Coffee for Individuals with Histamine Intolerance and MCAS

Introduction to Specialty Coffee, Histamine Intolerance and MCAS

High quality and low histamine arabica coffee bean

For coffee enthusiasts, indulging in a freshly brewed cup of specialty coffee is an exquisite experience. However, for those with histamine intolerance or Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS), this delight might be overshadowed by concerns about potential adverse reactions. In this comprehensive article, we will delve into the scientific realm to explore whether individuals with histamine intolerance or MCAS can enjoy high-quality specialty grade coffee, the differences between these conditions, the prevalence of these intolerances, and whether the quality of coffee matters for sensitive individuals.

What are Histamines? 

Histamines are chemicals in your body that play an important role in your immune system. They help your body respond to injury or infection. When you come across something your body thinks is harmful, like an allergy trigger, histamines are released. This can cause symptoms like sneezing, itching, or a runny nose, which are part of your body's way of trying to get rid of the allergen. However, if your body releases too much histamine or can't break it down properly, it can lead to discomfort or allergic reactions. Understanding histamines is key to knowing why certain allergic reactions happen and how to manage them.

Histamine Intolerance vs. MCAS: Understanding the Differences

Histamine intolerance and MCAS are distinct conditions with varying mechanisms and manifestations. Histamine intolerance occurs when the body has difficulty breaking down histamine, leading to an accumulation of this compound in the bloodstream. This can result in a wide range of symptoms, including headaches, hives, digestive issues, and more. On the other hand, MCAS involves the inappropriate release of histamine and other inflammatory mediators from mast cells, causing a systemic response resulting in symptoms such as flushing, swelling, gastrointestinal disturbances, and respiratory problems.

It is important to distinguish between the two conditions, as the triggers and treatment approaches may differ. Individuals with histamine intolerance struggle with histamine-rich foods, while those with MCAS might experience symptoms triggered by various stimuli, including stress, exercise, and certain foods.

Prevalence of Histamine Intolerance and MCAS

Histamine intolerance and MCAS are often underdiagnosed, and the exact prevalence of these conditions is not fully established. However, research suggests that histamine intolerance affects approximately 1% of the global population, although the actual numbers might be higher due to underreporting and misdiagnoses. Approximately 80% of those diagnosed with this condition are middle-aged [1]. 

MCAS is a rarer condition, and reliable prevalence data is even scarcer. Estimates indicate that MCAS affects around 17 out of every 100,000 individuals. However, one study suggests the prevalence of MCAS could be as high as 17%. Nevertheless, the prevalence of both conditions might vary based on factors such as genetic predisposition and environmental triggers.

Histamine Levels in Coffee: Does Quality Matter?

Coffee is a complex beverage that contains a variety of compounds, including histamine. During the roasting process, the levels of histamine in coffee beans tend to decrease. As a result, specialty grade coffee, which is typically made from high-quality beans and carefully roasted, may have lower histamine content compared to lower grade, mass-produced coffee, often found on grocery store shelves.

Research concerning the interplay between coffee and histamine levels, though somewhat limited, consistently underscores the pivotal role played by coffee quality and the ripeness of coffee beans utilized during the roasting process. Notably, within the realm of specialty-grade coffee, histamine content in both green coffee beans and roasted beans, as well as coffee-based beverages, tends to either be undetectable or present in exceedingly low concentrations. Nevertheless, it's imperative to acknowledge that even these minimal levels of histamine have the potential to elicit adverse reactions, particularly in individuals with histamine sensitivities or those already grappling with a heightened amine burden that their bodies are actively endeavoring to manage.

The Impact of Brewing Methods on Histamine Content

The method of brewing coffee can also influence its histamine content [2]. Some brewing methods, such as espresso and French press, extract more compounds from the coffee grounds, potentially including histamine. On the other hand, drip brewing and pour-over methods might result in lower histamine levels due to the use of filters that trap certain compounds.

A research study conducted at a renowned coffee institute investigated histamine levels in coffee prepared using various brewing techniques. The results indicated that espresso and French press coffee had higher histamine concentrations compared to drip-brewed coffee. This suggests that individuals with histamine intolerance or MCAS may want to opt for drip-brewed specialty coffee to minimize histamine intake.

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Organic whole bean Peru roast image

Other Compounds in Coffee and Their Impact

While histamine content is an essential consideration for those with histamine intolerance or MCAS, it is not the only factor influencing potential reactions to coffee. Coffee contains other biologically active compounds that could contribute to sensitivity. Caffeine, for instance, is a stimulant that may exacerbate symptoms in some individuals, particularly those with MCAS who are sensitive to additional triggers.

Additionally, coffee contains chlorogenic acids, which may play a role in gastrointestinal distress for some individuals. An online study published by NIH's National Library of Medicine suggested that individuals who experience digestive issues might be sensitive to some of these compounds [3]. Specialty coffee tends to have lower levels of chlorogenic acids due to the meticulous processing and roasting techniques, making it a potentially better option for sensitive individuals.

Factors Beyond Coffee: Individual Sensitivities and Triggers

While the histamine content and quality of coffee are vital aspects to consider, it is essential to remember that individual sensitivities and triggers can vary significantly. Some individuals may find that they can tolerate high-quality specialty coffee without any issues, while others might experience adverse reactions even to the finest beans.

The best approach for individuals with histamine intolerance or MCAS is to conduct a thorough self-assessment and possibly seek the guidance of a healthcare professional. An elimination diet can help identify specific triggers, and individuals can experiment with different coffee varieties and preparation methods to find what suits them best.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the question of whether individuals with histamine intolerance or MCAS can enjoy high-quality specialty grade coffee requires a nuanced understanding of the conditions, coffee composition, and individual sensitivities. Scientific evidence suggests that specialty coffee may have lower histamine levels than lower grade coffee, making it potentially more tolerable for sensitive individuals. However, individual responses can vary, and additional compounds in coffee, such as caffeine and chlorogenic acids, may also play a role in triggering symptoms.

As with any dietary consideration, individuals with histamine intolerance or MCAS should approach coffee consumption with caution and self-awareness. Consulting with a healthcare professional and conducting personal experiments can help determine if specialty coffee can be a part of a balanced and enjoyable diet without compromising health and well-being.

Remember, every individual's experience is unique, and what matters most is finding the right balance between pleasure and well-being. By understanding the scientific evidence and exploring personal tolerances, coffee enthusiasts with histamine intolerance or MCAS can embark on a journey to savor the aroma and flavors of specialty coffee while keeping health a top priority.

 

References:

1. Maintz, L.; Novak, N. (2007). "Histamine and histamine intolerance"American Journal of Clinical Nutrition85 (5): 1185–96. doi:10.1093/ajcn/85.5.1185PMID 17490952

 

2Donatella Restuccia 1U Gianfranco Spizzirri 2Ortensia I Parisi 2Giuseppe Cirillo 2Nevio Picci 2 "Brewing effect on levels of biogenic amines in different coffee samples as determined by LC-UV" PubMed. PMID: 25577063  - DOI: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2014.11.134

 

3. Shah Saud1 and Ahmad Mohammad Salamatullah"Relationship between the Chemical Composition and the Biological Functions of Coffee" PubMedPublished online 2021 Dec 16. doi: 10.3390/molecules26247634 Ryszard - PMID: 34946716  


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