The term mast cell activation has become quite the trendy health topic lately. For those of us with chronic health symptoms, it seems to come up repeatedly as we search for answers to our issues.
But, what are mast cells and what exactly is mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS). How do you know if it’s actually a problem for you or your child?
In this article, I will attempt to help you answer those questions and better understand MCAS. I will discuss:
- What mast cells are & what their function is in the body
- Healthy stimulation of mast cells vs mast cell activation
- Effects & symptoms of MCAS
- Share some treatment strategies
This article also serves as the ”show notes” page for episode 31 of The Happy Healthy Family Podcast featuring holistic pediatrician and functional medicine expert, Dr Elisa Song.
During this interview we discuss a variety of things related to MCAS in children. Topics covered include:
- Is MCAS driving the rise in chronic childhood conditions?
- Why mast cells and histamine are not necessarily bad things
- Histamine overload & mast cell activation
- The cell-danger response
- Signs of mitochondrial dysfunction & how to support the mitochondria
- How to support mast cells and reduce histamine
You’ll find the episode outline as well as links to info/products mentioned on the show at the end of this article.
Click Below To Listen To That Episode OR Keep Reading To Learn More On Mast Cell Activation
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What Are Mast Cells
Mast cells are a type of blood cell, and they’re an integral piece of our immune system. They actually connect the immune system to our nervous system serve. “This implies that the mast cells are vital coordinators between the two systems.”-Dr Neil Nethan, Toxic
Mast cells are found in every single tissue of the body, but higher concentrations are found in areas most susceptible to contamination or infection (sinuses, throat, GI tract, lungs, skin).
These cells are covered in granules that are loaded with chemical mediators like histamine & tryptase. Mast cells stand at ready-alert prepared to sound the alarm should the body be infiltrated by toxic elements or pathogenic microbes.
When the body is faced with a threat or injury, the immune system’s job is to create inflammation to help deal with that threat. Mast cells help this response by releasing their biochemical mediators mainly histamine.
We all know about histamine’s role in allergic reactions, but histamine is a critical chemical for the body. We have histamine receptors on every cell of our body & brain.
A Healthy Mast Cell Response
Once released by the mast cells, histamine dilates the blood vessels allowing better blood flow to the injured or threatened area of the body. This facilitates the transportation of chemicals, nutrients, & immune cells to help manage the threat and heal once it is dealt with.
Once the threat is over, the mast cells should return to ready-alert, and the immune reaction should subside.
When Things Go Wrong: Mast Cell Activation
Remember, mast cells & histamine are not bad things. They only become an issue when the mast cells become “activated” and the body becomes overloaded with histamine. This can happen when the body has a high toxic burden or infection(s).
When mast cells are activated they become trigger-happy reacting to a variety of stimuli. Some of these may be appropriate responses, but many of the triggers can be otherwise benign like food, smell, light. Even a glass of water can trigger a release of chemicals by the mast cells.
Mast cells that are activated or oversensitive no longer only respond to real threats. They begin to react to a wide variety of stimuli that the person may never have reacted to in the past.
“To put it simply, mast cell activation causes a person to become sensitized to the extent that ANYTHING can cause an unpleasant reaction.”-Dr Neil Nathan: Toxic
Mast Cell Activation & Disease
The constant “danger” alarm from activated mast cells can result in chronic inflammation and eventually disease. There are many different diseases now being associated with mast cell activation, and the list is growing.
Autoimmune illness, autism, chronic fatigue, CIRS, EDS, POTS, chemical sensitivity are just a few conditions linked to MCAS. (see the links at the bottom of the page for more info on MCAS & disease)
What Causes Mast Cell Activation
There are a variety of triggers for MCAS including environmental toxins, foods, allergens, medications, & infections. Mold toxins & infections are possibly two of the biggest culprits behind MCAS.
Symptoms Of Mast Cell Activation
As you can see from the list below: the symptoms of mast cell activation can present in any system of the body, and many times multiple systems are affected.
