Histamine Intolerance

Histamine intolerance is an inability to break down histamine in your body, causing it to build up. Certain foods that are high in histamine or that cause your body to release histamine can give you an upset stomach, headache or allergy symptoms. Common trigger foods include fish, alcohol, and fermented or aged foods.


Histamine intolerance symptoms include upset stomach, headache, rash, runny or stuffy nose, shortness of breath and more.
Histamine intolerance usually causes symptoms like headache, upset stomach or allergy-like symptoms after you eat certain foods.

What is histamine intolerance?

Histamine intolerance is a condition where histamine builds up in your body. Histamine is a chemical your body naturally makes and that’s present in some foods. If your body can’t break it down like it’s supposed to, it can build up and give you an upset stomach, headache or allergy symptoms.

This is different than histamine intoxication (also called histamine poisoning). Histamine intoxication usually happens as a food poisoning outbreak, affecting many people who ate the same high-histamine meal. It’s usually traced back to certain types of fish.

Is histamine intolerance a food allergy?

No, histamine intolerance isn’t an allergy, even though it has some symptoms of allergic reactions. It’s sometimes called a “pseudoallergy” since it looks similar to an allergy but has a different cause.

How common is histamine intolerance?

Experts estimate that about 1 in 100 people (1%) have histamine intolerance. But it’s hard to recognize and diagnose, so it’s possible the actual number is higher.


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Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of histamine intolerance?

The symptoms of histamine intolerance are different from person to person. You may have one or more of these symptoms if you have high histamine levels:

What causes histamine intolerance?

Histamine intolerance symptoms happen when your body can’t break down histamine. Histamine is a chemical signal that opens up your blood vessels, constricts your airways and gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and creates mucus. Mast cells in your mucous membranes release histamine and other chemical signals to help fight infections and regulate your organs.

Your body uses enzymes, mostly diamine oxidase (DAO), to break down histamine. If you have low levels of DAO and you eat something or take medication that increases your level of histamine, the histamine signals can cause symptoms like diarrhea, headaches, runny nose and hives.

We’re not really sure what causes some people to have low levels of DAO or an inability to break down histamine as they should. Some factors that might contribute include:

  • Genetics. Some people might inherit a difference in their DNA that keeps them from breaking down histamine like they should.
  • Conditions that affect your gut. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), parasitic infections and other conditions that affect the natural bacteria of your gut can change how your body breaks things down.
  • Kidney and liver diseases. Chronic kidney disease (CKD), viral hepatitis and liver cirrhosis can reduce DAO levels in your body.
  • Medications. Some medications interfere with your body’s ability to break down histamine.
  • Age. Histamine intolerance is more common in people over the age of 40.

What foods trigger histamine?

Some foods contain large amounts of histamine. These include foods that involve an aging or fermentation process like wine, beer and cheeses. Other foods can cause your mast cells to release histamine (histamine liberators). Both of these types of foods can cause excess amounts of histamine in your body.

Some examples include:

  • Alcohol (wine, beer and champagne).
  • Processed meat.
  • Cheeses.
  • Sauerkraut.
  • Vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant and spinach).
  • Tropical fruit (pineapple, bananas, papaya and citrus fruits).
  • Fish (mackerel, tuna, sardines and herring) and shellfish.
  • Strawberries.
  • Nuts and peanuts.
  • Licorice.
  • Chocolate.
  • Pork.
  • Egg white.
  • Additives (like colorants and preservatives).
  • Certain medications (including some antibiotics, blood pressure medications, diuretics, local anesthetics and prescription painkillers).

What medications increase histamine levels?

Certain medications can increase the amount of histamine in your body. They do this by either causing your mast cells to release histamine or reducing the amount of DAO that’s breaking down histamine in your body. They include:


Diagnosis and Tests

How is histamine intolerance diagnosed?

Histamine intolerance can be hard to diagnose. Usually, healthcare providers diagnose you based on your symptoms and whether eliminating certain foods makes you feel better. Your provider might also perform various tests or procedures to help make a diagnosis. These include:

  • Food diary. Keeping track of your symptoms and what you eat and drink can help you identify what might be causing your symptoms. Sometimes it’s a combination of foods, beverages or medications taken together that are the problem. Keeping a diary helps patterns emerge that you might not have noticed before.
  • Allergy skin tests or blood tests. These can help you identify or rule out food allergies.
  • Other blood tests. These can measure the amount of histamine or DAO in your blood and look for other issues.
  • Histamine skin prick test. This is similar to allergy skin tests, but your provider pricks your skin with a small amount of histamine. If your skin is still reacting 50 minutes later, your body might not be breaking down histamine effectively.
  • Histamine capsules. You provider might have you take histamine capsules to test your reaction.
  • Colonoscopy. A gastroenterologist can take look at your GI tract and take samples to rule out other conditions or look for high histamine or low DAO levels.

Management and Treatment

How do you treat histamine intolerance?

Treatment usually involves avoiding foods or beverages high in histamine or that cause your body to release histamine. To test what you can safely eat, you stop eating any possible triggers for a few weeks. If you haven’t had symptoms in that time, you start adding them back in one by one. If you start having a reaction to certain foods or combinations of foods but not others, you can avoid only the ones that make you react.

Medications for histamine intolerance

Medications may help relieve symptoms of histamine intolerance in combination with diet changes. Your healthcare provider may suggest:

  • H1 and H2 antihistamines. These block histamine receptors in various parts of your body so histamine can’t activate them. Taking antihistamines alone probably won’t stop your symptoms, but it could help in combination with dietary changes. H1 histamine inhibitors include cetirizine, loratadine and fexofenadine. They usually treat allergy symptoms. H2 inhibitors include ranitidine and famotidine. They usually treat digestive symptoms.
  • DAO replacement. DAO supplements help your body break down histamine.
  • Mast cell stabilizers. Medications like cromolyn sodium prevent mast cells from releasing histamine. Some food components called flavonoids have a similar effect.



Can you prevent histamine intolerance?

Since we don’t know what causes histamine intolerance, it can’t be prevented. If you develop histamine intolerance, you can reduce your risk of symptoms by identifying and avoiding trigger foods or medications.

Living With

What can I expect if I have histamine intolerance?

People with histamine intolerance can usually manage their condition by changing their diets. In severe cases, taking DAO supplements or other medications can help. Sometimes the intolerance is temporary, and you can eventually go back to eating foods that you’d been avoiding.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Talk to your healthcare provider if you have unexplained symptoms or you think you have a food intolerance. They can help you sort out whether it’s an allergy, intolerance or something else.

When should I go to the ER?

Go to the emergency room or call 911 (or your local emergency services number) if you have signs of anaphylaxis, including:

  • Swelling of your lips, tongue or throat.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • A sudden drop in blood pressure (symptoms include weakness, dizziness, fainting and confusion).

What questions should I ask my doctor?

It might be helpful to ask your healthcare provider:

  • Is this an allergy or an intolerance?
  • How can I identify my triggers?
  • What should I do if I have a reaction?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Histamine intolerance can seem mysterious at first. Your symptoms might be vague or inconsistent, and you might not be able to connect them to any one trigger. It might take some detective work to figure out what makes you sick and how to avoid it. But, working together with a healthcare provider, most people can manage their symptoms with diet or medication changes.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 12/01/2023.

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