Histamine intolerance or mast cell activation syndrome?  Which is it?

When you start hunting for answers to your food sensitivity puzzle, you find all sorts of crazy names and syndromes and conditions.  But what do they all mean and how are they related?  

Two of the most common I hear about with allergies and food sensitivities are histamine intolerance and mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS).  While they aren't the same, they are very closely related.  If you have food sensitivities, you need to understand either of these conditions may actually be the cause of your food reactivity.  Remember - it's not always the food's fault!

What is histamine intolerance?

Histamine intolerance means your body doesn't have enough of the enzymes it needs to get rid of histamine.  Histamine is naturally in your body, stored in mast cells, and it has many important jobs.  

When your body can't maintain a healthy balance, however, histamine builds up and starts to cause problems like anxiety, hives, food reactivity, heartburn, headaches, insomnia…and the list keeps going.  

There is a team of enzymes responsible for metabolizing histamine.  Some work in the gut, like DAO, and some work throughout your body, like HNMT and MAOA.  (I like to use initials…their full names can be a little overwhelming!)

What is mast cell activation?

Mast cell activation syndrome means the mast cells in your body are constantly releasing histamine and other chemicals; they have been triggered by something in your body and they are stuck in response mode.  

Mast cells are definitely some of the good guys in your body!  When a mast cell is following its job description, it travels calmly through the body looking for threats like mold, bacteria and viruses.  When a threat is identified, the mast cell is "activated" and it releases a bunch of different weapons - histamine, prostaglandins, tryptase, etc.  All of these help address the threat at hand, and they call in reinforcements which include additional compounds which initiate an inflammatory response.  Great job, Mr. Mast Cell!    

What causes histamine intolerance and MCAS?

This is the big question, right?  We're all looking for the root cause of our symptoms so we can address it, symptoms leave and we feel good again!  (I know that's how my brain works!)  

Histamine intolerance can be caused by genetic polymorphisms which impact how much of the enzymes are actually created in your body.  (But it's so much more than just DAO!  Work with a provider who knows!!)  Other causes include allergies, leaky gut, unbalanced gut microbiome, foods that contain histamine, and others.  It's not a simple answer.

MCAS also has multiple possible causes.  Again, for some folks, there appears to be a genetic component but for many, many others something like a mold exposure can be the trigger.  Other causes include hormonal imbalance, Lyme infection and chronic stress and trauma.  

Some perspective and how to find help...

For both of these conditions, it's also important to remember there is a continuum of symptoms and severity.  If you go searching hard enough, you'll find doom and gloom stories about each of these situations.  

Yes, they can cause significant health effects but, more importantly, they can be effectively addressed.  Many of us get stuck on the merry-go-round of treating only the symptoms when we need to be looking for that root cause - the thing that initiated the craziness so we can calm everything down.  

You might consider finding a functional medicine provider to help you figure out your puzzle.  Sometimes functional nutritionists can be of invaluable support, as well.  And you always have me!!  Regardless, know you are not on your own in this journey and there is an answer to your food sensitivities and whatever is causing them!  You are not crazy!

Sixty-second Self-care Tip…

Let's go outside for this one!  Here are two options:

  1. If you literally have only sixty-seconds, run outside, find some grass, kick your shoes off and get your toes in that grass!  Ideally, you might consider fifteen minutes a day spent with your bare feet in the grass, but do what you can.  Not only does it impact your overall health, it is a great boost for your mood!

  1. If you have more time, consider a casual walk.  When was the last time you walked simply to enjoy the outside, as opposed to getting steps or arriving somewhere on time?  There is a lot to look at while you walk - the clouds, the sky, the birds, leaves on the ground, flowers, squirrels…  If you have access to a safe, wooded area then consider doing your walk there.  Otherwise, anywhere you can get away from traffic.  As AVEDA used to say, Inhale the Molecular Purity!!  

Still feel stuck in figuring out your food sensitivity problems?  Truly, you are not alone.  If you have a question burning in your mind, why not send it to me and get an answer?!  You can email me directly (my eyes only) at melissa@melissaoverman.com.

And if you happened here by accident, why not sign up to get all of this good stuff sent directly to your inbox?!  Just once a week.  No spam.  I protect your inbox like a mast cell…a stable mast cell, that is!  Sign up here.


60-second self-care, food sensitivities, histamine intolerance, mast cell activation, MCAS

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