When Mast Cells Get Overexcited
Updated: Apr 11
Dealing With Inflammation That Doesn't Go Away
Are you sensitive to perfumes, foods, noise, or smoke. Do you have an aversion to smart phones or computers or electrical pylons? Perhaps you’re the person who notices the chlorine in water or bleach in a bathroom?
Perhaps you take things ”to heart”, feel overwhelmed or anxious, have difficulty resting or sleeping. Maybe you experience I.B.S or migraines, urinary infections, heart palpitations, skin conditions, dizziness or difficulty taking a full breath.
Recently I’ve been researching mast cells and the part they play in the immune response.
When Mast Cells Over-react
Sometimes our mast cells can become over excited or over-reactive. This can happen for many reasons for example, during a period of physical or emotional stress, a long illness, fighting a virus or living in the presence of a toxin such as mould.
As a part of our adaptive immunity, mast cells remember potential threats such as a virus or pathogen and as such they activate when they recognise a particular trigger. In the case of allergies, we can see how these triggers are not always an actual threat for example in hay- fever. See below for a list of possible triggers.
When Mast Cells become over-reactive, they continue to produce inflammation and pain even when the threat has passed. This can produce a broad spectrum of symptoms depending on where the mast cells are in the body. For example, allergies, skin conditions, dizziness, I.B.S, migraines, gut bloating, breathing difficulties, anxiety, depression, body pain that doesn’t go away or comes and goes or travels around the body.
What are Mast Cells?
Mast Cells are an important part of our immune system, helping us to fight disease and heal injury’s. Their job is to create inflammation and pain.
They are very specialised; they control both themselves and other cells in the immune process. As such they can both create inflammation and supress inflammation.
Mast cells live all over our body, they accumulate around sites vulnerable to invasions such as the gut, the lungs, the skin, and at the openings of the body; the mouth, anus, and genitals; they live within the tissues throughout the body, regulating our nerves, our hormones and our tissues and internal organs.
Some Common Triggers that get mast cells excited
· Specific Foods
· Toxins in food/ water
· Insect stings / bites
· Medical procedures
· Surgical implantations e.g., breast enhancements
· Toxins in the environment e.g., pesticides, smog, smoke
· Radiation and exposure to electromagnetic fields (e.g., computers, phones, pylons)
· Airplane, car, bus travel
· Infections; bacterial, virus’s, fungal, parasites
· Direct sunlight
· Pressure and temperature changes
· Pharmaceutical drugs
Mast Cell Activation Syndrome: M.C.A.S.
M.C.A.S is a newly recognised condition (2017) of mast cells that become “stuck” in an over-reacting pattern. This is currently considered if symptoms are in more than one part of the body and chronic (over a long period of time). Below are some of the symptoms of M.C.A.S.
Symptoms of M.C.A.S.
· Feeling generally ill
· Fatigue and malaise
· Feeling cold / low grade fevers
· Unprovoked sweats especially at night ( and also in daytime)
· Decreased or increased appetite
· Changes in weight
· Rhinitis, nose drips, excess mucus production
· Difficulties breathing
· Heart palpitations
· Low or high blood pressure
· High Cholesterol (with a good diet)
· Skin conditions; urticaria, itching (pruritus), hives (urticaria), swelling (angioedema) and skin turning red (flushing)
· I.B.S or difficulties digesting.
· Nausea / vomiting
· Urinary infections
· Brain fog and memory loss
· Dizziness, vertigo
· Headaches or migraines
· Hearing problems, tinnitus
· Allergies; to food, chemicals, the environment
· Sensitivity to smells, foods, the environment.
· Mouth ulcers, burning mouth.
· Swellings (anywhere in the body)
· Swollen lymph nodes
· Muscle spasms / cramps / aches and atrophy of muscles (reduction in muscle mass)
· Hormonal imbalances
· Anaemia and irregular blood counts
· Chronic pain
· Facial flushing
· Anxiety /depression
Now it’s worth noting that just because you have one or more of the above symptoms, you most likely do not have M.C.A.S. Many of these conditions come and go for lots of people.
Dr L Afrin, one of the leading experts in M.C.A.S suggests “does every sniffle mean M.C.A.S.?, tummy ache? Of course not. But chronic sniffles or tummy ache, headaches or rash, aches and pains or fatigue – especially chronic symptoms in multiple systems which can’t be explained by routine testing, and which don’t respond well to standard treatments – might be signs of M.C.A.S.
