What is tyramine?

If you experience migraine headaches or take monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), you may have heard of a tyramine-free diet. Tyramine is a compound produced by the breakdown of an amino acid called tyrosine. It’s naturally present in some foods, plants, and animals.

Your adrenal glands generally respond to tyramine by sending catecholamines — fight-or-flight chemicals that act both as hormones and neurotransmitters — into the bloodstream. These messenger chemicals include:

  • dopamine
  • norepinephrine
  • epinephrine

This gives you a boost of energy and, in turn, elevates your blood pressure and heart rate.

Most people consume tyramine-containing foods without experiencing any negative side effects. However, the release of this hormone can cause life-threatening blood pressure spikes, especially when consumed in excess.

Tyramine-rich foods might interact with or alter how medications work in your body. For example, certain MAOIs, including certain antidepressants and medications for Parkinson’s disease, can cause tyramine buildup.

Excessive tyramine intake may lead to a hypertensive crisis that can be fatal, according to the Mayo Clinic. A hypertensive crisis can occur when blood pressure is so high that you have a greater chance of stroke or death.

If you have a poor ability to break down amines such as tyramine or histamine, you may experience allergic-type reactions to small amounts of amines. Your doctor may say that you’re “amine intolerant.”

For the majority of people who are amine intolerant, tyramine’s effects are most obvious when you have excessive amounts. At high enough levels, you might experience symptoms, such as:

  • heart palpitations
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • headaches

If you think you may be sensitive to tyramine or if you’re taking MAOIs, report any symptoms to your doctor.

As a treatment for migraines, some doctors recommend trying a low-tyramine or tyramine-free diet. The diet’s effectiveness for treating migraines isn’t medically proven.

If you’re sensitive to tyramine or you’re taking MAOIs, you may want to limit your intake of tyramine-rich foods and beverages to lower your chances for tyramine buildup.

High-tyramine foods

Certain foods have high amounts of tyramine, especially foods that are:

  • fermented
  • cured
  • aged
  • spoiled

Specific foods with high tyramine content include:

  • strong or aged cheeses like cheddar, blue cheese, or gorgonzola
  • cured or smoked meats or fish, such as sausage or salami
  • beers on tap or home-brewed
  • some overripe fruits
  • certain beans, such as fava or broad beans
  • some sauces or gravies like soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, or bouillon-based sauces
  • pickled products like sauerkraut
  • sourdough breads
  • fermented soy products like miso soup, bean curd, or tempeh; some forms of tofu are also fermented and should be avoided such as “stinky tofu”

Moderate-tyramine foods

Some cheeses are less tyramine-rich, including:

  • American
  • Parmesan
  • farmer’s
  • Havarti
  • Brie

Other foods with moderate levels of tyramine include:

  • avocados
  • anchovies
  • raspberries
  • wines

You may be able to have some beer or other alcoholic drinks. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider.

Low- or no-tyramine foods

Fresh, frozen, and canned meats, including poultry and fish, are acceptable for low-tyramine diets.

If you want to limit your tyramine intake, follow these guidelines:

  • Use extra caution when selecting, storing, and preparing your food.
  • Eat fresh produce within two days of purchase.
  • Read all food and drink labels carefully.
  • Avoid spoiled, aged, fermented, or pickled foods.
  • Don’t thaw foods at room temperature. Thaw in the refrigerator or the microwave instead.
  • Eat canned or frozen foods, including produce, meats, poultry, and fish, right after opening.
  • Buy fresh meats, poultry, and fish and eat them the same day, or freeze them immediately.
  • Keep in mind that cooking will not lower tyramine content.
  • Use caution when you eat out because you don’t know how foods have been stored.

Tyramine buildup in the body has been associated with migraine headaches and life-threatening blood pressure spikes in people taking MAOI antidepressants.

If you experience migraine headaches, think you may be intolerant to amines, or take MAOIs, you may want to consider a low-tyramine or tyramine-free diet. Talk to your doctor first, and ask them if this diet will work well with your ongoing medical treatment.