This is because mast cells are on every tissue of the body and histamine receptors are on every single cell. (Remember, mast cells release histamine when stimulated)
Common Symptoms Of Mast Cell Activation: (not a complete list)
- Skin (Hives, itching, flushing…etc)
- GI Tract (Nausea, reflux, cramping, bloating, pain…etc)
- Cardiovascular (low blood pressure, elevated heart rate)
- Respiratory (wheezing, asthma, sinusitis, increased mucus production)
- Cognitive: brain fog, depression, anxiety, poor focus and/or concentration)
- General: fatigue, headache, insomnia, weight loss or gain
- Sensitivities: food, chemical, light, touch, sound and EMF sensitivities
Disappearing Reappearing Symptoms
One of the things that makes MCAS difficult to diagnose is the fact that the body can react to something one day and be fine the next day. This depends on how agitated the mast cells are at the time.
So, if you’re not in a “flare” you can enjoy a bowl of strawberries, but the next day it may cause you some seriously undesired symptoms of those mast cells become more agitated.
Mast Cell Activation And Our Children
“It’s estimated that by the year 2025, 80% of our children will be diagnosed with some type of chronic condition.” (Dr Elisa Song) Mast cell activation may be playing a huge role in driving these problems in our children.
It is common to find MCAS & histamine overload in kids with autism, PANS/PANDAS, ADHD, asthma, allergies, and autoimmune illnesses.
Common Signs Of Histamine Overload In Kids
- Classic allergy signs (hay fever, runny nose, itchy eyes…)
- History of eczema
- History of asthma
- Facial flushing
- Elevated heart rate
- Kids who do worse on NSAIDs
- Respond poorly to fermented foods (headaches, behavior problems, itchy)
- Feeling hot without a fever
Treating Mast Cell Activation
According to Dr Neil Nathan, there are 3 basic principles when it comes to treating mast cell activation. ID the triggers, reduce the impact of biochemical mediators, and counter undesirable effects.
Identify The Triggers Of Mast Cell Activation
To reduce the production of biochemical mediators, like histamine, you have to figure out the biggest triggers. For many, it’s mold toxicity or Lyme Disease (Bartonella), but there can be a variety of triggers.
Start At Home
I think it’s safe to assume that reducing the toxins your exposed to on a day to day basis can go a long way as well. Improve your indoor air quality at home by eliminating chemical fragrances and cleaners. Make sure to check your home for signs of water damage or mold. It may be a good idea to check your car and work environment as well.
Eating a real food diet, like the GFCF Diet, will help reduce the amount of toxic and unnatural ingredients your body has to deal with as well. Processed foods are full of fake ingredients and preservatives that can be one of the triggers for MCAS. A low histamine diet may be necessary in some cases.
Limit proteins that have been “sitting around for awhile”. Things like smoked meats, canned meats, and leftovers have high levels of histamine. Fermented foods, vinegar, and nuts are also high histamine foods.
Mast Cell Stabilizers
While you ID your triggers, it’s a good idea to add mast cell stabilizers to your supplement protocol. Stabilizers simply help the mast cell to become less reactive.
There are medications that can help, but I am going to share the options that are available for most people without the need for a prescription.
Quercetin is probably the most widely used and well known supplement that helps with MCAS. Not only is it an effective mast cell stabilizer, it is also a powerful antioxidant!
Luteolin & PEA are other great compounds that help and can be particularly helpful to reduce brain inflammation. There are a few supplements that contain a mix of things that can help.
Mirica includes PEA & Luteolin
HistaminX also includes quercetin, luteolin, and rutin as well as other helpful compounds.
SunBalance is a newer product. Dr Kelly Halderman talked about this on episode 22 of my podcast. This product contains quercetin, luteolin, and PEA, but the only catch is it’s kind of tricky to order.
You need a password and an account to order. (no worries I have the password for you). I have no affiliation with this product, but I’ve used it for my son and I DO think it helps.
