As I adjust to becoming an Austinite, I'm finally discovering what it's like to deal with the environmental allergens for which Austin is known. And since I have a passion for food and for using food to heal, I decided to research food's effect on allergy symptoms. By no means did I find a magical solution, but I did discover that many of the foods I consume on a day to day basis may be exacerbating my allergy symptoms.
What I came across in my research is the term "Histamine Intolerance". Although this is an uncommon condition characterized by a deficiency in the enzyme diamine oxidase (DAO), an enzyme that breaks down histamines (molecules that cause our allergy symptoms), I do think that the recommendations for this can be beneficial for allergy sufferers.
Why? First, let me explain the process of allergic responses and how histamine drives these responses.
Histamines are chemicals released by our immune cells (specifically, mast cells), and these are released during an exposure to an allergen. They cause an inflammatory response, as a means to protect the body from the effects of the allergens. We experience this inflammatory response by the common allergy symptoms (swelling of eyes, nose/sinuses, skin rashes), but other symptoms may also be from these molecules (for example, "brain fog", digestive problems, migraines, fatigue).
How does food play a role in this? Histamine is produced by our bodies, but it is also found on certain foods, and certain foods stimulate the release of histamine from our cells. The most common culprits: fermented foods, alcohol, eggs, citrus fruits, nuts/seeds, vinegar, and processed/leftover meats.
Here are two links for a list of foods that affect histamine: paleoleap.com/visual-guide-histamine-intolerance, and http://whole30.com/downloads/whole30-shopping-list-histamine.pdf
You'll notice that there are a lot of foods on these lists, and that these lists don't necessarily mirror each other. This is partially because there are not great studies out there that evaluate the histamine content of foods, and a lot of the histamine carried on foods is by beneficial bacteria (which is highly variable).
When I first saw the high histamine foods and high histamine releasing foods, I realized I eat a lot of these foods! So, instead of seeking out a diagnosis (and Histamine Intolerance really does not have great diagnostic tests), I've decided to do the next best thing - eliminate the potential triggers. If I feel better, then maybe I've found a new "cure" to the Austinite allergies?
If you suffer from seasonal allergies, or even common skin allergies (eczema, rosacea, acne), I invite you to try eliminating the highest histamine causing foods for 4-6 weeks. If your symptoms improve, reintroduce potential histamine triggers once a week, and see how you feel. If your migraines worsen, or your nose congestion increases as you reintroduce foods, you may be able to identify your triggers!
For more information on Histamine Intolerance, check out:
Thank you for reading! Allergies are not my specialty, so if you want to pursue this topic further, contact a local allergist (ideally, one who open-minded and/or knowledgeable in functional medicine).
Best in health,
Meg McElroy PA-C