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 be significant migraine triggers.

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.

Migraine problem food

Large tyramine-histamine Pizza

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.

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

(1) NATIONAL HEADACHE FOUNDATION, ”Low Tyramine Headache Diet*”, http://www.headaches.org

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Mitch B Williams
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Mitch B Williams

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

D Harvey
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D Harvey

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…