Podcast: Practicing the Medical Arts

Practicing the Medical Arts

Full Transcript

Yoshino:

Hey everyone, welcome back to Artist Decoded. This is your host, Yoshino. And, this is yet another Mind/Wave episode. These episodes have been transforming over the course of time, but mainly my intention for these episodes is that I want to explore various modes of thinking. And, I want to hopefully give people an access point to create positive mental health routines. I’m a firm believer in conscious decision-making and in creating a solid foundation for self-reflection, self-care, and self-growth. Creating good habits in all aspects of life is extremely important, which takes a conscious effort to do so. I personally work out about 12 times per week, so that’s twice a day with one day off. I lift weights in the morning and do calisthenics in the morning, and do my cardiovascular activities such as walking, running, and cycling before sunset. I also know from personal experience that good habits, both physically and mentally, have to be developed slowly and over time.

This can be holistically compared to creating a solid foundation for a career in the arts, or just simply having an artistic practice because not everyone necessarily needs to have a career in the arts. But either way, this takes a conscious, consistent, and concerted effort to continue your craft. Which can be likened to anything in life, including developing positive mental health practices, which leads me to my guest for today, Dr. Bruce Hoffman, who is the founder of the Hoffman Centre for Integrative and Functional Medicine.

So let me tell you a bit about Dr. Hoffman. Dr. Bruce Hoffman did not choose the medical arts as a vocation. Originally, he wanted to be a writer and poet. His interest in health and healing developed later in life after a long and winding road of self-discovery, life experience and learning. He only applied to medical school so he could complete a residency in psychiatry and subsequently study Jungian analysis to understand the human condition and behavior. As life would have it, his destiny took him on a different journey. He never did formally pursue a psychiatry residency or Jungian analytic training, but his love for art, poetry, and psychology remains.

Dr. Hoffman was born and educated in South Africa and obtained his medical degree from the University of Cape Town. After two years of compulsory military training, his distaste for the local regime convinced him to immigrate to Canada in 1986, where he pursued family medical practice in rural Saskatchewan, Canada. Once ensconced in the practice of family medicine, he quickly realized that his interests in medicine were broader than just drugs and surgery. The allopathic medical practice was limited to treating symptoms and illnesses, but failed short in restoring the patient’s health entirely. Bruce embarked on a journey to understand what constitutes the human experience. What are the triggers and mediators that perpetuate human suffering? He wanted to assist his patients not only to be free of disease, but to realize their maximum potential.

Well, I hope you all enjoy this podcast episode. There’s a lot of rich information here, so stay tuned for that. But before we begin, please go to our iTunes page, leave us a review. It helps reviewers just like yourself to hear about the podcast. We’re also now on YouTube. There are a lot of new videos and content from past episodes up there. So, check us out over there and be sure to tune into our no wave cinema conversations on Clubhouse. The next conversation will be with me and Justin Dasher Hopkins. We’ll be talking about the classic 1964 Hiroshi Tasha Guevara film, Woman and the Dunes. We will be having this conversation on Wednesday, April 7th at 6:00 PM Pacific Standard Time. So definitely go check it out and listen to us over there. Maybe even contribute to the conversation as well. So anyways, without further ado, here’s my conversation with Dr. Bruce Hoffman. Hope you enjoy it.

Dr. Hoffman, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. And the main reason why I want to bring you on is to talk about good mental health practices and as Maslow would put it to hopefully reach self-actualization. And I think it’s really important for people in general, to be honest with themselves about every single aspect in their life, to live a holistic practice. And I was wondering if you can speak about your early pursuits for wanting to become a writer and poet and how that eventually led you down a path of studying traditional medicine.

Dr. Bruce Hoffman:

Sure. I was brought up in apartheid, South Africa. And initially in quite a conservative traditional home. But at a young age, when my parents got divorced at around age 10, my mother drifted off into more creative endeavors and found herself hanging out with Keith Anderson, who was a head of a circus, also an artist, a set designer with the opera company and the director of the opera company. And so, I found myself hanging out with Keith and his group of merry pranksters, if you will, because they were circus people, artists, creatives, and opera participants. And I found myself as a trapeze artist in a circus that traveled around South Africa, hanging out with these rather unique individuals, clowns, dwarfs, transvestites, just a crazy band of merry pranksters, which at a young age in conservative South Africa was completely unheard of.

So, I was exposed to alternative lifestyles from a young age. But then when my father got wind of this, he sent me off to an all-male boarding school, a thousand miles from home. And when I got to this all-male boarding school, they took one look at me and said; Hoffman, we’re going to knock you back into shape. So, then I was forced into this narrow, masculine boarding school mentality, and I was horrified it was like the worst thing that ever happened. But the school was an outward-bound school based on the boarding school that Prince Charles went to Gordonstoun and Prince Phillip went to. Just based on those same principles, go out into the mountains and find yourself. But after a couple of years of being at a boarding school, I had a school teacher by the name of Roger Loveday. And Roger was a devotee of a guru called Ramana Maharshi. He exposed me to the teachings from India and particularly the subset of Hinduism called  Advaita or non-dual Vedanta. And also at the same time, I got exposed to the writings of Jung; Memories, Dreams, and Reflections- his autobiography had a huge impact on me. And what ended up happening was I had a satori experience.

