The role played by foods we eat in aggravating symptoms in the body, including those similar to allergic reactions, is gaining increased research attention. Specifically, many of the foods we eat are sources of biogenic amines. Two common biogenic amines found in foods are tyramine and histamine, with histamine having the highest potential for negative effects. Histamine intolerance is associated with individuals having the inability to effectively metabolize, or break down, histamine in the intestinal tract, resulting in sensitivity reactions to histamine present in the foods we eat.
Histamine intolerance is a rare condition, but one that is increasing in prevalence over time. Symptoms occur when there is a buildup of histamine in the body. Histamine is a chemical that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain, sending signals to various receptors throughout the body and is often released as a normal part of the immune response secondary to an allergic reaction or injury.
A major factor in breaking down histamine in the intestinal tract is the enzyme diamine oxidase, or DAO. Present in the intestinal tract in increasing concentrations from the duodenum to the ileum, DAO metabolizes biogenic amines, particularly histamine. In histamine intolerance, DAO activity is likely decreased, resulting in histamine from foods causing toxicity and sensitivity reactions. These reactions are often identifiable as being diet-related since the symptoms generally occur within 20-30 minutes after ingesting the food and last for a few hours before subsiding.
Many prescription as well as over-the-counter drugs can interfere with the activity of DAO, reducing its ability to metabolize histamine. Several other drugs can impact the body’s ability to break down histamine in other ways. Common drugs interfering with histamine metabolism include antibiotics, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and aspirin. Alcohol can also aggravate the symptoms associated with excess histamine.
Histamine Intolerance Symptoms
As one would expect, histamine intolerance symptoms mimic those often associated with allergic reactions and, therefore, it is likely that histamine intolerance is an underdiagnosed condition. These include skin redness, rash, itching, hives, gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea, nausea, vomiting), low blood pressure, nasal congestion, sneezing, difficulty breathing, and neurological symptoms such as headaches, palpitations, and tingling.
Histamine Containing Foods
Histamine is present in a number of commonly consumed foods so it is important to identify the specific foods that trigger such reactions in any individual suffering from symptoms of histamine intolerance. Foods that are high in histamine include fermented dairy products such as yogurt, kefir, aged cheeses, and buttermilk; fermented vegetables such as kimchi and sauerkraut; pickled foods; fermented or cured meats including sausages, salami, and others; alcohol containing beverages; fermented soy products; as well as fruits and vegetables including tomatoes, eggplant, and spinach.
It is important to reemphasize that all of these foods may not be triggers in every case, so it is crucial to identify potential triggers on an individual basis.
Quercetin as a Natural Option for Histamine Intolerance
While identifying and avoiding foods that are triggers of histamine reactions is critical, many natural products have the potential to reduce the reactivity of histamine. These include nigella seed extract and quercetin, among others. In this article, we will focus on quercetin and its ability to counter histamine.
Quercetin is a compound that is a prevalent part of the human diet. Found in numerous fruits and vegetables, flavonoids are responsible for the bright colors seen in these foods. Quercetin is abundantly found in foods like citrus, onions, grapes, and berries and imparts a bright yellow color. Flavonoids are renowned for their antioxidant effects and are prolific in their ability to scavenge reactive oxygen species, or free radicals, and they also have immune-boosting, cardiovascular, anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergic potential. While they have potentially significant benefits for supporting health, the estimated daily dietary intake of flavonoids in western diets is minimal, estimated at only 20-50 mg/day. This limited intake of flavonoids is unfortunately indicative of the fact that, on average, we fall short of our required intake of fruits and veggies.
So, what is quercetin used for? Several research studies have been carried out on quercetin benefits for immune support and demonstrating its value as an antioxidant; however, its most useful benefits stem from its anti-allergy effects, in particular as an inhibitor of histamine release from mast cells. These activities lend it to be a highly crucial plant-based compound for lung and sinus health. Given its activity against histamine, quercetin has potential utility as a remedy for histamine and, along with other measures, can be a useful ingredient for how to heal histamine intolerance naturally.
Inhibits Degranulation of Mast Cells and Balances Histamine Levels
Mast cells are a type of immune cell that are best known for their role in allergies and sensitivity reactions and contribute to other immune disorders. Mast cells contain granules that release chemical messengers such as histamine into circulation, along with other pro-inflammatory mediators. Quercetin inhibits the release of histamine from mast cells in a few ways. First, it serves to stabilize mast cell membranes, making them less prone to sensitization and release of chemical messengers. Quercetin also inhibits mast cell activation through several pathways, leading to an overall moderation of the allergic immune response. While mast cells are important for generalized allergic responses, they are especially important for symptoms experienced by those with asthma and sinus conditions, and likely exacerbate symptoms of histamine intolerance. By preventing mast cell degranulation and promoting antihistamine activity, quercetin prevents several downstream effects that would normally lead to the release of cytokines causing inflammation in other tissues throughout the body. Because of these functions, the use of quercetin for histamine-mediated symptoms has gained traction.
Quercetin has multi-faceted benefits for immune health through its ability to balance the inflammatory response by inhibiting the activation of inflammatory cytokines, and prevent the release of chemicals such as histamine by stabilizing mast cells. These activities make quercetin an indispensable natural, plant-derived flavonoid and antihistamine compound for supporting health in individuals with allergies and asthma as well as in those with sinus issues. These properties also make quercetin a unique natural compound for counteracting the symptoms of histamine intolerance.
How Much Quercetin to take for Histamine Intolerance
As quercetin has been studied in allergy conditions, those trials are the model for how much quercetin one should take. A good starting quercetin dosage is 500 mg per day; however, it is possible that some people may require higher amounts. Look for a quercetin supplement providing at least this much on a daily basis and be prepared to experiment to determine what dose ultimately works best for you.
- Li Y et al. Nutrients. 2016.
- Comas-Baste O et al. Biomolecules. 2020
- Kelly GS. Alt Med Rev. 2011.
- Shaik Y et al. Centr Eur J Immunology. 2018.
- Mlcek J et al. Molecules. 2016.
- David AVA et al. Pharmacognosy Review. 2016.