For many reasons, it’s a good idea to limit alcoholic beverages, including whiskey. But if you have histamine intolerance, you have unique concerns about what you eat and drink, and whether alcoholic beverages, like whiskey, are safe. This article will focus on how alcoholic drinks affect histamine sensitivity symptoms, with an emphasis on whisky.
Is whiskey high in histamine? Some alcoholic beverages are especially problematic if you have histamine intolerance since they’re more likely to trigger histamine intolerance symptoms. Of course, these are the ones you want to avoid. Unfortunately, it’s hard to make broad statements, since how an alcoholic beverage is made, what it’s made from, its age, and its other components can be a factor in whether it causes symptoms.
For example, if you have histamine intolerance, you may have noticed that red wine triggers histamine intolerance symptoms. Approximately 10% of people suffer from hypersensitivity reactions to red wine. (1) Wine also contains sulfites, another trigger for sensitivity reactions in some people, particularly asthmatics. (5)
Red wine may contain more histamine than white wine, but the quantity varies with the age of the wine and the fermentation process it undergoes.
Whiskey is a Fermented Beverage
One way researchers determine how a person responds to wine is by using a wine provocation test. In one study, they asked participants to drink a serving of wine and measure the amount of histamine in their blood before and after. It found that white wine, red wine, champagne, and beer all caused a sharp rise in histamine levels. (4) Unfortunately, they didn’t test whiskey.
Why the sharp rise in histamine? All these alcoholic beverages undergo fermentation, a process that increases histamine production. The fermentation process leads to enough histamine production to trigger histamine intolerance symptoms in some people. (2)
Because wine, beer, and champagne are strong triggers for sensitivity reactions, most people with histamine sensitivity avoid these beverages. To fill the void, they may turn to other forms of alcohol for social occasions, including whisky. One common question is whether whiskey is high in histamine and worsens histamine intolerance symptoms like the “big three.”
Is Whiskey High in Histamine?
Firstly, let’s look at what whisky is made of. This spirit is produced by distilling grain. Although malted barley is the most common grain used to make whiskey, whiskey makers can use various grains. Some whisky is also made from rye, wheat, or corn.
The process of producing whiskey takes five steps, and one of those steps includes fermentation. Whiskey makers add yeast to the grain to turn the sugars into alcohol. Whiskey producers take great care to select the proper yeast strain since the choice can affect the flavor of the alcohol.
Since fermented foods are likely to contain higher levels of histamine than fresh, unfermented foods, it raises concerns about any form of alcohol that undergoes fermentation. Experts even believe that yeast itself contains histamine, creating an even more histamine-rich beverage. These are all valid concerns if you have histamine intolerance.
Whiskey usually contains less pre-formed histamine than wine, champagne, and beer. But whiskey is also a DAO inhibitor, meaning it blocks the activity of diamine oxidase (7), the main enzyme that breaks down histamine so you can eliminate it from your body. One reason people have histamine sensitivity is they don’t produce enough of this enzyme to clear histamine from their system. Drinking whiskey can worsen that situation.
Intolerance to Other Components of Whiskey
If you also have gluten intolerance, as some histamine sufferers do, you have to know whether an alcohol you’re drinking contains gluten. Whiskey is made from gluten-containing grains, such as wheat or barley. However, the American Dietetic Association (ADA) believes that distilled alcoholic beverages are still safe for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. (6)
Low-Histamine Alternatives to Whiskey
My advice? Best to skip the whiskey if you have histamine intolerance. There are other forms of alcohol lower in alcohol than whiskey. These include:
At one time, vodka was a reasonable choice, since vodka makers often used potatoes to make their product. Now most vodka is made from corn and barley. If you can find one still made from potatoes, it may be a reasonable choice in moderation.
Gin is a reasonable choice too since it’s not fermented, meaning it should contain less histamine than other fermented alcoholic beverages.
