravated in the evenings and one of the symptoms is insomnia). Again, insomnia was so new to me, as in general I had a good sleep. The Calm and Clear, the other supplement in the bundle is a complex of B vitamins and adaptogens (which later proved to be what I needed as my doctor gave me some more). I didn’t take much of Gaba Calm (the third supplement in the bundle) because it is made with a fermentation process and at that point I started to eliminate everything that was fermented, including probiotics. (The above links are not affiliated)
Traveling and lowering stress
I became so fearful of having reactions to food that I was barely eating. I decided to do a one meal a day fast, thinking that would help my body figure things out and lower inflammation in the process. We even went on a vacation in San Diego (it was booked in advance) but I was keen to do it because I was craving the ocean breeze. We managed to find good restaurants to have one good meal a day that was low histamine, even fish that was the catch of the day (the only way you can eat fish on a low histamine diet). At that point I had an idea about what I was trying to avoid. The ocean air proved to have a good impact on my stress levels. Looking back now, eliminating dairy made a big difference in the way I looked and felt, and I saw positive changes even though I was still experiencing symptoms of histamine overload.
Unexpected (and positive) side effects
A small parathesis: When I started the Plant Paradox 3 years ago (August 2017), most of my PMS symptoms resolved, and for the first time in my life I had periods with very little discomfort. Let’s say I went from a debilitating pain level 10 before the plant paradox to a level 2 after I started. I was feeling a little off when my period came, but it was not interfering with my daily life or requiring any medication. To my suprise, after I started the low histamine diet, the first period I got I had a pain level zero. I didn’t feel anything at all. That was really happening for the first time in my life. Similarly, I had a breakout on my arms that only resolved partially after starting the plant paradox program, but completely resolved after starting the low histamine diet (resolved to this day, I have smooth upper arms again, after years). I do believe all these positive changes in my health are due to eliminating dairy. It also made sense when after a genetic test, my doctor said I might be sensitive to dairy.
Not everything you read online will help you (inclusive this post)
Back to what I was reading online about histamines, was also the fact that people with “histamine intolerance” do not do well with air travel, crowds, noises, heat, cold, pollen, excercise etc etc. At this point I started to fear traveling (which basically is my life). The reason I want to mention all of this is because these articles online are so scary and they only feed the fear and stress we are already experiencing, at least they did for me. Even though I became quite fearful of things that a few weeks before I considered normal, I was aware of how my nervous system works and I made an extra effort to stay connected to who I was and to not define myself by this “histamine intolerance” I was reading everywhere about. I acknowledged I must have an imbalance, but I switched to being grateful and curious instead of being fearful. I was still scared but I was aware that my body is smart, I take good care of it and it knows how to restore the lost balance, with a little help. And the complex tests I did revealed the root causes and imbalances I needed to fix. My body was speaking to me. If it wasn’t for this episode, those imbalances and toxicities would had surfaced at one point or another.
I was never “histamine intolerant”
If you search low histamine foods online, you will find many lists, but not two are the same. That is for a few reasons: one because not two people experience histamine intolerance the same way, two because there is no serious reasearch into this topic and this is not something mainstream medicine is aware of, three because many bloggers make their own lists without stressing on how histamine intolerance is experienced differently by each individual. One other thing I didn’t like and a reason I decided not to share about my experience earlier, was this idea that histamine intolerance is a disease and you are doomed and have to eliminate a bunch of healthy foods from your diet and will never be able to get back to your normal life. I refused to call myself “histamine intolerant”. And I’m very grateful to my doctor; even though he was familiar with my problem, he never “diagnosed” me or put a label on the crisis I was experiencing. All this time he looked at root causes and we focused on fixing those instead of my symptoms.
So yes, I found a good functional medicine practitioner, booked an appointment as soon as I could and started to investigate what was the root cause of these sudden food intolerances and weird symptoms. From the first moment I knew I was not going to define myself as histamine intolerant, like most of the people writing articles about this topic were doing. I knew there must be a deeper cause and I wanted to fix it. Extensive tests revealed quite some imbalances and toxicities, although nothing too scary. By the standards of conventional medicine, I was what you called the perfectly healthy person, just one that was stressed and needed anti-anxiety medication (sounds familiar?).
