Mast Cell Activation Syndrome – Unravelling the Mysteries

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Mast Cell Activation Syndrome Cell Image

Have you heard of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome? If you’re affected, you’ll know how incredibly frustrating it can be. But if you’ve been searching for answers to your symptoms, this relatively unknown condition could be at the root of your health issues. Read on to find out more.

Meet Your Mast Cells

Mast cells are cells in your immune system helping to fight infection. They normally sit quietly constantly monitoring the environment, alert for danger. When they encounter a threat, they react by releasing a burst of potent pro-inflammatory chemicals, including histamine – you might be familiar with this substance as it’s involved in allergies. This reaction is part of your immune response, designed to protect you, and it’s really helpful if it happens correctly.

However, sometimes mast cells function abnormally, becoming hyperreactive and releasing excessive inflammatory chemicals in response to stimuli. Or, they may respond to perfectly harmless substances, believing them to be dangerous when they’re not. The result is mast cell activation syndrome or MCAS.  

Mast cells are found in most body organs, particularly those coming in contact with the outside world such as your skin, the linings of your respiratory system, and your intestines.

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome - cell diagram

Symptoms of MCAS

Because mast cells are found all over your body, symptoms of MCAS can be extremely varied and widespread, affecting everyone differently. Behind the symptoms is an increase in inflammation.

Common symptoms of MCAS include allergic-type reactions like itchy skin and rashes, eye irritation, breathlessness and wheezing. However, if you’re affected, you may also experience fatigue, fibromyalgia-like pain in multiple areas of your body, light-headedness or fainting, skin swelling and flushing, tingling, nausea or vomiting, rapid heart rate, chills, brain fog, depression and digestive issues.

At the extreme end of the MCAS scale, occasionally sufferers may experience a life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.

Because these symptoms are often attributed to other conditions, MCAS can be missed.

MCAS has a close relationship with other chronic disorders such as obesity, depression, IBS and diabetes. For example, people with IBS are four times as likely to have a mast cell disorder than the general population. In fact, it seems mast cells may be involved in preventing the lining of the large intestine from becoming too permeable.

What Triggers MCAS?

The release of inflammatory chemicals is in response to a trigger from the environment. These can range from alcohol, insect stings, changes in temperature, stress, foods and food additives to environmental chemicals, perfumes, bacteria and moulds, hormone changes and some medicines. This means there are often periodical flare-ups of symptoms.

Conventional medicine treats MCAS with antihistamines, preventing the action of histamine in the body by blocking receptors. Or you may be prescribed medicines to prevent mast cells from releasing histamine. However, these don’t address the reasons why your mast cells are malfunctioning.

Histamines and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome

Root Causes of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome

Functional medicine always searches for the causes of symptoms. In the case of MCAS, it’s important to discover why your mast cells are behaving inappropriately. Mast cells can be affected by several factors:
  • Toxic metals. Aluminium and mercury are both known to disrupt mast cells.
  • Gut Dysbiosis. An imbalance in the bacteria resident in your digestive system can inappropriately activate mast cells. This is not surprising, since the majority of your immune system sits in your gut, and some friendly bacteria emit substances moderating histamine release.
  • Toxins from Moulds. Ongoing exposure to toxic substances released by moulds can disrupt mast cells.

Support for Mast Cell Activation Syndrome with Functional Medicine

A personalised consultation will evaluate which factors are triggering your symptoms, and remove these as far as possible, at least initially, to allow your mast cells to function normally again.

Functional testing can assess your microbiome health, and discover whether your body has an accumulation of mould toxins.

A programme of dietary, lifestyle and supplement measures will support your digestive, immune and detoxification systems to bring your mast cells back into balance.

It’s a good idea to follow an anti-inflammatory diet, emphasising nutrient-dense, plant-based foods, oily fish and good quality protein while avoiding sugar, alcohol and processed foods. It can be helpful to adopt a low-histamine diet because some foods contain histamine or encourage its release from mast cells.

Specific foods and nutrients known to reduce mast cell activation, such as turmeric, quercetin and vitamin C can be useful to stabilise mast cells. Stress management techniques like yoga, meditation and exercise may be advised, as mast cells can be destabilised by stress, with stress hormones stimulating histamine release. Establishing good sleep hygiene is important to help balance your mast cells because these cells have their own body clock. This means no blue light from screens for at least two hours before bed and regular sleep times.

To discover the root cause of your symptoms and regain control of your health, contact Embracing Nutrition today.

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