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, no ingredient new to me. Warning: this is a long text, as I will try to put in words my journey of 1.5 years trying to navigate my experience with histamine intolerance. The good news is, you are in for a happy end.
I’ve been asked so many times about my experience with histamine intolerance, but I wasn’t ready to write about it for a long time. Even the thought of it was triggering me. Plus, histamine intolerance is a very confusing topic because is one of those things that no two people agree on. I didn’t want to add to all the confusion, and I wanted my experience to empower you, rather than scare you.
So read on, if you want to hear a very personal experience about how I handled it, but keep in mind that no two people will experience histamine intolerance the same. I just hope that talking about my experience will help you handle the fear and confusion around the sudden weird symptoms.
A little bit of context
The panic attack episode and sudden food reactions episode happened while I was living a healthy lifestyle, being 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, I was feeling inspired, creative and productive. But, with hindsight, I now know there was a lot of cortisol involved and it was more like being overstimulated. I did experience some weird symptoms like tingling in my body, pins and needles sensations on my skin but I was putting all on stress and overworking.
But, with all that I know now, there is something else that I think was linked to this episode. A few months before that, I experienced something very scary, while driving from San Antonio to Dallas, during a rainstorm, on the highway. The weather was so bad that for a few seconds I couldn’t see anything in front or around me. At the moment I experienced an episode of impending doom, and my body went into fight or flight. I was shaking and couldn’t control my hands and feet. Somehow, by the grace of God, I managed, with the help of my husband who was next to me, to pull over. It took me a few minutes to recover, my husband took over and by the time we arrived home in Dallas I was ok. But I remember thinking: this must have messed up something in my brain. This is entirely another topic that deserves exploration, but I do think some fear pathways in my brain were reactivated.
While I think food has little to do with the root cause of histamine intolerance, especially in my case of having a very clean diet, I need to mention that my diet was very rich in high histamine foods: avocados, spinach, fermented foods, leftover animal protein, canned fish, seafood. While the foods on this list are part of a healthy diet, sometimes there is too much of it and we don’t balance it out with foods that have anti-histamine properties. While I smartly reintroduced most of these foods back into my diet, I don’t eat leftover animal protein anymore.
The thread: 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 when eating. 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 behavior.
I was scared and in the 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.
All the articles online were 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 conceive 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, which never bothered me in the past), we went to an emergency room nearby. I was hyperventilating. At this point I still thought was 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 of them. 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 intolerance, 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 was guided to 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 in any way.)
Traveling and lowering stress
I became so fearful of having reactions to food that I was barely eating anything. Thinking that would help my body figure things out and lower inflammation in the process, I decided to do one meal a day fast.
When it was time for us to go on a vacation to San Diego, which was booked in advance, I was so scared of the airport and flight experience. This coming from a person who has been traveling all her adult life and living on four continents. I loved traveling but what I read online about travel and histamine intolerance scared me too much. I was also stressed about how will I manage to continue to eat my clean diet, and stay low histamine while living in a hotel. But, my excitement for seeing San Diego and being at the ocean, was bigger than the fear. I actually have fond memories of this trip, and the only negative thing I remember experiencing is the sleepless nights.
Being at the ocean, in a place I loved, had the exact same effect I was hoping for. It grounded me. It lowered my stress levels and that was a huge step in my healing journey. A funny side note: when I started to experience the histamine intolerance symptoms, I was watching Grace and Frankie, which I loved and it was based in San Diego. I remember how I managed to put myself to sleep and ease down my anxiety at night (those first days I was alone at home) by watching Grace and Frankie. I know it’s counterintuitive and I never do that usually (I didn’t even have any technology in my bedroom) but for some reason that TV show was soothing to me and it made me laugh and help me fall asleep. San Diego had a similar impact.
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 surprise, 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, exercise, etc. At this point, I started to fear traveling (which basically is my life).
The reason I want to mention all of this is that 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 prior 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 being ‘histamine intolerant’. It was something I experienced, it was not something I was.
I switched to being grateful and curious about these signals my body gave me.
I was never ‘histamine intolerant’
If you search low histamine foods online, you will find many lists, but no two are the same. That is for a few reasons. One, because no two people experience histamine intolerance the same way. Two, because there is no serious research into this topic and levels of histamine in plants are very hard to measure. And three, because many bloggers make their own lists without stressing how histamine intolerance is experienced differently by each individual.
I don’t agree with the idea that histamine intolerance is an illness hence I decided not to label myself that way. I never called myself ‘histamine intolerant’. And interestingly enough, my functional medicine doctor never diagnosed me either. We talked about histamine intolerance and its root causes and worked on fixing the root causes and removing the symptoms, but he never told me: you are ‘histamine intolerant’. That really helped me.
The tests ordered by my doctor revealed some imbalances, toxicities and some signs of gut dysbiosis and we started to work on that.
