Biogenic amines: occurrence and effect

Do you also belong to the people who suffer from diarrhea, bloating, headaches or even shortness of breath after drinking wine, cheese or fish? The cause of these complaints can be so-called biogenic amines. Biogenic amines are metabolites that occur naturally in human, plant and animal cells. The most important representative of the biogenic amines is the histamine.

Biogenic amines

In addition to histamine belong to the group of biogenic amines:

  • tyramine
  • phenylethylamine
  • serotonin
  • putrescine
  • spermidine

Histamine as a mediator of the immune system

On the one hand, biogenic amines are produced in our body and perform important functions. The most important representative is the histamine, which in particular has a significance as a mediator (mediator substance) of the immune system. It also plays an important role in the gastrointestinal tract, for example in the regulation of gastric acid production, and in the central nervous system, among other things in the regulation of the sleep-wake rhythm. Histamine is produced by the body and stored in the mast cells. Mast cells are cells of the body's immune system. Under certain conditions, a release of histamine from the mast cells, for example, in inflammation. Depending on the severity of the reaction, reddening of the skin, runny nose, itching, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, headache, migraine, increase of the heart rate, lowering of blood pressure and circulatory problems up to collapse may occur.

Allergy or intolerance?

Although the symptoms are very similar, the reaction of the immune system to the biogenic amines is still not comparable to an allergic reaction and is therefore one of the food intolerances or pseudoallergies. This is a non-allergic hypersensitivity (intolerance reaction) to food or food ingredients.

Biogenic amines are available daily on the menu

On the other hand, biogenic amines can also be supplied from the outside by food. They are natural ingredients of foods that we consume daily. These include:

  • meat
  • fish
  • Milk, cheese
  • Wine
  • different vegetables.

The content of unprocessed animal and plant foods is, however, usually very low. Only certain methods of food processing increase the content of biogenic amines.

Accompanying substances in food ripening

Biogenic amines are formed from the smallest building blocks of proteins, the amino acids (for example, histidine). Microorganisms (bacteria) are usually involved in this process. Accordingly, high levels of biogenic amines are found in foods made by maturation or fermentation using microorganisms. These include, for example, certain cheeses, raw sausage, red wine and sauerkraut. In addition, the following foods also contain biogenic amines: chocolate, bananas, pineapple, avocado, tomatoes, eggplant, walnuts, fish and shellfish. A list of different foods with a high content of biogenic amines can be found here:

Biogenic amineOccurrence in food
histamine

Yeast extract, soy sauce, tomato ketchup, dry yeast

Fish and fish products

Sauerkraut, spinach, vinegar, eggplant, cep, morels

Beer Wine

Cheese (especially mature cheese)

Meat products (salami, Mettwurst, Teewurst, smoked ham, etc.)

phenylethylamineChocolate, various cheeses (especially Gouda and Stilton), red wine
serotoninWalnuts, bananas, pineapple, tomatoes, avocado, prunes, squid
tyramine

Ripened cheese, salami, pork sausage, liver, pickled herring, canned fish

Oranges, raspberries, pineapple, peanuts, yeast, curry powder, soy sauce

Wine, cola drinks, coffee beans, chocolate

tryptamineTomatoes, prunes

Modified to: Wolter F, Bischoff SC (2003): Food Intolerance and Food Allergy. In: Stein J, Jauch KW (ed.) Practical manual clinical nutrition and infusion therapy. Springer-Verlag Heidelberg, S. 797-809.

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