Histamine is a biogenic amine (natural protein) that is involved in a number of processes in the body. For example, histamine plays a role in the gastrointestinal tract, the central nervous system, lungs, sleep system and the immune system. Histamine is largely stored in mast cells. Mast cells are specialised cells found in tissues in contact with the outside world such as skin, lungs and gastrointestinal tract.
Allergic reactions release histamine. Medicines can also cause histamine to be released. Histamine is also found in the brain where it plays a role in the transmission of signals (neurotransmitter). Histamine is involved in the sleep-wake rhythm, among other things. That is why some anti-hay fever medicines (antihistamines) make you drowsy. An excess of Histamine will make you very alert and watchful, resulting in sleeplessness. Histamine is involved in many more processes, such as the production of gastric acid, the diameter and permeability of blood vessels (blood pressure) and the increase of adrenalin (nervous feeling).
Histamine is not only important for humans but also for animals and plants. That is why histamine occurs naturally in both plant and animal food. Processed food also has a significantly higher histamine content. Examples are ready meals, cheese, ham, sausages and (smoked) fish. Because histamine is formed during processes of deterioration, food that has been lying around for a while also has a higher histamine content. Unfortunately the substance is not broken down during cooking, so the histamine level will not (almost) change.
But also processed drinks like wine (especially sparkling wine) and (non-alcoholic) beer are best avoided if you are sensitive to histamine. In addition to containing histamine, these drinks also release histamine in the body.
Remember two important generalities:
- Fresh produce contains less histamine than processed or aged produce.
- Processed products contain more histamine than unprocessed products.