Monday, November 6, 2017

Surviving Thanksgiving with Food Allergies (and How to Help Your Guests Survive)

Without a doubt, for those of us who have food allergies, dietary disorders, and food intolerances, the holidays are a difficult time. Holidays are usually celebrated with food — lots and lots of good tasty food. But when you can’t have gluten or dairy or other common ingredients, it can feel like you’re being punished during holiday parties. Even though we all know that’s not the case, the feeling of being separate—different—from everybody else can cast a pall over the fun.

This is especially true when we are dealing with people who do not believe that food allergies are serious, who don’t believe that food intolerances are very real and detrimental.

There’s always that person who keep urging us to “Just try it, one bite can’t possibly hurt you!” We all seem to have that one relative or friend who refuses to understand how sick food can make us when we have dietary issues. It seems that Aunt Martha just can’t wrap her head around the concept that one crumb of gluten can be poison for someone with celiac. And Uncle Joe refuses to believe that if you eat even one chocolate covered strawberry, you’ll be pulling out your EpiPen and might end up in the hospital.

To be honest, staving off well-intentioned relatives can feel like full-scale battle.

So for the people who aren’t affected by food, here’s a quick (and by no means complete) primer on allergy-friendly etiquette:
  • DON’T be insulted if they decline to eat your delicious shrimp platter. They are not insulting you, they are doing their best to stay healthy.
  • DO graciously accept their offer to bring a dish, especially if you haven’t planned an allergy-friendly menu. This may be the only food on the table they can eat.
  • IF you want to make allergy friendly treats, be very cautious about cross-contamination. It’s amazingly easy to accidentally cross-contaminate food in the kitchen.
  • When setting out serving utensils, remember: if someone uses a knife to better their bread and then uses that same knife to cut a dairy free pie, they have contaminated the pie. Ways to combat this? Pre-cut everything into servings. Keep all the dairy free food in one section, all the gluten-free food in one section, and so forth. Include decorative labels on the foods that are allergy friendly. And DO NOT be afraid or embarrassed to ask all of your guests to be careful when serving themselves.
We host Thanksgiving for a group of friends every year. As my food allergies have gotten worse, I have taken over all of the cooking. This ensures my safety as well as my guests, because some of them have their own food allergies. I ask for donations to defray the cost of food, but this way I know what I prepare is safe and my allergic guests also know they can safely eat here.

Our Thanksgiving feasts are sumptuous — we have pie, we have stuffing, we have rolls and turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy and none of it has dairy or gluten or garlic or onions. And all of it tastes great. My guests who do not have food allergies love the food that I cook and can’t tell the difference.

Some general hints:
  • When making mashed potatoes, instead of milk and butter I use canned coconut milk or rice milk, or chicken stock and dairy free margarine.
  • For the rolls and stuffing I found a bread mix that contains no gluten, dairy or yeast — I am also allergic to yeast.
  • For the pies, I use a gluten and dairy free pie crust mix. And in place of milk in my pumpkin pie, I use coconut milk or rice milk. I also use egg replacer in one because of one of my guest's egg allergies.
  • For the gravy, I simply use rice flour in place of the wheat flour when I make the roux.
  • I even make my homemade cranberry sauce because everybody loves it so much better. I don’t use orange in it because I’m allergic to oranges, but I use raspberries and Framboise liqueur and people go nuts over the stuff.
Substitutions are not difficult if you do your homework and try a few sample recipes in advance. If you have egg-allergic guests, egg replacer works quite well in recipes. Coconut and rice milk work like a charm for most recipes. I make cheesecake with faux cream cheese made from soy.

You can make any holiday allergy-friendly.

So I’m including some of my favorite products here that make holiday cooking so much easier! You can check on my blog via the search function for recipes. And there are numerous allergy-friendly cooking sites on the web. Just search on allergy blogs.

You don’t need to be deprived during the holidays. Sure it’s hard when you see people eating things you cannot, but there are plenty of delicious ways you can make the holidays just as fun as ever.

Bright blessings and happy holiday season,

Glutino Pie Crust
Orgran Yeast Free Bread Mix
Glutino Cornbread Mix
Cherrybrook Kitchen Cake Mixes
Kinnickkinnick Graham Style Crumbs, Breading Crumbs, Doughnuts, and K-Toos

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A Safe and Happy Halloween and Samhain

Halloween, for us, is Samhain—the festival from which Halloween evolved. But I also give out treats. A couple years ago, it occurred to me that my own allergies prevented me from eating the candy we were handing out, so what about the children who might come trick-or-treating who have allergies? That’s when I found out about the Teal Pumpkin project.

