Category Archives: Health

Sprouting DAO

I discovered earlier this year that I have histamine intolerance, called HIT.  I’m not allergic to histamine, but I suspect that I don’t have enough DAO (diamine oxidase), the enzyme needed to break it down.  If I’m not careful about what I eat it builds up to toxic levels and I get unpleasant symptoms (including rash, hives, itching, swelling, racing heart, headache etc).  Follow this link to learn more about my experience with HIT.

I started eating a Low Histamine diet in April which basically meant I had to eliminate a bunch of additional foods from my already restrictive safe-food list.  But this change has made a huge difference, allowing me to manage my symptoms by simply avoiding these foods.   I’m still experimenting with how much tomato or lemon I can have at a time, but the pattern is much more predictable now.  Oh happy day!

So I occasionally take a DAO enzyme supplement that is derived from pig kidney’s (DAOsin by Swanson).   This stuff definitely works, it allows me to ocassionally eat histamine-rich foods with little to no itching/hives.  But it’s really expensive, so I can’t be relying on it too often.

But now there might be another alternative.  Dr. Janice Joneja, author of a great book called Dealing with Food Allergies, has found that sprouted legumes, especially pea sprouts, can be used as an alternative source for DAO.  She has instigated an informal study of HIT sufferers through the Low Histamine Chef website.    And I’m participating!

WP_20141017_006I’m currently waiting for my first batch of sprouts to be ready, I used lentils since that’s what I had on hand.

So the process is:

  • soak peas or other legumes for 12 hours
  • put soaked legumes in sprouter and cover with a towel or put in a dark cupboard (darkness results in a significantly higher DAO content)
  • rinse twice a day for 7- 10 days (enzyme is at peak after 10 days, and then it depletes)
  • Sprouted legumes should be eaten just before a meal, and should either be processed in a blender or juiced to detach the DAO from the cell walls of the sprout.

I’m going to be trying 1/2 cup serving at a time to start, and will adjust the amount up or down depending on results.  I’m very excited to get started and will update this post once I have something to report.

Initial Experiment UPDATE 10-24-2014

I ate about a cup of lentil sprouts daily for 5 days over the past week, and here are my results and observations:

  • I ate the sprouts just once a day via juice or a smoothie, and not always right before histamine-rich meals.  I think ideally you’re supposed to eat them right before your meals, but this wasn’t workable for me.
  • Juicing the sprouts worked better for me than blending – I can handle small amounts in my smoothie, but it definitely imparts a foreign flavor.  The first day I put nearly a full cup in my smoothie and it was really awful (although I forced it down anyway).  The juice, on the other hand, is watery and mild tasting, not even detectable in my kale juice.  I even juiced the sprouts on their own – about a cup of them filled about 2/3 of a small juice glass and I downed it in 3 quick gulps.
  • RESULTS:  There was a definite improvement in my tolerance for histamine-rich foods after several days of taking the sprouts.   I noticed this improvement even when I hadn’t taken the sprouts just before the meal.   Is it possible the enzymes could be acting more generally to reduce my overall histamine level as opposed to just helping with the food currently being digested?  Either way, by the end fifth day I was able to eat items in amounts that normally would cause me major symptoms.  But today I’m out of sprouts and noticed a reaction after eating a couple items that often cause me trouble.

My Learnings For Next Time:

  • Sprout in stages –  I have a four-tray sprouter, and for my initial experiment I began all four trays at the same time.  But this time I’m staging the trays so each time I use up a tray I’m starting a new one.  That way every couple of days a new tray reaches maturity (which is 7-10 days).  One tray produces more than a cup of sprouts.
  • Make sure sprouts stay dark –  I left my sprouter on my counter and covered it with a dish towel which may not have been dense enough to block all light.  Next time I’ll try a heavier towel.
  • Move sprouts to fridge if not eaten by day 10 – The sprouts on my counter started getting a bit funky on day 10, although I ate them anyway.   I started eating the sprouts on day 7, and then refrigerated at day 10.  I’ll experiment more with this, it might be different for peas or other legumes.

