On histamine intolerance
Aside from the bit where I am a neurotic, the main reason that I am so obsessed about nutrition / diet (and exercise), is because I have thirty-five years of experience showing me the direct relationship between what I eat and my health. This started with a Naturopath ‘curing’ my severe eczema when I was about thirteen, after a succession of medical doctors prescribed stronger and stronger steroids over a great many months, for an outcome of precisely fuck all. I am now convinced the eczema came as a result of me turning vegetarian, but I don’t have my medical records to be able to say for sure. Although the eczema cleared up in two weeks after starting the naturopathic exclusion diet, I was on it for 1.5 years. Once excluded foods were reintroduced, I discovered that cow dairy triggered the eczema and so I have avoided it ever since.
Aside from the other bit where I am a neurotic, the main reason I am so interested in bacteria and my microbiome, is because I have an impossibly fragile microbiome which has presented me with problems from childhood, probably because I was a caesarean baby. I have had asthma, eczema, and allergies to food, food additives, and environmental factors since childhood; and later went on to develop IBS so seriously that they thought it was gynaecological cancer at first.
After I was diagnosed with IBS in 2015 (about a year after I took two courses of double dose antibiotics for pneumonia), I was put on the low FODMAP diet by a nutritionist. I followed that for a while, but it is very, very difficult to do and once I had experienced improvement (a lot of which was about a lowering of stress levels at the end of my PhD), I stopped following it. However, I have mainly avoided wheat ever since, as it was clear that it aggravated my symptoms enormously, especially delicious bread. 😭
Avoiding wheat eventually led me to a low carb diet (by carb I mean: cereals, grains, and starches, not vegetables or fruits), which became zero-carb for a while last year, until I ended up losing too much weight. So I went back to a very low carb diet (no more than one portion per day of very limited types of carbs, e.g. brown rice or amaranth) and was doing pretty damn skippy until I had to take some antibiotics and Ibuprofen to clear up a case of pleurisy last October. Surprise, surprise, I have not felt well since.
It got to the point where literally everything I ate either felt heavy in my stomach, or caused: asthma or another allergic response like face puffiness, sinus congestion, and post-nasal drip; eczema; or heartburn. In addition, I felt low in energy and mood all of the time, had incredibly low blood pressure and resting heart rate (e.g. 89/55, 48bpm), insomnia, my nails became very weak and bendy, and I gained 4kgs in weight. 😩
Obviously I knew that I had fucked my gut with the antibiotics (and also, it seems, with the Ibuprofen), and since I cannot take probiotics or fermented foods as they trigger my eczema, I upped my prebiotic food intake and suffered through it, hoping that I would get back to some kind of equilibrium.
However, one night I got an asthma attack after eating a beloved flat iron steak, and so I realised that my gut needed more help than I was giving it. After much desperate interwebs searching, I came across the concept of histamine intolerance.
After reading that probiotics and fermented foods made histamine intolerant people worse (mystery solved!) and after realising that I have always had associated symptoms of histamine intolerance (asthma, eczema, allergies), I therefore decided to diagnose myself as suffering from histamine intolerance with a possible side of SIBO. I am Dr Tank, after all. 😉
As well as my known issues with probiotics and fermented foods, I also noticed that pretty much all my favourite foods were either high in histamine or were histamine liberators, including flat iron steaks (aka aged beef), so this was another clue. (See this really good PDF for a full list of offending foods if you are curious.)
I have read probably everything on the interwebs about histamine intolerance now, but would refer you to Dr Georgia Ede’s two excellent posts on the topic if you want to know more. In short, having histamine intolerance basically means that you get allergic responses, like the ones I listed above, to eating certain foods.
My first attempt at fixing the issue involved taking some probiotics which are supposed to be helpful for people with histamine issues – ProBiota HistaminX – but no dice: they made me MUCH worse. I got a really massive eczema outbreak as if I was taking ordinary probiotics and my sinus congestion and heartburn got significantly worse. Gah!
Next, as I was already on an otherwise super healthy diet, I decided to carry on with what I was doing, but to remove all the offending histamine rich food items like tomatoes, aubergines, dried figs, bananas, raspberries, sea moss, flat iron steaks, and so on. It didn’t work; I carried on getting worse.
Then I started taking a fuck ton of supplements which are supposed to help: DAO, quercetin, B vitamins, turmeric, fish oil, and zinc. With the supplements and dietary restrictions, I would say that I spent an exorbitant sum, rattled like a small change jar, and got about a 70% reduction in symptoms. However, about a month later, I started getting worse again. In addition, things like mint tea would start off helping, but then after a couple of weeks it would start to trigger a response. Eventually it seemed like literally everything I ate or drank caused a tight band in my stomach, heartburn, face puffiness, and seriously stuffy sinuses. It was very frustrating.
I generally don’t read below the line, as I’m icky about the muck. However, I did read the comments on Dr Ede’s articles, and thank god I did as I got some ideas about what to try next: a meat only or ‘carnivore diet’. It has been 5 days so far, and I am already feeling significantly better. I am not 100% but probably about 70-80%, and this time without all the supplements. That said, I did buy an anti-SIBO supplement which I will start taking once it arrives, just in case I have that too. I also found this pre-print which found that people have success resolving SIBO through a carnivore diet, so if I have that, I should hopefully resolve it too.
I have now restricted my diet to the following: beef, lamb, chicken, trout, pork crackling, egg yolks (the whites cause a histamine response), and a small amount of soft goat’s cheese or buffalo mozzarella. Although, the pork crackling may go as I think I am not tolerating it but: IT’S SO DELICIOUS. 😭 I am drinking two cups of coffee in the morning, but otherwise I am only drinking water.
I am going to follow this diet for 4-6 weeks as a minimum, and see where I am then. If I feel good, I will try reintroducing fruit and veg, one thing at a time, as I do actually really like vegetables and fruit, and would like to eat them again someday. (Plus: my garden!) I am also concerned about losing too much weight if I stay on this diet for longer than a couple of months. However, I am making a concerted effort to eat the fattiest cuts of meat which I didn’t do last time, so hopefully I will be okay. The weird thing is that since I eat less when upping my meat quota, my shopping bills haven’t really increased, as I was eating a lot of fruit and vegetables before which are ridiculously expensive nowadays.
Anyway, rest assured I will report back on how the maiden fares on a carnivore diet, and will continue oversharing my journey towards tip top gut health. 😎