FARE (the Food Allergy Research & Education organization) supports the Teal Pumpkin project. Inspired by an east Tennessee food allergy community’s activism, participation in the Teal Pumpkin project is easy! With so many children coping with food allergies—and the number of both children and adults who are affected is growing—this ensures all children can have a safe, happy Halloween.
How to participate? It’s simple!
  1. Put out a Teal pumpkin to show you are participating.

  1. Hand out non-food treats—little toys, stickers, etc.. I’m handing out adorable little rubber ducks that are dressed as Halloween critters!

 And as a plus, here are some easy treats you can make for your allergy-sensitive loved ones.
Cupcakes! One of my favorite gluten/dairy free cake mix brands that makes both great cakes and cupcakes is Pamela’s vanilla and chocolate cakes.

Dairy, soy, nut, gluten free chocolate chips: Enjoy Life. They also make dairy free chocolate bars that are pretty tasty.

Make dairy free and gluten free S’more sandwiches using a gluten free marshmallow, Enjoy Life Honey Graham cookies, and dark chocolate.

And you can always plan activities that are fun in lieu of sugary treats—a game night for your children and their friends, a spooky dinner party…spooky movie night.

Have a happy and allergy-safe Halloween and Samhain!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Taking the House Gluten & Nut Free

 Happy Monday — it’s been an awfully long weekend. I have a LONG post for you today.

It’s been a while since I’ve done an allergy post, and boy do I have a long one for you. A little over a week ago, my husband visited his family, for a relative’s wedding. This relative is severely gluten intolerant, the littlest bit can put him in the hospital. And it’s taken a toll on him.

While Sam was gone, my niece came to stay with me for part of the weekend. She has mastocytosis, a rare mast cell disorder. Now my food allergies and my histamine intolerance are also forms of mast disorders. It seems to run fairly strong in our family. She and I were talking, and I began to feel odd. My face was starting to tingle and my hands were itching and soon I was hot and flushed and itching all over and getting spaced out. I couldn’t figure out what it was that I had eaten or come in contact with that had triggered off the reaction. She got Benadryl into me, and got me into the bathroom so I could wash myself with cold water which helps stop histamine flush.

Not long after that — only a matter of an hour or so — she was feeling a reaction coming on to. So, we got Benadryl into her and we were both doped up while we made dinner together. We managed to get through dinner and through the rest of the evening, and as she said, “Wow…what a girl’s night, we’re partying with Benadryl and meat!”

The next morning, Apple was playing over at my assistant’s desk. He tipped over a waste can and my niece went over to set it upright. As she picked it up she happened to pick up a wrapper that had fallen out of it — it was a wrapper for a nut protein bar. Our house is strictly nut free, so I was extremely dismayed to see this. And just picking it up by the corner was enough to throw my niece into another reaction. We got Benadryl into her and spent the day together. The entire trashcan went into a trash bag and out in the garage because neither of us should be touching anything has to do with nuts.

Well, it was a total accident that my assistant had brought the nut bar into the house. Actually she hadn’t even brought the bar in, just the wrapper to throw it away so that I wouldn’t come in contact with it when I got into her car. But it just reinforced how stringent we have to be. Nuts can be deadly for my niece, and they’re getting close to that for me.

Sam came home the next night — Monday night — and I was really glad to see him. But he warned me that he had eaten something at the airport that he thought might have garlic in it. As I often do when this happens, I asked to smell his breath. Usually I can tell by one whiff whether I’ll have to ask him to sleep on the sofa for a few nights. Even the smell of garlic triggers strong reactions in me. Well, I took one sniff of his breath and boom…landed right in a another reaction. Apparently my body is extremely reactive right now. Once again, I took Benadryl, and my workout partner and I decided we were not working out because it would not be good for me.

But while we were sitting there, Sam informed me that he has decided to go gluten-free so that we could make the entire house gluten-free. Seeing how strong my reactions have been getting, and seeing what gluten has done to his relative, made an impression. So we’ve been spending the entire week cleaning the house and getting rid of everything that might be cross contaminated with gluten.
And it has been an eye-opening experience. For one thing almost all of my makeup has gluten in it.