If you have to leave this page with only one lesson, this is it
I will not get into the details of my tests, but if I have to give you one single advice in this article and learn something from my experience, is to search for a functional medicine practitioner that will know what tests to do to investigate what is your own root cause, in case you experience sudden food intolerances and weird symptoms like I did. Briefly, I had a methylation problem, a few mineral and vitamin imbalances, a little too much estrogen relative to my (too little) progesterone and a tad too much of heavy metals, especially mercury and lead and a marker of SIBO. Inflammation level was not too high, but wasn’t as low as I expected, either. Further genetic testing confirmed a MTHFR mutation (not the worst one though) and possible intolerance to dairy. Oh, and very low gluthatione levels, gluthatione being the master antioxidant of the body, which helps us fight inflamation and detoxify the body. We started to address all these with supplements, diet and other lifestyle changes. We did a one month detox using Quicksilver Scientific BlackBox II. I had to work on my levels of stress and support the body in the detoxification process with infrared sauna, exercise, meditation, self reflection. And one thing I am very proud of, I overcame my fear of going outside (fed by the online information about allergens and certain types of weather feeding ‘histamine intolerance’) and decided being outside in nature, as much as possible and whenever I wanted, was going to heal me instead of aggravating my symptoms. I strongly believe in the power of such a mind switch, and it worked for me wonderfully. Nature was and is supporting my healing process.
Finding reliable sources of information
Other than the information my doctor gave about histamines and balancing out my diet to fix my imbalances, there are a few resources I liked that helped me a lot. But again, I did not follow anything in particular, I rather took bits and pieces that were fitting my situation and built my own template. Firstly, Healing Histamine was a great resource and one of the first I discovered, and I loved the journalistic approach of the topic. What I also loved was that the author was clear that this is not something you will have to live all your life with and that if you do a histamine reset you will be able to reintroduce high histamine foods in your diet again. I also loved that she combined anti-histamine foods with foods that were higher in histamine, hence her approach was not to eliminate everything but rather combining ingredients smartly (she is the only person I discovered so far who is taking this approach). She also highlighted how we are all different and some may react differently to specific foods and combinations. She talks about supplements, what helps and what actually makes things worse (looking at you, probiotics). I purchased her Histamine Reset book / plan and while I didn’t use much of her recipes because they were not lectin-light, she inspired me to make my own combinations and create delicious and healthy meals that were both Plant Paradox compliant and low histamine. If by any chance you think you will be miserable eating a low histamine diet, I would like to encourage you. From my experience, having this “problem’ to fix helped me in fact diversify my diet, discover new foods and healthier ways of preparing food and it was all delicious.
Few supplements to support you
Later I discovered Dr. Ben Lynch and his book Dirty Genes. He is one of the few good doctors out there talking about dealing with histamines. His own company, Seeking Health, is formulating specific supplements for people needing to deal with a histamine overload in their bodies. I love the Liposomal Vitamin C, specifically formulated for maximum absorption and tolerance, the Histamine Block, which is a DAO enzyme that helps break down histamine coming from food and drinks. While a life saver especially in situations when you can’t control the level of histamines in foods, this is not a long term treatment, just a relief for one single meal. As I mentioned above, probiotics are a problem when your gut can’t break down histamine. Dr. Lynch formulated one probiotic with only strains of bacteria that can help break down histamines, Probiota Histamax. At the begining I couldn’t take it, but after a while I started tolerating it. I took it for about one year, and I stopped it again. At the moment I’m writing this I don’t take any probiotics but I am planning to reintroduce more fermented foods in my life. (The above paragraph contain Seeking Health affiliated links; I became an affiliate after having a good experience with their supplements).
