Gianne Rayandayan, Clinical Herbalist
Allergies are like the office bully. We know they’re there– lurking around the corner of Springtime– waiting to unleash a reign of terror on our sinuses, eyes, throats, and skin. We arm ourselves with Benadryl and Zyrtec, but they keep coming back. How do we break this vicious cycle??
Turns out, we can seriously minimize allergy flare-ups through something as simple as nutrition. I personally know how effective this approach is, having dealt with major allergies and asthma throughout childhood and early adulthood. Though we cannot generalize nutrition (our bodies are all different after all!), we can integrate core concepts across most individuals’ needs, lifestyles, and cultural frameworks. Let’s get into it!
Histamine is a substance that our bodies secrete as part of an immune response. Despite being the bringer of sinus issues, itchy eyes, headaches, rashes, and global inflammation, histamine is an important chemical for many other vital functions. Everything from secreting stomach acid, to regulating blood pressure, to promoting signaling in the brain rely, in part, on histamine (8).
When allergies run rampant, we experience a histamine imbalance– high levels accumulate in our bodies, too much for us to break down in a timely manner. Everything from pollen, dust, grass, car exhaust, paint, and certain foods can trigger an overblown histamine response.
While antihistamine drugs are quick patchwork solutions, they do not tackle the deeper issue at hand: bringing histamines back to a healthy level via metabolism and detoxification. This is where nutrition and supplementation really shine!
Major histamine-breakdown takes place in the gut– so a first step is to really address digestion. Studies have shown patients with histamine intolerance show some degree of dysbiosis (5). If we are not properly digesting or assimilating nutrients– i.e. if we do not have sufficient stomach acid, enzymes, or a happy microbiome– then we aren’t breaking down histamine effectively. Gut health and allergies are intrinsically linked.
If you’re thinking “But I already eat healthy!”, I invite you to go deeper– in our modern world, where antibiotics and prescription drugs are commonplace and stress dominates, chances are your digestive health is fighting an uphill battle. And that’s ok! Because there are always things you can do. Probiotics and digestive enzymes are a great first-step in addressing chronic allergies. We have entire blog posts on probiotics and digestive enzymes if you’d like to know more.
This brings us to a low-histamine diet. A good rule of thumb: if a food needs to be ‘aged’, it has high histamine levels. This (unfortunately!) includes many of the ‘fun’ foods: chocolate, alcohol, cheese, cured meat. Studies have shown that migraines and bloating significantly reduce when people omit high-histamine foods from their diets (3, 4). Other high-histamine foods to consider avoiding if you are overly sensitive: vegetables in the Nightshade family (eggplants, tomatoes), grains like wheat, barley, rye, and any meat or seafood that’s been sitting in your fridge, especially shellfish. Once your body rebalances its histamine response, you can slowly introduce these back into your diet.
In the meantime, go for fresh foods that balance histamine naturally. Many of these foods also promote liver and blood detoxification. Stinging Nettle leaf, Dandelion leaf, seaweeds, algae– all are histamine-relief staples. One thing you can do is make a quart of Dandelion-Nettle Tea and drink daily about a month before allergy season sets in. Herbal tea is very bioavailable and easy for the body to work with. I noticed that the more I drank herbal tea daily, the less aggressive my allergy symptoms became.
Supplementation-wise, antioxidants are going to be super important. Allergies are part of an inflammatory response, and with inflammation comes oxidative stress. Some antioxidants to consider:
Vitamin C and Quercetin - These not only help direct healthy histamine-release, but also lower inflammation and support our immune systems (7). You can find these along with Nettle in our D-Hist formula by Orthobiotic. We always recommend this to our patients for acute allergy histamine relief.
Omega 3 fatty acids - These are not only highly anti-inflammatory (9), but help our bodies stay hydrated– super important for anyone suffering from allergies living in dry climates. Nordic Naturals make fantastic fish oils, and offer an algae-omega alternative as well.
Resveratrol - An antioxidant derived from grapeseed prevents immune cells from releasing too much histamine. Like all antioxidants, it is a free-radical scavenger and mitigates the side effects of inflammation. (10)
Vitamin B6 - While not a ‘classic’ antioxidant, vitamin B6 is a cofactor of your body’s main histamine-clearing enzyme, Diamine Oxidase (DAO) (8). Taking Vitamin B6 over time can help increase levels of DAO in your body, which will promote histamine-breakdown.
To really get ahead of allergy-season, you want to start incorporating these suggestions daily for at least a few weeks. If you feel like you have tried everything with little success, there may be a deeper issue to address. For this we highly recommend sitting down with us in a consultation setting– give us a call or book a complimentary herbalist consultation and we can determine how best to help you!
Happy National Nutrition Month!
- 2011. Page, Linda PhD. Healthy Healing, Fourteenth Edition. P. 317-324. Healthy Healing Enterprises LLC.
- 2021. Maier, Kat. Energetic Herbalism: A Guide to Sacred Plant Traditions. P. 140-148. Chelsea Green Publishing.
- Rosell-Camps, A., Zibetti, S., Pérez-Esteban, G., Vila-Vidal, M., Ferrés-Ramis, L., & García-Teresa-García, E. (2013). Histamine intolerance as a cause of chronic digestive complaints in pediatric patients. Rev Esp Enferm Dig, 105(4), 201-207.
- Schink M., Konturek P.C., Tietz E., Dieterich W., Pinzer T.C., Wirtz S., Neurath M.F., Zopf Y. Microbial patterns in patients with histamine intolerance. J. Physiol. Pharmacol. 2018;69:579–593
- Wagner N., Dirk D., Peveling-Oberhag A., Reese I., Rady-Pizarro U., Mitzel H., Staubach P.J. A popular myth-low-histamine diet improves chronic spontaneous urticaria-fact or fiction? Eur. Acad. Dermatol. Venereol. 2017;31:650–655. doi: 10.1111/jdv.13966.
- Maintz, L., Bieber, T., & Novak, N. (2006). Histamine intolerance in clinical practice. Dtsch Arztebl, 103(51-52), 3477-83.
- Zhang, W., Tang, R., Ba, G., Li, M., & Lin, H. (2020). Anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory effects of resveratrol via inhibiting TXNIP-oxidative stress pathway in a mouse model of allergic rhinitis. World Allergy Organization Journal, 13(10), 100473.