Most of you know I have tyramine intolerance. For the past 11 years, I’ve eaten a low-tyramine diet. I wrote The Tyramine Intolerance Handbook to help others discover whether they too have this type of food intolerance (I think it’s more common than we realize), and how to manage it.
I’ve learned to manage this thing through diet, and assumed I, and my tyramine-intolerant brethren, would continue to do so indefinitely.
That all changed when I listened to Dr. Will Bulsiewicz interviewed on Rich Roll’s podcast.
Dr. Will said, in a nutshell, that:
- Good health requires a healthy gut.
- Gut health relies on eating a diverse diet with lots of fiber.
- Food intolerance is a GUT problem (your gut lacks the ability to break down certain foods).
- And, finally, that the way to cure food intolerance is to train your gut to tolerate the problem foods by re-introducing them SLOWLY back into your diet.
This made some sense to me.
If your gut microorganisms break down foods, and you lack enough of a particular microorganism (or a particular enzyme made by a particular microorganism) to break down a particular food, you get food intolerance. And if you drip feed your gut a small enough amount of the problem food that the microorganisms needed to break it down will proliferate to handle the load, but not so much that you overwhelm the system and get bad symptoms, in theory you could tolerate said food.
For 2023, I decided that one of my goals for the year was to put Dr. Will’s assertions to the test… by experimenting on myself.
I’ve kept a (rough, but accurate) log of the high-tyramine foods I ate in the month of January and any reactions I had.
Here, I share that log, along with my conclusions.
TLDR: Dr. Will may be on to something.
Christie’s Tyramine Intolerance Cure Experiment, Days 1-31:
A few things to keep in mind when browsing this log:
My tyramine intolerance isn’t as severe as others’ I’ve interacted with. Which means, before I began this experiment, I could get away with more tyramine consumption with lower risk of a severe reaction than someone who is more sensitive.
For example, I’ve been able to eat foods with moderate amounts of tyramine with no problem, such as Greek yogurt (1 cup), 1-day leftovers, mozzarella cheese (all types), sourdough bread, and cashews. As such, I didn’t record those foods on this list.
There was a time when I reacted (albeit not severely) to the foods I just listed, especially yogurt, but I grew to tolerate them after slowly introducing them back into my diet.
I sought to take on high-tyramine foods in general, but especially foods I’ve consistently reacted to and miss most, like vinegar (it’s in everything), eggs (not high-tyramine but they often bother me), and aged cheeses.
With that, here’s the log:
DAY TYRAMINE FOOD REACTION
|1||1 choc chip brownie|
|3||1-2 t Tabasco on 2 tostadas|
|4||Leftovers from yesterday, 1-2 t tabasco again|
|5||More tabasco (1-2t)|
|6||~1.5 T soy sauce, 1/2 t rice vinegar, 1/2 t chili sauce||Did feel amped up after eating this, especially in chest area. But it wasn’t that big of a deal.|
|8||~1 T crunchy almond butter; 1 t dijon mustard, 2 bites avocado||Ate roasted crunchy almond butter before run. Very slow to start to run, lethargic.|
|9||1-2 T crunchy almond butter||Feel weird a few hours after almond butter, strange low blood sugar feeling I used to get from nuts way back in the early days of my intolerance, and just somewhat off, like due to amines but in my chest, not my face. May need to back off a bit.|
Felt weird all day, but not bad.
|10||1-2 tsp of dijon mustard, ~1/4 c salsa with vinegar in it|
|11||Leftovers from last night, 2 t tabasco|
|12||2 t almond butter; sm glass Brendan’s Irish cream|
|13||1/2 glass red wine|
|14||leftover lentils with green salsa|
|15||1/2 slice cheddar, 1-2T vegan cheese w/ACV and nutritional yeast, 1t dijon|
|16||1 T almond butter; 3 eggs, pork ribs with BBQ sauce||Reacted to the almond butter; felt “chest anxiety”|
|17||1-2 T almond butter; 1 cheddar slice, leftover ribs w/BBQ sauce|
|18||Chicken w/a soy and rice vinegar marinade/sauce|
|19||1.5 T almond butter; 1.5 leftover chx thighs w/soy vinegar marinade; 1 slice cheddar; 2-3 thick slices avo|
|20||Leftovers from last night w/2 slices avo, 1 cheddar slice; chili w/1/4 T worcestershire sauce, tiny bit of dark chocolate|
|21||Leftover chili w/2 slices cheddar|
|22||1-2 T almond butter; 1/8 c Kraft parmesan|
|23||Colby/jack grilled cheese; 1.5 T soy sauce, 1/2 T rice vinegar||Reacted to colby/jack (chest anxiety), but a 35-min walk made it better.|
|24||2 pickle spears; leftovers w/2 T soy sauce, 1/2 t rice vinegar|
|25||1 T almond butter; chx sausage, 2 T parmesan||Reacted to almond butter again. Chest anxiety.|
|27||1/2 banana; 1/2 c colby/jack; 1/2 glass red wine; 1-in square of dark choc||Mild “chest anxiety” reaction to colby/jack again|
|28||PB Cliff Bar; sm glass red wine, leftover pork, a few organic cheetos|
|29||1 pc bacon, 2 eggs, leftover (2-day) pork; 2 T hummus; 1/4 c colby/jack, bit of feta|
|30||1/4 c colby/jack|
|31||1/4 c colby/jack; 1 t Tabasco|
You’ll notice a few things from this list:
- I started small early on, with small servings of high-tyramine or problem foods, which I ate at only one meal a day. I wanted to eat amounts I knew I could tolerate, but day after day rather than my usual once a week or less.