How to buy SunBalance
(PEA + Luteolin + Quercetin) & other US Enzymes products:
- Go to this page
- Then click on “To Register Click Here”
- Then password enter USE777
- Fill out the form and press “Register”
Other Mast Cell Stabilizers:
Chinese Skullcap can be helpful.
Reduce The Impact Of Histamine On The Body
Once histamine is released by mast cells, the body needs to either break it down or block receptor sites. DAO Enzymes can break down histamine in the gut preventing it from getting into the bloodstream.
Over the counter antihistamines can be very helpful for people struggling with MCAS. These block histamine receptor sites and are known as H1 or H2 blockers depending on which type of receptor they interfere with.
H1 blockers include: Diphenhydramine(Benadryl), loratadine (Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec), and famotidine (Pepcid) is an H2 blocker.
Quieting Mast Cells Is Essential In Healing Chronic Health Issues
People with mast cell activation or MCAS in addition to other issues such as mold toxicity or Lyme disease may need to start any treatment protocol by first calming down the mast cells.
MCAS can cause some people to react to the necessary medications or supplements needed to quell the cause of their chronic health issue. Once the mast cells are less reactive and the person becomes desensitized, then they can start treatment for their specific health issue.
The Happy Healthy Family Podcast Episode 31 w/Dr Elisa Song
Mast Cell Activation, Mitochondrial Dysfunction, & The Cell-Danger Response
I welcome Dr Elisa Song, holistic pediatrician & functional medicine expert to the show. She defines mast cells, their purpose, & what happens when they’re activated.
We discuss histamine overload and ways to reduce its impact on the body.
We also cover the cell-danger response and what happens when the cell becomes stuck in this state. Mast cell activation and a stuck cell danger response can burn out our mitochondria (leading to mitochondrial dysfunction). Dr Song shares signs of mito dysfunction & ways to support them.
This episode is loaded with practical tips we all can use to support our families struggling with MCAS.
Click Below To Listen For Free On Your Favorite Podcast Player:
Visit The Show Sponsor
Full Spectrum, No EMF Portable Infrared Saunas: Non Off Gassing Materials with Advanced Earthing Technology and Negative Ion Release.
- The rise in childhood chronic health issues like autism, ADHD, autoimmune issues…etc
- By 2025, 80% of our kids will be diagnosed with a chronic health issue
- Just because something is common doesn’t make it normal
- What are mast cells and why do we need them
- Histamine & mast cells are not bad things
- When histamine becomes a problem
- What is the cell danger response and the 3 phases of cell danger response
- what happens when the cell gets stuck in danger response
- Why do cells get stuck in the danger response
- Mitochondrial dysfunction & signs of dysfunction in kids & adults
- Signs of mito dysfunction in babies
- Supplements and ways to support the mitochondria
- The effect of stress on mitochondria
- An easy, at-home test for histamine levels: dermographism
- Signs of histamine overload
- Mast cell stabilizers & other mast cell supports
- Dr Song’s 3 practical tips for raising a happy healthy family.
Links & Info From The Show
More With Dr Elisa Song:
Mast Cell Support
- Homeopathic Histaminum
- Homeopathic Apis Mellifica
- Chinese Skullcap
Supplements To Reduce Histamine
- DAO Enzymes
- OTC Antihistamines (Zytex, Claritin, Pepcid…)
Who Is Dr Elisa Song
She’s a board-certified, Stanford-, NYU-, UCSF-trained holistic pediatrician. She founded Whole Family Wellness (formerly Whole Child Wellness), an integrative pediatric practice in Belmont, CA – one of the first and most highly regarded holistic pediatric practices in the country.
Dr Song created Healthy Kids Happy Kids – dedicated to empowering parents to take charge of their kids’ health … naturally! She’s a holistic pediatrician, integrating conventional pediatrics with functional medicine, holistic nutrition, homeopathy, acupuncture, herbal medicine, and essential oils.
She’s also a lecturer for the Center for Education and Development in Clinical Homeopathy (CEDH), Academy for Pain Research, Institute for Functional Medicine, and Holistic Pediatric Association, among others.