What to Know About Corn if You Have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or Histamine Intolerance
When I went gluten free, corn became one of my staples – corn chips, corn tortillas, popcorn…I ate a lot of corn.
Corn is technically low histamine, so I thought I was safe.
But corn isn’t always great if you have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or Histamine Intolerance.
There was a time in history when corn was processed with a mineral called lime (different from the citrus fruit). This made it more digestible and even more nutritious.
Nowadays, though, how corn is grown and processed is a lot different.
Now, corn is harder to digest and can even trigger immune issues for some people.
Corn is technically a lower histamine food, but there are other ways corn may be affecting your body. We’ll look at those today.
I’ll share some reasons you may want to consider replacing corn in your diet. And I’ll give you some good options for how to do this. I want to make it as easy for you as possible.
Plus, I’ll let you in on a few places corn might be hiding out in your foods and products!
Not everyone with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or Histamine Intolerance will have reactions to corn. But, I want to give you this information in case it may be the missing piece for you. That’s why I share what some of the most common food culprits are.
See, even when I eliminated processed foods and was following a low histamine and low oxalate diet, I still had symptoms like joint burning, fatigue, and gut problems.
And with my clients who have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, I continue to see these other food issues playing a part in their reactions. That’s why we try to be aware of various possible triggers.
So, let’s get right to it. Let’s look at some conditions that can be triggered by corn.
Corn Allergy and Corn Sensitivity – info for those with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Histamine Intolerance
It’s important you know that this blog post is for informational and educational purposes. It’s not meant to treat any health condition or to be prescriptive for anyone. If you have any medical condition, it is critical you work under the care and guidance of a licensed medical provider.
Corn Allergies and Corn Sensitivities may be the most obvious conditions to consider if you are having reactions to corn.
In fact, if you have an allergy to corn, it’s likely you already know about it. True allergic reactions come on very quickly and can be serious.
It may be that your doctor has already run a blood test to confirm a corn allergy if you have had reactions like:
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling and inflammation
- Skin symptoms such as hives, rash, or itching
- Throat tightening
- And in severe cases, anaphylactic shock.
You may have a corn allergy whether you have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or Histamine Intolerance or not.
But if you do have MCAS (Mast Cell Activation Syndrome) or Histamine Intolerance, allergic reactions can make it worse. That’s because mast cells are activated with an allergic response. And part of the mast cell response is to release histamine.
Food sensitivities typically are not as severe as allergies. However, they can also trigger an immune response.
Leaky gut is one way you can develop food sensitivities. With leaky gut, small food particles can pass through the weakened gut lining and get into the blood stream. Food particles should not be in the blood stream, so the immune system sees this as a threat.
Your body will create antibodies to deal with that threat. And these antibodies can trigger a mast cell response.
These are the more straight-forward ways in which corn might be affecting you.
But what I really want to share with you today are some lesser-known ways corn might be affecting you, especially if you have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or Histamine Intolerance.
Conditions Triggered by Corn – info for those with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or Histamine Intolerance
For me, corn ended up being a big problem. I eventually found out I had Lectin Sensitivity. Corn has a high lectin content.
When I found out I had Lectin Sensitivity, I eliminated corn from my diet for 4 weeks (along with other high lectin foods).
For years, the burning I felt in my joints had been bad. It was so bad that doctors had me try autoimmune drugs. They didn’t make a difference.
But after just 4 weeks of going lectin free, I experienced some real relief from the burning in my hands and fingers. I was happily surprised!
As part of testing my sensitivity, I reintroduced lectins 3 separate times over the next few years. Every time I started eating lectins again, the joint burning and brain fog came back. My gut got worse, too…. especially when I ate corn.
This was all the proof I needed to stay as corn free (and lectin free) as possible!
So, what is lectin sensitivity? Let’s take a quick look at that next.
Corn, Leaky Gut, and Lectin Sensitivity
Lectin sensitivity is a type of food sensitivity. You just read about one type of food sensitivity – corn sensitivity. It’s possible you could have just a corn sensitivity.
It’s also possible that your reactions to corn are actually a response to the lectins in corn.
