Is Histamine Intolerance and Allergy The Same?

Histamine-rich foods can cause allergy-like responses in many individuals. Keep reading to understand what histamine intolerance is and what to do about it.

By URLife Team
20 Jun 2024

When we think about allergies, histamine often comes to mind as the reason behind sneezing, itching, and other symptoms. But histamine does more than that—it's important for our brain and digestion too. While our bodies produce histamine as part of immune responses, we also ingest it through our diet, particularly from fermented, aged, and processed foods. This dual nature of histamine—both as a vital physiological mediator and a potential trigger for allergic reactions—highlights its complex impact on human health and underscores the importance of understanding its roles beyond typical allergic responses.


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Histamine Load and Intolerance

Histamine is produced in the body from the amino acid histidine and is stored in specialised immune cells known as mast cells and basophils. Additionally, certain bacteria in the gut can also produce histamine. The term "histamine load" refers to the total amount of histamine present in the body. This load can become problematic if there is excessive histamine production and insufficient breakdown. Externally, the primary source of histamine is the food we consume, where its levels can vary.

Even if the food is not inherently high in histamine, it can still trigger mast cells to release histamine. So, it becomes imperative to consider what triggers histamine in your body and choose your food accordingly.

Histamine intolerance, on the other hand, occurs when there is an imbalance between the 
body's histamine levels and its ability to break down and eliminate histamine. Histamine, which is normally regulated by the DAO (diamine oxidase) enzyme, typically has a short lifespan in the body. However, genetic deficiencies in this enzyme, medications that inhibit its function, or poor gut health can increase histamine levels, potentially causing intolerance.

It's important to note that histamine levels can also be influenced by environmental factors and time of day. Histamine peaks at night when mast cells are most active, further impacting your body's histamine load. And, even if the food is not high in histamine itself, it may trigger our mast cells to release histamine.


Related story: Seven Adaptogen-rich Foods You Should Add To Your Diet


Causes of Histamine Intolerance

Histamine intolerance typically arises due to a deficiency or malfunction of the enzymes responsible for breaking down histamine, particularly diamine oxidase (DAO) and, to a lesser extent, histamine-N-methyltransferase (HNMT). Factors contributing to this deficiency can include:

  • Genetics: Some people may have genetic variations that affect enzyme function.
  • Gastrointestinal disorders: Conditions like leaky gut syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can impact DAO production.
  • Certain medications: Some drugs can inhibit the function of DAO or HNMT.
  • Diet: Consuming foods high in histamine or foods that block DAO can exacerbate symptoms


Related story: Cold, Flu, or Allergy? Managing Allergies At Work


Is Histamine Intolerance and Allergy Same?

No, histamine intolerance and allergies are not the same, though they can share similar symptoms. Histamine intolerance is due to an imbalance between the histamine that is ingested or produced in the body and the body’s ability to break it down. This is often due to a deficiency in the enzymes diamine oxidase (DAO) or histamine-N-methyltransferase (HNMT) that metabolise histamine. Allergies are caused by an overreaction of the immune system to a substance (allergen) that is typically harmless to most people. The immune system produces antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE) which trigger the release of histamine and other chemicals from mast cells and basophils.


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Symptoms of Histamine Intolerance


Digestive issues:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhoea

Skin problems:

  • Itching
  • Hives (urticaria)

Respiratory issues:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Asthma-like symptoms

Other potential symptoms:

  • Flushing
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Irregular menstrual cycle


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High-Histamine Foods

Even within the same food product, such as a piece of cheddar cheese, histamine levels can vary significantly based on factors like ageing duration, storage time, and the presence of additives. In general, fermented foods have the highest levels of histamine, while fresh, unprocessed foods contain the lowest levels.

Alcohol including 

  • Wine
  • Beer
  • Champagne 

Fermented foods including 

  • Kimchi
  • Fermented soy products


  • Parmesan
  • Cheddar

Certain Fish

  • Shellfish 
  • Tuna 
  • Sardines 

Processed meat

  • Pepperoni 
  • Bacon 


  • Tomatoes 
  • Eggplant 
  • Spinach 

Fruits including 

  • Strawberries 
  • Pineapple 
  • Bananas
  • Citrus fruits
  • Papaya 

Vinegar and vinegar-containing foods 

  • Pickles 
  • Mustard
  • Ketchup 
  • Mayonnaise 

Nuts and seeds

  • Almond 
  • Chestnuts
  • Hazelnuts
  • Pistachios 


  • Egg white
  • Chilli powder


Related story: The A-Z of Indian Superfoods: Makhana


Low-Histamine Foods

A low-histamine diet involves choosing foods that are less likely to cause histamine buildup or trigger histamine release in the body. Here is a list of low-histamine foods that are generally well-tolerated:


  • Leafy greens (e.g., lettuce, arugula, chard)
  • Cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts)
  • Root vegetables (e.g., carrots, sweet potatoes, beets)
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumbers
  • Peppers (excluding chili peppers)
  • Green beans


  • Rice (white, brown)
  • Quinoa
  • Oats
  • Millet


  • Lentils (in moderation)
  • Chickpeas (in moderation)
  • Green peas

Oils and Fats

  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil


  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Watermelon
  • Mango
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries


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Regular health checks are essential for everyone, but they are particularly important for individuals who are at risk of or already have any food intolerance. Taking regular health checks can help detect the condition at an early stage when it is easier to manage and treat. With the UR.Life HRA, we help you to invest in your well-being through seamless interventions and targeted medical treatments. Our holistic wellness approach caters to all aspects of your well-being. We ensure that you can bring your whole self to work.
With our medical professionals by your side, routine health check-ups will never be an issue. Advanced laboratory technologies back UR.Life’s Occupational Health Centers (OHC), and with highly qualified experts/technicians, we’re committed to delivering trusted and quality recommendations, modifications and advice to you.


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