Part 2: Do this if you’re sensitive to histamine
There are several ways to reduce histamine intake and the overall level of biogenic amines (BAs) in food and in your body. One of the most important? Making sure to use high-quality foods to begin with that are fresh or fresh-frozen and inspect food carefully.
You’ll want to avoid animal proteins and moldy fruits, vegetables, and grains. (Grains often have mold.) Bacteria and fungus (mold) growing quickly on these foods will cause a histamine reaction.
To learn more, catch up on part 1 of this article.
The reason why it’s an absolute ‘must’ to store foods properly
Along with focusing on food quality, it’s also important to consider how you store your foods. Take care not to let fish, meats, seafood, cheeses, and other high-biogenic-amine foods sit out for long periods.
Fish are especially likely to develop bacteria immediately. Instead, store them at a controlled temperature in the refrigerator or freezer.
Storing foods in vacuum packs at a cool 38 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius or below) can also reduce BA levels.1
Certain food additives can inhibit BA formation:
- These include the common and safe food additives D-sorbitol, succinic acid, malic acid, and ascorbic acid (vitamin C), which lessen the activity of the enzyme decarboxylase to reduce histamine production.4 Citric acid is easily purchased online and in many grocery stores.
- Adding 1 percent of citric acid to cabbage during fermentation can lower the level of biogenic amines in the resulting pickle, while potassium sorbate and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) significantly reduce BA formation in sausages.5,6
- Mixing a 5-percent garlic extract into fermented anchovies was shown to reduce BAs by around 8.7 percent in one study.7
Salt, too, appears to decrease the formation of BAs in sausages, miso, and cheese.8-10 It’s still a good idea to watch salt intake — or more accurately, watch the quality of salt intake. When salt is blamed for potentially raising blood pressure and creating a risk of cardiovascular disease, it’s the refined salt that is so prevalent in the Western diet.
If you eat out in restaurants and purchase processed food, you’re only eating this dangerous salt. And in some cases, the addition of salt actually heightens BA formation. This was seen with histamine levels reaching toxic amounts in Spanish mackerel when using a concentration of 13 to 15-percent salt.11
Other ways to reduce BAs include food preservation methods like:
- Hydrostatic pressure (high-pressure preservation without using heat/additives)
One other option for inhibiting BA accumulation in food is to use an amine-negative starter culture for fermentation and culturing. Read on to see what this means.
An inflamed and wounded gut might not be able to produce enough histamine-reducing enzymes to take on the histamine load in your digestive tract. Sign up for the Healthy Gut Summit now.
Will fermenting help to reduce histamine and BA formation?
While fermentation can be a source of histamine and other biogenic amines, there’s also evidence that some starter cultures actually inhibit the formation of BAs. This has been seen in the production of sausage, wine, fish sauce, and cheese, for instance.12-16
Certain strains of bacteria help prevent the growth of microbes that produce BAs, while being incapable of producing BAs themselves. The result being a decrease, if not total elimination, of BAs like histamine in the end product.
Which strains are we talking about? Here are a few that appear to stop BA formation during fermentation:
- L. sakei K29 reduced tyramine, cadaverine, and putrescine in chorizo dry sausages.17
- L. sakei, P. pentosaceous, S. carnosus, and S. xylosus used in combination in Turkish soudjoucks decreased putrescine.18
- L. farciminis and S. saprophyticus in Xinese fermented sausage helped lower tyramine, histamine, cadaverine, and putrescine.19
L. sakei is a common microbe found in kimchi and our Body Ecology cultured recipes.
Use of these strains isn’t foolproof, however. Indeed, one study found that sausages inoculated with P. pentosaceus and S. xylosus had the highest concentration of BAs.20
What about other, perhaps better-known, probiotic strains? It seems that one of our favorite strains here at Body Ecology, Lactobacillus plantarum, may be just the ticket to reducing histamine and other BAs.
L. plantarum produces DAO enzymes that help break down histamine in, for example, cultured veggies and sauerkraut.
Lactobacillus casei subsp. casei 2763 and Lactobacillus curvatus 2771 were also effective at reducing BAs in sauerkraut.21 Researchers have demonstrated the benefits of L. plantarum in a starter culture to decrease levels of BAs in sausages and cheese too.22,23
In another study, researchers found no tyramine present after using the following probiotic bacteria when making douchi (fermented black bean or soybean):
1. Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG)
2. Lactobacillus casei Shirota (LcS)
3. Escherichia coli Nissle 1917 (EcN)
Black beans were fermented using the three strains anaerobically at 37 or 20 degrees Celsius, with the starter culture strains, temperature, and presence of oxygen critical to controlling the production of harmful BAs.24
Some industrious researchers have even figured out how to inoculate wine with a robust starter culture to prevent the production of biogenic amines.25 L. plantarum has also shown success at keeping BA levels low in wine.26
Busting the myth that you have to avoid fermented foods to limit histamine
To start, it’s important that we correct the current myth circulating all over the internet (and stated in podcasts and in the many books on gut dysbiosis) to avoid fermented foods. They’re not all the same.
The experts who make this claim have a very limited understanding of fermented foods and especially the use of starters. They have not done their research. You can’t lump all fermented foods into one bucket. There’s a big difference between kombucha and Body Ecology’s fermented vegetables.
Basically, even if you react to histamine in food, you should still be able to eat cultured veggies made using the Body Ecology Starter Culture with L. plantarum.
What’s more, you can also use that starter to ferment coconut water and to culture butter that will be low in BAs, such as histamine. Once Donna Gates dug into the proof of what she suspected the whole time, it’s been a struggle getting the right information out to the practitioners and the public. So, please help us bust this myth when you can. Perhaps one day, fermented foods will be required to be labeled as high in histamine.
However, if you’re one of those people reacting to histamine in foods, look to the health of your gut. You may have candida, mold, or other bacteria making you histamine-sensitive, and these pathogens need to be eliminated.
To help achieve this, follow this step-by-step course of action:
1. Step one: Remove pathogens first.
2. Step two: Repair the gut lining, which repairs quickly once you remove the source of the infection and inflammation. Initially, do avoid most fermented foods while you focus on healing your gut.
3. Step three: Repopulate your inner ecosystem with key strains of beneficial microbes. Body Ecology’s popular Bifidus Power Blend will be back in stock in October, and our newest Histamine Reducing Probiotic will be available then also. Diversity is essential for a hardy ecosystem, and the hardiest microbes can be found in cultured veggie recipes made the Body Ecology Way.
Our new GI Distress Relief, with the beneficial yeast S. boulardii, has two strains of Bifidus bacteria that have been shown to help with Irritable Bowel problems (IBS). Likewise, EcoPhage is excellent for targeting E.coli overgrowth, often the cause of SIBO.
Your goal at first will be to avoid most fermented and other popular high-histamine foods and drinks — but hopefully, not forever.
As for those BAs in beloved foods that do have histamine — chocolate, nuts and seeds, avocado, tofu, tomatoes, spinach, wheat-free tamari, bacon, deli meat, beer, and wine — if you start by creating a healthy inner ecosystem while initially minimizing or avoiding them in your diet, these foods should one day no longer trigger a high-histamine reaction.
†Note that these figures may vary slightly from batch to batch.
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