All of this is a bit of work, but overall my results are promising.  In addition to more lentils, I’ve also started a tray of chick peas, and I’ve ordered some green peas too.   Can’t wait to do some more testing!

Histamine Intolerance

Recently I’ve been investigating whether I might have what’s called Histamine Intolerance, or HIT.  I have a long list of foods that I know I’m either allergic or sensitive to.  But there’s an even longer list of foods that I suspect I might be sensitive to.  The problem is that the pattern isn’t consistent at all.  One day I will have no problem eating a tomato, but the following week a tomato might produce  hives.  It’s very mysterious.

HIT is a condition where your body is unable to properly metabolize histamines, so histamine levels rise and can cause a wide array of symptoms, including skin rash and hives, headaches, respiratory issues like asthma,  and more.   The inability to break down histamines can result from an enzyme deficiency.   One of these enzymes, diamine oxidase, or DAO, is thought to be the primary enzyme for metabolizing ingested histamines.  Many of the foods we eat either contain histamines or cause a release of histamines from our tissues.  If your body isn’t producing enough DAO, then as you eat these foods the histamine levels in your body rise to toxic levelsm leading to symptoms associated with HIT.

Because histamine build-up is cumulative, diet and environmental exposures in any number of combinations can “fill up” your histamine level to the threshold.  Once full, the next food you eat crosses the line to produce symptoms, especially if that food is histamine-rich.   So in my case, this could explain why I can eat lemon one day without a problem but develop a rash when I eat it again the next day.   It also could explain why I can’t I see a consistent pattern for foods that seem to produce symptoms.  The common thread is connected to my overall histamine level more than the specific food itself.

There’s a great book by Dr. Janice Joneja called Dealing With Food Allergies.  The book gives a science based explanation of the condition and provides a low histamine diet plan along with a systematic method for testing allergic response to foods.   It’s the best source of reliable info I’ve found (there’s a LOT of misinformation around the web)!

What Causes HIT

HIT is not well understood.  However, it is believed that low DAO can be caused by a number of things including intestinal damage and the use of DAO-suppressing drugs such as ibuprofin, and possibly others.   Staying away from these drugs and taking measures to begin healing the gut are good first steps.  I’ve found the book CLEAN GUT to be a good reference for improving gut health.

tomatoWhat foods should be avoided?  There are two primary groups of foods to stay away from:  histamine-rich foods and histamine releasing foods.  I’ve found lots of conflicting info when it comes to what foods to avoid.  The lists below come from a source with some science supporting it so it seems like a good starting point:

  • Histamine rich foods include fish, fermented foods such as cheese, salami, wine and beer, and certain vegetables such as spinach and eggplant.  Follow this link to see a full list of histamine-rich foods.
  • Histamine releasing foods include citrus fruit, strawberries, pineapple, nuts, tomato, spinach, chocolate, fish, pork, egg white, certain additives and spices.  Follow this link to view a full list of histamine-releasing foods.

How to know if you have HIT — there are a couple ways to test for it

  • The best way to test for it is to stay away from histamine containing or releasing foods for a week or two and see if your symptoms improve (see food lists above)
  • Your doctor may suggest a test for high blood histamine levels, or low DAO.  But according to Dr. Joneja  there aren’t standards for what these levels should be so this sort of testing is not very reliable.

If you have HIT or suspect that you have it, there are some supplements you can take in addition to eating a low histamine diet to help manage the condition:

  • supplemental DAO  (I’m currently using DAOsin by Swanson)
  • a good quality broad spectrum digestive enzyme supplement
  • quercetin, an antioxidant and natural anti-histamine thought to help increase DAO production
  • vitamin B6, copper, vitamin C and bromelain, an enzyme found in fresh pineapple that can greatly improve the absorption and effectiveness of quercetin
  • molybdenum, which is a trace mineral, may also help.  My doctor suggested this based on some success she’s seen in other patients.

