Debunking Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Histamine Intolerance Myths
I know when I was learning about Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) and Histamine Intolerance, there was a lot of misinformation out there. It took me a long time and a lot of research to wade through the facts and myths. Unfortunately, many practitioners are not educated in Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Histamine Intolerance. This has led to a kind of Wild West of Mast Cells and Histamine Information online. I see misinformation every day on websites, Facebook groups, and even from health practitioners themselves. Some practitioners even say it isn’t possible to heal from Mast Cell and Histamine issues.
I want to help you cut through some of the confusion in this post. Because believing these myths can get in the way of our healing.
I’ve personally experienced extensive healing from both Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) and Histamine Intolerance. And I have worked with and talked to many others who have healed as well.
You can read more about the difference between Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Histamine Intolerance here.
Myth # 1: Mast Cell Activation Disorders are Rare
When I knew I was struggling with histamine sensitivity, I turned a blind eye to reading anything about Mast Cell Activation Syndrome because I thought it was rare and surely couldn’t be something I was struggling with. Boy, was I wrong!
When I was finally diagnosed, I learned that sometimes Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) is confused with Mastocytosis, which is a rare, but more widely known, disorder of mast cell activation with increased numbers of mast cells. Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, on the other hand, is a type of Mast Cell Activation Disorder where the mast cells exist in normal numbers, but are over-responsive.
Do you have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome? If so, it might not be that rare. Leading Mast Cell Disorder experts, Dr. Afrin and colleagues, assert that Mast Cell Activation Syndrome is much more common than previously thought. It may even be as common as 8 to 14% of the population. (1)(2)
Many people who only think they have Histamine Intolerance actually have some mast cell involvement too. And may even have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.
Myth # 2: The Major Trigger for Mast Cell Activation Syndrome is Histamine
I used to think my main issue was histamine. I thought if I could just control histamine through my diet choices and stress reduction, then I would heal. This worked pretty well for me for a few years, until I had a number of major mast cell triggers in a row. This included an extended trip to Seoul, Korea. On that trip, I was working long hours. Then I returned home with the flu. I got sick two more times in five months. Finally, I was in a car accident. My body completely crashed on me at that point. This was when I realized I needed to be aware of much more than just histamine.
I found out that while Mast Cells release histamine, they also release nearly 200 other chemicals. Histamine foods and histamine-provoking allergens can certainly trigger mast cell activation. There are many more possible triggers, though. These can include (3)(4)(5):
- Underlying genetic factors increasing inflammation
- Hormone changes
- Inflammatory foods (like glutamates, oxalates, histamines, salicylates, lectins, additives, preservatives)
- Processed foods and additives, including carrageenan, guar gum, flavorings, colorings, and preservatives
- Stress of any kind – emotional, mental, physical
- Some medications
- Insect bites and stings
- Injuries, including head injuries
- Infections – systemic and gut-related
- Heat or cold
- Chemicals, including those in perfumes, skin care products, cleaning products, and cigarette smoke
- Friction, including from riding in a car or an airplane
- Low oxygen levels, due to elevation, poor air quality, or airway obstructions
- Too much sun
- Chlorine (in shower, swimming pool, or hot tub)
Do you have trouble with any of these underlying triggers? If so, you may need to consider Mast Cell Activation Syndrome for yourself. Be sure to find a practitioner who is an expert in Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.
Myth #3: There is Nothing We Can Do About the Genetics Underlying Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Histamine Intolerance
This idea never rang true with me. Does it ring true for you? Before I was diagnosed with Histamine Intolerance and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, I already made some headway with addressing some of my genetic variants. This greatly improved my health. After my diagnoses, I started digging into the many different genetic issues that can affect Mast Cell Activation and went on to get certified in Functional Genomic Analysis.
While the field exploring the genetic factors affecting Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) is very new, more information is coming out each day. I’m excited to share these developments with you.
Most people who know something about the genetics of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Histamine Intolerance only look at the DAO, HNMT, MTHFR, and COMT genes. But the truth is, there are way more genes involved in Histamine Intolerance and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.
Here are just some of the genetic factors that can affect mast cell activation:
- Genetic variants affecting histamine breakdown, including genes coding for the HNMT and DAO (ABP1 gene) enzymes. Acetylation is important too, though. Those genes include ACAT, PANK and NAT genes
- Methylation issues – there are many, many important methylation genes – way beyond just MTHFR.
- Variants affecting inflammation lowering antioxidants like Glutathione, SOD, and catalase
- Glutathione recycling variants
- Variants increasing ammonia production
- Variants causing excess Iron and Copper to oxidize
- Variants affecting Energy Production
- Variants contributing to hormonal imbalances
- Genetic variants that lower stress tolerance
- Predisposition to gut imbalances
- Increased sensitivity to pesticides, medications, and EMFs
- Variants impacting digestion of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates
- Transulfuration issues
- Challenges with Nitric Oxide production
- Variants affecting conversion and absorption of Vitamin A, D, and B12
- Genetic variants affecting Glutamate Pathways and other Neurotransmitter Pathways
Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? I didn’t even list them all. It is important to work with a practitioner who understands the complexity of these genetic variants. And particularly how they impact mast cells and histamine levels.
Myth #4: Diet Changes Can’t Help Mast Cell Activation Syndrome
If you have made any changes in your diet and felt better, you know that this one isn’t true either. When I was in college, I lived out of vending machines or on ramen noodles. That would probably kill me today! Some people have immediate reactions to foods and can easily sort out what is causing them to react. Others take a couple days for reactions to become apparent. Those people have to follow a systematic process to figure out which foods trigger them.
