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Amines - Histamine, Tyramine and Phenylethylamine

Allergy | May 25, 2018 | Author: Naturopath


Amines - Histamine, Tyramine and Phenylethylamine

The food we eat is made up of many chemical substances that are needed for many important physiological processes in the body. For most people, these naturally occurring food chemicals, called biogenic amines, are largely harmless as they are metabolised very rapidly by enzymes in the body. Yet in certain individuals, consumption of food containing high amounts of amines can have toxicological effects and may trigger a range of reactions.

This can happen as a result of:

  • Excessive intake
  • Interaction with medications
  • Histamine release due to food sensitivities

Another class of amines that can have harmful effects on the body are the heterocyclic amines, which can be formed in food during cooking. 

Biogenic amines 

Biogenic aminesĀ Biogenic amines in food belong to a class of amines that are formed as a result of breakdown of proteins due to bacterial fermentation or food spoilage.

They are most frequently found in fermented foods such as wines, beers, dairy products, meat and vegetables that are rich in protein content.

Some if the most well known biogenic amines in food include:

  • histamine
  • tyramine
  • phenylethylamine.


Histamine is stored in the body in cells of the immune system, called mast cells, and released in large amounts during allergic reactions. In food, histamine is found in fermented foods such as cheese, fermented soy products, sauerkraut, wine, and vinegar, as well as in spoiled fish. Some foods, such as eggplant and spinach, contain high levels of histamine naturally.

Histamine intolerance

Some individuals are more susceptible to dietary histamine due to genetic deficiency of the enzyme that breaks down histamine in the body, and in some cases because of interaction with medications they are taking. In these individuals even low dietary histamine content can induce symptoms such as dilation of blood vessels, skin flushing, increased heart rate, hives, digestive symptoms, headache, fall in blood pressure and asthma.

How can I treat histamine intolerance?

Using a low-histamine diet can reduce symptoms. Exclude:

  • Foods with naturally high levels of histamine
  • Fermented foods
  • Artificial food colouring, especially tartrazine
  • Preservatives: Benzoates, BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) 
    Click Here For More Information

Toxicological effects of histamine

Toxicological effects of histamineIngestion of decomposed fish can result in histamine fish poisoning, also known as scombroid poisoning. Some fish, such as mackerel and tuna, contain naturally high levels of the amino acid histidine in their muscle tissue. Inadequate refrigeration of fish allows the multiplication of bacteria that break down histidine and convert it into histamine, resulting in toxic concentrations of histamine in the fish.

Scombroid poisoning is not a fish allergy, but an illness that is caused by toxins in the fish. However, symptoms resemble an allergic reaction and can include skin flushing, rash, severe and throbbing headache, peppery taste, oral numbness, abdominal cramps, nausea, diarrhoea, palpitations, and anxiety. Symptoms usually occur within 10-30 minutes of ingesting fish.

How can I prevent scombroid fish poisoning?

  • Refrigerate fish from the time of capture to the time it is cooked.
  • Do not consume fish with a bad odour
  • Purchase fish only from reputable retail outlets


TyramineTyramine is a biogenic amine that can be found in aged cheeses (especially Camembert and Cheddar), aged, pickled, or smoked meats (e.g., salami) or fish (e.g., herring), yeast extracts, beer, red wine, avocado, sauerkraut, bananas, chicken liver, eggplant, raspberries, red plums, tomato, vinegar and pickles.

Tyramine intolerance

Tyramine intolerance can be can be caused either by genetic predisposition or by an interaction between Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs - a class of antidepressants) and tyramine in foods. The result is excess release of neurotransmitters from the sympathetic nervous system that may cause high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, tremors, seizures, and hyperthermia. Symptoms usually occur within 15-90 minutes after ingestion of tyramine-containing foods.

Cheese reaction

The high content of tyramine in cheese is a result of lactic acid bacteria breaking down the amino acid tyrosine in the cheese. A person taking MAOI antidepressants who eats cheese can have an acute attack of high blood pressure, known as ‘cheese reaction’.

How can I avoid ‘cheese reaction’?

People taking MAOIs drugs or people who are sensitive to tyramine should avoid tyramine foods.


PhenylethylaminePhenylethylamine can be found in human brains and functions as a neurotransmitter, releasing the ‘feel good hormones’ dopamine and serotonin.

In food phenylethylamine is found in chocolate. Since the phenylethylamine in chocolate increases natural levels of dopamine and serotonin, eating chocolate makes you feel happy.

Does chocolate cause migraine?

Some researchers have suggested that phenylethylamine in chocolate can trigger migraine; however, there is not enough data support it.
Click Here For Article on Migraine

Heterocyclic amines

Heterocyclic amines are chemicals that are formed when meat is cooked at high temperatures, as in grilling or pan-frying. Exposure to heterocyclic amines has been shown to cause cancer in animals; currently there are ongoing studies investigating the relationship between meat intake, meat cooking methods, and cancer risk in humans.  

How can I minimise exposure to heterocyclic amines in meat?

  • Limit over cooking meat at high temperatures
  • Marinate meat prior to cooking. Marinades reduce the formation of cancer-causing compounds.
  • Cut down on red and processed meats. The World Health Organization has classified processed meats – including ham, salami, bacon, deli meats and hot dogs – as a carcinogen, which means that there is strong evidence that they can cause cancer. Red meat, such as beef, lamb and pork has been classified as a ‘probable’ cause of cancer. Cancer Council recommends eating no more than 1 serve of lean red meat per day or 2 serves 3-4 times per week.
    Click Here For Article on Safe Cooking Practices

The Bottom line

Adjusting to new dietary habits may be difficult, but can make you feel much better. If you suffer with typical symptoms of histamine intolerance that are triggered by histamine-rich foods, or if you take MAOIs antidepressants, you may want to consider a low-histamine and/or a low tyramine diet.

Additionally, following the steps to reduce exposure to heterocyclic amines may reduce your risk of developing cancer.  Australia’s best online discount chemist


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