Wellness Wednesday – Yogurt and Histamine

Now this is interesting. I had an ah-ha moment last week on a night when I had a major acute hive reaction (the worse I’ve had since mid-January, with eight-inch long hives, oy…). I’m pretty sure this reaction is due to having begun a new probiotic. This particular probiotic was the same as my last one, except it included some prebiotic fibers. The kicker was that I was supposed to take two a day instead of one, and I think that put one of the histamine-making strains of bacteria at too high a level for my body to handle. The thing is, according to the research I did back in January, this particular probiotic (like the last one) only had one strain of suspected histamine-causing bacteria: Lactobacillus Casei. The first probiotic I tried – the one that initially caused the hives – had five of the seven suspected strains. I personally suspected two of those five specific strains because my Fage yogurt, which I eat for breakfast every morning, has the other three, including L Casei. And I never got hives from eating yogurt daily, which I’ve been doing since April 2012.

Enter the ah-ha moment. Prior to remembering exactly when I started eating yogurt for breakfast every day instead of cereal, I hadn’t considered the yogurt to be related to inflammation at all. When I was discussing all this with Jason on the acute-hive night, I expressed frustration at not having an answer for what was going on. I kept getting the hives at the same time nearly every day, with only rare moments of getting them at other times of the day. Tracking my food, activity, and potential contact allergens (like weeding the garden) didn’t produce any meaningful correlation with the severity of hives. And I had a hard time believing that it was just the probiotic, because the only histamine-causing strain in it was L Casei, which was also in my yogurt, which didn’t cause acute inflammation…and hold the phone. Lightbulb turns on.

Within a month of when I started to eat yogurt daily in 2012, I began having inflammatory reactions like fatigue and bone/organ pain for days after strength training or high intensity exercise. That wasn’t normal for me and I couldn’t explain it. Just a couple months before, I’d had muscle soreness but no lingering fatigue or weird pain with the same kind of exercise. I blamed the new weird symptoms on insomnia, which got severe around this same time (another inflammatory reaction), prompting me to began taking Benadryl. This could have countered the histamine reaction to a certain degree, and indeed during the one three-month period when I didn’t need sleep meds (several years later), I gained weight for the first time since I’d hit my goal weight despite no change in my diet/exercise. (I can’t blame stress either, as I’d been through other terrible times with no weight changes.) More tellingly, when I stopped eating the yogurt for four weeks during my experiment with a paleo diet in autumn 2014, most of the inflammatory symptoms disappeared until I returned to normal eating. The inflammatory reactions have worsened over time, and I continued to attribute them to sleep issues because they mostly involved fatigue. I really only recognize them now after the extreme inflammation of December/January, when just walking to the mailbox felt like running a marathon.

Most live cultures eaten by mouth don’t make it to the gut because of the acidity in the upper part of the digestive system. Over seven years, though? How much could have made it through? And if those particular bacteria were causing me to have too-high histamine levels, how much could they have been affecting my health all along? Then, add several probiotics containing some of those same bacteria, massive doses of them making it to the gut, and you get a major histamine reaction. My hives nearly always came at the same time every night – about ten hours after my yogurt breakfast, regardless of what time of day I took my probiotic. This was one of the most frustrating things about trying to find a pattern, but suddenly, it makes a hell of a lot of sense.

Needless to say, I quit taking the probiotic immediately. Eight-inch long hives are NO FUN. I stopped eating the yogurt the next day, when I decided it wasn’t worth using up what was in my fridge first. As much as I love my yogurt – and I truly do love it, to the point where I mourn giving it up – I wanted to feel better NOW, and all the massive hive and eczema flare-ups were killing me! So I stopped eating it as well, and plan to keep it from my diet for several months. I really feel like this is the answer I’ve been looking for for so many years and might really help fix so many issues I have, from depression to insomnia to my inability to strength train or do high intensity exercise. I’ve mapped out some timelines of acute and low-grade inflammation over the last seven years, which has really helped me see patterns. There’s real hope this time that I’ve found a solution.

Note: I’m also looking into whether or not this is a histamine-intolerance issue in a more widespread way. Many of the foods I eat on a regular basis (beef, spinach, legumes, strawberries, yogurt, chocolate, bananas, nuts, coffee, eggs, etc) are high in histamines, all to varying degrees. With histamine intolerance, you build up histamine levels throughout the day, and if you breach a threshold, you have a reaction. This could also explain why I always got the hive reaction in the evening, regardless of whether I took my probiotic in the morning or evening.

