Mast cell activation syndrome is a complex health issue that may affect multiple areas of your body. It may be triggered by mold, toxins, chemicals, heavy metals, allergens, food, and stress. It may cause rashes, hives, itching, headaches, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, loss of appetite, gastrointestinal issues, anxiety, and other symptoms.
The good news is that you can stabilize your mast cells and improve your health naturally. In this article, I will explain what are mast cells. You will learn about MCAS and its symptoms. You will understand the difference between MCAS and histamine intolerance. Finally, I will share my top tips for stabilizing mast cells.
What Are Mast Cells
Your mast cells are a type of white blood cells. They are found in connective tissues, including your digestive tract, skin, respiratory tract, urinary tract, reproductive organs, surrounding your nerves, and near your blood vessels and lymph vessels. Your mast cells play a critical role in your immune system by storing various inflammatory mast cell mediators, such as histamine.
If you encounter a substance that triggers an allergic reaction, your mast cells will get activated and release of histamine and other chemicals, such as prostaglandins, leukotrienes, cytokines and chemokines. Once released, histamine will bind to histamine receptors causing reactions in your body. This mediator release is part of your body’s natural immune response to protect you from harm.
What Is Mast Cell Activation Syndrome
Your mast cells are necessary for survival and health. However, if you have overactive mast cells, it can lead to mast cell disorders, such as mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), which may result in a variety of symptoms and health issues. MCAS is a complex health issue that affects various parts of your body. When your mast cells are activated, it leads to the secretion of histamine and other inflammatory mediators, which will lead to unwanted symptoms (1, 2, 3, 4).
Mast cell activation may be triggered by:
Allergens, including insect bites, gluten, other foods, and preservatives
Infections, including viruses and fungi
Chemicals and other toxins, including conventional cleaning and personal hygiene products
Heavy metals, including mercury from dental work
Smells, including perfumes and other conventional beauty or body products
Medications, including antibiotics, ibuprofen, and opiate pain relievers
Physical or psychological stress from anxiety, exercise, lack of sleep, pain, rapid temperature changes, or other factors
Hormonal changes, including hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle
Mast cell hyperplasia, which is a rare health condition related to certain chronic infections or cancers.
Mast Cell Activation Syndrome vs Histamine Intolerance: What’s the Difference
Your mast cells release histamine, MCAS is one of the common causes of histamine intolerance, and symptoms of MCAS and histamine intolerance can often overlap. So what is the difference between MCAS and histamine intolerance?
Histamine intolerance means that you have too much histamine in your body. You may develop histamine intolerance if your body encounters more histamine than it can handle. This usually happens due to a high-histamine diet, however, stress, toxins, infections, and other factors may add to your histamine load as well. If your body cannot break down the excess histamine, it will lead to a build-up of histamine or histamine intolerance.
MCAS, on the other hand, is not caused by too much histamine. If you have MCAS, your mast cells will get triggered by mold, toxins, chemicals, heavy metals, and other substances and release histamine. Stress can also cause mast cell degranulation. Getting triggered all the time and releasing histamine as a response can lead to a variety of symptoms, many of which are similar to symptoms of histamine intolerance.
While I see patients regularly who have both MCAS and histamine intolerance, this is not the case for everyone. MCAS is a common cause of histamine intolerance, but you may develop histamine intolerance without having MCAS. Histamine intolerance is a common symptom of MCAS, however, we see cases of MCAS without histamine intolerance. Since the two conditions can be connected and their symptoms can overlap, it’s critical that you work with a healthcare practitioner well-versed in both who can offer appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
Symptoms of MCAS
Symptoms of MCAS may vary from person to person. Symptoms can widespread affecting several areas of your body. They may be mild to severe. Your symptoms of MCAS may include:
Low blood pressure
Headaches of migraines
Loss of appetite or low appetite
Rapid weight loss or weight gain
Gastrointestinal trouble, including abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
Nervous system symptoms, such as anxiety
How to Stabilize Mast Cells
If we are looking at conventional options, a doctor of immunology may offer various pharmaceutical options for MCAS, including H1 blockers (eg. Zyrtec, Xyzal, Claritin, Allegra, hydroxyzine, doxepin, loratadine, fexofenadine, Benadryl), H2 blockers/H2antihistamines(eg. Pepcid, Zantac, Tagamet, famotidine), leukotriene inhibitors (eg. Montelukast, Singulair), and prescription mast cell stabilizers (eg. Cromolyn sodium, Ketotifen). If you have an allergic disease and experience a severe allergic reaction, such as anaphylaxis, a shot of epinephrine may be required using an EpiPen or at a hospital.
However, there are various natural options that integrative and functional medicine doctors recommend, including dietary strategies, lifestyle changes, and supplements.
If mast cell activation is the culprit behind your symptoms, I recommend a number of ways to stabilize them.
Reduce Triggers of Mast Cell Activation
Start by reducing your exposure to anything that may trigger your mast cells. Make sure that your home is free of mold. Use a high-quality air filtration system to improve your indoor air. Avoid chemicals, heavy metals, and environmental toxins. Instead of conventional cleaning, body, and beauty products, opt for organic, natural, or homemade options. Choose organic food whenever possible. Reduce stress and anxiety. Exercise regularly. Improve your sleep.
Detoxify Your Body
Help your body detoxify from mold, chemicals, heavy metals, and viruses that can trigger mast cell activation. Drink lots of water to hydrate your body and support detoxification through urine and sweat. Support sweating and detoxing through the skin by infrared sauna use and exercise. Try glutathione to protect your mitochondria from oxidative stress (5). Try activated charcoal, which can absorb toxins and help eliminate them (6). Support your gut with high-quality probiotics and a gut-friendly, anti-inflammatory diet.
Follow a Low-Histamine Diet
MCAS can increase histamine build-up and cause symptoms of histamine intolerance. You may benefit from following a low-histamine diet for 3 to 4 weeks. Eat plenty of low-histamine, anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense whole foods, such as greens, vegetables, herbs, fruits, eggs, pasture-raised poultry, grass-fed beef, and wild-caught fish. Avoid high-histamine foods that can trigger histamine release, or may act as DAO enzyme blockers, and increase histamine levels as outlined in this article.
Try Mast Call-Stabilizing Foods and Supplements
I recommend including foods that may help to stabilize your mast cells into your diet, including:
Thai ginger or galangal (11)
Brazil nuts (13)
Fiber-rich foods (17)
Quercetin-rich foods (18)
You may also benefit from supplementation with natural antihistamines and mast cell stabilizers, such as quercetin, resveratrol, curcumin, vitamin C, nettle leaf, luteolin, and DAO enzyme helpful (18, 19, 10, 20, 15, 21, 22).
1. Working with a healthcare practitioner knowledgeable in MCAS and histamine intolerance is the best way to get to the root cause of your symptoms and to create an individualized treatment plan. I welcome you to start a personalized functional medicine consultation with me. You may book your consultation here.
2. Check out my Histamine Intolerance Course here. Learn on your own time, from anywhere. Get an inside look at the most helpful functional medicine tests for pinpointing imbalances, ways to identify and manage the most common (and sometimes surprising) mast cell triggers, and learn what to eat, what to avoid, and why.