There’s a belief floating around the internet that you can’t do the GAPS Diet if you’re experiencing histamine intolerance or mast cell activation disorder (MCAD). The truth is that other nutritional plans address histamine by showing you how to avoid it in foods. The GAPS protocol will help you heal the underlying issues to overcome histamine intolerance and find more freedom in your diet. There are modifications that need to be made in the beginning though, and these create a low histamine GAPS Diet.
Benefits of histamine
To dispel the idea that histamine is inherently bad, let’s start with the beneficial actions of histamine, which include:
- Increased alertness
- Neuromodulation, regulating the release of acetylcholine, norepinephrine, and serotonin
- Regulating gastric acid secretion (with acetylcholine and gastrin)
- Fighting infections by contributing to necessary increases in blood pressure, temperature, swelling, and bronchial constriction
- Cellular growth and the healing process
Healing is a high-histamine event
Healing is a high-histamine situation because histamine is involved in making new cells. Since the GAPS Diet focuses on ingesting and digesting nutrient dense foods, new cells are made rapidly. This is why you hear stories of quick health turnarounds on GAPS. If you’re struggling with high histamine already, you can expect healing to be a bit uncomfortable at times.
Signs of histamine intolerance
Problems come up when histamine is not being broken down properly. It just keeps bouncing around the body causing inappropriate or uncomfortable inflammatory responses. If histamine intolerance is a new concept to you, there are several signs that it may be impacting you.
- Anti-histamine medications used long-term
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Dermatigraphia – red marks on your skin stay visible for 20 minutes
- Dysautonomia – malfunction of the autonomic nervous system
- Eating disorders – high histamine suppresses hunger
- Felt your best while pregnant (prolactin suppresses histamine)
- Feel better on highly processed industrial food
- Food sensitivities that rotate – never sure what you’re reacting to
- Heat intolerance – dislike hot weather, sauna, hot baths
- Infertility or miscarriage
- Insomnia every night
- Long COVID
- Meat aversion
- Migraines – especially around ovulation and beginning of menstruation
- Overweight – and don’t lose weight with calorie restriction
- Supplements not tolerated – make you feel worse
- Vasodilation – fever, flushing, sweating, or hot flashes after eating, low blood pressure, edema in legs
Why are so many people histamine intolerant now?
This is an increasingly common problem I see in my practice and there are several root issues.
- Microbiome imbalance from C-section births, antibiotic use, etc.
- Histamine producing bacteria predominate in some people (who will be on a healing diet much longer).
- Deficiency of vitamin B6, vitamin C, zinc, and copper can lead to low production of diamine oxidase enzyme (DAO), a digestive enzyme produced in your kidneys, thymus, and the intestinal lining of your digestive tract.
- Magnesium deficiency. Most people are experiencing some level of depletion and just four days of deficiency sparks a significant rise in histamine in the body.
- High histamine may be a secondary reaction to something else in the body, like ongoing stress or another illness.
- Long-term medication use that interfere with histamine processing, including all anti-histamines, pain medications, GERD or reflux medications, muscle relaxers, anti-anxiety and anti-depressants.
How much histamine can we naturally break down?
Healthy people can break down about 50-150mg/kg of histamine per day. For reference, let’s look at some basic food serving amounts.
- Cheese: 2-2500 (longer culturing is better)
- Champagne: 670
- Sausage: 357 (traditionally cured links have less)
- Sauerkraut: 279 (fermented less than 6 months)
- Spinach: 60
- Eggplant: 26
- Red wine: 24 (Dry Farm brand wine is lower)
- Avocado: 23
- Yogurt: 13
- Sour cream or crème fraiche: 7
- Vinegar: 4
- Dark chocolate: 2-4
- Coffee: <2
There are also histamine liberators
These foods aren’t high in histamine, but bring it out of other foods. Not all histamine sensitive people have problems with these, but it’s useful to be aware of.
- Additives and preservatives, such as sodium benzoate
- Chocolate and cocoa
- Egg white from chicken eggs (yolk is fine)
- Licorice (ok when it’s fresh from the fern)
- Nuts – cashews, peanuts, walnut
- Tartrazine (yellow dye)
The Low Histamine GAPS Diet
The Low Histamine GAPS Diet is a version of the No-Plant GAPS Diet, used for 21 days, with special care given to the freshness of foods and their preparation. It includes:
- Meats that are freshly delivered to the butcher that day. Aged processing is fine, but they cannot have been sitting at the meat counter for days already.
- Fish that is flash frozen or fresh today. Alaska Gold is an online source for low-histamine fish. (Fish is often listed as high-histamine, but it’s really the gut bacteria of the fish, and quick processing negates that).
- All meats and fish must be cooked the same day, or frozen right away.
- Meat stock must be cooled in an ice bath, then put in single-serving portions and frozen immediately.
- All foods not consumed after cooking must be frozen right away. When reheating, thaw the container with water just enough to release the food, then warm it in a pan and consume it immediately.
- Chicken egg yolks and whole duck eggs.
- Added fats.
- Liberal use of natural salts.
- If you include any plant matter at all, like herbal tea or herbs for seasoning, it must be fresh leaves only. Nothing dried.
- Homemade cultured dairy (24-hours) may be introduced towards the end of the three weeks.
High histamine GAPS Diet foods
After three weeks on the Low Histamine GAPS Diet you may start adding new foods, by following the regular GAPS Intro Diet, but continue to be careful about food freshness and preservation. There are also some high histamine GAPS Diet foods that you’ll want to avoid for now. These include:
- Anything dried, such as herbs, fruits, and teas (including garlic and onion)
- Citrus (lemon and lime are ok)
- Fermented vegetables, unless they are fermented for 6 months
- Spices: anise, cayenne, chili powder, cinnamon, clove, curry powder, nutmeg
- Tomato and tomato products
Other things to avoid
Our aim is to reduce the histamines coming in and increase those being processed in a useful way. This involves not only changes in food, but also activities that bring the body into a parasympathetic state (relaxed nervous system) because as cortisol elevates, histamine elevates right along with it. Here is a list of other things you’ll plan to avoid for a while.
- Eating at restaurants. With all the variables you need to control for, it just won’t work for you.
- Flying in an airplane if not absolutely necessary (greatly increases cortisol).
- High heat, such as hot baths and sauna.
- Intense exercise, where you will drip sweat. It can take 72 hours for the inflammation, cortisol, and histamines to decrease after this. Avoiding it for now will get you back to it sooner.
- Perfume, household, and body care chemicals.
- Probiotics that include L. Bulgaricus, L. Casei, L. Reuteri.
- Stress. You will not heal without practicing relaxation techniques and retraining your nervous system to become more resilient. Diet is not enough.
The beauty of a Low Histamine GAPS Diet and lifestyle is that you’ll actually work your way back to more freedom in the long run. Don’t settle for avoiding certain foods or managing your symptoms with medications or supplements for the rest of your life. Your body has the capacity to heal. They only way to the other side of this is through, so let’s go!