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Mast Cell Activation Syndrome – When The Immune System Runs Off the Rails

To show an image of mast cell activation

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS)

Mast cells are white blood cells in your body that function as part of your immune system. When you have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, you’ll usually experience symptoms that wax and wane throughout your life. MCAS is a troubling chronic condition that’s caused by overactive mast cells.

These symptoms often look like allergies. It’s estimated that MCAS takes an average of 10 years to diagnose, and some people may go their entire lives without knowing they have it. They have often been to multiple physicians with no diagnosis and no relief of their symptoms.

MCAS can range from mildly uncomfortable to serious and debilitating. Sometimes people don’t realize they have this condition until another issue arises. For example, someone may get a tick bite and may develop Lyme disease which then throws their MCAS into overdrive, producing a sudden worsening of symptoms.

What Is It?

MCAS encompasses a group of disorders where the immune system’s mast cells release chemicals (“mediators”) inappropriately.

These cells are able to release over 200 different kinds of chemicals, which are called mediators. These mediators are used to create inflammation, heal wounds, and draw your brain’s attention to an area that needs help. One of the more common mediators is histamine – associated with allergic-type symptoms.

While we need our mast cells to keep us alive, they can sometimes become activated and fail to turn off, continuing to release mediators in low levels, which causes the symptoms associated with MCAS.

Mast cells are found in higher concentrations in tissues that come in contact with the outside world such as your skin, gastrointestinal tract, and respiratory system. This is why typical symptoms occur most commonly in these areas of the body – such as flushing, breaking out in hives, wheezing, sneezing, airway restriction, nausea, and vomiting. A mast cell mediator response can occur in seconds and cause strong, even deadly reactions as in the case of a true allergy to foods, medications, or bee stings.

woman scratching a rash on her arm

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome Symptoms

MCAS generally looks different from person to person. There are some unique symptoms, which are more common than others. Symptoms of MCAS include:

  • Allergy-like symptoms that wax and wane
  • Sensitive skin that becomes red and inflamed when scraped or touched
  • Flushing of the face or chest
  • Heat intolerance
  • Food sensitivities or allergies
  • Hypersensitivity to certain environments or medications
  • Fatigue
  • General malaise
  • Getting sick easily or frequently
  • Frequent colds or sinus infections

Because of the nature of MCAS, symptoms usually cluster by organ or system. Meaning, you can have symptoms of the eyes, ears, nose, throat, and skin but you can also find manifestations of MCAS in systems of the body including:

  • Musculoskeletal
  • Cardiovascular
  • Neurological
  • Circulatory
  • Respiratory
  • Gastrointestinal

With such widespread and varying symptoms, mast cell activation syndrome can be a difficult diagnosis or a “medical mystery”. In some of our patients, “brain fog” can be the most prominent symptom.

Why the Hype About Histamine?

Of all the mediators released by mast cells, histamine gets the most attention by far. Due to this, mast cell activation syndrome is often mistaken for “histamine intolerance.” Patients with histamine intolerance develop symptoms when they eat foods high in histamine.

But histamine intolerance is actually a subset of MCAS. Sometimes patients receive a histamine intolerance diagnosis, but that turns out to be an incomplete picture. When you have mast cell activation syndrome, your mast cells are usually releasing other mediators alongside histamine which results in more intense symptoms involving multiple bodily systems than those seen with histamine intolerance alone.

The reason antihistamines aren’t a permanent solution for mast cell activation syndrome is that antihistamines only block histamine receptors. By blocking histamine receptors you aren’t reducing histamine in the body. Furthermore, histamine is only one of the many mediators that can be released by mast cells that cause inflammation and symptoms.

For many people, histamine is only part of the story. Only when MCAS is diagnosed and treated appropriately, do people find complete relief.

woman blowing her nose in bed

Common Conditions Associated with MCAS

It’s common to see MCAS appear alongside other conditions. This combination of illnesses often causes symptoms to appear more dramatically, which sends a patient looking for a solution. Sometimes these conditions aren’t outright illnesses, but dysfunctions, such as poor methylation caused by a genetic condition called “an MTHFR mutation.”

With that in mind, here are some common conditions associated with MCAS:

  • Poor methylation caused by MTHFR genetic mutations
  • Low DAO enzyme levels
  • Leaky gut, which can be made worse by excess histamine
  • Histamine intolerance
  • Chronic inflammatory response syndrome from water damaged building/mold exposure
  • Gut dysbiosis
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Celiac disease
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Autism
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Candida overgrowth
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Depression
people sitting down meditating

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome Treatment

When it comes to treating mast cell activation syndrome a Fully Functional® approach is the best method.

Managing a chronic condition can seem overwhelming, but when you have the full support of the Fully Functional® team you’ll find that you can become your most healthy, productive, joy-filled self…even if you’ve been given a diagnosis of MCAS.

If we find you have mast cell activation syndrome, there are a couple of things we will implement right away to help alleviate some of your symptoms, these include:

  • Putting you on a low histamine diet
  • Healing any underlying infections
  • Identifying personal triggers
  • Ensuring your gut is healthy and doing its job
  • Putting you on mast cell stabilizers
  • Using natural antihistamines

Other lifestyle changes we help you implement include:

  • Keeping a good exercise routine
  • Maintaining good gut health
  • Reducing stress
  • Sleeping well throughout the night
  • Reducing toxin exposure
  • Using supportive supplements

When you have mast cell activation syndrome, we have found that simple lifestyle changes can really add up and reduce your symptoms significantly. Read more about MCAS here.

Finding a Functional Medicine Doctor Who Specializes MCAS

As mentioned, many people will go their entire lives with undiagnosed MCAS. It isn’t well understood because of its complex nature and confusing symptoms which don’t fit a specific diagnostic pattern.

MCAS is still relatively unknown in the conventional medical world. This is why you should see a certified Functional Medicine Physician who specializes in MCAS, such as Dr. Scott Antoine or Dr. Ellen Antoine. Fortunately, there’s a lot that can be done to manage MCAS and you can go on to live a very fulfilling life with it.

If you believe you may have mast cell activation syndrome and need a Functional Medicine doctor in the Carmel, Indiana area you can book an appointment by clicking here. We are also happy to speak with you at (317) 989-8463, Monday-Thursday, from 8AM – 5PM Eastern time.

Schedule an Appointment Today.

The Center for Fully Functional Health® is led by a team of award-winning, internationally recognized physicians, committed to providing personalized, life-changing care.

40 North Rangeline Rd. Carmel, IN 46032

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