Other than the above specific supplements, the usual ones are very important: magnesium and vitamin D and a good B complex. I also took liposomal gluthatione and HistaAid for more than a year, daily. Quercitin is a supplement recommended for breaking down histamines, but for me the only form that worked was the HistaAid from Quicksilver Scientific. All the other forms I tried were triggering me. My doctor also gave me a few supplements to support my gut healing. The one that I felt was really important for me during all this time, was Biocidin. This formulation was perfect for my gut problems, while the Biocidin LSF helped me with my ear problems. They are natural antibiotics that can help with clearing up bacterial infections and viruses. I linked few of the supplements I took because it’s hard to find good quality ones and in the right formulation, but it also depends on your own test results and of course what your doctor recommends you. Also you should be careful with supplements in general as some of them can be triggering symptoms. Even when my doctor recommended me certain supplements, I could not take them all, and we tried different options until we found what worked best in my situation. Find a good doctor and what works for you. (The above paragraph contains Amazon affiliated links)
The link between histamines and hormones
Later on I came across Dr. Becky Campbell and Dr. Lara Briden who both explore the link between hormones and histamine intolerance, specifically in women. It made a lot of sense to me when I realized histamine problems can be related to hormonal changes. I was in my 40s and was slightly estrogen dominant (relative to my progesterone which was low), although not as much as I was before starting the plant paradox. It’s quite fascinating how Dr. Lara Briden links dairy intolerance with childhood reoccurring tonsillitis with high estrogen and low progesterone and histamine overload episodes in women in their 40s (I felt like she was talking about me). You can check this article to start with: The Curious Link Between Estrogen, Mast Cells, and Histamines and start exploring some of her podcasts, they are fascinating. She is an expert in women’s health, so these resources are mostly for women. Dr. Becky Campbell, also an expert in women’s health, has a book called The 4 Phase Histamine Reset Plan. I don’t have it myself because she launched it quite recently, but it could be a good start if you think you need clearing up excess histamines and you don’t know what to do first. It is believed that most of those experiencing an histamine overload episode are women in their 40s, so the link between hormones, women’s health and histamines is an interesting one, and one that can help you figure out the mystery of histamine intolerance and mast cell activation. They also say that histamine intolerance is felt more strongly around menstruation and ovulation which certainly applies to my experience.
What Dr. Gundry says about histamines
In July 2019, about five months into this journey, I traveled to California to meet Dr. Steven Gundry. I was still quite scared of traveling and on a strict diet, also mainly eating once a day. We recorded a podcast and I had the chance to tell Dr. G about my experience and ask some questions, so this podcast has quite some good information. I started taking rosmarinic acid – which Dr. G says is a powerful anti-histaminic, and incorporating much more rosemarin into my diet, and I feel that really helped. Perilla oil is also a good source of rosemarinic acid, but it is very hard to find. The only supplement I found with the content of rosemarinic acid recommended by Dr. G was this one from Solaray.
The foods I gave up
Back to food. At first I had to give up a lot of things, many of them being my favorite foods: fermented stuff (like sauerkraut, yogurt, coconut aminos, olives) dairy, chocolate, cacao, coffee, teas, nuts and nut flours, berries, avocado, mushrooms, spinach, eggs, seafood and fish, plantains and green bananas, anything packaged, any leftovers animal protein and dry spices; at the time beans were not part of my diet, but they were also on some high histamine lists (except for Healing Histamine program, she used lentils and chickpeas quite a lot, but in smart combinations). While alchool was not a big part of my lisfestyle, I stopped even the occasional glass of red. I had to re-learn how to cook plant paradox compliant when most of the foods I loved to eat were in the high histamine category. I started to explore the neutral foods or those with anti-histamine properties more. Being “creative in my kitchen” helped, and soon I started to enjoy all my new foods and the way I was combining them.
