Amines: how low do you have to go?
There’s a lot of confusion around regarding what animal foods are allowed on the elimination diet and how long they should be kept before discarding. I thought I’d go through a few points.
Most failsafers are fine with fresh milk, cream, and butter. There are other problems with dairy that I’ll deal with elsewhere (allergy, additives, salicylates, opioids). Sue Dengate says that extra-sensitive amine responders will not manage sour cream or sharp yoghurt. I sometimes appear to have a very small response to these items. Some amine responders will manage fresh cheeses like mascarpone, ricotta, or cream cheese. Failsafers should not eat cheese.
Fresh eggs keep well. I have not knowingly experienced any egg-related reactions yet. Raw egg whites can trigger histamine release in some people. They can also contain food colourings if the birds have been fed rubbish. Stick to organic eggs.
Fish decays very rapidly after it has been caught and is a very common source of histamine reactions. Most sources recommend it be eaten within 24-36 hours of being caught. The ‘fishy’ smell we associate with fish is in fact from the breakdown of the proteins into amines (in this case trimethylamine). Fresh fish does not smell fishy. I invariably react to oily fish, and find the taste unpleasant. Fresh white fish, crab, oyster, lobster, mussels, and scallops are low in amines. Prawns (which may also be sprayed with sulphites), and dark/oily fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines are high in amines. Smoked, canned, or preserved fish is liable to cause greatest problems. Smoked fish like kippers often have bright yellow food dyes added. Farmed salmon are often fed carotinoid food dyes in order to increase the colouring of their flesh but these should be safe. Farmed fish are also regularly fed chicken manure! RPAH say that fish frozen within 12 hours of being fished will be low enough in amines to be failsafe for two weeks.
Joan Breakey allows fresh pork, but most other sources say that pork and pork products are high in amines. Ham, bacon, sausages, and other preserved pork products are high in amines and contain additives like nitrates, nitrites, sulphites, and MSG (‘seasonings’). Fresh pork is lower in amines than these sources. Today I ate fresh pork and experienced a brief spell of itchiness and urticaria. This was in no way comparable in severity to the powerful histamine reactions I have had from other foods like aged beef. I have been trying to figure out why pork should be high in amines. Whilst all meats differ in composition to some extent (different ratios of amino acids, different amounts of vitamins, for example: pork is very high in thiamin compared to other meats), surely it is abnormal for an animal to have vast quantities of amines racing around its system? Perhaps there are metabolic differences in pigs that we are unaware of, or perhaps their meat is subject to more rapid decay after death – called autolysis, this is the process by which the body’s own enzymes begin to digest the body.
Game is usually hung to aide the development of ‘gamey‘ flavours. In the past pheasants would sometimes be hung by the neck until the body fell off! Game is hung in normal, cool outdoor weather conditions from anywhere between two days to three weeks, with one week being the average. Remember game season is the late autumn/early winter months, so the game does not overtly rot in the heat but is still allowed to auto-digest. Despite this game is high in amines.
Beef is qute tough and ‘needs’ to be hung to tenderise before eating, though the length of time it is hung varies. Whilst Palaeolithic man usually ate his meat before it had even entered rigor mortis, nowadays we don’t have that option unless we hunt it ourselves. Beef marketed as ‘quality’ beef is often hung for as much as six weeks in a refrigerator, but more usually three. By contrast supermarket beef is rarely hung properly at all, but is instead vacuum packed and stored for as much as three months before going on sale. This three month timespan is quite normal, not the exception! There is therefore not really any difference between the two extremes. Small butchers sometimes operate differently. Beef may only be hung for a week or so, some may not even hang the beef at all before sale. Our local organic farm sends their beef cows off to slaughter every fortnight on the Monday morning, hangs the beef until the end of the week, and then vacuum packs it and puts on sale. This means I don’t usually eat beef that is older than one to two weeks. Unfortunately, I think the meat still suffers for being vacuum packed, and I don’t think their refrigerator is cold enough either!
Lamb is not hung to nearly the same extent as beef and whilst supermarket sources are likely to be totally untrustworthy, independent butchers and farm shops can provide a safe alternative. Lamb is also thought to be the least allergenic meat.
Poultry usually has a very short time from slaughter to sale as it is not hung like red meat. There are concerns about chicken skin. Why chicken skin should be high in amines I don’t know, but again this may be an issue of quality. The organic chicken I eat is killed and plucked on the farm without ever being commercially processed. Commercial poultry is kept in dreadful conditions, the diet is high in grains and deficient in insects to make the meat tender. Poultry frequently have their beaks removed in order to prevent birds from pecking each other’s feathers out. Factory processing of birds involves hot liquid baths to remove the feathers. Carcasses are injected with legal and illegal mixtures of salt, water, MSG and even beef and pork proteins which may be high in amines and glutamates. Choose your chicken from a clean, trustworthy source, not from your local supermarket unless it is organic.
Offal like liver, kidney, and presumably brains(!) is typically higher in amines than other flesh meats due to the function of the organs in the body. Not only do organ meats contain some natural amounts of amines, organs generally contain higher levels of enzymes, and so undergo autolysis at an increased rate. I first noticed unpleasant itching and headache reactions to liver and kidneys over two years ago, long before I started the failsafe diet.
Most sites suggest that fresh meat should be eaten the day it is bought and stored for no longer than two to four weeks in the freezer. Ideally cooked meat should be eaten the same day. Cooked meat can be refrozen. Canned or preserved fish or meat should not be eaten.
Some people’s advice on amines goes to extremes. Some people need to be extremely careful, but others don’t. It is worth everyone trying to be very careful with amines for a couple of weeks to see if they affect any lingering symptoms. If you are unable to find a fresh source of red meat you may want to try restricting to fresh fish, chicken and eggs for a fortnight.
Autolysis is self-decomposition by enzymes that exist in the tissues. As well as being formed via autolysis, amines are also formed when bacteria break down proteins. The types and amount of bacteria present and the environmental conditions influence the amounts of amines. Different bacteria degrade foods in different ways and have different potential to form amines. Putrefaction is an anaerobic rotting of organic matter that produces ammonia and hydrogen sulphide as byproducts. Fermentation on the other hand is a different process that produces carbon dioxide and water as byproducts. Both form amines. Some amines are particularly associated with putrefactive bacteria (putrescine, cadaverine, histamine, spermidine, and spermine). An interesting subject, about which little is known.
Amines can also be formed by certain bacteria in the bowel under certain conditions. Eating an excess of protein (from any source) that is not digested properly will aide the formation of amines and hydrogen sulphide. This is a reason not eat meat or other protein foods to excess. However, amine formation is quite slow, and the amine-degrading enzymes are at their highest concentration in the bowel. You are more likely to react to a large single dose of ingested amines that exceeds your body’s enzyme making capacities than to a chronic very low-level production in the bowel, as your body should be able to keep up with this.