Do you experience unpleasant symptoms like headaches or congestion after sipping coffee? Has this made you wonder whether coffee is high in histamine?
Unfortunately, coffee may contain histamine or histamine liberators (substances that release histamine), which can cause a reaction in some people.
No need to worry though! Read on to learn some tips and tricks to reduce your reaction to coffee.
Let’s dive in!
What is Histamine?
Histamine is a substance naturally produced by our mast cells (cells in the immune system) in response to bacteria, viruses or allergens. It is also found in some foods, like spinach, strawberries, and coffee!
Histamine can cause an allergic-like reaction in some people, resulting in symptoms like headaches, rashes, itching, and congestion.
Is Histamine Bad for You?
Histamine often gets a bad rap because of its association with seasonal allergies and the well-known antihistamines that can provide relief. However, histamine is actually a very important part of our immune system.
Histamine is important for healthy digestion, plays a key role in the nervous system, and contributes to the body’s sleep-wake cycle.
It’s not that we don’t need histamine, it’s that we don’t need or want excess amounts of it!
When the body is functioning properly, histamine is broken down quickly once it’s not needed anymore. Unfortunately, some people cannot efficiently clear histamine, causing a build-up and creating unpleasant and sometimes dangerous symptoms.
Histamine intolerance and mast cell activation syndrome are conditions commonly associated with an excessive build-up of histamine and/or histamine hyper-sensitivity.
What Is Histamine Intolerance?
Histamine intolerance (HIT) is a condition in which the body has difficulty breaking down histamine.
Normally, histamine is broken down by the diamine oxidase enzyme (DAO) in the digestive tract. People with histamine intolerance may have low DAO levels or their DAO enzymes don’t function properly, leading to high levels of histamine in the body.
Histamine intolerance can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, gut inflammation, or certain medications that interfere with histamine breakdown.
Treatment typically involves removing foods or triggers that elevate histamine levels. This includes taking DAO enzymes to break down excess histamine, addressing underlying health issues, and consuming a low-histamine diet.
Common Symptoms of Histamine Intolerance
These symptoms can occur soon after consuming high-histamine foods or drinks, or they may build up gradually over time and you will not notice them for days or even weeks.
If you suspect you have a histamine intolerance, it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional who can help you diagnose and manage the condition.
What is Mast Cell Activation Syndrome
Mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) is a condition in which mast cells are abnormally activated, resulting in an excessive inflammatory response and high histamine levels. The symptoms of MCAS are similar to those of histamine intolerance (see above).
Increased histamine release, a hallmark of MCAS, can be triggered by a variety of factors that are unique to the individual. Infections, stress, extreme temperatures, hormonal imbalances, and environmental toxins are some common triggers.
MCAS can also result from genetic mutations affecting mast cell function or regulation.
There is no definitive test for MCAS, making diagnosis challenging . Treatment typically involves identifying root causes, avoiding triggers, and taking medications. Avoiding histamine-rich foods is often recommended.
If you suspect you have MCAS, seek medical advice from a healthcare professional experienced in managing MCAS to develop an individualized treatment plan.
Common High Histamine Foods
Is Coffee High in Histamines?
Coffee itself is not generally considered high in histamine. However, the roasting process, brewing, and storage of coffee can potentially increase the histamine content or trigger histamine release within the body.
For susceptible individuals, mold can trigger an allergic response resulting in an inflammatory reaction. In this case, the body is responding appropriately because mold is a genuine threat to the body.
However, once you get away from the mold, a healthy body should break the histamine down fairly quickly. Unfortunately, somebody with compromised histamine metabolism can have elevated histamine levels for some time.
One study evaluated 34 coffee samples and found molds in 94% of green coffee beans and 100% of ground and instant coffee samples (1).
Even low-mold coffee can become contaminated with mold if it is stored for too long or not stored properly. This is more likely to occur with pre-ground coffee or coffee that has been sitting out for a long time.
Pro-tip: Look for coffee that is mold-free, confirmed by independent testing labs. Reduce the risk of growing mold on coffee by storing it in an airtight container in a cool location away from sunlight.
Pesticides and Toxins
Many people with histamine intolerance or MCAS will react to pesticides and toxins. Pesticides and toxins are present in the majority of non-organic coffees (2).
Pro-tip: Seek out low-toxin, organic coffee to lower the histamine-triggering impact.
The Roasting Process
Histamines are a natural byproduct of the fermentation process that occurs when coffee beans are roasted. The longer the beans are roasted, the higher the histamine content. Thus, dark roast coffee typically has higher levels of histamine than mild roast options.
Pro-tip: Opt for mild roast coffee.
Fresh is Best
This applies to the coffee beans themselves as well as the cup of coffee.
Freshly ground coffee beans may contain less histamine and histamine-triggering compounds than ground coffee that has been hanging around a while, whether that’s in the grocery store or at home.
Once you make your cup of coffee, it’s a good idea to drink it fairly quickly. This will help prevent the development of bacteria and histamine within the coffee itself.
Pro-tip: The best way to prepare coffee is to grind it fresh and avoid leaving the brewed coffee hanging around in the pot or your cup.
Pro-tip: Avoid instant coffee and cold-brew coffee that has been sitting around for a while.
Avoid Unnecessary Chemicals
Chemical solvents are often used to produce decaffeinated coffee. These chemicals, including methylene chloride and ethyl acetate, may be triggering for some.
To avoid these chemicals, drink regular coffee or choose decaf that was created using the Swiss water method, which does not involve the use of any chemicals.
Pro-tip: Drink regular or Swiss- water decaffeinated coffee.
Drink it Black
Milk or cream that has been sitting at room temperature for a while can contain high levels of histamine (3). If you drink your coffee with milk or cream, make sure it is fresh and cold. Or consider trying black coffee to reduce histamine levels.
Avoid Sweetening with Sugar
While sugar itself is not a high-histamine food, elevated or unstable blood sugar levels can increase histamine intolerance.
Pro-tip: Use histamine-free sweeteners like Stevia or monk fruit extract in your coffee, or opt for no sweetener at all.
Low Histamine Coffee Options
Organic, mold- and toxin-free coffee is your best bet if coffee is a histamine trigger for you. Below are some of our favorite coffees, all tested to be free of mycotoxins (mold) and pesticides:
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Low Histamine Alternatives
Coffee is the go-to for many people, and the thought of giving it up can be unfathomable. However, there are some options that can be equally as energizing and provide significant health benefits.
Individual tolerance can vary, so if you opt to try a tea instead of coffee, make sure to try it once then wait a few days before trying it again to see if any symptoms develop.
While coffee itself may not be especially high in histamines, people who are sensitive to histamines may still experience symptoms after consuming it. This is due to its potential to contain histamines (depending on its preparation and storage) or trigger histamine release in the body.
If you are concerned about histamine sensitivity or experiencing symptoms after consuming coffee, it is best to consult with a healthcare professional.
Pam is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a Master’s of Public Health and a Certificate in Integrative and Functional Nutrition. Passionate about the science of health and nutrition, she loves to share her knowledge to help others live healthy, vibrant lives. When not working, Pam can be found hiking, traveling, and enjoying great-tasting, nutritious food.