Analyzing Biogenic Amines by Ion Chromatography

Determination of histamine, serotonin, and other biogenic amines

Biogenic amines are common in plants and animals, and help to regulate growth, control blood pressure, and facilitate neural transmission. In foods and beverages, biogenic amines can be formed by the decarboxylation of amino acids from microbial activity. They occur naturally in fish, meat, dairy, fruits, vegetables, and chocolate. Consumption of low concentrations of biogenic amines is not dangerous, but consuming high concentrations can result in hypertension, migraines, increased cardiac output, and other unwanted symptoms.

Analysis of biogenic amines

Determining biogenic amines can be a challenge because they are usually hydrophobic, are poor chromophores, and often occur in low concentrations in complex matrices. Ion chromatography using a weak acid cation-exchange column allows separation of biogenic amines without the use of highly concentrated acidic eluents or organic solvents, while still providing resolution of closely eluting peaks. The milder separation conditions allow the use of suppressed conductivity to detect many underivatized biogenic amines.

Partial list of biogenic amines

  • Dopamine
  • Serotonin
  • Tyramine
  • Putrescine
  • Cadaverine
  • Histamine
  • Agmatine
  • Phenylethylamine
  • Spermidine
  • Spermine
Catecholamines including:
  • Norepinephrine
  • Epinephrine
  • Dopamine

Regulatory information

Few regulations exist around maximum levels of biogenic amines in the U.S. or abroad.

  • A maximum average histamine content of 10mg/100g (100 ppm) was established in the European Union for tuna and other fish in the Scombridae and Scomberesocidae families.
  • Switzerland had a published tolerance value for histamine in wine at 10mg/L, but the regulation was suspended.
  • A study published by the FDA listed effects in relation to the amount of histamine ingested at one meal as follows:
    • 8–40mg histamine, mild poisoning
    • 70–1,000mg histamine, disorders of moderate intensity
    • 1,500–4,000mg histamine, severe incidents

Example application notes

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