Taking antihistamines can also help manage symptoms since they block certain histamine receptors throughout your body.  But be careful, some of these have been sited as also suppressing your body’s ability to produce DAO, and long term use can actually cause your body to produce higher levels of histamine.  I use these only sparingly when my symptoms really flare.

I’m still learning about HIT and experimenting to see how this fits into my allergy puzzle.   Here are some additional links if you want to learn more:

  • Case study from Dr. Janice Joneja:  http://www.foodsmatter.com/allergy_intolerance/histamine/articles/histamine_joneja.html
  • Histamine and Tyradine Restricted Diet:  http://www.mastocytosis.ca/MSC%20HT%20Restricted%20Diet%20Nov2012.pdf
  • Dr Janega’s Website:  http://www.allergynutrition.com/
  • Part 2 Dr. Janeja interview:  http://thelowhistaminechef.com/dr-janice-joneja-histamine-intolerance-interview-transcript/
  • And this is a good scientific summary of HIT:  http://m.ajcn.nutrition.org/content/85/5/1185.long
  • And here is an article about probiotics are good (and bad) for HIT:  http://www.optibacprobiotics.co.uk/faq/which-probiotic-for-histamine-intolerance
  • I have an android phone and use an app called My Symptoms to track my food intake and symptoms.  It provides some basic statistics to help you identify patterns in your symptoms and which foods cause you the most trouble.

UPDATE 2015

After extensive experimentation and genetic testing last year I have concluded that I have histamine intolerance.  Turns out I have several genetic mutations that increase susceptibility to HIT and various other conditions related to methylation. I’m still in the process of researching this and all the implications of it.  Here’s an excellent scientific summary of histamine and histamine intolerance, and another article discussing HIT and the related genetic fingerprint.  I’m still experimenting with foods to figure out what works for me, and with knowledge of the genetic component I’m now also exploring what supplements I might be able to take to provide the key components that my body is having trouble producing.  The journey continues…

Get Juicing

One chilly day last fall my son Ethan and I were surfing Netflix for a movie and came across “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead”.   We turned it on just to see what it was, and to my astonishment the guy in the movie had the same medical condition as me, chronic swelling, rash and hives!  This got my attention since I’d never known of anyone (besides me) that got hives from wearing a hat or shaking someone’s hand.  We watched the whole movie and long story short, the guy cured himself by juicing vegetables.  I thought it might be a sign from above so I figured I should give it a try.

IMG_20131106_075412 (2)greenjuiceThe next day I bought a juicer off Craigslist, picked up some fresh produce, and began making juice.   I drank 20-25 oz of juice every morning for a week and I was cured!   Just kidding, actually I developed a strange metallic taste in my mouth and began having cognitive issues – I couldn’t string two thoughts together.  Plus, my allergies seemed to be worse.   I got worried, but it turns out these are common symptoms in the detox stage.  This is why drinking lots of water is important, to flush out your system.  I reduced the volume of juice for a few days but kept with it and the brain fog eventually cleared.

After about 3 weeks of daily juicing it occurred to me that my energy level seemed to be improved.  It was not like I was suddenly bouncing off the walls or anything, but I was getting a lot more stuff done and it was all effortless.  That’s what extra energy does for you!

You don’t have to go on a juice fast to benefit from juicing.

But here’s the big story:  by the end of 6 weeks  I was able to stop taking my allergy pills.  Now, I was not cured, I still had allergy symptoms (hives, rash and swelling), but they were much better.  And, for the first time in two years the symptoms were tolerable even without my medication.  My skin was looking better, more youthful, and my energy level was definitely improved.  Keep in mind, I didn’t change anything else in my diet, I just added juice to my morning routine.  I know the improvements were

The basic recipe that I started out with was:  2 apples or a slice of pineapple, carrot, celery, kale, beet and cucumber.   I gradually reduced 100_7221the fruit and carrots and added more dark leafy greens (kale, collards, mustard greens, etc).   Now I’ve added cabbage to the mix as well (it has glutamine which helps build the lining of the gut).   I still usually include at least 1/2 of a green apple because it masks the bitter of the greens really well.  Lemon does this too but I’m sensitive to citrus.  Fresh ginger is also good to have on hand, it gives a little zip to the juice.

from the juicing because there were a couple days where I didn’t juice and there was a marked drop in my energy on those days.