While I was going through all this I was also writing my book – The Living Well Without Lectins Cookbook – and my experience helped me in fact diversify my diet and the recipes in the book. That’s why you will find a few low histamine recipes in my book. While all the foods I mentioned above were on high histamine lists, not all of them are necessary a trigger for everyone. The thing is, when you don’t know anything, you have to start from somewhere. As my doctor said, I needed to lower my histamine bucket, and that meant starting with an elimination approach. I think my elimination of all foods suspect of triggering a histamine reaction lasted for about three to four months, after which I started to experiment with adding a little bit of certain foods back. And even though gradually I experienced different levels of recovery, I was still having symptoms and sometimes they were even happening with foods considered low in histamine, which made me start reintroducing things. I think I started with eggs (first egg yolks and then whites, making sure the whites were fully cooked), green plantains, a few nuts and a little chocolate. I remember first time I had a piece of chocolate I was in seventh heaven. I didn’t have any reaction and that gave me courage to reintroduce even more. It was all gradual. For example, it’s only a couple of weeks ago I reintroduced walnuts, which are considered some of the highest histamine nuts. At this point, 1.5 year after the first histamine intolerance episode, the only food I have not reintroduced is dairy, with the exception of a little ocasional organic french butter. And I don’t plan to make dairy part of my diet again, because I feel better without. But that doesn’t mean I’m back to all my old habits.
Eating habits and meal prep changes
My eating habits changed a lot and now I am a little smarter when it comes to combining ingredients and preparing food. For example, I don’t eat any leftover animal protein. If something contains meat I freeze it immediatly and only reheat it before I eat. When I prepare animal protein, I make sure is super fresh, preferably flash frozen. Thaw it in cold water, rinse it and pat dry it, cook it, preferably with a fast method (no slow cooking) and eat immediately or freeze. I don’t eat ground meat unless I grind it myself with a meat grinder. I don’t eat any processed / aged meats and no seafood or fish, unless fresh from the boat (something hard to find, unless you live on the coast). For fish there is the flash frozen option and some companies sell that, but you will have to try for yourself. For me it was quite clear I didn’t feel well when eating fish. When it comes to mushrooms, I tried a couple of times and I was ok, but only eating small quantities and never in the evenings, when histamine sensitivities are higher.
If I eat sauerkraut, I make sure is a small quantity and not very often, like I used to. I fully reintroduced olives and eat chocolate without problems, however I always make sure I don’t overindulge on anything considered high histamine. I only had avocado a couple of times, but I don’t really miss it and I’m fine making it just an ocasional treat. I used to eat one avocado a day, this will not happen ever again. To me now, one quarter is a size I would feel comfortable trying. If you live somewhere where avocados are native, like California, Mexico or Australia, and they are super fresh, you might do better. I have friends with histamine sensitivities eating avocados and they are fine. I would like to stress again that like anything health related, not two people are the same, so my experience is an invitation to explore on your own and listen to your own body. If you would like to see a daily recount of my whole low histamine food journey and the difference between before and after, you could check my Instagram account – @creativeinmykitchen – where I post almost everything I’m cooking and eating on a daily basis.
A powerful anti-histamine are the Nigella Sativa seeds (black cumin seeds) and I started to use them as seeds and adding them to my plates, but also in the form of cold pressed oil, I take one teaspoon in the mornings and evenings, most days. It’s also a great source of plant omegas. From the list of food with anti-histamine properties, these are the ones I used the most: asparagus, fennel, cooked onions and garlic, cruciferous vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil.
When it comes to lists of high and low histamine foods, this one by Swiss Interest Group Histamine Intolerance is my favorite and comes with the following mention regarding histamine metabolism and bioindividuality:
“Not all foods are equally intolerable for all concerned, depending on the individual physical causes of histaminosis. Some respond to liberators stronger than for histamine, and vice versa. We recommend to strictly follow our compatibility list in the first 4-6 weeks. Then start to carefully try out in what quantities you tolerate these “forbidden” foods regarding your individual sensitivity. This prevents you from unnecessary restrictions of your nutritional habits in the long term.”
Water and salt are powerful anti-histamines
And before I end the food and drinks chapter, I think is very important to mention something: if you hydrate really well, with good water and electrolites, you are half way there. Start your day with drinking a lot of water and add some ancient sea salt, hymalaian pink salt or good electrolites. Make sure your water is clean, like a good mineral water brand or even better, filtered. We use at home a Berkey water filter. Just remember this, water and salt are great anti-histamines and always available.
