Here’s how changes in agricultural practices may have contributed to a rising incidence of histamine intolerance
There’s no question that food can affect your tolerance to histamine.
There is, however, a question about what exactly is in the food you eat that leads to a poorer tolerance of its amine content.
Histamine and glyphosate: it’s not always the food itself
Histamine, as you may very well already know, is called a biogenic amine. Basically, that simply means it’s a compound with one or more amine groups, which are chemical compounds that are formed as a result of amino acids being broken down.
Other biogenic amines are cadaverine and putrescine, which are foul-smelling amines that are associated with the breakdown of tissue in living organisms. Think about the stench of fish as it stands out in the sun. This is, in part, due to the release of these two compounds.
Now, what do they have to do with histamine?
Well, in the body, if there are in increased levels, they compete with histamine for breakdown. While less well-researched, the detrimental effects of cadaverine and putrescine may be considered to be greater than those of histamine, as they can cause an acute state of life-threatening symptoms (1,2).
If you’ve ever had food poisoning, in particular, having landed up in hospital with an extreme reaction to something you’ve eaten, you’ll know why. When even small amounts of cadaverine and putrescine are ingested, for example, if you were to go out to enjoy a seafood dish predominantly made up of shellfish, and just a portion of it was underdone, it can have serious consequences.
Not only can it cause almost immediate anaphylaxis - a life-threatening allergic reaction - it can make you extremely and violently ill. Of course, increased histamine ingestion with fish can also bring about these types of symptoms.
In this case, where the condition is called scombroid poisoning, it is associated with increased histamine concentrations in fleshy fish a result of mishandling and improperly following of the cold-chain of manufacture (3).
There is another commonality shared between histamine, cadaverine and putrescine; these compounds all rely on the DAO enzyme to breakdown.
When cadaverine and putrescine are present, DAO prioritizes their breakdown and, therefore, their presence in the body may inadvertently increase the levels and ill-effects of histamine by placing even higher demand on DAO and reducing its capacity to further control histamine (4,5,6).
There’s even evidence to show that cadaverine and putrescine increase histamine’s toxic effects because they facilitate histamine’s transportation rate across the intestine and into the bloodstream.
At this point, you may be wondering how your levels of cadaverine and putrescine increase. You may argue that you don’t eat fish very often, or that you’ve never had an allergic reaction to fish.
Well, the answer may surprise you.
Contributors of cadaverine and putrescine
Both cadaverine and putrescine are found in high concentrations in fermented dairy, such as cheese, and high concentrations are also found in fermented sausages, vegetables and fish products (7).
But there’s another source: GMO crops.
GMO foods and histamine intolerance
Genetic engineering has changed the face of agriculture, bringing about a sustainable method of increasing crop resilience to pests, and allowing for a higher yield and delivery of staple foods to populations.
For years, there has been a debate about the safety of GMO crops in humans, and it still rages on without a clear indication of the outcome in sight.
What we do know, however, is that GMO crops are more readily sprayed with a particular type of herbicide that contains a compound called glyphosate.
When this weed-killer was first introduced, it not only killed the weeds, but every living plant it came into contact with.
With the introduction of genetic engineering, scientists were able to change how particular genes within plants reacted to the glyphosate and alter them to be able to withstand it - and other pests, for that matter - while the glyphosate continued to kill unwanted species around the desired crops.
With most of the corn and soy used for human consumption across the world now being GMO crops, it is safe to say that these raw ingredients and the products made from them, may very well be contaminated with glyphosate.
Non-GMO crops are also frequently sprayed with this herbicide at the time of harvest, to dry them out faster. Wheat, barley, nuts, peas and oats are some of those on the list. Even organic produce can be contaminated through the environment, and products made from plant materials may contain traces of it.
GMOs, glyphosate and histamine symptoms
Research published by the Scientific Reports journal in 2016 showed that GMO crops sprayed with glyphosate-containing herbicides contained higher levels of putrescine and cadaverine, in addition to higher amounts of each of their precursors (8).
