Histamine intolerance and exercise


A lot of you have been telling me that any kind of exercise, for as little as five minutes, has you feeling dizzy, sick, or just generally hisamine-y. There’s a couple of reasons for that, which I’ll cover just below. In my case, when trying to get back into shape in 2008, my trainer refused to continue working with me because of my significant heart rate increase which was scaring him. Not just that, but I would break out in a head to toe rash at every session, in retrospect most likely caused by the daily pineapple (entire pineapple!) I was eating while on the totally nutso 80/10/10 fruit diet. Plus, there was that time I passed out on the treadmill…it was the weirdest thing, I would get light headed, my hands would go totally numb or tingly, and my libido would shoot through the roof all of a sudden (something I now know is linked to excess histamine) and then I’d start to black out. Since then I’ve tried getting into shape by playing tennis (horrible rosacea like breakouts all over my body), kickboxing (great but made my anxiety and aggression levels shoot up immensely), and then yoga (wonderful but I would tremble too hard and come crashing down to the floor in my chaturanga/plank pose). Tracy Anderson was a total write off – way too stress inducing. I kept starting up and stopping for over a decade. I became convinced I’d never be able to exercise and get back what I feel is “my” body – the one I rocked in my late teens/early 20s when I was a gym bunny and kung fu addict. Now I’m doing two – three hour power yoga sessions in 42C/108F heat (not by choice – it’s just crazy hot here) with no problem (but my regular schedule is 1.5 hrs ashtanga/power vinyasa five – six times weekly).

Below you’ll find the information that helped me make informed decisions on how to exercise, an idea of how I worked my way up to my current exercise regime, and a little more on the upcoming yoga course. I recommend printing out the studies for your medical practitioner or getting some kind of professional input before embarking on an exercise program. Any of you lucky enough to have Dr. Mariana Castells treating you for a mast cell issue should ask for her views on it – she believes that people with mast cell disorders should exercise regularly, which contradicts many of the histamine/mast cell docs out there, who only point out that it can cause anaphylaxis. Check out my interview with Dr. Castells here – we cover her views on how lifestyle changes can help in mast cell disorders. Please remember, I’m neither a doctor nor a scientist. The following is based on a layman’s interpretation of studies, information that I used to develop my own strategy for getting back into physical shape. It’s been an uphill battle for sure, and I’m certainly not there yet, but I’m working on it. Exercise is serious business for mast cell/histamine intolerance folks and shouldn’t be jumped into willy nilly.

Cardiovascular exercise has been shown to drive up histamine levels and aggravate allergies in some animal studies [1]

It’s only cardio that seems to do it though – resistance training, like lifting weights, doesn’t appear to have that effect. At least in animals/people who don’t have a histamine intolerance/mast cell disorder.

What this means for us: 

After exploring many, many different exercise styles, I settled on power yoga. It’s kind of resistance exercise, if you count using your body as a weight, which some people do. Yoga has many anti-inflammatory benefits, in particular a recent study showed it lowers inflammation in cancer patients [2]. You may also find that either weight lifting, something like the TRX trainer (uses your own body weight), or pilates may work better than cardio.

Stress can cause mast cells to dump unnecessary inflammation into the body [3]

If you haven’t exercised in years, this can stress the body. Likewise if you’re stressed about the exercising itself, because you’re worried about its negative impact on you, or you’re worried about anaphylaxis, that’s likely to cause mast cells to freak out. I’m not saying the fear isn’t justified, I’m saying that there should be a difference between a justified concern and causing a total meltdown because you’re unable to control your brain’s anxiety response to the thoughts.

Something that significantly drove up my stress levels was the insanely annoying ear drum smashingly heart palpitation inducing dance music they play in exercise classes. Raises my heart rate just thinking about it, which is of course the point for those who don’t have to deal with all this mast cell/histamine intolerance and exercise stuff.

