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In the context of allergies, I keep reading the term "histamine liberators" with claims that certain foods release histamine. A random example from everydayhealth.com:

Some foods, while low in histamines themselves, are known as histamine liberators, meaning that they help to release histamine from other foods.

Foods with histamine-releasing properties include citrus, peanuts, fish, shellfish, and egg whites.

I'm interested in understanding the mechanism behind histamine liberators, i.e., where is the histamine stored, which processes lead to the release, and does a "liberation" lead to lower histamine levels?

I have no expertise in medical science, and my attempt to search for scientific publications on that topic wasn't successful. This makes me wonder where the notion of histamine liberators is coming from. Is it nonsense or simply not yet researched well enough? If there is preliminary evidence: Where is the list of food coming from?

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"Histamine liberators" are foods that can trigger the release of histamine from the basophils and mast cells, which belong to white blood cells, and are found in the blood and connective tissues. They increase the histamine levels and can therefore worsen symptoms in people with allergies (PubMed, 2018), atopic dermatitis, histamine intolerance, and histamine-induced headache (PubMed, 2018).

Examples of foods high in histamine: tuna, mackerel, Pacific saury (mackerel pike), pork, chicken, spinach, fermented foods such as fermented cabbage or radish, soy bean paste, red pepper paste, mayonnaise, yogurt, cheese, ketchup, wine and beer.

Examples of foods that can trigger histamine release (histamine liberators): instant foods, grapes, bananas, strawberries, citrus fruits (lemons, oranges, tangerines), pineapples, tomatoes, nuts, wine, green tea and chocolate.

The lists of "food liberators" mostly base on surveys that asked people with "histamine intolerance" which foods trigger symptoms in them, but these lists may be unreliable because they rely on people's experience and not always on the actual measurements of histamine levels.

German guideline for the management of adverse reactions to ingested histamine (PubMed, 2017):

...numerous low-histamine diets prohibit foods that do not contain histamine (e. g., yeast), or encourage the avoidance of so-called “histamine liberators” (pharmacologically active substances that have a histamine-releasing effect), despite there being no reliable evidence of their existence in foods or of their clinical relevance in the onset of adverse food reactions...

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  • Thanks the linked articles are nice, but I was more wondering why they did restrict e.g. citrus fruits. For example the statement "citrus fruits [are] known to release histamine" is referencing Effect of different cooking methods on histamine levels in selected foods, which on first glance doesn't give evidence on that. – bluenote10 Dec 7 '18 at 18:04
  • The article about cooking methods is about a study in which they used only certain foods appropriate for that study, so not all histamine-related foods are mentioned. If you need more detailed lists, you can search for foods high in histamine, foods that trigger (release) histamine, etc. If you are looking for more scientific sources, you can simply limit your search to site:gov or search directly from PubMed. If needed, you can also search for histamine intolerance (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27329741). – Jan Dec 7 '18 at 18:12
  • I added something more in my answer. This topic does not seem to be entirely clear at the moment, because different studies show different results. – Jan Dec 7 '18 at 18:33

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