Now, a lot of people say it doesn’t matter if you touch gluten when you are gluten sensitive or celiac. However consider this: you brush your hair, you run your hands through it, your lip itches and you rub it — you have just managed to ingest a little gluten. You use lipstick that has gluten in it. The average woman ingests 4 pounds of lipstick throughout her life and therefore you have ingested gluten when you wear it. Anytime you lick your lips and you have any residue of lipstick on there? That goes in your mouth. And so on. It becomes incredibly easy to cross-contaminate yourself.

Any plastic containers that might have contained gluten — and a number of ours did, because Sam ate cookies and carried them in those containers — have a chance of being cross contaminated if they have any cracks or scratches. A lot of ours did. Any porous plates, trays, or serve ware used for gluten foods have a chance of being cross contaminated. Any wooden implements or cutting boards that have touched gluten, are sure to be cross contaminated. Any pots or pans that have scratches in them, or any chips, have a good chance of being cross contaminated.

We also had to find grain free food for the cats, both wet and dry. And I bought new plates for their food, and new trays to set the plates on. I actually found something called whisker fatigue plates — they’re bowls that are wide and shallow, to prevent whisker fatigue when kitties eat. Apparently this is a real thing and I don’t want the cats’ whiskers hurting.

So our past week has been spent piling things into the car for charity, scrubbing every counter, every cupboard, every dish, and every new thing that we had brought into the house. I gave away every speck of my makeup with the exception of a few things that have not been opened and I know are gluten free. Hair and makeup brushes? Well, my makeup and hair supplies all contained gluten. So, I gave those two friends who likes the brands, did a lot of research, and ordered new makeup and hair supplies that are gluten and nut free.

You see that’s another problem, I have to have nut free products. I can have coconut in the house and use it, but that is not a true tree nut. My histamine intolerance has become so strong that traces of nuts bring on reactions. And all of my bath washes except for three bottles? Contained gluten or nuts. I have a huge stash of bath washes and lotions that I can no longer use. I found a few to replace them, but this hurt. And it’s not just my pocketbook. I loved all these other products, but now I realize that they probably contributed to a number of my unexplained reactions. I’m living in the new normal. And I’m still getting used to this.

The food allergies are no better than they used to be. The histamine intolerance is severe. While histamine intolerance can go into remission, it’s never truly cured and it’s something that I will have to watch constantly. Hopefully when I take enough triggers out of my environment, I will have a lot fewer reactions.

Over the next few months I am going to be doing some reviews of new products that I find that are gluten and nut free. And for me of course, dairy free. I may try some vlogging as well, with my reviews.

I’m going to wrap up this particular blog post right now with the thought: it is an absolute blessing to have a family, or a spouse, who understands your physical disabilities and conditions. And who also take steps to make sure that you feel safe within your own house. I realized today, as we continue our massive cleanout, that I’m already starting to relax a little bit. I won’t have to worry as much, and the friends we have who have similar issues will also be safe in our house. And that, that is vital to me.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Non-Dairy Pumpkin Soup

One thing I love is a good soup. I love pumpkin soup, but it’s problematic with histamine intolerance. But butternut squash doesn’t seem to set off reactions and so I decided to try it in my pumpkin soup recipe. This recipe has no gluten, dairy, or nuts EXCEPT for coconut milk.

Butternut Squash Soup

2 cups cooked and pureed butternut squash
1/2 lb. ground lamb (or sausage meat if you can eat it)
1 granny smith apple
1 can of coconut milk
3 tbsp olive oil (whatever oil you can use)
2 stalks celery, diced fine
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp parsley
1/2 tsp cinnamon (eliminate for histamine intolerance)
Salt & Pepper to taste
Wash, core, and finely dice apple.
In soup pot, saute apple, celery, and bay leaf in oil. Add lamb and brown till almost crisp. Remove bay leaf.
Add squash, coconut milk, parsley, cinnamon, and salt/pepper.
Heat through, stirring to thoroughly mix.
Serves 2

Monday, September 18, 2017

Delayed Reactions

So last night was one that doesn’t happen too often, and I wish happened even less. I had a delayed reaction after a reaction.

