Dr Joneja's Guides to Histamine Intolerance

Dr Janice Joneja, a world expert on histamine intolerance, has published two books on histamine intolerance:

A Beginner's Guide to Histamine Intolerance – read more about it here.

Buy the paperback from Amazon here; buy the e-book from Amazon here.

Histamine Intolerance: The Comprehensive Guide for Healthcare Professionals – read more about it here.

Buy the ebook from Amazon here.

You can buy all of Dr Joneja's books here in the UK or here in the US.

Histamine and vaginal irriation
As part of our A series on histamine, Dr Joneja was asked whether a histamine intolerance could cause vaginal irritation which was exacerbated by intercourse. This is such a complicated issue that we decided to pull Dr Joneja's answer out from the general Q&A – and here it is.


I have had an extreme bout of vaginal irritation since I started consuming kefir. I have since stopped but it continues to plague me. I found some info on this being attributed to too much acidophilus but the histamine seems to make more sense as I used to get headaches when I drank kombucha or ate pickles, olives etc.

I'm also concerned about allergies to semen. My problem seems to worsen when I have been intimate with my partner of 9 years. It had never been a problem before. Would that be due to a high histamine diet on his part and my reacting to that or have you found any other connection? If you could shed some light on this that would be greatly appreciated. 

Dr Joneja says:

This is a very intriguing question encompassing several different points, which will allow me to discuss a number of facts and misconceptions about histamine intolerance. However, you do not provide your age, I have no information on your recent medical history, and you do not state how long the symptoms you report have been a problem. So I shall use your questions to discuss each aspect of the subject in general terms.
First of all, vaginal irritation on its own does not suggest histamine intolerance or sensitivity.  It is more likely to be a result of a vaginal yeast infection (candidiasis or moniliasis).  Do you have a vaginal discharge, and have you consulted your doctor about this? If this is not the case, a reaction to your partner’s semen, as you have suspected, may be the cause (see below).

Acidophilus is the species name of Lactobacillus acidophilus, a bacterium often used in making yogurt, among other products.  It is the fermenting agent in acidophilus milk.  Although it does contribute to the histamine level in fermented products, consuming kefir alone will be insufficient to raise your histamine level into the symptomatic range (that is, exceeding your limit of tolerance) unless you are consuming several sources of histamine at the same time, or are experiencing a reaction that increases the release of histamine in your body.  This could be allergy, or a number of other conditions that involve inflammation, which I have discussed in several of my previous answers and my article on histamine intolerance.

Your experience of headaches after consuming kombucha, pickles, olives etc. does point to excess histamine as a cause, since all of these contain fairly high levels of histamine.  It would be worthwhile for you to follow a histamine-restricted diet in order to determine whether histamine sensitivity is indeed causing or contributing to your symptoms. Provided allergy is not an issue you might also find DAO supplements helpful.You can buy DAO supplements here in the UK or here in the US. )

The question as to whether you can react to your partner consuming a high histamine diet indicates a misconception about histamine intolerance.  Histamine sensitivity, or intolerance is not an allergy.  You cannot react by contact.  If someone consumes a high histamine diet, the histamine is present in their blood plasma; it cannot be transmitted to, nor affect anyone else.  Your partner would develop symptoms if he has histamine intolerance, but even then, his reactions would not affect you.

In searching the internet you might find some rather fascinating theories suggesting that the high stress involved in sexual intercourse might release histamine, and account for the flushing that some women experience.  However, there is no evidence-based research data to suggest that such “positive stress” can influence histamine levels in either partner.  The only reliable research has been carried out in men. In a study to evaluate the course of histamine plasma levels through different stages of sexual arousal in healthy male subjects, histamine slightly decreased in the local blood when the penis became tumescent. During rigidity, histamine decreased further but remained unaltered in the phase of detumescence and after ejaculation. In the systemic circulation, no alterations were observed with the initiation or termination of penile erection, whereas a significant drop was registered following ejaculation. The researchers concluded that the results were not in favour of the hypothesis of an excitatory role of histamine in the control of penile erection.  Unfortunately, at present we do not have any reliable research on histamine levels in women during intercourse.

As you have suggested, your vaginal irritation could be the result of an allergy to your partner’s semen.  If semen allergy is present, the woman should not have any symptoms when she and her partner use a condom. The allergic reaction should only happen during unprotected sex. To confirm the allergy, an allergist or gyaecologist can carry out skin tests using your partner’s semen as the allergen.  It would be worthwhile for you to consult a suitably qualified practitioner for a definitive diagnosis.  In advising women with semen allergy in my practice (of which there have been very few; in my experience it is a rare condition), I have found that douching with alkaline salts prior to intercourse has worked amazingly well, especially in cases where the couple is trying to become pregnant or do not wish to use condoms.

Recipe for alkaline salts:

Mix sodium bicarbonate and potassium bicarbonate in a 2:1 ratio:
1 cup sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
½ cup potassium bicarbonate (available form a compounding pharmacy or on the internet)

Add 1 tablespoon of the mixture to ½ cup warm water
Use as required prior to intercourse

March 2015

If you found this article interesting you can find a number of other articles on histamine intolerance both by Dr Joneja and others here, reports on histamine research here and a Q & A section on histamine with Dr Joneja here.

For many, many other articles on every type of food allergy and intolerance click here; for coeliac disease and other food related conditions, go here.

Dr Janice Joneja Ph.D., RD

Dr. Janice Joneja is a researcher, educator, author, and clinical counsellor with over thirty years of experience in the area of biochemical and immunological reactions involved in food allergy and intolerances. Dr. Joneja holds a Ph.D. in medical microbiology and immunology and was a registered dietitian (RD) – now retired. 

She has been a member of the faculty at several Canadian universities, starting her career as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Science, and in the Faculty of Dentistry, at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Since 2001 Dr. Joneja has been a faculty member in the School of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, at the University of Surrey, in England, teaching in the M.Sc. course in Nutritional Medicine.  For 12 years she was head of the Allergy Nutrition Program at the Vancouver Hospital and Health Sciences Centre.

Dr. Joneja is the author of six books and a dietetic practice manual on food allergy, a textbook on Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and several distance education courses. Her most recent books include “The Health Professional’s Guide to Food Allergies and Intolerances”, “Dealing with Food Allergies”, and “Dealing with Food Allergies in Babies and Children”.  Dr. Joneja’s work has been published in peer-reviewed scientific and medical journals, as well as in popular magazines.  She is a respected lecturer at universities, colleges and hospitals internationally, and regularly appears on television and radio call-in shows as an expert in her field.

Dr. Joneja is President of Vickerstaff Health Services, Inc., a practice that provides counselling for people suffering from all aspects of adverse reactions to food, and resources for the professionals and care-givers who support them.


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