Joan Rothchild Hardin
My Own Struggle with Mast Cells Gone Wild
See The Role of Mast Cells for information about what they are and how they serve the body. The mast cells in my gut gave me a lot of grief about a year after I’d vanquished my Clostridium difficile infection and was back to eating more or less normally – the new normal, trying to eat gluten free but not entirely succeeding. Dining on a lovely vegetable lasagna I’d made with an indulgent amount of cow’s milk cheese gave me acute diarrhea that clearly wasn’t a return of the C. diff. (A C. diff infection has a distinct odor to it.) A GI test panel confirmed this but didn’t identify the cause.
So again I began suffering with chronic diarrhea that went on for a miserable nine months until, fortuitously (though it didn’t seem so at the time) I became sea sick while on another vacation and, in desperation took Dramamine. Much to my amazement, that not only stopped the mal de mer but also gave me a whole day with a well-knit together gut – fortuitously, the day I was on a long flight back to New York from Istanbul. Some research on returning home and I learned that Dramamine is an anti-histamine. So I continued taking it and did some more research on why an anti-histamine would be effective on gut hypermotility – and learned about mast cells.
From the day after I’d enjoyed that wonderful cheesy vegetable lasagna, I felt as if a switch had been turned on in my gut. I’d eat or drink something – anything – and my gut reacted as if Attila and his horde of Huns was at the gate and a full-scale defense needed to be launched to expel the invaders.
A colonoscopy showed beautifully clean colon walls but the tissue biopsies I’d requested found a vast over-production of mast cells, just as I’d expected. Again I was desperate to feel better so reluctantly agreed to add a steroid to my usual probiotics to try to turn the switch off. A course and a half of generic Entocort, a corticosteroid used to treat severe Crohn’s disease, allergies, arthritis, asthma and skin conditions, did the trick . Thermography images confirmed a huge reduction in inflammation inside my gut and chest areas.
I’m assiduously gluten free now. I also stopped eating all milk products, avoid refined sugar and artificial food dyes as much as possible. And continue to take high quality probiotics and other helpful nutritional supplements.
In recent months, I’ve been able to add plain yogurts, goat and raw milk cheeses back into my diet with good results. And I’ve fallen in love with kefir (the plain kind, no added sugar or fruits). It’s not only tartly delicious but is loaded with probiotics. Two other interesting discoveries during this time:
During an appointment with my main health care provider, Dr. Denice Hilty, my chiropractor, she felt an imbalance and asked if I had consumed any artificial food dyes. I said I didn’t think so, that I try to avoid all of them, even the FDA approved ones. The next morning, as I was about to take my daily steroid dose, I saw that its gel cap was colored fluorescent pink.
I learned, the hard way, that food products marked ‘Certified GF’ are not necessarily without gluten, that they may contain very low levels of gluten proteins so are considered safe for people with celiac disease, which is a t-cell mediated reaction to gluten. A gluten allergy, like mine, involves an IgE-mediated reaction to the wheat proteins albumin and globulin fractions and also sometimes an IgG-mediated reaction. Hence my ‘being hit over the head with a shovel’ reaction to snacking on some quite tasty ‘Certified GF’ granola.
A version of this page content will appear in my forthcoming 2014 Oriental Medicine Journal article THE MICROBIOTA-GUT-BRAIN AXIS: The constant two-way communication between our guts and our brains.
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