I was itching somewhat, so took a partial dose of Benadryl. I hadn’t had anything that I could pinpoint as having caused it. I smelled the meat and it was fresh, I had avoided eating anything high histamine. The smoke in the air was starting to wash out, though it still hit me when we were driving around in the morning. As far as stress, well, no more than usual.

But...I took the Benadryl, the itching seemed to die down, and I went to bed.

At around 4:00 AM, I woke up. I got up, went to the bathroom, and went back to bed. I sat there on the edge of the bed, thinking, “I’m itching a little.” And then...things got fuzzy. I remember starting to itch a lot, I remember being very confused but knowing I should wake up Sam. And I remember that I was putting on the foot socks I wear around the house and having a hard time putting one on—I have no idea why. After that, it’s a blur of bits and pieces. I remember Sam asking me if I should take more Benadryl. Then he was handing me the Benadryl. I took it, and then he handed me my inhaler because I remember having a hard time catching my breath.

I remember the wave of panic that was hitting me, and that I was crying because I was afraid. I went out to sleep in the living room—Sam slept on the sofa next to me (I slept in an armchair that I use when my asthma really kicks up and I can’t sleep laying down). I dropped off after Brighid made herself comfortable on my lap, and didn’t wake up till around 7:30. I slept for another half hour and finally forced myself to get up. I saw that Sam had brought in my Epi-pen kit along with my inhaler in case I needed them during the night.

I’m still feeling groggy—Benadryl gives me a mild hangover. But I’m so thankful for it.

So what happened? I have no clue. Well, that’s not necessarily true—the eye doctor used an eye stain in my eye yesterday and it could have sent my body over the line of the histamine bucket. My body could have been on the edge of a reaction and one little thing cascaded it over. But whatever the case, it was a rough one. The few times the panic/confusion symptoms have hit, they have come with an especially rough reaction.

That’s one of the hard things about Histamine Intolerance—you may never fully know what it was that set you off. But I’ll be very cautious about additives and dyes now. I do know that because I was also diagnosed with fructose malabsorption, I have to be cautious of those things anyway, and they can trigger histamine reactions too. So...time to be even more vigilant.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Elimination Diet

I'm back on my elimination diet. We've had so much smoke in the air from the fires over the mountain range that it's hitting my immune system, and I'm having reactions right and left.

What I eat on my basic elimination diet: squash, sweet potato, beef, buffalo, chicken, turkey, duck, game hen, elk, lamb, cucumbers, pears, white rice, olive oil (light), rice milk. Coffee (no, it's not ideal but I need it).

So yeah, off to take my Benadryl because I'm itching like crazy.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Allergy Friendly Picnic Food

Fried chicken, potato salad, apple pie…yes, it’s end of the summer picnic season! But when you have food allergies, quite often the fried chicken and everything else seems off limits. Except that now it’s not. I’ve managed to come up with some good recipes and ideas for picnic food for those of us with food allergies, too.

ALWAYS REMEMBER TO KEEP YOUR FOOD ON ICE…take coolers and ice so you don’t give yourself food poisoning.

First, I love fried chicken. I used to be KFC’s golden customer. I still miss them (I know, I know, but hey, I loved the flavors). But the gluten, dairy, and seasonings they use? No longer an option. I’ve tried using corn flake crumbs for frying chicken and don’t like it. Almond meal? Nope, don’t like it either. But I now make a good fried chicken that is tasty, crispy, and satisfies my craving for it.

Yasmine’s Easy Fried Chicken
  • 8 chicken thighs (I like using thighs because they cook evenly and don’t take that long)
  • 1 cup of white rice flour
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp parsley
  • 1 tsp each: thyme, oregano, dill
  • Optional (I would add these if I could): ½ tsp black pepper, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp onion powder
Spray two large skillets with a heavy layer of coconut oil spray or other cooking spray
Mix flour, salt and herbs in a plastic bag.
Rinse thighs and pat dry with paper towel.
One at a time, drop thighs in bag and shake. Remove and place into skillet (four per skillet, do not let touch).
Cook over medium heat for about 18 minutes. Do not move thighs around in pan while cooking—if you need to shift the pan on the heat, that’s fine, but the more you move the chicken around, the more chance the coating will come off.
Turn thighs once. Cook another 14-18 minutes. Use a meat thermometer to test doneness (160° F).

