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Uncovering The Link Between Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Chronic Illness

A healthy immune system defends the body against harmful infections, illnesses, and outside pathogens. It attacks the invaders and quickly eradicates them from your system.

When it comes to chronic illness, the immune system can react in a way that seems counterintuitive. The immune system may become overactive or even attack healthy cells.

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) is a condition where part of your immune system becomes overactive. It causes symptoms like itchy eyes and nose, hives, swelling, trouble breathing, diarrhea, headaches, anxiety, poor concentration, fatigue, and low blood pressure.

MCAS is treatable and many people find relief from symptoms with time. But treating the symptoms doesn’t help you figure out why your immune system became overactive in the first place.

Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine in Boulder, Colorado searches for the root cause of MCAS using functional medicine techniques. Their functional medicine and holistic medical providers break down complex health issues and their underlying mechanisms to provide comprehensive care for their patients.

Keep reading to learn more about MCAS, its connection to chronic health issues, and how a holistic approach can play a vital role in managing this condition.

What is Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS)?

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome is a condition where a type of white blood cell called mast cells release excessive amounts of chemical mediators into the body. The chemical mediators are released in response to various triggers and result in a wide range of symptoms that can affect multiple systems in the body. Histamine, heparin, and tryptase are all types of chemical mediators released by mast cells.

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome cellular image

Mast cells play a crucial role in the immune system, especially in allergic reactions and inflammation. They act as sentinels, detecting foreign substances and initiating appropriate immune responses. In MCAS, mast cells become overly sensitive and reactive, leading to chronic and often debilitating symptoms.

Research suggests that MCAS could be an underlying factor in various chronic health issues. Patients with MCAS often experience multi-system symptoms that can contribute to or exacerbate chronic conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), fibromyalgia, migraines, and chronic fatigue syndrome

MCAS has also been linked to autoimmune diseases and other immune dysfunctions, which makes diagnoses and treatment more challenging.

Symptoms of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome

MCAS can manifest with a myriad of symptoms, making it challenging to diagnose. Some common symptoms include:

  1. Skin issues: hives, rashes, flushing, itching
  2. Gastrointestinal problems: abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, bloating
  3. Respiratory issues: wheezing, shortness of breath, congestion
  4. Neurological symptoms: headaches, migraine, brain fog, dizziness
  5. Neuropsychiatric symptoms: anxiety irritability, depression 
  6. Cardiovascular issues: tachycardia, palpitations, low blood pressure
  7. Fatigue and muscle pain

Due to the variability of symptoms, MCAS often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. A combination of clinical assessment, medical history, and laboratory tests (such as measuring serum histamine, and tryptase levels or analyzing histamine levels in the urine) can help confirm the diagnosis.

Root Causes of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome

Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine diagnoses and treats chronic illnesses like MCAS by finding the root cause. 

It might seem like chronic illness develops randomly. You wake up one day with strange symptoms that slowly become your new normal. But the body doesn’t work like that. Chronic illness doesn’t appear randomly, and most of them have common root causes.

The root causes of MCAS could include:

  • Bacterial, viral, parasitic, and fungal infections
  • Mold 
  • Environmental toxins
  • Exposure to allergens
  • Exposure to hot or cold temperatures
  • Certain foods like alcohol, aged foods, fish and shellfish, bone broth, dairy, grains, avocados, tomatoes, and soy

Infections, mold, toxins, and allergens all trigger your immune system. If you don’t take steps to reduce your body’s toxin load, treat the infection, or eliminate the allergen, they will continue to trigger your immune system until you develop a chronic illness. 

For example, MCAS can be caused by toxic mold in your home or workplace. In the best-case scenario, you find the mold and get rid of it quickly. But even after you get rid of the mold, you might still have MCAS symptoms. 

That’s because mold makes itself a nice home in your body where the immune system can’t reach it. Without the proper diagnoses and supplements, you might live with mold in your system for years.

When you get rid of the mold from your body, you make it possible for your body to recover. Your immune system goes back to normal, and your symptoms become more manageable. 

Coping with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome

Given the complexity of MCAS, a holistic approach is essential to manage this condition. Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine recommends a few holistic strategies for coping with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome including identifying your triggers, changing your diet, and reducing stress!

Together, these strategies reduce inflammation and provide relief from symptoms.

1. Identifying Triggers

Work closely with your functional medicine provider to identify potential triggers such as allergens, infections, and stressors. When you avoid and minimize exposure to triggers, you can experience symptom relief.

2. Nutritional Support

Eat an anti-inflammatory diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids. An individualized dietary plan may also help address specific food sensitivities or allergies. You might also need to follow a low histamine diet while treating the underlying cause of mast cell activation syndrome. 

3. Gut Health

Improve gastrointestinal function with a combination of probiotics, prebiotics, and digestive enzymes to support a balanced gut microbiome. Many people with MCAS need specialized digestive enzymes like Hist DAO and probiotics like ProbiotaHistaminX that reduce MCAS symptoms.

4. Stress Reduction

Implement stress management techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga which help to reduce inflammation and promote overall well-being. You can also target the limbic system to help manage symptoms of MCAS with strategies like DNRS, the Gupta Program, and Brain Tap.

5. Targeted Supplementation

Supporting methylation with the right kind of vitamins as well as optimizing vitamin D, and minerals like copper and zine can help with mast cell stabilization. We also recommend incorporating supplements like quercetin, vitamin C, luteolin and diamine oxidase enzymes (aka DAO enzymes) to support mast cell stability and mitigate symptoms 

Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine also recommends over-the-counter medications like H1 and H2 blockers, compounded medications like ketotifen and cromolyn sodium, and utilizing prescriptions like hydroxyzine, and Singulair to manage MCAS.

Complex health issues like MCAS usually require collaboration between your primary care and a group of specialists. Allergists, immunologists, and other healthcare professionals support you and provide comprehensive care for chronic illnesses like Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.

Work with Boulder Holistic

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome is a complex condition that can significantly impact your quality of life. To treat MCAS, you need a provider that understands the intricacies of the illness and its connection to chronic health issues. 

The providers at Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine in Boulder, Colorado,  use their experience to diagnose and treat chronic diseases – like MCAS – to provide symptom relief and help return you to optimal health. If you have or think you might have MCAS and want help finding the cause of your illness, contact our office to schedule an appointment today!

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Dr. Amy Reidhead

Dr. Reidhead is a double board certified Chiropractic Physician and Family Nurse Practitioner. She is also a Fellow of the International Academy of Medical Acupuncture and holds a Bachelor of Science in both Nursing and Human Biology. She has spent the past 25 years honing her skills as a functional and integrative medical provider in Boulder, Colorado.