LYME SCI: More about healing from mast cell activation syndrome
This is part three of a series on mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) triggered by Lyme and co-infections. Part one is an introduction to MCAS including an interview with Dr. Jill Carnahan. Part two is a description of my daughter’s diagnosis of MCAS and the five-step process we used to get her back on track. In this part, I give more details about specifically how we did it.
Calming the immune system
When trying to calm mast cells, the key is to reduce the number of flares. Eliminating triggers, lowering histamine levels, and getting on the right medication(s) are critical. Every time you have an allergic reaction, it reactivates the mast cells. This domino effect makes the body more sensitive to even minor triggers. The lower you can get your histamine levels and the longer you can go without an allergic-type reaction, the calmer the immune system becomes. In our experience, if you can go three months without a reaction, you are on the road to healing.
Essential steps for healing
- Accepting that you have a problem.
This is a tough one. It reminds me of my daughter’s childhood friend, who was diagnosed with diabetes in second grade. After years of failing oral medications, he eventually received an insulin pump that inserts directly into his abdomen. It completely changed the type of sports he could play and the way he had to live his life. But within a year, he had adjusted and could do nearly everything other kids his age did, as long as he adhered to a routine.
My daughter had to come to grips with the fact that she may never be able to roll in the grass or eat many of her favorite foods again. She also had to accept that she’s lost five years of her life and a lot of childhood dreams. Not only that, but fighting our way through the medical system to a diagnosis and treatment left a lot of emotional scars and a type of trauma caused by medical treatment (iatrogenic)– very similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is where I truly believe a compassionate therapist is needed.
So, to me, healing from MCAS not only requires lowering histamine levels and retraining your immune system, but also retraining your mind, creating a safe environment within your restrictions, and designing a lifestyle that continues to bring you joy.
- Identifying your food triggers.
It may take months to find a doctor well-versed in MCAS. In the meantime, I recommend trying to identify your food triggers. A common method for determining food allergies is an “elimination diet.” You eliminate specific foods for one to three weeks, then systematically reintroduce them and watch for symptoms over the next several days.
If you react to a lot of foods, many doctors recommend starting by eliminating the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology’s eight foods responsible for most allergic reactions:
- Cow’s milk
- Tree nuts
We eliminated all of the above, plus foods that were commonly listed as high histamine (see the list I use here) and the preservatives/additives that are known histamine triggers:
- Artificial food coloring (especially red dye)
The secret to a healthy elimination diet is to add one healthy food for each food you cut out. For instance, when you eliminate wheat, you add in quinoa or another nutrient dense carbohydrate. (Read about elimination diets here)
After consulting with my daughter’s doctors and coming up with a list of low-histamine, nutrient-rich foods, we re-introduced them systematically, almost like low-dose immunotherapy.
The first day she would take a small bite and spit it out. If her mouth didn’t break out, the next day she would swallow a small bite, increasing the bite size each time until reaching a full serving. If her mouth tingled or broke out, we would wait several weeks before trying again. We opted to only add one new food every week so we could monitor immediate and delayed reactions. If she didn’t react, we knew these foods could be rotated into her diet every four days.
I will include more information about how we dealt with food issues in my next installment.
LymeSci is written by Lonnie Marcum, a Licensed Physical Therapist and mother of a daughter with Lyme. Follow her on Twitter: @ Email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org .