Junk food triggers allergies and causes leaky gut

 man on a crossroad trying to decide what to eat for the best lifestyle choice.

Studies reveal modern food processing techniques and additives cause food to become more allergenic and create or contribute to intestinal permeability (“leaky gut”) and generalised inflammation involving histamine, mast cells and more. In particular, the browning of foods (or caramelisation) can cause mast cell activation. Intestinal permeability/leaky gut is believed to cause allergies, weight problems and heart issues. Citations for all statements at the end of the post. 

Having to rehash my diet does and don’ts to people I go out for dinner with has become easy enough (I’ll eat anything that’s fresh), but I’ve had my family with me for a week and explaining it all to them has been interesting.

It all boiled down to one statement:

“I don’t eat processed foods.”

This could mean different things depending on who you ask. To me, it’s saying no to food that’s been messed with in a structural way by machine processing, and any foods treated with additives of any kind, including so called “natural” flavours, additives and colours, because in my mind, those are still foods not in their original state.

A number of my scientifically minded (generally sceptic) friends chastise me, saying there’s no research to back this up. I’ve never specifically looked for any because I likes what I likes and it’s nothing to do with the science. But a few studies caught my attention when working on another post that happen to explain why processed foods are a poor choice if dealing with, or trying to prevent, inflammation.

And at the end of the day, histamine and mast cells = inflammation.

So moderating our intake of high histamine foods and mast cell triggering chemicals and cosmetics is great, but I’ve found that fighting inflammation overall, rather than just focusing on histamine, has yielded the best results.

It might account for why I am once again able to eat most high histamine foods.

You’ll find recipes full of foods with antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties my books Anti-Recipes and The Anti-Cookbook

The first study I came across proposes a link between intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and food processing, specifically due to lipid glycation – which is what happens when sugars are cooked with proteins or fats. Glycation is that really lovely brown crust you get when barbecuing meat or roasting vegetables with a nice honey marinade. Tasty through they turn out to be, advanced glycation and glycation endoproducts (AGEs) can contribute to the formation of acrylamide, a potential carcinogen. It’s now believed that glycation is a strong contributor to inflammation. Food manufacturers regularly add AGEs to foods as flavour and colour enhancers. Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, cancer, peripheral neuropathy, and age related deafness are all linked to AGEs.

That’s not the worst of it, according to the study authors, strongly roasting peanuts “typically increases” their allergenicity because glycation increases white blood cell reactions to food allergens. And this is where it gets crazy – “When compared with raw food antigens, IgE antibodies were elevated four-fold against processed food antigens in 30% of humans.”

But more specifically, AGEs induce mast cell activated inflammation specifically, which in turn causes an increase in AGE formation, which then activates more mast cells. Exposure of intestinal cells to glycation products increases interleukin 6 and 8 formation (from mast cells).

The next that caught my attention found that food emulsifiers, the stuff manufacturers add to make things creamier by properly mixing oil and water based ingredients together, leads to a “dramatic increase in a gut marker of inflammation”. Mice treated with emulsifiers, a class of food additive that includes carrageenan, xanthan gum and lecithin (all of which are found in “natural” products), not only developed gut inflammation, they also showed signs of metabolic syndrome (obesity, high blood sugar and insulin resistance). The study showed that these food additives affect gut bacteria in animal studies, with an earlier study revealed that emulsifiers promote the development of inflammatory bowel disease in genetically predisposed mice. Human testing is planned next.

The study authors advise that though emulsifiers are listed on food labels, the additives have varying names, and the best way to avoid eating them is to not eat processed food.

Food additives are also believed to trigger ADHD-like behaviour in children lacking the histamine-degrading HNMT enzyme. You can read my post on that here.

And have been shown to trigger histamine induced hives in other studies. You can read that post here.

Key points in protecting the intestinal barrier from glycation

High fat meals have the highest AGE content.

Broil and frying generate more glycation than roasting, but boiling is best (I don’t know about you but a boiled steak doesn’t much appeal to me though!).

Cooking your meal at low temperatures may help with post-meal leptin concentrations (the stuff that makes you feel full and interacts with insulin).

Soda and soy sauce (the latter is high histamine anyway) have high AGE content.

Tea and coffee are high in AGEs (I’ll be making my holy basil tea with cooler water from now on).

Potentially beneficial supplements

Please remember, supplements have side effects and you must check with a doctor before adding anything new, even if it’s supposed to be good for mast cells/histamine. 

Quercetin: has been shown to prevent glycation formation in the body.

Curcumin: the active constituent of turmeric may prevent the intestinal damage from processed foods.

Glutamine: has long been touted as a treatment for “leaky gut”. I advise caution with all amines for those who are histamine sensitive…

Pre-biotics: a small study found that a ten gram pre-biotic inulin/oligofructose supplement may reduce intestinal permeability.

Interestingly my niece has been experiencing some inflammation and lip tingling after eating certain foods. When asked how she should resolve it, I wracked my brain trying to come up with an easy to implement solution a 21 year old would stick to.

And it was: “Stop eating junk foods.”

She did, and just two days later the symptoms disappeared and didn’t come back, till she ate some really crappy food. The junk foods had nothing in common on the surface, but I didn’t dig too deep. I truly believe that in some cases it’s enough to simply eliminate processed foods to deal with excess inflammation.

My approach


Processed foods (packaged)

Inflammatory foods (wheat, sugar, soy, major allergens)


High histamine foods of little nutritional value


Foods with anti-inflammatory and antihistamine foods (six page list in the Anti-Cookbook)

Yoga and meditation to fight inflammation

Higher histamine foods with healing properties (avocado, mushrooms, tomatoes and others)

You can purchase a recording of my two hour online workshop that covers everything you need to know to get started with an antihistamine and anti-inflammatory diet just below.

Check out the workshop.

You’ll find recipes full of foods with antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties my books Anti-Recipes and The Anti-Cookbook



Rapin, Jean Robert, and Nicolas Wiernsperger. “Possible Links between Intestinal Permeablity and Food Processing: A Potential Therapeutic Niche for Glutamine.” Clinics 65.6 (2010): 635-43. Web.

“Glycation.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 01 July 2016.

Sick, E., S. Brehin, P. André, G. Coupin, Y. Landry, K. Takeda, and Jp Gies. “Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs) Activate Mast Cells.” British Journal of Pharmacology 161.2 (2010): 442-55. Web.

Kellow, Nicole J., Melinda T. Coughlan, Gayle S. Savige, and Christopher M. Reid. “Effect of Dietary Prebiotic Supplementation on Advanced Glycation, Insulin Resistance and Inflammatory Biomarkers in Adults with Pre-diabetes: A Study Protocol for a Double-blind Placebo-controlled Randomised Crossover Clinical Trial.” BMC Endocrine Disorders BMC Endocr Disord 14.1 (2014): 55. Web.

“Why Processed Foods May Promote Gut Inflammation.” LiveScience. TechMedia Network, n.d. Web. 05 July 2016.


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