As far as potato salad, well, I’ve never liked potato salad to be honest—I hate mayonnaise, detest egg yolks (for American potato salad), and cannot eat anything with vinegar. So I’d rather serve my cucumber-tomato salad and save the potatoes for chips. (Sadly, I can no longer have tomatoes, but this is wonderful.

Cucumber-Tomato Salad
  • 2 large cucumbers
  • 2 large heirloom tomatoes (or ripe slicing tomatoes)
  • 1 tsp dill
  • 1 tbsp parsley
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • Optional if you can have them: ½ tsp lemon pepper, 3 ounces crumbled feta cheese, ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
Peel and dice cucumbers.
Dice tomatoes.
Mix in big bowl. Add herbs and salt. Add in cheese and pine nuts if you can eat them and toss everything lightly with the olive oil. We love this salad, though I do long for the days when I could eat lemon pepper and feta! But it’s good either way.

Want to make a good pie but iffy on the crust? I use Glutino’s gluten free crust, and since I can’t have dairy, I use coconut oil shortening in place of butter. I can’t have vinegar either so I omit that from the recipe and it seems to do fine without it. The thing to remember: ALWAYS chill it before using, and you can’t roll it out very easily. You have to press it into your pie pan. But it’s a tasty crust and I like it.

Or, if you want to take a cake, I suggest Pamela’s Gluten free cake mixes—I made a lovely marble cake not long ago using the vanilla and the chocolate mixes. It didn’t even need frosting—I just dusted it lightly with powdered sugar. Just follow directions and marble the two batters together (makes twice as much cake so don’t try to fit it all in two pans—I used a bundt pan, which is a lot deeper, for it). Speaking of frosting and cake, another tip. Are you allergic to corn, so can’t use powdered sugar? Then I’ve got the answer. Wholesome Organic Powdered Sugar is made with tapioca starch instead of corn starch!

Or, if you want to take a cake, I suggest Pamela’s Gluten free cake mixes—I made a lovely marble cake not long ago using the vanilla and the chocolate mixes. It didn’t even need frosting—I just dusted it lightly with powdered sugar. Just follow directions and marble the two batters together (makes twice as much cake so don’t try to fit it all in two pans—I used a bundt pan, which is a lot deeper, for it). Speaking of frosting and cake, another tip. Are you allergic to corn, so can’t use powdered sugar? Then I’ve got the answer. Wholesome Organic Powdered Sugar is made with tapioca starch instead of corn starch!

Other picnic ideas that are easy to take: carrot and celery sticks along with any dips you like. Chips, of course. Fruit—in season fruit is always tasty. Crackers and (if you can eat it) cheese. Sliced lunch meats. Rice tortilla wraps make a handy ‘bread’ if you can’t have most gluten free breads like me (due to a yeast allergy). They do work best when heated up for 30-60 seconds, so if you have a fire, toast them briefly—very briefly—and they become much more pliable.

If you can have gluten free bread, then I recommend Udi’s French bread or dinner rolls. Very tasty! I liked them a lot but my yeast allergy is just too strong for my body to safely handle them.
Have a happy picnic before summer’s over!  What are some of your favorite picnic foods?


Friday, April 7, 2017

Histamine Intolerance Part 2

So, the other day I wrote a post on Histamine Intolerance and what it is, and what it isn’t. So to continue the discussion. What foods can you eat and what can’t you have when you have HIT? It all depends. Other than foods I’m actually allergic to, this condition has limited a lot of my diet. For one thing, a lot of the low carb eating I was on pretty much had to go out the window. I can’t eat any meat that isn’t fresh. I can’t pre-cook foods and just grab a bite. I can’t have my soy mousse anymore. I can’t have tomatoes, which were a standby for me.

There are numerous lists out there of histamine-laden foods, and some of them contradict. One of the most accurate that I’ve found though is the one put out by one of the leading experts on the subject, Dr. Janice Joneja. I highly recommend her books on food allergies and intolerances. But really, there is a core list that almost everyone agrees on that must be avoided. And then a number of others that—as I said last time—will bother some HIT patients, but not others. I seem to be at that low point where almost everything on the lists hits me hard, and I’m still learning—usually the hard way.