Another Reason to Limit Whiskey and Other Alcoholic Beverages
Even if you consume an alcoholic beverage that’s relatively low in histamine, provocation studies show you absorb histamine from fluids easier than from solid food. In addition, alcohol can increase the permeability of the intestinal mucosa and facilitate histamine entry into the bloodstream. (8)
If you already have increased intestinal permeability from dysbiosis, gluten intolerance, or from taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) (9), the amount of histamine you absorb into your bloodstream may be even greater.
Stick to Non-Alcoholic Beverages When You Can
It’s best to limit alcohol as much as possible if you have histamine intolerance. As with whiskey, alcohol can block the activity of the diamine oxidase enzyme (DAO) that breaks down histamine. On the plus side, most people mix alcohol, other than wine, beer, or champagne, with something else, like tonic water or fruit juice. This reduces the amount of histamine through the dilution effect. That’s why wine, which is undiluted is more likely to trigger histamine symptoms.
If you sip a little whiskey or other histamine-containing alcohol, keep the amount low and don’t eat it with other histamine-rich foods, like hard cheese. Even better, make a mocktail that contains no alcohol. Some of these options are quite tasty!
Although you can experience a range of histamine intolerance symptoms from drinking alcohol that contains histamine, the most common one people experience is a headache. Migraine sufferers find that histamine-containing beverages worsen their migraine symptoms too. Also, be aware that manufacturers sometimes add flavorings to alcohol that can trigger sensitivity reactions.
Be aware that your reaction to alcohol may be different than someone else with histamine intolerance. For example, you may not tolerate red wine, but have no problems with a little vodka, especially if you can find potato vodka. It’s also possible that the symptoms you experience come from other components in alcoholic beverages, like the sulfites in red wine.
The Bottom Line
Is whiskey high in histamine? Small amounts of whiskey are less likely to provoke histamine intolerance than champagne, wine, or beer, but whiskey also interferes with diamine oxidase activity. So, it’s not safe to drink it in large quantities. You wouldn’t want to do that anyway, for other reasons.
If you’re not satisfied with mocktails, gin, gum, vodka, or tequila may be better choices if you have histamine sensitivity. Whatever you do, consume alcohol responsibly and don’t drive afterward. That could be most harmful to your health of all!
- Wüthrich B. Allergic and intolerance reactions to wine. Allergol Select. 2018;2(1):80-88. Published 2018 Sep 1. doi:10.5414/ALX01420E.
- Histamine Intolerance: Histamine and Seasickness. Springer Publishing. (2015)
- “How is whisky made? | 5 Step Whisky Making Process | The ….” https://www.thewhiskypedia.com/how-is-whisky-made.
- Wantke F, Götz M, Jarisch R. The red wine provocation test: intolerance to histamine as a model for food intolerance. Allergy Proc. 1994 Jan-Feb;15(1):27-32. doi: 10.2500/108854194778816599. PMID: 8005453.
- Wüthrich B. Allergic and intolerance reactions to wine. Allergol Select. 2018 Sep 1;2(1):80-88. doi: 10.5414/ALX01420E. PMID: 31826033; PMCID: PMC6883207.
- Rodrigo L. Celiac disease. World J Gastroenterol. 2006;12(41):6577–6584. doi:10.3748/wjg.v12.i41.6585. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17075969/
- Schnedl WJ, Schenk M, Lackner S, Enko D, Mangge H, Forster F. Diamine oxidase supplementation improves symptoms in patients with histamine intolerance. Food Sci Biotechnol. 2019 May 24;28(6):1779-1784. doi: 10.1007/s10068-019-00627-3. PMID: 31807350; PMCID: PMC6859183. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31807350/
- Patel S, Behara R, Swanson GR, Forsyth CB, Voigt RM, Keshavarzian A. Alcohol and the Intestine. Biomolecules. 2015;5(4):2573-2588. Published 2015 Oct 15. doi:10.3390/biom5042573. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26501334/
- Sigthorsson G, Tibble J, Hayllar J, Menzies I, Macpherson A, Moots R, Scott D, Gumpel MJ, Bjarnason I. Intestinal permeability and inflammation in patients on NSAIDs. Gut. 1998 Oct;43(4):506-11. doi: 10.1136/gut.43.4.506. PMID: 9824578; PMCID: PMC1727292.