That being said, if we consider the way putrescine and cadaverine affect the body’s ability to manage histamine, GMO and glyphosate-contamination may be a significant area of histamine toxicity to consider in treatment.
More recently, both putrescine and cadaverine have also been found to have direct implications on gut health.
These compounds have shown to elicit profound and detrimental toxic effects on the intestinal cells, causing the death of the cells themselves. Histamine has a similar response, where it has been found to cause programmed cell suicide, or apoptosis, within intestinal cells, so there’s little wonder why this, along with another biogenic amine called tyramine, carry the potential to be the most toxic of all dietary amines (9).
It now becomes clear that we need to consider the presence of all biogenic amines in foods and their contribution to histamine intolerance, in order to best understand and control histamine symptoms.
How can I begin to reduce histamine symptoms?
Following a low-histamine diet is only one way to reduce the symptoms you’re experiencing from suspected histamine intolerance. If you suspect histamine intolerance but haven't already begun a low histamine diet, it's essential to start this now. Start by following the foods list and guidelines in the free e-Book below.
Along with dietary measures and controlling histamine input, it's also possible to enhance histamine breakdown within the body through the histamine-degrading enzyme, DAO.
To maximize the effect of DAO and prevent an increased demand on its production, eating organic, non-GMO foods is also advised, as this can reduce the exposure to other biogenic amines, such as cadaverine and putrescine, which take precedence over histamine when it comes to breakdown by DAO.
I've written an article on how to increase DAO enzymes naturally, which you can also read for more tips on upping histamine degradation.
Additionally, because raw foods and other - even organic - crops may be contaminated by these compounds, foods should be eaten when they are at their maximum freshness, frozen immediately from fresh, or boiled and eaten immediately to reduce their biogenic amine content.
Histamine intolerance is a complex condition with a number of contributing issues that may be underlying its development.
And, although often forgotten, one of those underlying factors that needs to be considered is the contribution of changes in agricultural practice.
Are you part of the population that may be reacting to these GMO foods and the contamination of glyphosate? It’s definitely worth investigating and taking action against it.
Life's too short to let symptoms control you.
Your histamine intolerance expert,
Anita Tee, MSc
- Del Rio, B., et al. The biogenic amines putrescine and cadaverine show in vitro cytotoxicity at concentrations that can be found in foods. Scientific Reports volume 9, Article number: 120 (2019).
- Ladero, V. et al. Biogenic amines content in Spanish and French natural ciders: Application of qPCR for quantitative detection of biogenic amine-producers. Food Microbiol. 28, 554–561 (2011).
- Hungerford, J. Scombroid poisoning: a review. Toxicon. 2010 Aug 15;56(2):231-43.
- Sahcez-Perez, S., et al. Biogenic Amines in Plant-Origin Foods: Are they Frequently Underestimated in Low-Histamine Diets? Foods. 2018 Dec; 7(12): 205.
- Jarisch R., Wantke F., Raithel M., Hemmer W. Histamine and biogenic amines. In: Jarisch R., editor. Histamine Intolerance. Histamine and Seasickness. Springer; Stuttgart, Germany: 2014. pp. 3–44.
- EFSA Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) Scientific opinion on risk based control of biogenic amines formation in fermented foods. EFSA J. 2011;9:2393.
- European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Scientific opinion on risk based control of biogenic amine formation in fermented foods. Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ). EFSA J. 9, 2393 (2011).
- Mesnage, R., et al. An integrated multi-omics analysis of the NK603 Roundup-tolerant GM maize reveals metabolism disturbances caused by the transformation process. Scientific Reports volume 6, Article number: 37855 (2016).
- Linares, D. M. et al. Comparative analysis of the in vitro cytotoxicity of the dietary biogenic amines tyramine and histamine. Food Chem. 197, 658–663 (2016).