What are Amines?
Amines are a by-product of amino acid processing. Amino acids are the building blocks of our muscles, organs, and body, typically found in the proteins and animal tissues that we eat. Many foods are high in amines and contain “biogenic amines,” which break down into amines when digested. Biogenic amines can be found in meats, fish, dairy, fermented fruits, and vegetables (1). They are essential for health, preventing many different diseases (as we are about to discover) and keeping our body running smoothly. In particular, amines are important players in neurotransmitter functioning (signaling in the brain) and DNA and protein synthesis moderation (1). This underrated micronutrient has a significant effect on our health!
The Pros and Cons of Dietary Amines
Amines can improve our levels of “healthy” gut bacteria
Amines, such as tyramine and beta-phenylethylamine (found in chocolate, cheese, and wine), improve our levels of Lactobacillus, Lactococcus, and Enterococcus species (all of which are healthy, keep our gut functioning and digesting food normally). Researchers think that these amines might increase noradrenaline release in the digestive system, relaxing the gut. Amines have various effects on arteries and blood vessel relaxation and are suspected of facilitating digestion by increasing gastrointestinal circulation and gut bacterial levels. You might be interested in “5 Vegetables That Affect Your Gut.”
Excessive amines could increase cancer risk
Amines are important for our health, but they can have some drawbacks too. Meat consumption has been positively associated with colorectal cancer, and researchers suspect amine content can play a role in it (2). Some heterocyclic amines have been associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer. Heterocyclic amines promote cellular genetic material transformations, stimulating cancer-causing changes in cell reproduction, and signaling (3). Heterocyclic amines, quinolones, and quinoxalines are sub-categories of amines that have shown carcinogenic activity (4). They are typically found in meats and fish; this is why the consumption of these should be limited in your diet. However, the carcinogenic levels of these compounds (> ~1900 nanograms per day) are well above typical human consumption (5).
Foods High in Amines
Fish and Cheeses
When tested, fish, mackerel, tuna, and cod came back positive for measurable amounts of amines. Soybean products and fermented cheeses also came back positive for amines (6). Lighvan cheese samples tested positive for putrescine, cadaverine, histamine, and tyramine (7). Histamine, for example, is a biogenic amine that can lower blood pressure and stimulate gastric acid secretion in the stomach, aiding digestion (8). Tyramine is an amine that is used in pharmaceutical drugs to regulate blood pressure (9). These amines are great for health and help our digestive and circulatory systems run smoothly.
Fermented fruits and fruit products like wine are a great source of biogenic amines. White and red wines are both amine-rich, but red wine contains higher levels (10). Histamine, putrescine, and tyramine were all detected in various wines, which could be a great thing for circulation and digestion (11). It seems the odd glass of wine might not be such a bad thing after all!
Chocolate and Cacao have several health benefits. Check out the “10 Incredible Health Benefits of Cacao.”
Like wine, one of our other favorite vices is also a source of amines (12, 13). Dopamine, serotonin, tyramine, histamine, and 2-phenylethylamine were all detected in varying amounts in chocolate samples (14). Dopamine and serotonin are our “happy hormones,” which act as neurotransmitters, regulating happiness, memory, learning, sleep, digestion, and many others (15). Getting a bit more of these hormones in our diet is not bad for our overall health! And if we can get it from chocolate treats, I think most of us would happily sign up for this health regimen.
Loss of dopamine is also chiefly responsible for developing Parkinson’s disease, which results in behavioral motor problems, including tremors, lack of coordination, and potential memory loss (16). It’s a devastating disease that currently has no cure. Parkinson’s disease has a few treatment options, including dopamine agonists, which mimic dopamine in the brain (17). By getting more dopamine in your diet (an amine found in chocolate, wine, and other foods), you could help your body protect itself against dopamine losses, which could lead to Parkinson’s disease development. But remember, no single food can protect us from developing a disease, especially multifactorial (which can have many causes) diseases like Parkinson’s.
Amines may be the hidden treasure trove of beneficial micronutrients nutritionists are constantly on the hunt for. Amines have many functions, primarily affecting our digestive system, vasculature (blood vessels and arteries), and brain function. From digestive problems to Parkinson’s, amines might be a great preventative measure that we should all add to our diet. The foods that are typically “off-limits” in diets, including cheese, chocolate, wine, and fish, are all high in amines. While overdoing it is never a good thing (particularly with high fat and sugar foods), adding these to your diet in moderation might add more of these vital micronutrients and ward off future disease, keeping you in optimal health. Be on the lookout for amines in the future: read up on all of the additional health benefits of amines and where to find them.