What this means for us: 

Practicing mindfulness meditation and addressing fears through cognitive hypnotherapy (read about my hypnotherapy experiences here) may be beneficial, as it was for me. I found that practicing my pranayama breathing techniques while playing intense games of squash was very calming and helped prevent the usual exercise induced dizziness I was now used to.

If the music is an issue; earplugs work great.

Exercise can damage muscles, prompting inflammation release to help heal them [4]

Most exercise causes some muscle damage. A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning outlined the process: exercise causes a temporary increase in inflammation because the muscles break down during intensive sessions and then need to repair themselves. Inflammation’s job in the body is to heal. It can take a few days for this to happen. In my case it’s a maximum of two – three days, at least judging by my muscle soreness, which correlates to what studies tell us – that it takes up to 72 hours for inflammation markers to return to normal.

The journal study also found that participants also experienced an increase in neutrophils. These appeared within three hours and were gone within a day. An article on this body building website seemed to think this might indicate that is a good window to get a massage to help keep blood flow high to help move along the neutrophils. The study showed another inflammatory event of interest – a temporary jump in lymphocyte count lasting up to 72 hours.

What this means for us: 

In order to allow the inflammation time to resolve, according to these studies, leaving up to three days between exercise sessions may be beneficial, at least in the beginning. I personally learned the hard way that in my case, it was definitely best to exercise once every three days. I also really wish I had known about the neutrophils and lymphocytes because doctors really freaked me out over my very high counts back when I decided to suddenly hit the gym after years of sickness and immobility. Exercise was never mentioned as a possible cause.

Histamine is created and released during prolonged exercise to prevent fatigue and increase endurance, but is not stored in the body afterwards [5] 

Histamine is found in the body in mast cells (and others), outside the body in foods, and can also be formed “via the induction of histidine decarboxylase (HDC) in response to an appropriate stimulus”. In this study mice were forced to walked on a treadmill/cylindrical cage until their bodies began producing histamine, in order to protect against exercise induced fatigue or exhaustion. I would also think that the poor little clueless mice were also quite stressed by being made to run till exhaustion for no apparent reason.

What this means for us: 

Well, let’s hope that what’s true for mice is also true for us histamine folks. Aside from the obvious differences in physiology – like, um, they’re mice for example, there’s no guarantee that histamine isn’t going to linger in the bodies of folks with impaired histamine-degrading enzyme function (DAO and HNMT for example). In my case it was certainly obvious that the longer I exercised, the more aggravated I became. Short bursts seemed ok, but after a while of that, say 20 minutes, even the spurts seemed to really bother me.

The good news

No matter the temporary inflammation, exercise in the long term is highly anti-inflammatory. Many studies show this but just for the citation I’ll point you to one that outlines how interleukin antagonists released by exercise fight low grade inflammation [6]. As mentioned before, yoga in particular exerts and anti-inflammatory action, potentially without causing any histamine release in the process. This might not be the case, we just might not have those particular studies. I can however tell you from experience, that if yoga is done in the right conditions, for me and many others I’ve spoken with online, seem to do great with it. There are however a few caveats…


Lessons learned on my get fit odyssey

1. Go slow – Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was any body worth having

Sit down with an excel spreadsheet, or in a pinch, a paper tablecloth and a box of crayons, and put together a schedule. Even if back in the day you were a spinning class fiend, a decathlon superstar rivalling the newly minted Caitlyn Jenner’s former self, or a vegan sausage fuelled ashtangi determined to execute the perfect secondary series in 60 minutes flat, believe me, starting slow and steady is the way forward when your mast cells have gone on a bender. I found yogaglo.com to be great for finding short videos, but I still started with just 5 minutes for the first week, then increasing to 10 minutes and so on. When starting so very painfully slowly, I realised I no longer needed to wait days in between “sessions”, but it was also incredibly frustrating.

