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Mast Cell Activation Syndrome: The role of Histamine in Lyme Disease

Published on November 19th, 2018 by Dr. Meghan Haggarty and Dr. Jennifer Nardella

Naturopaths Drs. Meghan Haggarty and Jennifer Nardella recently attended the 2018 International Lyme and Associated Disease Society  Annual scientific conference in Chicago. One of the themes at this year’s conference was the many ways Lyme Disease and co-infections interact with the immune system. A particular interaction that was discussed by a number of speakers including Dr. Mozayeni, Dr. Dempsey and Dr. Afrin, was Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome

Mast cells are immune cells that produce histamine and release inflammatory cytokines. Mast cells are designed to protect us from pathogens and interact with allergens, toxins and infections. When histamine and cytokines are released they can cause inflammation, vascular damage, tissue damage and even neuropsychiatric symptoms such as anxiety or depression. In Mast Cell Activation Syndrome there is an inappropriate, uncontrolled release of these substances from mast cells. Symptoms of mast cell activation syndrome are vast but can overlap with many of the symptoms associated with Chronic Lyme Disease including:

  • Lymph node swelling
  • Fatigue
  • Eye pain
  • Hot flashes
  • Blood pressure dysregulation (POTS)
  • Palpitations
  • Abdominal pain
  • Muscle and nerve pain
  • Anxiety

Although it is a normal response for mast cells to respond to infections, it has been shown that tick-borne infections can lead to a dysregulation of mast cells and trigger mast cell activation syndrome. It is important to identify and address underlying infections, but for patients dealing with mast cell activation syndrome this may not be enough. It is also necessary to utilize treatments that help to both metabolize histamine and stabilize mast cells, as mast cell activation syndrome can persist even after an infection is resolved and can contribute to chronic symptoms.

As naturopathic doctors we are always looking to treat patients holistically and understand the complex interactions that occur in the body. Infections and the immune system weave a complex web and may require multiple approaches to achieve optimal health