Kicking the histamine bucket

I’d never given histamine much thought, apart from popping anti- pills from about February onwards for the past six years or so. I never suffered from hayfever as a child and it was savage when it hit me, with severe sinus pain and the feeling that I needed to rip my eyes from their sockets to get any relief.

Probably about the same time, I started suffering from a dry cough. Others probably suffered more, to be honest – when it cleared up my mother revealed that she’d always known when I was about to cough during our phone conversations, and she’d pull the receiver away from her ear before the bellow came.

The cough stopped without fanfare just before our wedding and I didn’t even realise until my mum mentioned its absence. “You must not be eating dairy,” she guessed, knowing that we were on a mad panic last-minute diet. In fact I was mainlining yoghurt and cheese, along with meat on a well-known and frequently derided high-protein diet which I reluctantly thought actually suited me rather well even if I still hankered after bread and potatoes and all things magnificently carbulous.

Not long after the wedding I got pregnant and ate my way through morning sickness, mashed potato was particularly helpful. The pounds piled on too, and they weren’t just baby. When our son was a couple of weeks old, at the beginning of August the cough came back. So I was sleep deprived, hacking, and fat. Winner! By Christmas it was so bad that one night nursing the baby at 3:00am I coughed so hard I felt something pop under a rib – and it still hurts now.

The short version of what happened is GP appointments, the chest clinic at the local hospital, some interesting tests and an asthma diagnosis. That came from me performing exceptionally badly in a histamine challenge test (which sounds like a remake of an 80s television show) but I’m still not sure that they are right.

Yes, I react badly to histamine – my lung function dropped 40% at the beginning of the test, when they only wanted a 20% reaction over the course of the entire test. This, to my consultant, is consistent with asthma and there can’t be any possibility of it being food related – he was very dismissive when I asked him if there could be any link between diet and the cough. Even though long-term symptoms disappeared during a restricted diet and returned with a vengeance when I was eating everything.

So I decided to do a little research. I explained the story to a friend who’s a naturopath if she could think of anything that I might be allergic to, or any other reason for the coughing. She asked me if anyone had discussed histamine-rich foods with me. Um, no.

When you look into it there are a lot of slightly conflicting lists of what you can eat if you’re sensitive to histamine. The theory is that your histamine levels are like a bucket – once it’s full you’ll get symptoms (cough, bloating, sneezing etc) but you can empty the bucket a little by managing what you eat, taking Vitamin C which is a natural antihistamine, and drinking lots of water. I took this lightly as I’ve always been a bit of a an intolerance denier (if you swell up like a pumpkin with anaphylaxis fair enough, but some people are just fussy eaters) but decided to try an exclusion diet in line with the histamine-sensitivity principles. Here’s the things I’m supposed to avoid (from Allergy UK).

  • “Champagne ,wine, beer, cider and other fermented drinks and spirits
  • Sauerkraut and other pickled foods
  • Vinegar and foods containing it such as dressings, pickles, mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard
  • Tofu and soya sauce
  • Parmesan cheese and other cheeses
  • Sausages and other processed meats (ham, salami, gammon, bacon)
  • Mushrooms and quorn
  • Tinned and smoked fish (tuna, salmon, herring) and crustaceans
  • Prepared salads
  • Tinned vegetables
  • Dried fruit, seeds, nuts
  • Yeast extract, yeast
  • Chocolate, cocoa, cola

Certain foods (even food that is low in histamine) can stimulate the release of histamine from mast cells in your body (a type of immune cell). These foods include:

  • Bananas
  • Tomatoes,
  • Strawberries
  • Nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Shellfish
  • Egg white
  • Chocolate
  • Pumpkin
  • Spinach
  • Aubergines
  • Avocado
  • Papayas
  • Kiwi
  • Pineapple
  • Mango
  • Raspberry
  • Tangerines
  • Grapefruits
  • Red prunes
  • Pea
  • Spices”

Yeah, I particularly like “spices” thrown in there at the end. It cuts out so many condiments and any source of umami seems to be completely verboten.

However, the cough is gone.

Except when I eat things from that list.

I’ve already sussed that peppers and potatoes hate me, wheat isn’t great and chocolate and white wine are no-nos. So if I’ve declined an invitation to dine, or try various food products, this is probably why. I’m also taking anti-histamine now just to try to help. And I’ll be looking for new recipe ideas and trying to post food ideas here too.

It should almost go without saying, but all resource suggestions gratefully accepted!

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9 thoughts on “Kicking the histamine bucket

  1. Dear god. That’s my whole diet up there on your lists 😦 And yes, like you I get a nasty cough and sneeze this time of year, which I blame on the tree blossom pollen, but what if it is my diet?

    Can I possibly live without deliciousness in my life? cos it strikes me there isn’t much left when you strike those lists out of your diet 😦

    • Oh I’m sure you’re fine! But with me it just seems like any little thing sets me off – from only a few leaves yesterday, I discovered spinach is definitely to be avoided. 2000mg of Vit C was recommended as a natural antihistamine so you could try that? And I think the key is not filling the bucket from every angle. For me, it’s definitely going to be the “a little of what you fancy” approach.

  2. This is really interesting. I suffer from something called birch allergy syndrome, which has an “avoid” list as long as my arm. Initially I laughed it off and continued to eat things I am not supposed to, which actually includes a lot of the things on your “yes” list. I am now strict with myself, probably because I do suffer from itching and swelling if I eat apples, nuts, etc, etc and it has made some difference to my also chronic hayfever.

    • Really interesting! Did you do an exclusion diet too? I am getting more resigned to it, particularly after another bad food reaction yesterday. But better than lots of steroids, right?

      • I never actually had to go the whole hog on an exclusion diet because everything I shouldn’t now eat causes mild anaphylaxis and nausea. It’s easy to identify the culprits. I just wish I had done it before the symptoms really started to show up.

  3. Oh god, what a mess. I’m interested to hear how this goes, because I have a load of environmental allergies, and I have noticed when it all gets bad, certain foods make it worse. Definitely wine and chocolate, and to a lesser extent melons, kiwis, avocados, pineapples and tomatoes.

    • Yup, sounds like the “full bucket” theory! It’s a bit depressing to think that healthy food seems to cause as much carnage as the crap but I just can’t ignore it any more. Any good recipes or resources to share?

  4. Thanks for this input, it is helping me realize I might have a similar problem. I am in my twenties, I have never smoked, but I have been suffering from what my doctor called bronchial “hyperreactibility”, causing me a chronic productive cough and frequent bronchitis for many years now (and the occasional pneumonia). I had to go through corticosteroid therapy for 2 years, which did help against the daily cough, but made me prone to bacterial infections. Thankfully, I haven’t needed the therapy for some years now, but I still get bronchitis quite often. What I find surprising is that I sometimes cough for a day and sound like I have pneumonia, but the next day I am fine. A couple of days ago I had a particularly bad day, and I had a feeling it had something to do with the fact that I had drank beer and wine in the days before, and I had tasted cider and spirits (in small amounts) just some hours before. I think my gut feeling might have been right, so I will take your suggestions and see what happens. How do you manage to not eat all of the “healthy” stuff in the list? I love tomatoes! Good luck and stay healthy!

    • I’m not managing terribly well, to be honest! But it seems like I can play around with these things, as long as I don’t eat lots of things from the list at once I seem to be ok (don’t fill the bucket from all angles…) Perhaps keeping a food and symptoms diary would help?

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