I worked my way up to 30 minutes at home, all the way up to an hour and a half, till I was able to make it without significant trembling or anxiety symptoms. Once that was achieved, I went to a yoga class.

2. Control your environment for as long as you can

And this is the toughie. Not being able to control my environment was really hard for me, but it turned out to be a good thing in the long run. It brought me face to face with the realisation that I am just a total control freak and it used to really upset me to have to submit to the will of others (which was how I saw it). I felt that the teacher should immediately snuff out the offensive incense and fling open all the windows after the hot yoga class, though my class mates preferred the heat. Once, when I couldn’t get my usual spot right by the window, which I could crack open happily till someone complained, I huffily picked up my yoga mat and headed out the window and onto the roof to do my class out there. Totally nuts I know, but at the time I was heat crazed and couldn’t find my words. I could have just reasoned with the lady beside me, but I was already so stressed at being in a non-Yasmina-controlled space that I just lost the plot. Naturally I couldn’t hear a thing from outside and had to slink back through, yoga mat and tail between my legs, to what I imaged was a sea of snickering yoginis.

The moral here is that staying at home and using either yogaglo or gaiam.com for general exercise videos online, is a great idea till you’re on a more even keel (you can get some of those stretchy rubber bands to exercise with also). Mast cells generally wreak havoc on our emotions (read more about mast cells and mood here) and so throw overheating, exercise and feeling judged if you can’t keep up with the class into the mix, and you’re heading for a very un-zen meltdown.

3. Be realistic and honest with your goals

I kept telling myself that all I wanted was for my body to reflect the general wonderful state of health I was suddenly in possession of. But I was lying to myself. As I became more and more obsessed with exercise, kickboxing to the absolute limits of my nervous system (my body could take it but my mind was buckling from the stress), I realised that my brain was up to old tricks. I wanted to be the best. Suddenly I was talking about working towards competing and buying more exercise gear than I could afford. I went to class 5 days a week for an hour and a half at a time and then scheduled an extra private session a week.

I’m now ok with that, but there was a lot of conflict within myself as I pretended to myself and those around me that wasn’t why I was into it. Now, I’m frank with myself. I spent decades rocking a basketball stomach thanks to an insane amount of inflammation. I spent far too long overweight because of multiple medications like antihistamines and psych meds for misdiagnosed bipolar, unipolar and borderline personality disorders. I want the body that sickness robbed me of. Maybe I’m nuts to think it’s possible. Hell, let’s call a spade a spade, I’m 40 in just over a month, but I’m convinced that I can have THE best body I’ve had since that golden era of my late teens/early 20s, one that’ll send 30 year old women running to renew their Equinox memberships, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Now, in this new era of my life, I’ve understood that starvation is not the key to feeling sexy. Feeling strong, powerful and chiselled is.

I recall Dr. Castells telling me that mast cells need to be trained, just like our muscles do. I agree. I should also add that just like our mast cells and our muscles, the brain needs it too. I’ve spent far too many years scared of exercise, scared that controlling my calories means I’m falling down the rabbit hole of orthorexia again. This time around, thanks to hypnotherapy, a more balanced but determined me, a wonderful nurturing relationship with someone who takes great care of his (chiselled) physique, mind and soul, I’m now finally ready to step into the new me.




[1] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1113/expphysiol.2012.066605/abstract

[2] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/02/140207-yoga-cancer-inflammation-stress/

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16110169

[4] http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/publishahead/Exercise_intensity_and_recovery___Biomarkers_of.97784.aspx

[5] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22223343

[6] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22390642


Check out these other Healing Histamine blog posts


Yasmina was an award-winning broadcast journalist with a decade of experience covering war zones for CNN and the BBC. She devoted her journalism skills to researching and writing about histamine. Click here to learn about her. Each post is carefully and fully referenced with the latest scientific research. Not sure where to start? Here’s a four week meal plan and overall Histamine Reset.

4 Week Histamine Reset

Recent Posts






Thank You