When I began eating yogurt daily in 2012, it was because I switched over to a mostly-whole-foods diet, and 90% of the whole foods I can eat are histamine producers or inhibit the mechanisms in the body that break down histamine. (Oh the irony of being a picky eater, widening your eating range, and managing to widen it only toward foods that may be damaging your body…) This may have simply been a perfect storm that I had no way of detecting. However, considering my inflammation mostly cleared up (as far as I can remember) during my one stint with Whole30/paleo (a very high histamine diet), I’m leaning on the side of this being related to the live cultures in yogurt specifically, rather than histamine generally. Or possibly that yogurt, which is an VERY high histamine food, just brought me regularly over my personal histamine threshold.

Second note: My appointment with the allergist this week was a bust. This is the second time I’ve seen this guy and both times he’s treated me like I’m five years old. This time, he told me that “some people just get hives” and it’s impossible to tell what they’re from, and it’s definitely not from probiotics because no one can be allergic to probiotics, and inflammation isn’t actually a problem, it’s not real, and if I don’t like the hives, I should take several kinds of antihistamines daily. Then he gave me a list of antihistamines I can get over the counter with their generic names so that I “could find them.” Grr. Needless to say, I’m looking for a new allergist!


About Amanda

Agender empty-nester filling my time with cats, books, fitness, and photography. She/they.
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7 Responses to Wellness Wednesday – Yogurt and Histamine

  1. Word Lily says:

    I hope the inflammation and related response clears up quickly! And that it’s just yogurt. I’m so glad you figured it out!


  2. Pingback: Wellness Wednesday – Carb Diaries, part 1 | The Zen Leaf

  3. Eva says:

    Hi, I’ve been having identical symptoms and am a big yogurt eater – Was wondering how things turned out since you cut it out of your diet?
    Any update would be appreciated:)


    • Amanda says:

      Sorry for taking so long to reply – I’ve been out of town for the last week! I did figure out a LOT of these symptoms, and it ended up being a multifaceted problem. The bone/muscle/joint pain and fatigue turned out to be related to the low carb content of my diet. I wasn’t super low carb, more like 35-40% of my daily diet, but it turns out that my body runs better when fueled primarily on carbs. So as long as I keep my carb content over 50%, I do much, much better.

      The switch to yogurt in 2012 was part of an attempt to cut back on carbs per my doctor’s orders, so yogurt didn’t end up having to do with that part. However, they DID contribute to the hives issues. I don’t know if it’s an allergy or histamine reaction, but I did see another allergist who agreed that I was having some sort of reaction to the probiotics. I stopped taking them, and any foods with probiotics in them, and that lessened but didn’t entirely get rid of the hives. The new allergist gave me Pepcid AC for the hives. (I had no idea, but they were originally created as a kind of antihistamine, and the heartburn issue just was a pleasant side effect.) The Pepcid instantly got rid of the hives. I took it for about a year, just to be safe, then slowly got off of it. I was also able to reintroduce yogurt into my diet, though I don’t eat it as often as I used to (maybe 2-4 times per week).

      The eczema issues ended up being related to an undiagnosed allergy to peanuts. I always thought peanuts caused breathing issues, but it turns out that hives and eczema from an early age is a good indicator of a peanut allergy. In 2020, I started having a mild throat constriction after eating peanuts, so I removed them from my diet to test and my eczema disappeared instantly.

      I’m still in the process of figuring out what other foods I have mild allergies to, and the source of the inflammation in my body. (One source, discovered in December 2020, was that despite what I was told when I bought my mattress in 2015, it DID have memory foam, which I already knew I was allergic to. So I got rid of it, and between a new mattress and a higher-carb diet, that got rid of the insomnia and one of the inflammation markers in my body.)

      If you have any more questions, feel free to ask! Again, sorry to take so long to get back to you, and for this novel of an answer!


  4. Valerie mcintosh says:

    Thank you Amanda, Im finally learning : 10 hour delay to hives, foam in mattress topper, bone pain and fatigue from low carb, Pepcid AC on my shopping list. Valerie


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