I think in general that eating your veggies might be better than juicing them since the fiber is good for you and that’s the way it works in nature.   The problem is, it’s hard to eat enough of them every day.  For me, juicing solves that problem.  I get easily-absorbable nutrients from a whole day’s worth of veggies in a single glass, without the bulk or pulp.  Plus, it’s raw so it contains extra nutrition and enzymes that can be lost during the cooking process.  And for people with health issues,  juicing gives your gut a break and allows the energy that would have gone into digestion to be used for healing.  It’s a win win win!

Of all the things I’ve tried to “fix” my allergy problem, juicing has had the most favorable and measurable impact.

Juicing definitely has helped my condition, but for me it’s just one piece of the complex puzzle.  I’m still searching for the total solution.  It’s been over 5 months since I began juicing and I don’t plan to stop, although if I ever get to a point of full health I’ll probably do it less often.   In the meantime I’m spreading the word to family and friends because I’ve seen the health benefits first hand.

Have you tried it?  I’d love to hear about your experiences with juicing.  If you haven’t tries it, why not?

Clean Cleanse

I recently completed the Clean Cleanse, a 21 day detox program developed by Dr. Alejandro Junger.   I had read both his books, Clean and Clean Gut, and dreaded doing the program because I love to eat food that I know is bad for me and I figured this would put a big damper on that.   I also knew that I needed to eventually do it because I have some of the health issues that the program is intended to address.

Clean Cleanse Overview

The idea is that if you give your gut a break for a while it allows your body to redirect energy to purge toxins that have built up over time and that can cause illness and disease.  If you have gut issues such as over permeability (i.e. leaky gut) or an imbalance in your gut flora, this program can help your gut heal.

During the Cleanse you eat from a restricted list of foods that are non-allergic and easy to digest.    To start, you cannot have gluten, dairy, processed foods, sugar, or nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes etc.).   Oh yeah, and no caffeine or alcohol.

You have a liquid breakfast and dinner (soup, shake, or juice) and solid food for lunch.   It’s not a weight loss plan so there are no restrictions on how much you can eat and snacks are fine as long as you eat from the approved food list.   There are also supplements that are recommended while on the program to support digestion and liver function.

After the 21 day cleanse you reintroduce foods one at a time to see which foods you tolerate and identify those that cause you problems.

Clean Cleanse v. Clean Gut:  These are two separate programs — the goal of the Cleanse is detoxification, while the Clean Gut program  focuses on further improving gut health, especially if you have leaky gut or mild to moderate disbiosis (for example, yeast overgrowth).  There is overlap between the programs, but the approved food list differs.  One big difference is that Clean Gut eliminates all grains (even non-gluten grains) and nearly all forms of sugar (except berries), but allows you to have eggs, red meat, and certain nightshade vegetables.  The supplements also differ between the two programs and again there is overlap, but the Clean Gut supplements are more targeted to “fixing” problems in the gut (especially disbiosis).

My Cleanse Experience 

I have allergies, big time.  If you don’t know my story you can read it here.  So I woke up one morning in February, looked in the mirror at my once again swollen, rashy face, and my frustration reached a breaking point. I decided to begin the Clean Cleanse along with the Clean Gut supplements (since I had previously purchased them anticipating this day would eventually come).  I spent the morning pouring over the Clean food lists and digging through my cupboards to find enough “approved food” to get me through that day.   It was a rough start, and if I was going to do it over I would have done a lot more prep work setting up my pantry and meal plan before beginning the cleanse.  But I muddled through and it was a big learning experience for me from beginning to end.