First, you need to know that some foods are naturally high in histamine. Others are called ‘histamine liberators’ because they stimulate the production of histamine in the body. Either way, they’re problems. Also, the minute you cook food, it starts building in histamine. So you can’t have leftovers and you shouldn’t let the food sit before eating it. Annnnd…slow cooking anything increases the histamine levels in exorbitant levels—which means I ended up giving away my slow cooker and buying a pressure cooker instead. No canned foods, no processed meats, no nightshades, no aged or fermented anything, so many many no’s.

So what can I eat? Between my food allergies, intolerances, and now the HIT, here’s my list:

Meats: chicken, beef (as fresh as possible, no “aged” beef), turkey (fresh, not processed), lamb, duck, elk, buffalo. Ground meat is usually a lot higher histamine, regardless of the type, and also harder to pinpoint the age.

Vegetables: Cucumbers, squash (all kinds—winter and summer), broccolini, chard (both red and rainbow), carrots, lettuce, corn (organic only), artichokes, asparagus, beets, sweet potatoes. All of these need to be fresh—not canned. If they were flash frozen, they’re usually fine.

Fruits: Apples, pears, peaches, frozen black berries, melon, apricots, cherries.

Grains: Rice, corn (organic), tapioca, corn (organic), oats (gluten free), rice protein powder

Herbs: Parsley, oregano, sage, marjoram, bay.

Misc: Salt, water, blackberry tea, rice milk, coconut, coconut milk, coconut sugar, honey, stevia, maple syrup, safflower oil, coconut oil, palm oil.

You’ll notice…coffee is not on the list. I just found the research that yes, coffee is high histamine, and caffeine is a histamine liberator. Which means I’m cutting down. I’m down to three shots a day and may sadly have to give up my lattes because they are inflaming my body and harming me, and probably contributing to my reactions. Decaf is not an option, given the coffee beans themselves are high histamine, even without the caffeine.

I’ve had to let go of a number of foods I loved: cinnamon, tomatoes, chocolate, shellfish, fish, nuts…all of them were causing reactions. I’m still learning to manage things. I’ve had to make a number of changes as this has progressed.

For one thing, I have to cook most meat either fresh or from an almost frozen state. Every meal has to be made fresh—so I’m having to cook a lot more. I’m learning to cook in smaller amounts, because no more leftovers. If I make a big soup, I get one meal of it—and Sam would have to eat the rest. If I make a meatloaf, I get whatever I’m hungry for at dinner, and that’s it. I can’t have a number of foods that helped keep me low carb, so I’ve had to raise my carb level to some extent. I’m now having to wean myself off coffee.

I am on a few necessary supplements: L-glutamine powder, Histabloc, Vitamin C/D/B.

So, sample menus? I admit, I’m still dealing with figuring them out. I get hunger headaches without enough protein.

Rice protein smoothie: Rice protein, frozen peaches, coconut milk, honey, L-glutamine powder

Hamburger patties
Diced Cucumber

MA Snack:

Chicken stir fry: chicken breast, zucchini, Swiss chard, shredded carrots
Sweet potato

Today, I made a really good soup for lunch. Including the recipe here:

Butternut Squash Soup

1 cup butternut squash (freshly cooked soft)
2 cups rice milk
1 granny smith apple
3 stalks celery
4 ribs Swiss chard (keep the leaves for something else)
1 lb. lamb (grind in food processor or meat grinder)
3 tbsp oil
1 tbsp parsley
1 tsp salt

Heat oil in pan, begin browning lamb. Add diced chard, celery, and apple, parsley and salt. Saute till meat is cooked and veggies are soft. Stir in puree of squash, then rice milk. Heat through.
Serves 2
So, foods are one of the bigger issues with HIT. But that’s only one face of the syndrome. Exercise, sex, even hot showers, can all trigger issues. Which…I will continue in Part 3 next time.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Histamine Intolerance--Part 1

Last night, I had a bad reaction. I woke up at 3:30, confused and feeling like something was wrong. I was starting to panic. I woke up Sam, and by that time, the itching had started—all over my body, intense, burning itching. I didn’t have hives, not many, but my skin felt like it was on fire, and I was getting really foggy. I had heartburn. Sam now knows that when I give him vague answers, he’s not to ask me if I need Benadryl, he just is to tell me to take it.

