I don’t have to introduce you to coffee. It is a dark-colored, bitter, and slightly acidic brewed drink made from roasted coffee beans. Coffee beans are the seeds of berries from the Coffea genus plant. After harvesting the coffee fruit, the unroasted green coffee seeds are separated. They are then roasted and ground into fine particles to be used to make your morning Joe.
Coffee has been used since the 15th century in Arabia. In the 16th century, coffee made its way to Turkey, Persia, other parts of the Middle East, and Northern Africa, and in the 17th century to Europe, Indonesia, and the Americas. Today it is one of the most popular drinks in the world enjoyed in versatile ways, including espresso, Americano, French press, latte, cappuccino, macchiato, iced coffee, and so on.
Though many people love the flavor and aroma of coffee, many drink it primarily due to its high caffeine content. Of course, if you love the flavor but want to stay away from caffeine, there is always decaf (more on that later).
There is no question that coffee is popular. But is coffee good for you? More importantly, can you drink coffee if you have histamine intolerance or mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS)? Great questions. In this article, I will discuss the interaction between coffee and histamine and what to drink if you have histamine intolerance.
What Is Histamine
Histamine is a chemical that helps to support your immune system by getting rid of allergens. It also supports your gut health and digestion by releasing hydrochloric acid and acts as a neurotransmitter between your brain and other parts of your body supporting your mental and brain health.
Histamine is essential for your health and wellness. However, too much histamine can turn into a serious problem. Too many high-histamine foods, environmental toxins, stress, and other factors can lead to too much histamine and an increased release of histamine in your body. If your body has too much histamine and is unable to deal with it, it will lead to histamine buildup. This histamine buildup called histamine intolerance can affect your entire body and cause widespread symptoms.
Symptoms of Histamine Intolerance
Symptoms of histamine intolerance may be widespread and seemingly separate from each other. They may be anywhere from mild to severe.
Symptoms of histamine intolerance may include:
Headaches and migraines
Eczema, dermatitis, acne, and other skin issues
Fatigue and sleep issues
Dizziness or vertigo
Heart palpitation or racing heart
Brain fog, confusion, memory issues
Irritability and mood swings
Anxiety or panic attacks
Congestion or runny nose
Acid reflux, bloating, diarrhea, and other digestive symptoms
Abnormal menstrual cycle and premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Coffee and Histamine
Now that you understand what histamine intolerance is, let’s talk about coffee. Is coffee high in histamine? Is coffee right for you if you have histamine intolerance?
Though coffee is not high in histamine, it is also not free from histamine. The histamine content of your coffee very much depends on the growing and manufacturing process.
One common way to process coffee is the so-called “wet method”. This process involves fermentation tanks full of water. The manufacturer adds coffee to these fermentation tanks to break the outer layer of the coffee bean down before roasting. This fermentation process can increase the histamine content of your coffee.
Though roasting may remove some of the histamine made during fermentation, most coffee still contains some histamine. This amount may vary per coffee and per manufacturer. However, the histamine content of the coffee may not be the only problem.
Histamine intolerance may be triggered by foods that block diamine oxidase (DAO) enzyme production, which is an enzyme that breaks down excess histamine. Though your coffee may be low in histamine, caffeine in coffee may block DAO enzyme action and increase the risk of histamine intolerance.
A 2014 study published in the American Journal of Physiology has found that caffeine may trigger glutamate and histamine release in the posterior hypothalamus increasing wakefulness (1). According to a 1990 study, caffeine may trigger histamine-related asthma (2).
You may be thinking that decaffeinated coffee is the solution. It may not be the case. Making decaf coffee may involve chemical processes that may also trigger your histamine issues. Furthermore, coffee has many compounds beyond histamine and caffeine that may be triggering for you. Coffee, especially non-organic conventional coffee, may also have other issues, such as mold and pesticides that can trigger histamine intolerance.
What Is Coffee Intolerance
With over 1,000 chemical compounds in coffee, it’s not surprising that some people have an intolerance to coffee. One of these compounds is caffeine. But the effects of caffeine may not be your issue. With so many compounds, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact problem behind your allergic reactions or symptoms if it’s not the obvious culprit.
Some culprits may come from coffee compounds, others can come from the manufacturing process too. According to a 2012 study published in the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, the dust coming from green coffee beans may cause an allergic reaction (3). According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, mold mycotoxins from coffee may also cause a reaction (4).
As you know, coffee contains some histamine which can cause a reaction and symptoms. An intolerance or allergy to coffee will also lead to a histamine response and symptoms that may include hives, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, rashes, or other acute symptoms. If you are highly sensitive to histamine or have histamine intolerance or MCAS, these reactions may be more likely or more prominent. Symptoms of coffee intolerance and histamine intolerance may often overlap.
