Mast Cell Disease & Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: Exploring The Connection

Thanks to a dear reader*, the topic of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and mast cell disease was brought to my attention so I thought I’d share some interesting research on the relationship between these two disorders.

First of all, what is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity? According to MCS America:

Multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) is an environmental illness (EI) in which negative neurological, pulmonary, cardiac, and rheumatic health effects, among others, are experienced from exposure to common environmental chemicals including fragrances, cleaners, pesticides, and other petrochemicals at concentrations that are below regulatory toxicity thresholds and that are normally deemed as safe.

However, according to Wikipedia, it’s not recognized as an actual illness (yet):

 Although the symptoms themselves are real, and can be disabling, MCS is not recognized as an organic, chemical-caused illness by the World Health Organization, American Medical Association, or any of several other professional medical organizations. Blinded clinical trials have shown MCS patients react as often and as strongly to placebos as they do to chemical stimuli; the existence and severity of symptoms is related to perception that a chemical stimulus is present. Depression, anxiety, somatoform disorder, and similar mental health conditions are commonly associated with reports of MCS.

I won’t go into the debate over whether or not MCS is real, because I believe that it is and some people with MCS may be undiagnosed MCAS patients. I also find it interesting that researchers have apparently found a connection between MCAS and MCS:

Mast cell activation and disorders of porphyrin metabolism have also been linked to MCS.  Those with mastocytosis can be exquisitely sensitive to even small amounts of chemicals.  A group of MCS patients tested for mast cell disease showed some patients actually had mastocytosis and others were found to have a mast cell disorder.  Porphyrin enzyme abnormalities have also been shown to manifest in blood enzyme deficiencies and chemical sensitivity in 86% of subjects.

They are certainly right; those of us with mast cell disorders can be “exquisitely” (?) or extremely sensitive to even small amounts of chemicals. We can be triggered by the chemicals that our own bodies create as well as those lurking outside in the big, bad world.

I’ve often wondered if my exposure to pesticides and cigarette smoke is what triggered my disease.

I was born and raised in a mostly rural area which means I was exposed to a lot of pesticides (and pollen) and I come from a long line of farmers who would have been exposed to chemicals that are now deemed unsafe to use.

My son, who also has MCAS, was conceived and born when we lived out in the country and we currently live out in the country again, surrounded by farms and field and an acre of grass, trees and flowers (and weeds!), with crop dusters buzzing our house daily. In fact, I can hear them doing their rounds as I type this.

My parents were both heavy smokers as theirs were before them (except my maternal grandma whose line I believe this runs through), so I can’t help but wonder, did that play a role? My dad was in Vietnam and was exposed to Agent Orange, too. Did that have an effect?  I unfortunately grew up in an extremely dysfunctional birth family with insane levels of stress. Did that make me sick? Who knows.

All I do know is my symptoms manifested shortly after birth and so did my sons’ and the only thing we had in common was living in rural farmland. I didn’t smoke and neither did my husband and our home was much calmer than my birth family home. I also didn’t give my newborn son whole cow’s milk like my mother did (grrr) when he was a baby.

My other two children do have some signs of MCAS, but neither are as sick as their brother or myself. That doesn’t mean it won’t turn on them, though. I believe it runs through my maternal line, so it makes sense all of my kids would be affected on some level.

I was exposed to a lot of chemicals working in day spas when I was younger. My chosen field as an esthetician had me handling chemicals and inhaling strong chemical fumes coming from hair dresser and manicurist colleagues. But again, I had been sick all my life, so this wasn’t the cause for my MCAS, just triggers that made me sick.

It may be a combination of environmental triggers, genetics, and/or exposure to stress (or bad parenting!). It’s impossible to know why we are sick, really, but it’s an interesting subject to explore. In fact, in my next post on the topic I’ll share more about the genetics of MCAS and also a testimonial from my dear reader, *a disabled florist (bless her heart!) who brought this to my attention because she believes chemical exposure in her chosen field has directly contributed to her ill health and that of many of her florist friends and colleagues.

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Thanks and remember, we’re in this mast cell craziness together!


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