Is there a connection between high histamine and anxiety? It’s an important connection to be aware of if you have histamine intolerance or chronic anxiety.
Have you ever felt your heart race and your palms sweat as you enter a room full of people? What role does histamine play in that response, and is anxiety or panic attacks a sign of histamine intolerance?
Anxiety is a natural response to stress, but when it becomes excessive or chronic, it can lead to various physical and psychological symptoms that are unpleasant and sometimes incapacitating.
The symptoms of anxiety can vary widely from person to person, but some common symptoms include:
- Physical symptoms: Anxiety can cause a range of physical symptoms, such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, or shaking, muscle tension, and shortness of breath. These symptoms are often referred to as the “fight or flight” response, and are the body’s way of preparing to deal with a perceived threat, even if that threat isn’t real.
- Psychological symptoms: Anxiety can also cause a range of psychological symptoms, such as excessive worrying, fear or apprehension, restlessness or agitation, irritability or mood swings, and difficulty concentrating or sleeping. Some people experience panic attacks, which are sudden and intense episodes of fear or anxiety.
- Avoidance behaviors: In some cases, people with anxiety may avoid situations or activities that trigger their symptoms. For example, someone with social anxiety may avoid social situations or public speaking, while someone with a phobia may avoid certain objects, places, or situations.
- Gastrointestinal symptoms: Anxiety can also affect the digestive system, causing symptoms such as nausea, stomach pain or discomfort, diarrhea or constipation, and loss of appetite.
- Fatigue: Chronic anxiety can also lead to fatigue or exhaustion, as the body is constantly in a heightened state of arousal.
Does High Histamine Contribute to Anxiety?
If you have experienced these symptoms, you’re familiar with anxiety and how distressing those symptoms can be. And if you’ve wondered whether histamine plays a role, you’re right.
Histamine is a naturally occurring chemical, a type of biogenic amine, in our bodies that plays a role in our immune system and is involved in allergic reactions. Your body releases it in response to injury, inflammation, or allergens.
It is also responsible for regulating various bodily functions, such as digestion and sleep. You have histamine receptors through your body, including your brain, and the effects of histamine are meditated through these receptors.
High Levels of Histamine Can Trigger Anxiety Symptoms
When histamine levels become high, it can cause a wide range of symptoms . These include headaches, itching, and flushing but also other symptoms that can affect almost every system in the body, from the lungs to the digestive tract.
Furthermore, recent research shows that high levels of histamine may cause anxiety and other mental health symptoms. (1,2,4)
So how exactly does histamine contribute to anxiety? Well, it turns out that histamine and anxiety share some common pathways in the brain.
Histamine acts on a specific receptor in the brain called the H1 receptor, which is also involved in regulating mood and behavior.
When histamine levels are high, it can overstimulate the H1 receptor, leading to increased anxiety and agitation. In further support of this connection, research shows that blocking H1 receptors reduces anxiety symptoms. (2)
High Histamine from Histamine Intolerance May Affect Other Brain Chemicals
Furthermore, histamine can also affect the production of other neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, GABA, and dopamine, which are important for regulating mood and anxiety levels. (1)
When histamine levels are too high, it can interfere with the production of these neurotransmitters, leading to imbalances that contribute to anxiety.
Also interesting is that some medications used to treat anxiety block histamine receptors in the brain and are one mechanism by which they reduce anxiety.(1) Research also finds that stressful circumstances increase the brain’s histamine burden.(3)
Therefore, it is important to manage stress levels to maintain healthy histamine levels in the body. For example, you might benefit from meditation, yoga, or deep breathing.
What does this mean? Histamine may also cause anxiety symptoms when it builds up too much in your body. This can happen if you have high levels of histamine or if your body doesn’t break down histamine properly, which is the case with histamine intolerance.
Are Some People with Anxiety Suffering from Histamine Intolerance?
These findings make you wonder how many people with anxiety also have some degree of undiagnosed histamine intolerance? It’s an intriguing question that needs more research.
In support of this, a study published in European Psychiatry found that histamine intolerance is higher in people with histamine intolerance than in a control group of people without this it. (4)
This doesn’t mean everyone with anxiety is histamine intolerant or has high levels of histamine in their brain. But it suggests physicians should screen patients who suffer with anxiety for other evidence of histamine intolerance.
Plus, they should encourage them to try a low-histamine diet for a month to see if it helps with anxiety symptoms. If you have anxiety, it might be worth trying a low-histamine diet for 4 weeks and monitor your symptoms.
The Role of Diet in Controlling Anxiety Related to Histamine Intolerance
If anxiety is at least partially related to high levels of histamine, adopting a low-histamine diet should help. However, it may take up to a month to get symptom relief once adopting a low-histamine diet.
During that time, it’s important to keep a food and symptom diary to see if dietary changes reduce anxiety.
