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Our Functional Medicine Toronto Clinic Unveils the Link Between Histamine and Migraines


Migraines are a common concern with our Toronto functional medicine patients, and it’s not a surprise as these headaches can hinder their daily lives. 

A migraine headache is a neurological disorder, affecting up to one billion people. It’s reportedly the second leading cause of disability on an international level. The condition is characterized by a severe, unilateral headache that can last for hours to days, and is often accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, sound, or odors. They’re caused by a combination of genes, environmental factors and lifestyle factors. Common triggers include stress, lack of sleep, certain foods or drinks, hormonal health fluctuations, and changes to the weather. 

Truly, migraines can impede on optimal health and functioning. While there isn’t a cure for migraines, there are various functional medicine treatments to manage current symptoms, including medication, supplements, lifestyle modifications, and alternative therapies (i.e. acupuncture and biofeedback). Unfortunately, migraine research has been challenging because the condition is complex and multifactorial. But treating histamine overload realized by mast cells might be pivotal in relieving chronic symptoms related to migraines. In this post, the Toronto Functional Medicine Centre sheds light on the connection between histamine and migraines.


The functional medicine approach to histamines and migraines

First, a brief background on mast cells and migraines is necessary: Mast cells are immune cells found throughout the body, particularly in areas where the body comes into contact with the external environment, such as the skin and mucous membranes. These cells play a critical role in the body’s immune response, including the response to allergens and pathogens. When mast cells are activated, they release a variety of inflammatory mediators, including histamine.

In the context of migraines, it’s thought that mast cells in the brain may become activated and release histamine, which can trigger inflammation and pain. This may be particularly relevant in people who experience migraines in response to certain foods, as some foods are known to trigger the release of histamine.



Symptoms of Histamine overload:
– Headaches/migraines
– Abdominal pain
– Flushing
– Hives
– Diarrhea
– Fatigue
– Nausea
– Difficulty concentrating
– Irritability
– Sleep issues

In addition to mast cells and histamine, there is growing evidence that neuroinflammation may play a role in migraine pathophysiology. This refers to inflammation that occurs within the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord. Neuroinflammation may be triggered by a wide range of factors, including infection, injury, and chronic stress. It’s thought that this inflammation may contribute to the development and maintenance of migraine headaches.

Thus, diet modification is one potential approach for managing migraines. For example, some people with migraines find that avoiding certain foods or food additives can help reduce the frequency and severity of their headaches. This may be because these foods trigger the release of histamine or other inflammatory mediators. Conversely, a diet rich in foods with anti-inflammatory functions may help reduce neuroinflammation and potentially alleviate migraine symptoms.

While the exact role of mast cells, histamine, and neuroinflammation in migraines remains the subject of ongoing research, evidence suggests that these factors may contribute to the development and maintenance of this complex condition. Regarding migraines, it’s thought that mast cells in the meninges (the membranes that protect your central nervous system) become activated in response to various triggers, such as stress, certain foods, or changes to your hormone balance. This leads to the release of histamine, which causes vasodilation and plasma extravasation, and contributes to pain and other migraine-related symptoms

Understanding histamine food triggers 

Histamine intolerance (HIT) is a condition in which there is a failure of the enzyme diamine oxidase (DAO) to degrade dietary histamine at the intestinal level. This can result in an increase in systemic histamine concentrations and the onset of symptoms. These symptoms can include gastrointestinal and extraintestinal manifestations, including a migraine.

The identification and elimination of triggers using food diaries, specific serological lab tests, and elimination diets are important steps for a functional medicine assessment. Following a low histamine diet or an elimination diet may help reduce HIT-related symptoms. This is because foods that contain histamine or augment histamine levels in the body are avoided. The amount of histamine in foods can be influenced by a variety of factors, including how they’re processed, stored or fermented.

Low histamine diets can influence the pathophysiologic process, including inflammation, and contribute to symptom reduction. Foods that are generally  low in histamine will have cumulative levels as they get older (i.e. compare a ripe tomato to a green one). Furthermore, histamine levels can increase in foods as they age, ferment or are stored improperly. Freshly prepared foods and immediate refrigeration/freezing of leftovers can help to lessen the histamine load and prevent HIT-related symptoms. 



Foods commonly linked to histamine reaction may include, but are not limited to:

Fish: sardines (canned), herring, anchiovies, tuna, smoked mackerel

Proteins: sausage, egg whites, smoked meats, tempeh, miso, pork

Cheese products: Swiss, cheddar, Danish blue, gouda

Oils/Fats: nut-based oils, coconut oil, and avocado oil

Fruit and vegies: Citrus fruits, papaya, eggplant, tomatoes, bananas, sinach strawberries, sauerkraut, pineapple

Drinks: Coffee, red wine, tea, beer

Sweet treats: licorice or chocolate-related foods

All types of nuts


Do you suspect that food triggers are impeding your health status? Let’s talk at the Toronto Functional Medicine Centre – keep reading to learn why. 

Why seek help from our functional medicine practitioners

Did you know that a functional medicine provider from our clinic can build a treatment plan for your health needs? This includes designing a low histamine diet slated for your biology. Further research is necessary to understand the relationship between histamine intolerance and migraines. With that, a personalized medicine approach to addressing migraines may benefit some individuals, but not others. It is important for patients to work with their healthcare provider for an appropriate treatment plan, which is why our practitioners work with functional medicine patients in customizing treatment plans. 

Our health care team members are passionate about individuality – and this is why we offer integrative functional medicine tactics. Based on your physiological factors, medical history, lifestyle, and environmental exposures, we can help deal with the root of your health concerns. Our integrative medicine and clinical therapies are influenced by different modalities, such as Western medicine, naturopathic medicine, Chinese medicine, herbal medicine, and more. We also offer intravenous therapy inside our IV Lounge, which tailors drip treatments using functional medicine wisdom. 

Additionally, you may want to check our blog for regular postings of articles on health and wellness, such as functional medicine tips on toxins to avoid before getting pregnant, understanding fibromyalgia, nutrients for promoting male fertility, and more!

Revive your wellness to an optimal level! Functional medicine testing could reveal details about your migraines, digestive issues, nutritional deficiencies, food sensitivities and more. Call (416) 968-6961 to request an appointment. 

Disclaimer: The information in this article is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. This information should not be used to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting a doctor. Consult with a health care practitioner before relying on any information in this article or on this website.


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