Lectins are a type of protein found in many plants. They can be found in foods like corn. They are also found in beans, rice, quinoa, tomatoes, and cucumbers just to name a few other foods.
When ingested, some lectins can damage the cells that make up your delicate gut lining. When this layer of cells is damaged, you can get what is known as leaky gut.
When you just read about corn sensitivity, you learned that leaky gut can contribute to food sensitivities.
So, you already know that with leaky gut, food particles enter the bloodstream causing an immune response.
Bacteria from the gut can also leak into the bloodstream with leaky gut.
The mast cells see those bacteria as invaders, too. When mast cells detect invaders, they react. When mast cells react, this can lead to inflammation and histamine release.
So, leaky gut may be contributing to food sensitivities like lectin sensitivity, and lectin sensitivity can be contributing to leaky gut. It’s not a great loop to be stuck in because all of it can set off the mast cells.
Lectin content can be reduced in some foods during the cooking process. For example, it can help with rice, lentils, and squash.
Corn is quite high in lectins, though. (So is wheat.) This is why pressure cooking can’t eliminate the lectins in those foods.
So, depending on your level of corn and lectin sensitivity, corn may still be problematic.
Some symptoms of lectin sensitivity can be:
- Lack of motivation
- Brain fog
- Pain in the joints and elsewhere in the body
- Skin breakouts
- Digestive problems including bloating, gas, nausea, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Next, let’s look more at how corn can affect the gut.
Corn and IBS
IBS is short for irritable bowel syndrome. It is a disorder that affects the large intestine.
If you have IBS, you may have experienced symptoms like:
- Abdominal pain
I struggled with IBS, especially when I was at my sickest. Many of my clients have some sort of IBS-like GI issue, too.
IBS can be triggered by a number of things, including certain foods.
Double blind studies have confirmed several foods as IBS triggers. To name just a few: bananas, peas, potatoes, wheat…and CORN.
It’s not just corn on the cob that can be a trigger.
Certain kinds of sugars like fructose (derived from corn) have been shown to be poorly absorbed by the bowel. This can trigger IBS symptoms like cramping and diarrhea.
And if your gut is inflamed for any reason, including IBS, the surrounding intestinal mast cells can become responsive, and in some cases, over-responsive.
Studies have shown there can actually be an increased number of mast cells in the gut lining of patients with irritable bowel syndrome.
So, a healthier gut = happier mast cells.
Here’s one more thing to consider with corn – glyphosates.
Corn, Glyphosate, and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome
Glyphosate exposure isn’t really a condition. But it can contribute to Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Histamine Intolerance in a big way.
Conventionally farmed corn is genetically modified to help resist herbicides. And corn gets treated with a lot of herbicides! Sometimes corn is even referred to as “Roundup Ready.”
Roundup is a brand name of the herbicide, glyphosate. Glyphosate lingers on foods. It’s toxic and can trigger mast cells. In animal studies, it appears that glyphosate can be toxic to cells, affect the immune system, and cause inflammation.
When I look at the tox panels of my clients who eat conventionally farmed produce, I’m not surprised when I see high levels of glyphosate.
That’s why I really like to recommend organic produce for most things.
So, if you think corn might be contributing to some of your issues, you might want to consider all the foods in your diet that contain corn. We’ll look at that next.
Corn and Corn Related Foods to Consider Replacing – info for those with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or Histamine Intolerance
Before you change your diet on your own, please make sure you’re working with a healthcare practitioner who can help you with this. Never limit foods unnecessarily, and always have a licensed medical provider who is supervising your case.
Corn is everywhere. Some foods are easy to recognize as corn or containing corn. If you see corn in the name, that’s a corn product. Those would be things like:
- Corn tortillas and related foods like tacos, tamales, and arepas
- Corn meal
- Corn starch
- Corn chips
- Corn oil
- High-fructose corn syrup.
Then there are other names for types of corn like maize and hominy. They may also need to be avoided if you have corn allergies, corn sensitivities, or lectin sensitivities.
Corn can be hiding out in some other foods, too. One you might not expect is meat! That’s because many conventionally raised livestock are fed wheat grains and corn. And these wheat and corn proteins can end up in the meat.