- Once I saw I could 1) tolerate that amount, and 2) tolerate that amount day after day without overflowing the bucket, I began increasing the amount to small servings over 2 meals a day instead of one.
- When I reacted to a food, which happened 7 times over the month, the symptoms were tolerable, which told me I was eating the correct amount.
- The three foods I reacted to (roasted crunchy almond butter, Colby/jack cheese, and the soy/vinegar sauce I used to cook an Asian dish), I eventually quit reacting to. I’d literally never eaten almond butter before, and maybe that’s why it took longer to quit reacting to it.
- Note that I mentioned “chest anxiety” often. For me, this feels like “physical” anxiety, like when I’m breathing faster and feel amped up and tense, despite nothing being wrong. This is a milder reaction for me. More severe reactions for me involve facial/sinus aches, mood changes, fatigue, and, worst of all, migraine headaches that last for long periods. All these reactions result from tyramine raising norepinephrine levels.
- I had a few “rest” days where I ate no problem foods. Early on, I did this to give my body a break, just to be cautious. Later, the rest days were mostly due to forgetting to eat the foods. When you’ve avoided these foods for over a decade, remembering to actually eat them was hard sometimes!
A Good Beginning
I consider this first 31 days a success, more than I ever expected. I was lucky to choose a daily dosage that kept my bucket low enough to avoid overflowing, but high enough to give my gut and body a chance to adjust to these foods it wasn’t used to.
And it’s worked, at least so far.
I was unable to publish these results sooner, as I was barred from blogging while the ethics group at my workplace made sure there were no conflicts of interest. Now it’s March and I have more data. Long story short:
I continued doing this through February and began pushing the envelope with more higher-tyramine foods, such as aged cheese, jamon iberico (cured/aged), red wine, and 2-day leftovers in larger portions. I never went nuts, but slowly increased. No problems, but then…
At the beginning of March, a migraine struck. Messed me up for about 30 hours, with pain and then just bad fatigue. I had stopped tracking my intake, but I hadn’t gone crazy, only eaten leftovers at lunch and dinner. However, I’d had a very stressful day at work, I’d run hard that morning and tired myself out, and a storm had rolled in. It’s possible that the stress and fatigue had lowered my tolerance, and the leftovers and pressure drop from the storm had overflowed the bucket. I honestly don’t know for sure.
Not fun, but that was the first bad headache I’ve had since last November, where too much peanut butter messed me up. (I still haven’t reintroduced PB, lol. Soon!)
Now, I’m still eating tyramine most days but I backed off just a little. The truth is, I don’t need to eat more tyramine than what I’m eating now. I’m not much of a drinker, cured meats are a rare indulgence, and I don’t want the saturated fat that comes with too much cheese.
I’ll let you know how it continues to go.
Will This Work For You?
Again, I started this experiment from a place where I knew I could remain safe. My intolerance wasn’t severe. If you’re extremely sensitive, you’ll have to be far more cautious if you want to try this.
If you decide to try, here are a few suggestions:
First, work under the supervision of your medical provider, especially if you’re prone to severe headaches or blood pressure spikes. I’m not a physician; I’m a scientist undergoing a personal experiment in order to bring more understanding to tyramine and other food intolerances.
Also, if you take monoamine oxidase inhibitor drugs (MAOIs), this will NOT work for you. You have to maintain a low-tyramine diet while on these drugs, no exceptions.
For others, the key here is low and slow, whatever that means for you. Start with a dose you know you can tolerate. If you feel okay day after day, then you’re on the right track.
Be consistent, keep track of every problem food you eat, and once you know you can tolerating a certain amount or frequency, THEN increase. If you react negatively enough to mess up your day, take a break to reset, then try again with a smaller amount.
Don’t get carried away and do too much too soon. You can’t rush this.
I’m told Dr. Will’s book goes into more detail on how to reintroduce problem foods, including for those with histamine intolerance.
Finally, if you’ve tried similar experiments on yourself, with tyramine or any other food, leave a comment. We’d love to hear about it!
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