Histamine Intolerance (H.I.T)
Histamine Intolerance can come from a lower ability to process histamine (through genetics), or due to mast cells over-reacting and releasing larger quantities of histamine into the bloodstream. Common symptoms are sweating, itching, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting.
Treating Inflammation and Mast Cells with Natural Health.
Natural Health has been shown to play an important role in managing inflammation and M.C.A.S., for some people reducing symptoms and for some even eliminating symptoms.
A Low Histamine Diet
An essential component to Natural Healing is observing a low histamine diet. Histamine is one of the common chemicals released by mast cells and is instrumental in the production of inflammation and pain. Reducing histamine in foods eaten, takes a “load” off the stressed body and can alleviate symptoms. Often people report a marked change in symptoms whilst on a low histamine diet.
A High Nutritional Diet
Adding in high nutritional foods supports your body to regenerate and helps with energy levels, whilst certain foods can help with detoxification and reducing inflammation.
Organic and fresh foods (wherever possible) help to reduce the toxic load on the body. Fresh home cooked foods further reduce the histamine levels in the body.
Flavonoids are found in many fruits, vegetables, nuts seeds, herbs, spices, and oils. These have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Quercetin is one of the well-known flavonoids that reduces the release of histamine. It can be found in many herbs and vegetables, in particular red onions, radish, dill, cilantro, fennel, watercress, kale, blueberries, cranberries and plumbs.
Natural Antihistamines are found in stinging nettle, vitamin C, quercetin (found in apples) , butterbur, bromelain (found in pineapples), and ginger.
Vitamins and Minerals: supplementation can be helpful, but it’s worth remembering that getting the dosage right can make all the difference to the body’s ability to process supplements. Supplements can be spread out during the week rather than a larger daily cocktail.
Magnesium and vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency may be indicated where the skin, heart, brain, or sugar metabolism is affected. Magnesium reduces inflammation and is crucial for many body functions including muscle and nerve function and metabolism. Vitamin B deficiencies are also common, they increase our D.A.O, which is an enzyme that breaks down histamine. Taking D.A.O as a supplement is often advised.
Turmeric is a well-known powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, deserving its own recognition here. Add it to food or take as a morning tea for cleansing and de-toxifying. Probiotics are recommended to support the gut- biome which in turn regulates our immune reactions and the production and absorption of the nutrition essential for change.
Mast cells help to regulate our fight, flight, and freeze mechanisms having an influence on
the hormonal release of adrenalin (short term) and cortisol (long term). When mast cells over-react, they may continue to signal the nervous system that there is a threat. This can result in a permanent fight/flight freeze response, or a dysregulated response (dysautonomia), where the fight/flight/ freeze response is randomly switched on and switched off.
Self- care techniques that reduce stress and bring balance to the mind, body and spirit can make a huge difference to a person; calming the whole body, aiding re-generation, and supporting the mast cells to relax.
There are so many ways to relax and reduce stress; for example, breathing techniques, yoga, positive thinking, walks in nature, visualisation, dancing, uplifting music, bodywork, therapies etc.
Regulating the Vagus Nerve and Building Vagal Tone
The recent work of Dr. Stephen Porges offers new understanding on how the Vagus nerve plays a much greater role in the “fight, flight, freeze” response. Stanley Rosenberg, a bodywork therapist, took this theory and developed new, wonderful ways into the body, to access the Vagus nerve, supporting people back into the “rest and digest mode”.
By regular signalling of this resting point in the body, we can develop resilience, building vagal tone or our ability to come back from challenging situations and illness. Through the immune and nervous system feedback loops, this could be an effective way of calming mast cell activity.
Healing past Trauma
Trauma is simply the residue of shocks and difficult experiences that we have been unable to process at the time that they happened. These experiences get stored in the cellular structure of the body.
Sometimes trauma comes to the surface for healing. This can happen during a life transition such as puberty or menopause, or during a stressful time.
Witnessing a past event with the compassion and support that was not available at the time is sometimes all that’s necessary for the body to be able to release past trauma. Energy medicine, physical therapies, vibrational healing, and many other therapies are known to release trauma and allow space for change and growth.
Stanley Rosenberg; Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve; Self-help Exercises for Anxiety, Depression, Trauma and Autism
Peter A. Levine; Waking the Tiger; Healing Trauma
Dr Lawrence B Afrin M.D: Never Bet Against Occam: Mast Cell Activation Disease and the Modern Epidemics of Chronic Illness and Medical Complexity
Amber Walker: Mast Cells United: A Holistic Approach to Mast Cell Activation Syndrome