Understanding the complications of mast cell activation
Do you suffer from eczema or psoriasis? Food allergies or allergies to bug bites? Autism? Fibromyalgia? Seasonal allergies or chronic sinus issues? Interstitial Cystitis (IC)? Arthritis? Migraines? Issues losing weight? Endocrine issues? Unexplained anaphylaxis? Flushing of the skin? POTS? Dizziness or fainting when giving blood, or when going from sitting to standing? Multiple Sclerosis? Lyme Disease? Issues sleeping or losing weight? Aneurysms? Chronic Pain? Trouble regulating your body temperature? PCOS or other conditions that cause chronic pelvic pain? Auto-Immune condition?
Below are a few things to consider:
All conditions mentioned above have been linked to mast cell activation AND involve our connective tissues. This would make sense because mast cells are one of the main components of our connective tissues. Mast cells are made in the bone marrow, and only travel the peripheral blood when heading to a connective tissue destination site.
What about congenital heart defects? Issues with pregnancy – i.e. early dilation and effacing, or pre-term rupture of the membranes? Uterine rupture and/or hemorrhage? Or, problems with wound healing?
Mast cell activation is a normal process that is protective for the human body. Mast cells are the cells that are the initial contact with an allergen, bacteria or other perceived threat. When that happens, they degranulate, releasing a ton of chemicals, which then begins the chain reaction that is known as our immune system. Dr. Theoharis Theoharides (Dr. Theo), one of our speakers for Wellapalooza 2015, describes Mast Cell activation as:
“Mast cells are the “universal alarm cell” that starts the inflammatory cascade leading to psoriasis. They can be triggered by infection, allergens, environmental factors like pollution, or even emotional stress. Once that happens, mast cells set into motion a series of inflammatory reactions, including the activation of immune cells and the release of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), a pro-inflammatory protein, or cytokine.
Not only are mast cells the source for most TNF-alpha in the body, Theoharides said, it also is the only kind of cell that stores ready-made TNF-alpha that can be released in seconds.”
In some people, mast cells can become overly sensitive and react too much, as is the case for those with food allergies, allergies to bug bites, celiac, IC, mast cell activation disorders, such as Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS), and heritable connective tissue disorders, such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS). Other cases involve the body making too many mast cells, versus mast cells being overly reactive. Mastocytosis is when people have too many mast cells. With Mastocytosis, symptoms are often similar to MCAS, but differ greatly in severity of symptoms and seriousness. There are several different types of Mastocytosis and different types of mast cell activation disorders, including MCAS. Both Mastocytosis and MCAS are a type of mast cell disease. Other mast cell diseases are, Urticaria Pigmentosa and mast cell tumors.
In those who have a connective tissue defect, the defect causes instability of the connective tissues, and connective tissue is found everywhere in our bodies. Some defects cause more instability than others, such as with Vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, or Marfan Syndrome. Chemicals released by mast cells also play a role in the integrity and strength of the connective tissues.
Mast cell activation has also been linked to some cancers, cardiovascular diseases, connective tissue disorders, inflammation, including inflammation of the brain, allergy and asthma, IBS, various skin disease, and other auto-immune diseases such as Lyme Disease, RA, and Lupus. Mast cells are also responsible for food allergies. Mast cells and inflammation of the brain have been linked to depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.
Mast Cells are the ultimate allergy and inflammatory cell, they are one type of white blood cell, are part of our immune system, and are found in our connective tissues. Connective tissue is the glue that holds the body together e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e.
Mast cells are where auto-immune conditions meet seasonal allergies. They are also the link between heritable connective tissue disorders and autonomic dysfunction (Dysautonomia), as well as the link to many conditions that cause chronic pelvic pain in women.
There are both genetic and environmental components that contribute to all conditions that fall under both the mast cell activation disorder or heritable connective tissue disorder umbrella, and we are learning more every day. This past week, a new type of hypermobility Ehlers-Danlos syndrome was identified, which is a hybrid, of hypermobility EDS, mast cell activation syndrome and dysautonomia. Maybe this new condition will be categorized as a mast cell disorder, or open the door for a new set of conditions to be named.
Stress is the number one trigger for mast cell activation. Stress also causes the biggest variance in the presentation of symptoms in almost all of the conditions mentioned above. Stress can be from an insult to the body (serious illness, alcoholism, toxicity from heavy metals or chemicals, surgery, reaction to medications, or anaphylaxis), a trauma – both emotional and physical (i.e. abuse or an accident), lifestyle choices, and environmental factors that are both in our control and not in our control.
The systems in our bodies are all connected, and where one condition ends and another begins, is hard to tell. When you look at the bigger picture and understand how various things are connected, it’s a Pandora’s box of possibilities when trying to determine which condition came first.
What’s best, is to focus on what we can do, what we do know, and learn how best to help ourselves live as well as possible, based on our own unique set of issues and circumstances.
Dr. Theoharis Theoharides has done research on the link between mast cells and various chronic conditions. A full list of Dr. Theo’s publications can be viewed by going to: Dr. Theo’s mast cell publications by condition.
If you would to learn more about how to live well with a chronic health condition, please email us: [email protected]. Or, if you would like to register for Wellapalooza 2015, go to: Wellapalooza Registration 2015.