Now, there are many people who are ok with these levels.
But, I have worked with several very sensitive people who reported having reactions when they eat conventionally raised meat rather than grass-fed meats.
So, if you are this sensitive to corn, here is a great option for you. NorthStar Bison doesn’t feed gluten or corn to their animals. They have incredible, low-histamine meat options.
Here is a short list of some additional foods which might contain corn in various forms. Some of these foods may have higher histamine levels to begin with. But if you do eat these things from time to time, it’s good to be aware.
- Breakfast cereals
- Batter flour
- Bakery products, including gluten-free ones
- Any thickened soups, sauces, and condiments
- Vanilla extract or other food flavoring
- Malt syrup
- Candies and gums
- Ice cream and packaged desserts
- Sweetened beverages and drink mixes
- Many gluten-free pastas and breads
If you look at the ingredients in the foods above, you’ll likely see an ingredient with a more recognizable name of corn. (i.e., corn syrup or corn starch)
Here are some other names for ingredients derived from corn that you may see, too:
- Glucose and Glucose syrup
- Cereal starch
- Modified starch
- Vegetable oil
- Hydrol, treacle
- Free fatty acids
- Citric acid and citrate, including magnesium citrate and zinc citrate
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Cellulose, including some supplement capsules
So, let’s look at how you can replace some of these things if you do give up corn.
Low Histamine, Low Lectin, and Medium Oxalate Replacements for Corn – for those with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or Histamine Intolerance
Let’s look at some ways you can replace corn and foods containing corn.
To start, let’s look at sorghum. It’s low histamine, low lectin, medium oxalate, and low FODMAP at 1 serving.
You can use it in several ways. You can make popped sorghum as a snack instead of popcorn. It’s like little fairy popcorn! And it’s become one of my favorite snacks.
We’ve also used it in recipes like the Low Histamine Sorghum Stuffing. It cooks up similarly to brown rice.
You can also cook it like a breakfast porridge and top it with fruit just like you would oatmeal. It can be a good low histamine, low lectin substitute for breakfast cereals.
It’s great sprinkled into salads, too.
Next, let’s look at cassava flour. Otto’s is the best brand of cassava flour I’ve had.
Otto’s is the only brand I know for sure isn’t fermented. This makes it the only low histamine brand of cassava flour.
It’s a good ingredient to use to replace foods like tortillas which contain corn. I don’t even miss corn tortillas now that we make these cassava tortillas.
Olive Oil or Avocado Oil
This one is straightforward. If you are reacting to corn, you won’t want to use corn oil for cooking. (Check straight vegetable oil as well.)
Instead, you can use a good quality olive oil like Kasandrinos.
Baking and Cooking
In our list above, you’ll see that we mentioned you can find corn in soups and sauces. Corn starch is often used as a thickener. It’s frequently found in restaurant foods.
If you are cooking at home, you may still find that the recipe you are using calls for corn starch for this reason, too.
In place of it you can use a tapioca starch.
We already talked about popped sorghum instead of popcorn. Tortilla chips are another very popular snack. There are other reasons besides corn you might avoid chips if you are histamine intolerant. But I know that sometimes a crunchy, salty snack is just the thing you crave.
You can check out this Cassava Herbed Cracker recipe for something crunchy and salty that’s good to eat with dips and such.
Kale Chips are also surprisingly satisfying when you want something salty and crispy. You want to get organic kale. The variety of kale matters, too. Lacinato or Dinosaur varieties are your best bet. Curly kale is higher oxalate.
To make kale chips, break up the kale into small pieces. (It will shrink during the cook, so don’t make them too small.) Lightly toss in avocado oil and salt. Spread on a baking sheet and bake on 375 degrees F for about 10 minutes or until desired crispiness.
Where Else is Corn Hiding? – what to know if you have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or Histamine Intolerance
Corn isn’t just in food. It’s in a lot of the non-edible products we use, too.
Many people won’t be bothered by these in the least.