Week 1:  I felt awful.  The rash and hives got much worse, my stomach ached most of the time, and I had a headache for four days solid.   I had so little energy I could barely get off the couch, and my brain was not working right at all (seriously, I was mentally impaired).  These symptoms are typical while detoxing, but I was surprised by the severity.  To make matters worse, I had to cook every meal from scratch using ingredients that I had never heard of before.   But while all of this was going on, my facial swelling mysteriously went away by the fifth day.  After constant swelling for months, it just suddenly went away.   This was a breakthrough!

Week 2:  I felt better, more energy and fewer detox symptoms.  I increased my protein intake and I think this helped (also replaced my morning green juice with a protein smoothie).   I was also getting better at managing the cooking (making double batches of soup and rice helped), and I found some new recipes that I was really enjoying.  I also lost a couple of pounds which was a nice bonus.  However, I was still often experiencing itching and rash after eating and found that the supplements were making me feel extremely unwell for several hours every time I took them.

Week 3:  A couple days into week 3 I had a severe reaction to something I ate (I think it was the rosehips in my herbal tea)- the facial swelling came back and then some.   My symptoms from the supplements had also worsened — my stomach ached horribly and I would have to lay on the couch for several hours each time I took the pills (twice a day).  I couldn’t tell if the symptoms were from the anti-microbials doing their job or if I might be allergic to them.  After speaking with a Clean Team wellness coach I stopped taking the supplements altogether and began feeling better almost immediately.  But as the week went on I was reacting more and more to the food I was eating with random hives and rash.   I was strictly following the approved food list, less several items I knew I was sensitive to (like limes and black pepper).  But now I suspected that I was reacting to other stuff like almonds, lemons, pineapple, walnuts, avocado, and who knows what else.   The reactions were becoming more frequent and more severe as the week went on, even as I avoided the suspect foods.  How could that be?  I’d eaten these same foods the week before without any trouble.   On the second-to-the-last day of my cleanse I woke up with a fever and sore throat, I think I caught a bug from my husband who had it the week before.   And that’s how I ended my cleanse, sick with a cold and seemingly allergic to nearly every food I put in my mouth.

Post Cleanse:  So the cleanse did not “fix” me, but it helped me see more clearly the link between my ailments and the food I’m eating.  Since completing the cleanse I’ve continued to eat from the Clean food list minus all the suspect foods.   I have days where my hives and rash get better, but then they return.  Finding the pattern of what’s causing it is really difficult.  I have tried to reintroduce some foods, and discovered I can sometimes tolerate eggs in small amounts, but not tomatoes or corn.  I haven’t tried dairy or wheat because I’m afraid of what my response may be.  My sensitivities are greatly heightened now so I need to be much more careful than before.

My Observations

What I eat affects how I feel.  I knew this before, but I didn’t realize how strong the link was.  Recall that the swelling in my face was gone just 5 days into the cleanse!

Having lots of mild food sensitivities makes identifying problem foods much more difficult.  It’s cumulative, so eating something one day may be fine, but if you eat it in combination with something else on a different day it might cause a reaction.

Cooking from scratch isn’t convenient (at least at first):  I spend a huge amount of my waking hours planning, shopping, and preparing meals.  I miss the convenience of packaged foods and eating out, and clean food is more expensive.   But I’ve discovered new foods that I may never have otherwise tried, and I’ve developed a new set of taste buds that allow me to enjoy foods that I previously overlooked.

Eating out is risky business:  As of this writing I’ve eaten out three times post-cleanse, and two of them produced severe allergic reactions despite ordering from a special menu and having painstaking discussions with the waiter and chef.   Lesson learned:  the only way to really be sure what your eating is to make it yourself.

What’s Next?

I’ve begun a rotation diet and am investigating histamine intolerance as another possible cause of my symptoms.   I will continue eating from my restricted food list, but I’ll rotate the foods so as to not eat any single food group more than once every four days.   I’m hoping this will help calm my current level of reactivity and also prevent me from developing new sensitivities.   More to come…