One day, Roger was speaking to me outside the school, outside the classroom, after he’d given a big dissertation on the bible and Christianity. After I was very cynically inclined at that time. I said to him; Roger, you don’t believe in all of those myths, do you? And he said to me, “of course I do”. And in that moment when he said, of course I do, I had a sudden awakening. I went into the state called non-dual state or satori. And, that’s where all space-time sort of, linear time disappears and you see behind the curtain, so to speak. You see the appearance of reality through the quantum lens, which is, there’s no time, there’s no future, there’s no danger, there’s no fear of death. Everything just dissolves into this oneness and where everything’s light. Which is well-documented in all the literature, many people have had these experiences. But that then set the stage for further exploration of these principles and these studies. I just continued to be inspired by the fact that there was a reality behind the reality that the rest of the world was operating on.

And then my mother applied for me to go to medical school, unbeknownst to me. Why, because she had a friend who had a friend who could get a scholarship for medical school, for somebody from the particular part of the country that I came from. So, she applied and I was actually up in Johannesburg building sets, scenery for a play with Keith Anderson and his group. I got a phone call and my mother said; Oh, by the way, you got into medical school. And I said, what? What’s medicine, I’m go to do what? She said, no, you got to go study medicine. I said, are you out of your mind? I want to go and study literature. Anyway, I ended up going to med school and not knowing what I was doing there. It is quite a peculiar experience. But while I was in medical school, I happened to go and stay on a remote farm up on the mountain. And there were a group of people around that area who were very influenced by the beat poets, Kerouac,  Ginsberg, et cetera. And I started to read them with great sort of joy. And, and then I ended up in my second year of med school, going to San Francisco and started to hang out with Gregory Corso and a lot of the other beat poets. And that was another inspiration for me.

I just got involved in creative endeavors, integrating Jung and Eastern thoughts and philosophies, and then finished my medical training, ended up in rural Saskatchewan as a family practitioner and really loved being a doctor, when I actually discovered what being a doctor was, because I had no clue. But then after a period of a year or two, I realize that this whole N2D2, name of disease, name of drug method of practicing was ridiculous. Even though it serves a function. And then I came across the writings and the videotapes of a medical writer and thinker called Larry Dossey. Larry Dossey had explored the interface between Eastern philosophies and Western medicine. I’ve written quite extensively about it. And, I watched his video and I was like completely moved. I realized that; Hey, I can bring back everything I learned in my youth that I thought I had to leave behind forever into the integration of this kind of medical practice. I flew down, met Larry Dossey, at a conference, had dinner with him. Very inspired, and then started off with that. To eat, discover, and study anything I could across the whole spectrum of medicine. Healing and the healing arts, including anything that could help an individual live at their maximum potential.

People enter into the medical office. I’m sitting in my medical office. I’ve just seen patients this morning and they come in with symptoms of depression, mold illness, Lyme disease, mast cell activation syndrome, a whole host of chronic fatigue or whatever. Then you start to work with a bigger lens are really entry points into a much greater dialogue and a much greater roadmap that you need to bring to the table in order to assist the person through this transformation of illness to wellness. People think they have a disease in which they label, and they think that’s where it begins and ends. But in the system I use and the method I’ve employed, and I’m proud to say that some of the success I have is that I employ a much larger roadmap. It was a much larger set of tools and hence have written about this new curriculum that’s necessary in order to interface with complex patients who can’t just be mechanistically reduced to a diagnosis. It’s actually absurd when you start to think of it. We’re just not trained to think with a different paradigm. We’re very mechanistic in our thought process, but there’s a lot more mystery that goes on into diagnostics and treatment.

What happened after that was that I started to study Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, homeopathy and German biological medicine, and the the sub-disciplines. And, happened to spend number of years with Deepak Chopra and David Simon. And when I discovered Ayurvedic medicine, they had an explanation of the different layers and levels of what they consider to be human reality, which is stepped down from soul to spirit, to mind, to emotion, to energy, to physicality, to outer world, out there, the expanded universe.

And I started to use that diagnostic model to think of human behavior and illness. And now I’ve incorporated that and expanded that and happened to also, at the time, meet up with a German doctor who’s still alive and still very active, Dietrich Klinghardt. He had also thought of these things and integrated some of these systems into his roadmap. And then I just expanded the roadmap. And now I use the Seven Levels of Diagnosis and Treatment TM across all layers and levels. And when a person enters my room, I use western diagnosis and their symptomatology as an entry point into a much wider dialogue and a much wider diagnostic and therapeutic potential roadmap. So that’s how I work nowadays.

