Histamine is a biogenic amine that triggers the immune response. Histamine also acts as a neurotransmitter and has some other physiological functions (such as in the gut). Histamine increases the permeability of small blood vessels so that immune cells and proteins are better able to fight an infection. Histamine is also involved in sleep regulation; too much histamine release in the brain increases wakefulness.
The amounts of histamine are given as mg per serving size (either 3.5 Oz., 4 Oz. or pint). Please note that the same food item from different sources vary tremendously in their histamine content: food items that are close to their expiration date have a higher histamine content. Therefore, the numbers given below are for illustrative purposes only.
Histamine is also thought to make rosacea symptoms worse. Since we also ingest histamine through our diet, I thought it was helpful to look at what foods contain the highest amount of histamine. Aged and fermented foods are naturally high in histamine, so these kind of foods dominate the list. I have gathered the information below from various sources on the internet as well as from a number of scientific papers.
Here are the top 10 foods high in histamine:
- Champagne (76 mg/4 Oz.)
- Sauerkraut (23 mg/3.5 Oz.)
- Tofu (as high as 22 mg/3.5 Oz.)
- Parmesan Cheese (15 mg/3.5 Oz.)
- Beer (7 mg/pint) Beers vary in histamine content, with top fermented beers being higher in histamine.
- Sausage (6 mg/3.5 Oz.) Fresh sausage is often lower in histamine than the cured/aged sausage.
- Blue Cheese (5 mg/3.5 Oz.)
- Red Wine (3.5 mg/4 Oz.)
- Eggplant (3 mg/3.5 Oz.)
- Tomato Ketchup (2 mg/3.5 Oz.)
- Canned Fish (tuna, salmon, herring) (2 mg/3.5 Oz.)
“Numbers shown are approximate”
Foods that stimulate the release of histamine
Certain foods (even food that is low in histamine) can stimulate the release of histamine from mast cells (a type of immune cell). These foods include bananas, tomatoes, strawberries, pineapple, nuts, peanuts, shellfish, spinach, egg white and chocolate. Eating these foods can thus have an indirect effect on rosacea.
Some of the most tasteful food is high in histamine. High histamine levels however, can cause headaches, runny nose, sneezing, stomach aches/cramps and flushing skin.
Maintz, L. and Novak, N. (2007) Histamine and histamine intolerance. Am J Clin Nutr 85: 1185–96.