But, if you’re someone who has a serious corn allergy, you may want to know about corn in these products:
- Biodegradable food containers and wrappers
- Starched medical gloves
- Pet food
- Certain fabrics and clothing
- Shampoo and soap
- IV dextrose
- Some supplements
This really depends on your level of sensitivity. For example, you might not be able to eat corn, but drinking with a straw or using soap with a corn derivative might not be an issue for you.
Some people in our Mast Cell 360 community are extremely sensitive, though, and we want to try to help them out, too.
If you are looking to replace some of the products above, here are some of my favorites:
Toothpaste: I like Primal Life Organics Toothpowder
Shampoo: I like this honey and coconut one from 100% Pure.
Soap: Dr. Bronner’s is a standard go-to.
Make-Up: I like Primal Life Organics and some of the products from 100%Pure. 100% Pure has recently changed some of their formulas, so be sure to check that the product you have in mind will meet your needs.
If you have sensitivities, always be sure to check the ingredients of any product you are considering. You never know what you might find!
And if you have corn sensitivities for any reason and have found some good ways to replace it, let us know in the comments!
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References for What to Know About Corn if You Have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or Histamine Intolerance
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American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. (n.d.). Immunoglobulin E (IgE) Defined | AAAAI. AAAAI. Retrieved December 16, 2021, from https://www.aaaai.org/Tools-for-the-Public/Allergy,-Asthma-Immunology-Glossary/Immunoglobulin-E-(IgE)-Defined
Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2021, August 4). corn. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/plant/corn-plant
Capili, B., Anastasi, J. K., & Chang, M. (2016). Addressing the Role of Food in Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptom Management. The journal for nurse practitioners : JNP, 12(5), 324-329. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nurpra.2015.12.007
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (2020, September 28). GMO Crops, Animal Food, and Beyond. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved December 16, 2021, from https://www.fda.gov/food/agricultural-biotechnology/gmo-crops-animal-food-and-beyond?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_
Cleveland Clinic. (2020, December 3). Gut-Brain Connection: What It is, Behavioral Treatments. Retrieved December 21, 2021, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/
Drossman, D. A., MD. (2021, March 30). Diet and IBS. About IBS. Retrieved December 19, 2021, from https://aboutibs.org/what-is-ibs/diet-and-ibs/
Freed D. L. (1999). Do dietary lectins cause disease?. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 318(7190), 1023–1024. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.318.7190.1023
Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). 5 Foods to Avoid if You Have IBS. Retrieved December 18, 2021, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/
Peillex, C., & Pelletier, M. (2020). The impact and toxicity of glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides on health and immunity. Journal of immunotoxicology, 17(1), 163–174. https://doi.org/10.1080/1547691X.2020.1804492
Ramsay, D. B., Stephen, S., Borum, M., Voltaggio, L., & Doman, D. B. (2010). Mast cells in gastrointestinal disease. Gastroenterology & hepatology, 6(12), 772–777.
Rosen, S. (2010, April). Ingredients Derived From Corn – What to Avoid. Live Corn Free. Retrieved December 16, 2021, from http://www.livecornfree.com/2010/04/ingredients
Traina G. (2019). Mast Cells in Gut and Brain and Their Potential Role as an Emerging Therapeutic Target for Neural Diseases. Frontiers in cellular neuroscience, 13, 345. https://doi.org/10.3389/fncel.2019.00345
University of New Mexico. (2020, June 3). Researchers document the first use of maize in Mesoamerica. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 15, 2021 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020
University of Rochester Medical Center. (n.d.). Corn-Free Diet – Pediatric Nutrition – Golisano Children’s Hospital – University of Rochester Medical Center. Retrieved December 16, 2021, from https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/childrens-hospital/nutrition/corn-free.aspx
USDA. (2021, June 28). USDA ERS – Feedgrains Sector at a Glance. Economic Research Service United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved December 15, 2021, from https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/crops/corn-and-other-feedgrains/feedgrains-sector-at-a-glance/
Vasconcelos, I. M., & Oliveira, J. T. A. (2004, September 15). Antinutritional properties of plant lectins. ScienceDirect. Retrieved December 17, 2021, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/