And if I—as I did—sit there going, “Yeah, I guess I should” but not doing anything, bring it to me and make me take it. I had to get to a place where I could turn on the light because the anxiety was worse in the dark. So I went in the living room and sat and he came in with me, brought me my inhaler (which I also needed), brought in my Epi-pen (generics) just in case, and waited until my mind began to clear enough to realize that yeah, I was in the middle of a bad reaction. Finally, the Benadryl calmed the itching enough for me to go back to bed. This morning, I woke late, foggy headed, and exhausted.

What happened? Histamine intolerance. Over the past year, it’s gotten worse and now, I count myself lucky when I can go a week without a reaction.

A number of you have seen me mention on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and here on the blog that I have histamine intolerance. But though I’ve talked about food allergies a lot, I haven’t gone much into this. Perhaps because it’s a rabbit hole that I wish I had never fallen into. But I think it’s important to talk about because it’s not always easy to find information on, and a number of websites have conflicting information. That’s because A—histamine intolerance isn’t fully recognized in the US yet (like many conditions), B—it affects each person differently. Together, these two factors make for a lot of confusion.

First: What is histamine and histamine intolerance?

Histamine is stored in mast cells (a type of white blood cell) in your body. It’s a chemical that tries to help your body get rid of something that’s irritating it: allergens, etc. Mast cells play an important part in your body. According to wikipedia (and I verified this): “Although best known for their role in allergy and anaphylaxis, mast cells play an important protective role as well, being intimately involved in wound healing, angiogenesis, immune tolerance, defense against pathogens, and blood–brain barrier function.” So histamine is a good thing. Until your body can’t process it right. This is a complex issue and here’s a good in-depth discussion of how this works.

Histamine intolerance manifests in a number of ways and the symptoms are numerous and include:
  • Itching (of skin, eyes, scalp)
  • Rashes/Eczema
  • Hives
  • PMS
  • Flushing
  • Anxiety/Panic Attacks/Confusion/Fatigue
  • Angioedema: Swelling of eyes, lips, throat
  • Runny nose/watery eyes
  • Wheezing/Asthma
  • Heartburn
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Muscle aches/inflammation
All this sound like allergies? That’s because histamine intolerance mimics an allergy attack. And like allergies, histamine intolerance can lead to anaphylaxis, a deadly condition. What’s the difference though?
  • Allergies trigger an over-release of histamine based on one or more items you eat/come in contact with. (You’re IgE allergic to shrimp. You accidentally eat something with shrimp in it or that’s been contaminated with shrimp, boom—histamine dump that throws you into a reaction).
  • Histamine intolerance builds up based on what you eat/come into contact with. So histamine intolerance is more of a balancing act—balancing the histamine in foods, with the histamines released during exercise, with the histamine released due to pollen, etc.. (You eat tomatoes and chocolate at lunch, you work out hard in the afternoon. Pollen count is high. Then you eat fish for dinner. You wake up in the middle of the night when histamine normally rises in the middle of a bad reaction).
Either way, if the reaction is bad enough, you can end up needing an Epi-pen.
One of the common ways to explain how this works is to use the ‘histamine bucket’ explanation. Take a look at the illustration. The “normal” histamine bucket can take a lot of histamine in it before there’s a problem. But when you have histamine intolerance, your ‘bucket’ holds a lot less. What would be a manageable amount of histamine for a person without HI, turns into a massive reactive mess for someone with HI.

So, in a nutshell, that’s what I’m dealing with, along with ‘regular’ food allergies. Once you head down the rabbit hole, it gets to be a maze of confusion. For one thing, a number of foods are either high in histamine, or they liberate histamine in the body and dump it in the blood stream. There are some definite ‘don’t eats’ but there’s a blurry area of foods that will trigger some HI people but not others. Or where you can eat it on a day when the Histamine Bucket’s fairly empty but if you have it on a day where the histamine levels are high, boom—a reaction. Exercise—especially cardio—dumps histamine into the body. Hormones also cause histamine releases. Some medications do. So do high-pollen count days. And stress…stress and lack of sleep? Hello, histamine.

So it’s a balancing act, and not easy to explain. I can’t just say “I can’t eat peanuts” or “oh, I’m allergic to dairy” anymore. Now, it’s “Well, I can’t have this/this/this and some days I can manage a little this but only if I don’t exercise and if I get enough sleep”…And frankly, my levels of sensitivity are sky high right now and I feel like I’m a walking histamine bomb.
Next time: What I can and can’t eat. How I manage my carb sensitivity with the need to watch histamine foods.