Be aware of everything you’re eating, and whether a food or beverage contains histamine or other biogenic amines, or whether it’s a histamine liberator, meaning it triggers the release of histamine by immune cells.
Also, be aware that there are downsides to being on a low histamine diet, but the pros outweigh the cons.
Here are some general (but not comprehensive) guidelines for starting a low-histamine diet:
- Avoid fermented foods: Fermented foods such as cheese, wine, beer, kimchi, and sauerkraut are high in histamine and can trigger symptoms in people with histamine intolerance.
- Limit aged and preserved foods: Aged and preserved foods like cured meats, pickled vegetables, and smoked fish are high in histamine and should be avoided or limited.
- Choose fresh foods: Fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, and freshly cooked foods are low in histamine and are a good choice for people on a low-histamine diet.
- Avoid leftovers: Leftover foods can contain high levels of histamine, so it’s best to eat freshly cooked foods and avoid leftovers.
- Be mindful of cooking methods: Cooking methods that involve high heat or long cooking times, such as grilling or roasting, can increase histamine levels in foods. Steaming and boiling are better options.
- Use fresh herbs and spices: Fresh herbs and spices can add flavor to dishes without increasing histamine levels. Dried herbs and spices should be used sparingly.
- Choose low-histamine grains: Wheat, oats, and rye can be high in histamine. Instead, choose low-histamine grains such as rice, quinoa, and millet.
- Avoid certain fruits and vegetables: Avoid high-histamine fruits and vegetables, such as citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, avocado and spinach. Low-histamine vegetables can be beneficial due to their anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Be mindful of additives: Certain food additives, like preservatives, artificial colors, and flavors can increase histamine levels in foods. It’s best to avoid processed foods that contain these additives.
High-Glycemic Foods May Worsen Anxiety
Beyond implementing a low-histamine diet, avoid foods that cause rapid fluctuations in blood sugar. When your blood sugar spikes after eating refined carbohydrates, ultra-processed foods, or sugar, it falls just as quickly. This rapid drop can trigger anxiety in both healthy people and those with histamine intolerance. (5)
Science supports the idea that eating whole foods, rather than ultra-processed foods, is better for mental health. (6)
So, if you have histamine intolerance and anxiety is one of your symptoms, choose whole, unprocessed foods (low histamine, of course) that will help you maintain a more stable blood sugar and prevent spikes and drops that can trigger anxiety.
High Histamine and Anxiety
Are histamine intolerance and anxiety related? A high histamine level, by its effects on H1 histamine receptors in the brain, can trigger anxiety, based on research. Anything that lowers your body’s histamine level should reduce anxiety symptoms.
Beyond eliminating high-histamine foods from your diet, choose unprocessed, low-histamine foods that won’t cause your blood sugar to rise and fall quickly. Choosing such foods is also healthier for your blood sugar and metabolic health. Also, read more about potential side effects of low-histamine diets.
- Ito C. The role of brain histamine in acute and chronic stresses. Biomed Pharmacother. 2000 Jun;54(5):263-7. doi: 10.1016/S0753-3322(00)80069-4. PMID: 10917464.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10917464/
- Serafim KR, Kishi MS, Canto-de-Souza A, Mattioli R. H₁ but not H₂ histamine antagonist receptors mediate anxiety-related behaviors and emotional memory deficit in mice subjected to elevated plus-maze testing. Braz J Med Biol Res. 2013 May;46(5):440-6. doi: 10.1590/1414-431X20132770. Epub 2013 Apr 19. PMID: 23598647; PMCID: PMC3854398.
- Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. Volume 54, Issue 5, June 2000, Pages 263-267.
- Nosková E, Vochosková K, Knop V, Stopková P, Kopeček M. Histamine intolerance and anxiety disorders: pilot cross-sectional study of histamine intolerance prevalence in cohort of patients with anxiety disorders. Eur Psychiatry. 2022 Sep 1;65(Suppl 1):S387–8. doi: 10.1192/j.eurpsy.2022.980. PMCID: PMC9563864. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/european-psychiatry/article/histamine-intolerance-and-anxiety-disorders-pilot-crosssectional-study-of-histamine-intolerance-prevalence-in-cohort-of-patients-with-anxiety-disorders/7D81FCD7B2E849BAF0339D21CD7AEC15
- Aucoin M, Bhardwaj S. Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Hypoglycemia Symptoms Improved with Diet Modification. Case Rep Psychiatry. 2016;2016:7165425. doi: 10.1155/2016/7165425. Epub 2016 Jul 14. PMID: 27493821; PMCID: PMC4963565.
- Opie R. S., O’Neil A., Itsiopoulos C., Jacka F. N. The impact of whole-of-diet interventions on depression and anxiety: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials. Public Health Nutrition. 2014;18(11):2074–2093. doi: 10.1017/s1368980014002614. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25465596/