If you have to leave this page with only one lesson, this is it
Work with a functional medicine practitioner. All these symptoms are signs that your body is dealing with something and it has a hard time. It needs help. Only by doing extensive blood tests and working with a doctor who understands all that you will find what’s the root cause of all that. A functional medicine practitioner will also look at the emotional, psychological side of it, and if she doesn’t you will have to look into it. It is a huge part of your healing process.
My tests revealed I need some help with detoxifying, especially from heavy metals, so we gradually worked on that. After we provided some basic support for my body, we did a one-month liver detox using Quicksilver Scientific BlackBox II.
I had to work on the levels I was feeling stress and for that, I used the infrared sauna, exercise, meditation, self-reflection. Remember I had become fearful of getting outside because I thought the outside air triggers my symptoms? I focused on getting back to my natural state: I love nature and being outside was good for me. Nature is my healer. I overcame that fear, which I am very proud of.
Finding reliable sources of information
Luckily, there are a few out there. Other than all the information I got from my doctor, these are the main sources that helped me: Healing Histamine, Dr. Ben Lynch (his book Dirty Genes and his social media channels), Dr. Becky Campbell and Dr. Lara Briden.
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.
She combines anti-histamine foods with foods that are higher in histamine, hence her approach is not to eliminate everything but rather combine ingredients smartly (she is the only person I discovered so far who is taking this approach). I found that empowering.
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.
A 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. Side note: this is important because, in the beginning, many of the supplements we need to support the healing process will trigger symptoms.
I love the Liposomal Vitamin C, specifically formulated for maximum absorption and tolerance, and the Histamine Block, which is a DAO enzyme that helps break down histamine coming from food and drinks. While a lifesaver 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. In the beginning, 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. (This section contains Seeking Health affiliated links; I became an affiliate after having a good experience with their supplements).
Quercetin 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 a 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 paragraphs contain some 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, low progesterone and histamine intolerance 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 to clear up excess histamines and you don’t know what to do first.
It is believed that most of those experiencing a histamine intolerance 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, 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 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 alcohol was not a big part of my lifestyle, 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 necessarily 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 few 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.
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 the first time I had a piece of chocolate, I was in seventh heaven. I didn’t have any particular reaction and that gave me the courage to reintroduce even more. It was all gradual.
For example, it’s only a couple of weeks ago (when I write this) I reintroduced walnuts, which are considered some of the highest histamine nuts. At this point, 1.5 years after the first experience with histamine intolerance, the only food I have not reintroduced is dairy, with the exception of a little occasional organic french butter and had Italian mascarpone once. I don’t plan to make dairy part of my diet again, because I feel better without it. 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 after my experience with histamine intolerance 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 immediately 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 few times, but I don’t really miss it and I’m fine making it just an occasional treat. I used to eat one full avocado a day, and I don’t think this will happen ever again. To me now, one quarter is a size I feel comfortable eating. 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 is 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 use the most: asparagus, arugula, 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 bio-individuality:
“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 electrolytes, you are halfway there. Start your day with drinking a lot of water and add some ancient sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, or good electrolytes. 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.
A long time after my first experience with histamine intolerance, I was still having this weird feeling my ears are blocking and my throat is closing, being unable to swallow. This happened even when I ate low histamine foods, which 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 the foods were mucus-producing. Not as bad as before starting the plant paradox lifestyle, but acid reflux was a symptom of histamine overload.
I was experiencing what felt like irregular heartbeats, and every now and then sleepless night, especially during ovulation and before my period. I developed some ear problems. Sometimes I had stuffed sinuses, other times a runny nose or a weird itch.
But different people experience different symptoms. Besides all the above, migraines and hives seem to be common histamine intolerance symptoms, however, I didn’t experience them. As a health history, it is believed that signs of histamine intolerance are low tolerance of strong smells like perfumes, detergents, gas; motion sickness, reoccurring tonsillitis and sinus infections (that’s all me before the plant paradox, and I am still very sensitive to smells).
And want to hear something ‘crazy’? I realized scrolling up and down on my social media was triggering me. There are some recent reports that EMFs are histamine triggers. 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 histamine intolerance episode as I had, that’s only the tip of the iceberg and one thing we can action on quickly and have 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 whatnot, not to get into the rabbit hole of more and more restrictions every time my nervous system wrongly identifies 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 Hof 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, helping 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 discover 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 desperately looking for a recovery story. I wanted to read how people who write about their experience with histamine intolerance have recovered and wanted to 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 with histamine intolerance. I wanted to give you my story of recovery. There will always be problems to fix, health is not linear, but I think is all a journey of discovery, on all levels. And no 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 to you 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 Health Coach, and that helped me a lot in my own journey, 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.
*This post contains some affiliated links, which means I get a small commission if you choose to purchase something via one of my links, at no extra cost to you.