Causes of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome
Mast cell activation syndrome is an immune disorder, caused by immune dysfunction. There are other types of mast cell activation disease that are caused by an abnormally high number of mast cells or as a result of infection.
However, MCAS involves the dysfunction or hyperactivity of an otherwise normal number of mast cells.
Environmental toxins may provoke mast cells
A high toxic load could potentially cause mast cell dysfunction, causing the release of histamine and other inflammatory mediators.
In one study, more than half of those with MCAS also fit criteria for chemical intolerance (CI). Essentially, as your immune system is exposed to environmental toxins either during a one-time acute event, a series of exposures, or long-term, low-level exposures, tolerance decreases until mast cells begin to malfunction (7). As a result, some people experience systemic symptoms and persistent intolerances to chemicals—and often foods and drugs—which never bothered them before and do not bother most people.
MCAS & COVID
Infections can both be a trigger for symptom flare up, but also the underlying root cause of MCAS. Sometimes a severe, chronic, or underlying infection (known as a latent infection) can essentially trick your immune system to remain hypervigilant and cause decreased function of natural killer cells, increased systemic inflammation, and overall immune system dysfunction (8,9).
Life-threatening Covid infections have one thing in common with MCAS—a massive release and accumulation of inflammatory cytokines and immune dysfunction.
Read more: Long Covid Influenced by Gut Microbiome
Methylation & MCAS
MTHFR stands for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase and it’s an essential enzyme that’s key for the body-wide process known as methylation. Methylation drives the metabolism of compounds and nutrients, changing them into different forms either to be used by the body, or to be properly eliminated. Converting synthetic folic acid to the bioavailable methyl-folate is one example.
Methylation also breaks down histamine and other pro-inflammatory signaling molecules released by mast cells. Genetic changes can impair the methylation process, possibly also restricting the ability to break down histamine as well.
Treating MCAS with functional medicine
Treating MCAS requires a comprehensive, tailored approach. This includes identifying any underlying triggers or root causes, as well as supporting the body’s natural ability to regulate inflammation and histamine.
Functional medicine practitioners may recommend various therapies to stabilize mast cells, including:
- Dietary changes to reduce your intake of histamine-rich foods
- Antihistamines or mast cell stabilizing nutraceuticals
- Optimization of detox pathways to reduce toxic triggers
- Sleep, stress, and exercise recommendations
Working with an integrative medicine team is key to stabilizing your immune response if you’re experiencing symptoms of MCAS.
Navigating a chronic illness like MCAS can feel frustrating, lonely, intimidating. But with a functional medicine team in your corner, you’ll be on the road to recovery. Together, we’ll develop the right strategies to stabilize overactive mast cells and restore immune balance.