At the same time we started to address all my imbalances and toxicities with supplements. For a while I had reactions to everything I ate. And I’m sorry to give you too much information, but my poop was in bad shape for a very long time (a symptom of SIBO – small bacterial overgrowth and of histamine overload, SIBO being one of the contributing factors). There was certainly a bacterial imbalance in my gut. I was still experiencing this weird blocking of my ears and closing of my throat, and a feeling I am unable to swallow, even when I ate low histamine foods (that was a hint to me that it’s not really black and white when it comes to low and high histamine food lists). Sometimes I had the sensation that I can’t get enough air in my lungs and the racing heart, along with anxiety. I had to clear my throat all the time and felt like most of foods were mucus producing. Not as bad as before plant paradox, but acid reflux was a symptom of histamine overload. I was experiencing what felt like irregular heart beats, and every now and then sleepless nights, especially during ovulation and before my period. I developed some ear problems. Sometimes I had stuffed sinuses, other times runny nose or a weird itch. But different people experience different symptoms. Besides all the above, migrenes and hives seem to be common histamine overload symptoms, however I didn’t experience them. As a health history, it is believed that signs of histamine sensitivity are low tolerance of strong smells like parfumes, detergents, gas; motion sickness, reoccuring tonsilitis and sinus infections (that’s all me before the plant paradox, and I am still very sensitive to smells). And you want to hear something ‘crazy’? I realized scrolling up and down on my social media was triggering me. So I cut down on that and filled my time with more meaningful things.
Don’t obsess over food
While diet is very important in overcoming a crisis like I had, that’s only the tip of the iceberg and one thing we can action quickly on and have a certain control over. However, working on building immune resilience, improving your vagal tone and building what someone (I don’t remember who) beautifully called anti-fragility, is even more important for your recovery. My purpose is to teach my body to be more resilient and to identify what is truly dangerous and what not, not to get into the rabbit hole of more and more restrictions every time my nervous system wrongly identify something as a threat. I will be forever grateful to my training at Integrative Institute for Nutrition (IIN) for teaching me that what we eat is secondary to all the other things that feed us: relationships, career, spirituality, physical activity. Diet is just a secondary source of energy.
I can’t say exactly when and how I progressed towards recovery, because everything happened in stages and sometimes the lines between these stages were confusing and blurred. But I’m happy to say most of the symptoms above were resolved. If I push it too much, I feel it, but I know what to expect and how to deal with it. Sometimes even pausing and taking a deep breath helps. After I became familiar with the dietary aspects of this issue, I started to work on the resilience of my nervous system, on my anti-fragility. There are many tools for this, and one of them which helped me a lot is taking daily cold showers. For this I recommend looking into Wim Wolf method. Keeping a gratitude journal, doing yoga, cultivating meaningful relationships, reducing social media and phone / screen time, spending more time in nature, dancing, cleaning up your space, spending more time doing what you love with the people you love, watching less TV, being kinder to yourself, help others… these are some other things to be considered that contributed to my healing process, on so many levels. And one of the books that helped me tremendously to switch from the victim mindset to that of the creator of my own life / health, was Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, by Dr. Joe Dispenza.
Again, different things will work for different people. Stay positive, don’t let fear take over, help your body recover and be grateful for the symptoms you experienced because they were your body signaling something is out of balance and needed to be fixed. From here on is just a question of time and a little work, but it’s all worth it. You will dicover many wonderful things about yourself in the process.
I remember clearly, when I started to search for information about my symptoms and histamines, I was desperatly looking for a recovery story. I wanted to read how people who write about their experience with histamines have recovered and learn from their experience. But with the exceptions I mentioned above in Resources, I haven’t found them. That’s why I waited for 1.5 years to write about my experience. I wanted to give you my story of recovery. There will always be problems to fix, no one is in perfect health all the time, but I think is all a journey of discovery, on all levels. And not two journeys are the same.
Mine was a complex journey, in fact it still is, so I imagine some things I wrote about can be confusing or you might not relate to. It would be too long if I went into more detail (it’s 1.5 years of my life, after all). If you have any questions please feel free to ask in comments and I’ll try to answer to the best of my abilities, but remember I only know what I’ve been through and although I am an Integrative Nutrition Healh Coach, and that helped me a lot, I am not a doctor. If you happen to be in Dallas and need help, I wholeheartedly recommend my doctor, David Morcom from Integrative Wellness Rx.