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Biogenic amines and migraines

Biogenic amines and migraines


Both tyramine and histamine are examples of biogenic amines. They are thought to cause the dilation and contraction of blood vessels –  a serious problem for migraine sufferers. Therefore, high levels of both tyramine and histmine have been found to be significant migraine triggers. Fruits like bananas, strawberries, and watermelon can contain large amounts of tyramine as they age.

Biogenic amines naturally occur in foods as part of the aging process

Tyramine, for example, is produced in foods with the natural breakdown of the amino acid tyrosine(1). In other words, bacteria is responsible for the creation of the amines. As high-protein food ages, whether in your refrigerator or not, tyramine is produced.

tyramine bomb pizza
Italian pizza with all the toppings

Biogenic Amines are especially harmful to those of us with migraines

In general, large amounts of biogenic amines such as tyramine and histamine can have toxicological effects. The risks to migraine sufferers can be much higher due to a higher than usual food intolerance. In addition, our bodies are not always able to detoxify these substances to the degree needed. Furthermore, it is not easy to determine each individual’s critical level for anyone biogenic amine. Consider also that your body might be able to get rid of histamines much more efficiently than my body can.

how do you limit biogenic amines?

Cut back!

While the answer seems simple enough, it is not easily implemented.  So much of what we eat contains higher levels of biogenic amines. First of all, it can be somewhat easier to cut back on some of the items, such as red wine and that amazing parmesan cheese, which already contain high levels when you buy them. But how do you cut back on all dairy? What about all deli meats? Second, any item you store in the refrigerator will immediately start to age. Just one or two days in the fridge might be enough for a particular food to contain too much of anyone biogenic amine. Finally, can you afford to go to the store every day in order to get the freshest food? Perhaps you have to, but it is not easy on your wallet. Yet, it is the safest way to ensure minimal amounts of biogenic amines.

Freeze your foods

I have found this to be a viable alternative, if you cannot be at the store daily. However, most of us do not own freezers large enough to store the volume of items. You also then have to contend with the thawing process. Yet, the good thing with freezing is that it stops the bacteria from growing. Freezing, therefore, also stops the accumulation of biogenic amines. It is important to freeze fruits like bananas, immediately after bringing the bananas home. There is no sense freezing items that have already accumulated tyramine.

Make only enough food

Food volume
Passed out from eating too much food

It is great to have left-overs, except when it isn’t. For those of us with migraines, left-overs should be avoided because biogenic amines will grow exponentially, the longer the food ages. Even one day could be too long. I know what you are saying, “You are wasting food”. Well, maybe and maybe not. If you have too much food left over, you probably made more than you should have. Consider cutting back on the amount prepared. It may look like more work in the short run, but you will thank yourself in the long run.

Maintain cleanliness!

remove bacteria by thorough cleaning
Detailed kitchen cleaning

How well do you clean your kitchen? Probably not well enough. Don’t be offended, I was in your shoes too, barely doing a “once-over” with a two or three-month old dish brush, while putting as little as one drop of cleaning detergent. If this sounds familiar, that needs to stop immediately. Remember that your dish washing machine can generate the heat needed to kill off bacteria while your “hot water” cannot.

  • Clean all of your dishes thoroughly and then place them in your dish washing machine, running one cycle each night
  • Every two weeks, at a minimum, clean your countertops with a strong disinfecting agent
  • Never use the same cutting board for your meats, fruits, or vegetables
  • The cutting board used to prepare meats needs to go into the dish washing machine
  • Never use the same dish, utensil, or glass twice. When in doubt, reach for a clean one!
  • Clean out your refrigerator once per month, at a minimum
  • If you like to grill, make sure your grates are clean. That means that you should be using some sort of detergent periodically. You are not impressing anyone with those filthy and charred grates.

Below you will find some of the foods and drinks with the highest concentration of the biogenic amines

histamine tyramine foods
Foods with biogenic amines
  • Beer
  • Red wine
  • Ale
  • Homemade bread
  • Cheese
  • Salami
  • Yogurt
  • Sour cream
  • Bananas
  • Red plums
  • Avocados
  • Fava Beans
  • Commercial Gravies
  • Eggplant
  • Pickled foods
  • Liver
  • Dry sausage
  • Canned Meats
  • Chocolate
  • Soy Sauce

Estimate the biogenic amine, tyramine, content of your own meals by using the Tyramine Calculator.


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View Comments (3)
  • Not sure what to make of this list when looking at my results? :
    Red wine-problem
    Homemade bread-problem
    Cheese(goat cheese-no problem)
    Yogurt-no problem
    Sour cream-problem
    Red plums-no problem
    Avocados-no problem
    Fava Beans-problem
    Commercial Gravies-?
    Eggplant-no problem
    Pickled foods-no problem
    Dry sausage-problem
    Canned Meats-problem
    Chocolate-no problem
    Soy Sauce-problem
    Thanks for this list. It has prompted me to start a journal.

  • Thank you for this information. Is it possible that the same can be said for elevating of blood pressure? I’ve noticed both a headache and elevation of my blood pressure after eating watermelon…

    • You are most welcome. First, in terms of goat cheese, it is of a significantly milder variety which may explain some of it. Bread contains gluten, yeast, and other leavening agents that can be problematic for us. Bananas are not only high in histamine/tyramine as part of natural aging, but also tend to be high even when ripe (green). Yoghurt is interesting because it contains a high amount of lactobacillus bacteria which tend to be very good for our digestive systems. Therefore, if you are able to eat yoghurt, I would expect that mild cheddar cheese could also be tolerated, also increasing lactobacillus in your small intestine. That is positive and, as long as the yoghurt is plain, will help balance your gut flora overall. Eggplant/ pickled foods are high in tyramine, and I am not sure why there would be no reaction. You should include eggplant over a period over several days, daily on its own, to understand whether this constitutes a trigger. Not everyone reacts to chocolate and perhaps in your case, small amounts tend to be OK.

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