I have improved dramatically through changing my diet. And I have seen many others improve as well. Any time we eat more healthfully, our bodies can heal and function better. However, what is healthy and best for one person may not be for another. For example, spinach is considered a superfood. But it is also high in histamine and oxalates. This makes it inflammatory for those with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Histamine Intolerance.
Finding your personal food sensitivities and eating to support your body can make a huge difference. Of course, please work with your health care practitioner or dietitian if you plan on making major diet changes. It is essential to eat a balanced diet that includes all the necessary nutrients. Extreme diets can lead to malnutrition.
Here are some of the types of foods that can trigger mast cell activation. They may can also affect Histamine Intolerance:
- Common food triggers: wheat, dairy, corn, soy, sugar
- High histamine foods
- Processed foods and food additives
- Oxalates (for those who are sensitive)
- Lectins – found in most grains, nightshades, grain-fed meat
Wondering what can you eat? The key is to emphasizing whole, unprocessed, nutrient dense foods chosen for your personalized needs. Just let me know if you need help customizing your food choices.
Myth #5: Supplements Can’t Help much with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Histamine Intolerance
Fortunately for us, this isn’t true. There is an extensive amount of research on histamine lowering and mast cell stabilizing supplements. The tricky thing is that some supplements are going to work better for some people and not work for others, depending on genetics, health issues, and labs. Further, some supplements are contraindicated for certain conditions and genetic makeup, so supplementation recommendations are different for each person, individually. Before I had the ability to analyze my genetics and labs, I had a lot of dead ends. By reviewing and analyzing genetics, symptoms, and labs, I have now been able to target which supplements can work best for my body. This process guides me in deciding which may work best for others too.
Here are a few of the best known mast cell stabilizing supplements:
- Quercetin has been shown to work as well as prescription mast cell stabilizers. This is a methyl compound, though, so those who are over-methylated may have difficulty with this one. Quercetin is difficult to absorb, so I’ve been using Histamine Scavenger (a blend of mast cell stabilizing and histamine lowering herbs) by Professional Health Products. You can order Histamine Scavenger through our office here. For a single source Quercetin, I really like Pure Encapsulations Quercetin Dihydrate* that has better absorbability than other forms.
- Baicalein, also called Chinese Skullcap, is a very effective mast cell stabilizer. Chinese Skullcap is very different from American Skullcap, so if you try this, be sure to get the kind called Chinese Skullcap or Baicalein. I’ve had really good luck with this supplement for reducing mast cell related inflammation. It can be hard to find Chinese Skullcap. I use this one from Swanson*. There is also an organic Chinese Skullcap powder* available that you can mix into tea or make into your own capsules with empty capsules* and a capsule machine*.
- Luteolin is a flavonoid that also can stabilize mast cells. Luteolin is even more effective when combined with the spectrum of great compounds in Olive Leaf Extract*. Keep in mind that Olive Leaf Extract works against pathogens. So if you might have active viruses, parasites, bad bacteria, or mold infections, be sure to work with your health care provider on how to integrate this into your protocol. Olive Leaf Extract shouldn’t be used long term. It is better for occasional use during flareups.
- Holy Basil, also known as Tulsi, can be very effective. I use this regularly as a supplement* and a tea* and have had great results in inflammation reduction and also feeling generally more calm.
- Boswellia is an extract of Frankincense resin. If you use Frankincense as an oil, be sure to use a pharmaceutical grade oil (such as Rocky Mountain Oils*) and dilute with a carrier oil before applying to your skin. I’ve had good results using this as a supplement and an essential oil to reduce inflammation and stabilize mast cells.
- Vitamin C acts as a natural antihistamine, however many people with MCAS react to ascorbic acid because it is usually made from fermented corn. Ascorbyl palmitate* is often better tolerated. For a foods based option, I love Camu Camu* because it is low histamine and low oxalate. (I do get this through Amazon since it is dried.) I’ve found Vitamin C can help reduce my mast cell reactions, especially after accidental exposure to a trigger.
If any of these supplements are new to you, try them with very low amounts first. Think sprinkles in a little water. If you have a tendency to react to supplements, be sure to work with a Histamine and Mast Cell specialist who can help you.
Do you need help understanding your Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or Histamine Intolerance? Start here!
- Afrin, Lawrence J., Butterfield, Joseph H., Raithel, Martin, Molderings, Gerard J., Ann Med. 2016; 48(3): 190–201 Often seen, rarely recognized: mast cell activation disease–a guide to diagnosis and therapeutic options.
- Molderings G.J., Brettner S., Homann J., Afrin L.B.. Mast cell activation disease: a concise practical guide for diagnostic workup and therapeutic options. Journal of Hematology & Oncology. 2011;4:10. doi:10.1186/1756-8722-4-10.
- Jennings S., Russell N., Jennings B., Slee V., Sterling L., Castells M., et al. The Mastocytosis Society survey on mast cell disorders: patient experiences and perceptions. J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2014 Jan-Feb;2(1):70-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24565772
- Boyden S.E., Desai A., Cruse G., Young M.L., Bolan H.C., Scott L.M., et al. Vibratory Urticaria Associated with a Missense Variant in ADGRE2. N Engl J Med. 2016 Feb 18;374(7):656-63. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26841242
- Afrin, Lawrence, Dr. “Presentation, Diagnosis, and Management of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.” Mast Cells: Phenotypic Features, Biological Functions and Role in Immunity. Nova Science, 2013. 155-232.
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