Caffeine in coffee can cause a racing heart, a jittery feeling, or anxiety in anyone, especially if they drink too much coffee. However, you may experience the same symptoms if you have an allergy to caffeine. If you have an allergy, however, you will likely experience some other symptoms too, such as tingling, numbness, rashes, shortness of breath, or even anaphylaxis. If you switch to decaf and your symptoms don’t return, chances are you have a problem with caffeine. If your symptoms continue, you may have coffee intolerance or histamine intolerance. If you experience symptoms even when you are not drinking coffee or quit coffee for a week or so, histamine intolerance is the likely culprit.
Symptoms of Coffee Intolerance
As you see symptoms of coffee intolerance, coffee allergy, and histamine intolerance can
often overlap. Some symptoms may be directly due to caffeine, others may be due to other chemical compounds. Coffee intolerance and coffee allergy symptoms may include:
Headaches or migraines
Hives, skin rashes, or acne
Shortness of breath
Racing heart or heart palpitations
Numbness in hands and feet
Congestion or runny nose
Abdominal pain and digestive symptoms
Other Problems with Coffee if You Have Histamine Intolerance
Beyond its histamine content, DAO enzyme-blocking abilities, and the risk for coffee intolerance, there are other problems with coffee that can turn into an issue if you have histamine intolerance.
Mycotoxins are mold toxins released by fungi. Unfortunately, some coffee beans may contain mycotoxins that may lead to health issues. Mycotoxins may increase allergies, inflammation, chronic symptoms, and the risk of disease. According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, mycotoxins from coffee may also cause a reaction (4). A 2015 review published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition has found that ochratoxin A, a certain mycotoxin, may have carcinogenic effects (5).
If you drink coffee, buying organic coffee is the way to go. Non-organic coffee may contain pesticides. According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, roasting and processing may reduce the pesticide content significantly (6). However, since pesticides increase the risk of inflammation, endocrine disorders, metabolic disorders, nervous system and neurological issues, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other health issues, it may be safer to stick with organic (7).
Acrylamides are a substance created through a natural chemical reaction between the amino acid, asparagine, and sugar in starchy foods when exposed to high-heat, such as roasting, baking, or frying. Roasting coffee beans can also produce acrylamides that can contaminate your coffee. According to a 2014 review published in Nutrition and Cancer, the International Agency for Research for Cancer has classified acrylamides as a carcinogen (8). The American Cancer Society and the Government of Canada recommend reducing your intake of acrylamide-containing foods (9, 10).
But What If You Like Coffee?
If you have histamine intolerance, I recommend following a low-histamine diet for a month or two to reduce your histamine load and symptoms. During this time, I also recommend reducing your histamine bucket by sleeping 7 to 9 hours a night, moving your body daily, reducing stress, and reducing your environmental toxin exposure. You can learn more about how to follow a low-histamine diet here.
After a month or two of a low-histamine elimination diet, you can start reintroducing foods and see how you tolerate them. After reintroducing coffee, watch your symptoms for the next few days. If you feel symptom-free for the next two days, you are probably safe to drink coffee in moderation.
Watch your symptoms and limit your coffee to one cup a day or less to reduce the risk of histamine intolerance symptoms. If you notice any symptoms returning, you may have to reduce your load or eliminate coffee altogether. If DAO production is an issue for you, then DAO supplementation before coffee consumption is something you can try, just as you might do before ingesting wine or high histamine food. See if doing so makes a difference.
Opt for organic, high-quality coffee. Make sure to avoid any artificial sweeteners and additives that may cause sensitivities and symptoms. If you want to mix it up, add some coconut milk for a creamy latte. Listen to your body.
Unfortunately, not everyone can tolerate coffee. Maybe you have a reaction to caffeine and would do better with a mold-free, organic, decaf option. Maybe you have a coffee intolerance, coffee allergy, or coffee is simply not right for your body. With histamine and mast cell issues, playing “medical detective” is often what is required, unfortunately. If coffee is not right for you, don’t worry. You may enjoy a cup of herbal tea, white tea, turmeric golden milk tea, or green juice as a nice daily ritual and energy boost. Skip green tea and black tea as they can also increase histamine intolerance.
Are you experiencing symptoms of histamine intolerance or MCAS? Working with a healthcare practitioner knowledgeable about histamine intolerance and MCAS is the best way to get to the root cause of your symptoms, offer personalized medical advice, create an individualized treatment, and offer dietary recommendations. I welcome you to start a personalized functional medicine consultation with me for further customized guidance to improve your health. You may book your consultation here.
Check out my Histamine Intolerance Course here. Learn on your own time, from anywhere. Get an inside look at the most helpful functional medicine tests for pinpointing imbalances, ways to identify and manage the most common (and sometimes surprising) mast cell triggers, and learn what to eat, what to avoid, and why.