Why are there dietary restrictions?

Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi vine) is a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI).MAOIs block an enzyme called monoamine oxidase, which breaks down excess tyramine in the body. Tyramine is an amino acid that helps regulate blood pressure. But tyramine can reach dangerous levels if you eat foods containing tyramine while on an MAOI. This can lead to a sudden spike in blood pressure, and to stroke, brain hemorrhage and death. There have been nearly 100 deaths recorded due to interaction between pharmaceutical MAOIs and tyramine-containing foods.

However, Ayahuasca is a reversible MAOI, or RIMA. RIMAs are not as dangerous as other MAOIs and there has never been a recorded fatality due to a food interaction with Ayahuasca. However, food interactions with Ayahuasca can nevertheless cause unpleasant symptoms such as severe headache (sometimes lasting for days) and accelerated heartbeat. There is also significant anecdotal evidence that eating proscribed foods can contribute to the risk of panic attack. Sometimes people eat proscribed foods with Ayahuasca with no problems, yet on occasion very small amounts of proscribed foods may cause symptoms. Through Surveys conducted, it is suggested that food interactions may happen about 30% of the time that people eat proscribed foods with Ayahuasca. Sometimes the same person may have no problem eating proscribed foods with Ayahuasca on some occasions but have reactions on other occasions.

The MAOI safety diet should not be confused with the spiritual/shamanic dieta practiced in the Amazon. (On this forum, we use the word diet for the MAOI safety diet and the Spanish word dieta for the shamanic diet.) The purpose of the shamanic dieta (which basically involves avoiding flavorful foods, salt, sugar, spices, etc., as well as sexual and social stimulation) is to sensitize oneself to the plant spirits. More on the dieta can be found here and here.

What foods need to be avoided with MAOIs?

Basically foods that are aged, preserved, dried, fermented, pickled, cured (meats), rancid, old, outdated, overripe, or even slightly spoiled.

The following foods are recommended to be avoided with MAOIs:

  • – Meat that is not fresh, especially unfresh liver (fresh meat and fresh liver are safe)
  • Bologna, pepperoni, salami, corned beef, sausage, hot dogs, any cured meats
  • – Smoked, fermented, pickled (herring) and otherwise aged or dried fish, lox; any fish that is not fresh
  • – Fermented tofu, fermented bean curd, fermented soybean paste, miso soup (contains fermented bean curd)
  • – Soy sauce (soy sauce even in very small quantities has been implicated in a number of anecdotal reports on this forum)
  • – Teriyaki sauce
  • – Cheeses, especially aged cheeses (ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, cottage cheese and cream cheese are safe)
  • – Protein extracts
  • – Liquid or powdered protein dietary supplements
  • – Canned soups, or soups made with protein extracts or bouillon
  • – Gravies and foods made with meat extracts
  • – Dried egg whites
  • – Defatted peanut flour
  • – Brewer’s yeast, yeast vitamin supplements, yeast extracts, foods with yeast in ingredients
  • – Sourdough bread
  • – Shrimp paste
  • – Sauerkraut
  • – Pickled foods
  • – Olives (unless you can get fresh ones)
  • – Fruits that are bruised or overripe
  • – Avocados that are very soft, mushy, overripe or starting to turn grey (slightly underripe avocados are fine in moderation). Guacamole should be avoided.
  • – Banana peels (as though you’d eat them anyway) and bananas that are overripe (turning brown or black). Bananas that are not overripe or bruised are totally fine, and are often eaten around Ayahuasca ceremonies in the Amazon.
  • – Dried fruits, such as raisins and prunes
  • – Fruit cake and candied fruits
  • – Cranberries, canned
  • – Red wine, especially Chianti; sherry, vermouth, champagne, brandy; beers and ales, including nonalcoholic; whiskey and liqueurs such as Drambuie and Chartreuse
  • – Dairy products that are close to the expiration date or that have been unrefrigerated (fresh yogurt is safe)
  • – Any food that has the word “hydrolyzed” or “autolyzed” in the ingredient list

In addition to the preceding foods (which are aged, fermented, preserved, overripe, etc) avoid the following in large quantities:

  • – Broad beans (fava and lima beans) – in large quantities
  • – Navy beans – in large quantities
  • – Peanuts – in large quantities
  • – Brazil nuts – in large quantities
  • – Coconut and coconut oil – in large quantities (coconut juice or coconut milk is safe)
  • – Raspberries – in large quantities
  • – New Zealand or Hot Weather Spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides, a different plant from regular spinach, Spinacia oleracea, which is safe) – in large quantities
  • – Parsley – in large quantities
  • – Dill weed – in large quantities
  • – Dried seaweed – in large quantities
  • – Nutmeg – in large quantities
  • – Kombucha – in large quantities
  • – Dark chocolate – in large quantities (the theobromine in it may be potentiated, causing fast heartbeat)
    – Caffeine in large quantities (in a few rare individuals, there may be a severe interaction with even small amounts of caffeine)
  • Also avoid:
    – Aspartame (Nutrasweet)
    – Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) (or anything with the word “hydrolyzed,” code for MSG)

How long do they need to be avoided?

24 hours before and after drinking the medicine should be sufficient.

Is it really important to avoid those foods?

The warnings about tyramine interaction sound very serious, because they are adapted from warnings about interactions with pharmaceutical MAOIs. There are nearly 100 fatalities on record from food interactions with pharmaceutical MAOIs.

However, food interaction with Ayahuasca is frankly not as serious a matter as it is with pharmaceutical MAOIs, because Ayahuasca is a reversible (short-acting) MAOI, or RIMA. There are no fatalities on record from food interactions with Ayahuasca.

However, food interaction with Ayahuasca can be unpleasant, manifesting as a headache (which can be severe and may sometimes last for days) or as uncomfortable rapid heartbeat, and it could conceivably be life-threatening for a person with severe high blood pressure or heart disease. People with these conditions, therefore, should follow the MAOI safety diet very strictly when taking Ayahuasca.

But, except for people with serious heart conditions and/or serious high blood pressure, food interactions with Ayahuasca are not life-threatening, and the effects go away after hours or days with no lasting harm, and the percentage of people who have experienced adverse reactions from consuming MAOI-proscribed foods before or immediately after an Ayahuasca session consistently hovers around only 30%.

On the other hand, people who have no reaction on one occasion may have a reaction on another occasion. And people who have reported reactions often have eaten very small amounts of the proscribed food.

The main symptom of MAOI reaction is a headache that can be severe and can last for days. This is caused by a sudden spike in blood pressure.

(We have also had a number of anecdotal reports of blood pressure crashes, which may or may not be food related. The main symptom of a blood pressure crash is a sensation of being very cold, as well as weak and perhaps faint or dizzy.)

Furthermore, there is significant anecdotal evidence on this forum that not following the MAOI-safety diet increases the chances of panic attack.

And people with heart problems or high blood pressure, in particular, are advised to err on the side of caution as far as food interactions.

Please note: Peganum harmala (Syrian rue) is a stronger MAOI than Banisteriopsis (Ayahuasca vine) and has potentially more serious interactions.

What can I eat?

In terms of the MAOI safety diet, basically foods that are as fresh as possible and not overripe, preserved, fermented, cured, aged, or even slightly spoiled.

Starchy foods such as rice, bread, potatoes, etc are also fine.

Also avoid the following herbs for at least 48 hours before and after:

St. Johns Wort (if it has been taken regularly, needs two weeks to clear the system)
Carrot seed
Dill seed
Fennel seed
Horny Goat Weed
Licorice Root
Parsley seed
Rhodiola Rosea
Scotch Broom
Siberian Ginseng
Yerba Mate