Mast Cell Issues & Histamine Intolerance

Mast cells are a type of immune cell that are most commonly known for their role in allergic reactions. Allergic reactions from seasonal allergies accompanied by watery eyes and a runny nose or the more serious and potentially life-threatening anaphylactic reactions. However, they are involved in so much more than just these two conditions. 

 

Mast cells are located all throughout the body which is why they have such resounding effects across organ systems. They influence your ability to produce gastric juices, help in wound healing, serve as neurotransmitters, influence pain perception, play a role in gut permeability, and even influence blood pressure and vascular integrity. Trust me, the list is far longer than this! They are a big deal in the body.

 

Common Symptoms of Mast Cell/Histamine Intolerance1:

  • Facial flushing, facial swelling around the eyes or lips

  • Itching, rashes, hives

  • Nasal itching, congestion, runny nose

  • Shortness of breath, wheezing

  • Throat itching, swelling, soreness, post-nasal drip

  • Headaches

  • Cognitive issues like anxiety, depression, irritability, forgetfulness/brain fog

  • Gastrointestinal issues: diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, indigestion, poor digestion, reflux

  • Cardiovascular issues: low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, chest pains

  • Uterine cramps/pain

 

Awareness of mast cell related illness is becoming more common. Mast Cell Activation Disorder (MCAD) is an umbrella term for mast cell conditions: mast cell activation syndrome, mastocytosis, and mast cell leukemia. The latter 2 are much more rare. And, all of these conditions must be assessed and worked up by an allergist. They are able to do bloodwork, specific urine collections, and even bone marrow biopsy (when indicated) to formally diagnose MCAD conditions.2

 

Unsurprisingly people with mast cell issues can have a variety of symptoms due to their mast cells breaking open and releasing their contents. Mast cells are most well known for their release of histamine, however, they actually contain numerous different biological molecules that have wide-ranging effects. For example, mast cells also contain heparin which is a blood thinner3. They also contain serotonin which is a neurotransmitter that impacts central nervous system response and cognitive function4. 

 

Common mast cell triggers1: 

  • Stress: emotional, physical, including pain, or environmental

  • Physical activity/exercise

  • Exhaustion

  • Different types of drugs (opioids, NSAIDs, antibiotics and some local anesthetics) and contrast dyes

  • Natural odors, chemical odors, perfumes and scents

  • Venoms (snakes, spiders, insects)

  • Infections (viral, bacterial or fungal)

  • Mechanical irritation, friction, vibration

  • Sun/sunlight

  • Temperature changes: heat/cold

 

Furthermore, in addition to MCAS, mastocytosis, and mast cell leukemia there are people that have histamine intolerances that are not diagnosed with MCAD conditions. They often have symptoms related to mast cell release but responses are typically less severe. 

 

In my practice, I work with people that have MCAS or histamine intolerance and am always looking for underlying triggers. The mast cells are the ‘grunty sentinels’ of the immune system. You actually need them, as much as you may curse them when they are behaving overzealously. The biggest thing needed for healing or decreasing reactivity is determining triggers, as well as, any underlying root causes for chronic illness. Chronic viral illness, mold issues/CIRS (chronic inflammatory response syndrome), Lyme disease, heavy metal toxicity, and autoimmune disease can all be contributing to exacerbating mast cell excitability and release. 

 

My role is to help you determine triggers, assess for the root cause, and also offer support to help you acutely and long-term/while you’re healing. We will discuss dietary interventions and, for the record, my goal is to get you to eat a more normal and varied diet which even includes foods containing histamine! I also will discuss supplements that help stabilise your mast cells and improve gastrointestinal health as the gut is the root of your immune function. And, we will delve into all aspects of your health including assessment for chronic illness, optimizing immune function, balancing hormone activity, and improving your stress response. All of this impacts your mast cell reactivity & immune response as well. 

 

Do you think you have a mast cell activation disorder or histamine-related issues? Please reach out. I’d be happy to help you get to feeling better.



 

Citations

  1. U. (2019, July 29). Symptoms and Triggers of Mast Cell Activation - TMS - The Mast Cell Disease Society, INC. Retrieved September 09, 2020, from https://tmsforacure.org/symptoms/symptoms-and-triggers-of-mast-cell-activation/

  2. P. Valent, H., P. Valent, C., J. Homann, U., C. Akin, P., MJ. Hamilton, M., I. Alvarez-Twose, D., . . . GJ. Molderings, G. (1970, January 01). Mast cell activation disease: A concise practical guide for diagnostic workup and therapeutic options. Retrieved September 09, 2020, from https://jhoonline.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1756-8722-4-10

  3. Karolinska Institutet. "Heparin a key role player in allergy and inflammatory reactions." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 February 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110225090848.htm>

  4. Wernersson, S., &amp; Pejler, G. (2014, June 06). Mast cell secretory granules: Armed for battle. Retrieved September 09, 2020, from https://www.nature.com/articles/nri3690

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