Yoshino:

In terms of just like a, I want to say like a global scale, but I guess, you know, some of the pitfalls for allopathic medicine and the way that it’s practiced in a Western context, like what are some of the things that you’ve observed that needs to change within that context? And how do you think that you implement it in your particular practice?

Dr. Bruce Hoffman:

Well, being a trained western MD, I have the fortunate privilege of being able to look at disease through that lens. And the pitfalls are that the Western diagnosis implies that an organ system gets diseased, then you must find a pharmacology or a therapy or a surgical treatment for that. That is often the case, as we know. Sometimes when you got pneumonia, you want to get intravenous antibiotics, nothing wrong with that. But now we have a whole new paradigm upon us of complex multi-system multi-symptom disease presentations. And that model, that DSM- 10 classification of organ systems and pharmacological interventions is hopelessly inadequate to address those complexities. And it’s quite uncanny really when you start to work with complex patients as to how often western medicine gets it entirely wrong. And it’s only because their tool bag is so limited, it’s this perception that human beings are these mechanistic beings that, a little biochemical particles, that disease just falls out of the sky. And then you got to find a drug to kind of turn down the symptom.

Yoshino:

Do you think that that’s more of a systemic issue or what do you think the actual issue there is?

Dr. Bruce Hoffman:

Well, we think of human beings as being physical bodies, mechanistic bodies. So, it’s the paradigm, it’s the lens through which human beings are observed. That becomes a limiting factor. And we think diseases just fall out of the sky. There’s no antecedents, mediators, and triggers over the inflammatory disease process that is constellated. And we now know generationally, people exhibit, as you spoken with Mark Wolynn, people can come and present with disease processes that the initial triggers have been three generations before they were even born. And that epigenetic transfer of data is real. It’s studied at all the major universities. So that isn’t taken into account in the mechanistic model and the drug-based model. 5 minutes, 10 minutes, what diagnosis, what symptom cluster, what drug, boom. And in America is even worse because your insurance companies control what goes through the gates. And it’s ridiculous. I mean, it’s silly. It’s not how it works.

Yoshino:

Yeah. I think in America, it’s more capitalized, but that’s just part of the whole system. So pharmacologically, it could be traced from that. And also like the way that the educational system is structured as well.

Dr. Bruce Hoffman:

Yeah. It’s a disease-based model, it’s a mechanistic model. And the only therapeutic input that’s of any use is pharmacologically based, and the gateway to that is controlled by the drug industry and the drug lobbyists. It’s very bizarre how it’s all got set up. It’s very peculiar really. Because it’s not real. The human body is the final resting place of every incoming influence. And every top-down influence. The hidden and the obvious. And the body is the final kind of resting place of an individual for all of those influences. And if you don’t start looking at the toxicological logical input of a very diseased planet, the genetics of the individual, which can either detoxify or not that process. And then the influences of the energy body, because we basically, our DNA emits light, which then stands as a standing wave around us, either coherent or incoherently and is highly affected by electromagnetic fields. If you don’t take those things into account, and then the emotional influences we bring up from early childhood, we know from all the literature that children that have been either suffered from abuse trauma, or neglect trauma. Neglect trauma being often more damaging than abuse trauma. They have an infinite amount of increased disease processes later on in life. So, the environmental body, the physical body, the structural body, dentistry, chiropractic, if you don’t take all of those moving parts into play.

Like today, this morning, I saw a woman with a headache, but she had a bite misalignment. She had an overbite, with TMJ issues, had root canals, implants, and had a swollen back of the throat, which we call a Mallampati grade four with sleep apnea. I’m not trained about dentistry as a medical practitioner. I wouldn’t even look in the mouth as a doctor, but its obvious that her dentistry was playing a huge role in her headache presentation. I would just find a drug to treat the headache if I’m using my western practice.

So, the structural piece, then the energetic piece, and then the emotional piece, and then the ego development of the individual. The first half of life, ego structure, which takes us out into the world to become something that drives the first half of life. If we don’t know the internal dialogue of that person, the defenses they develop in order to stay safe, the thoughts that they have, the beliefs that they carry, the value systems, the hierarchy of values that they have. If you sitting in front of a patient and you don’t know their hierarchy of values, you can’t treat them because if their health is a fourth on their value system and running their businesses is the first on their value system, guess what? You have chaos in your low value systems, and you have order, you run your business well, but you’re going to delegate your health to your wife. And you’re not going to show up for all that’s required for you to transform your life. So, if you don’t know the hierarchy of values of people, you can’t really effectively relate to them where they are. Because they will come in and say, they want to feel better. But when you examine their hierarchy of values, it’s fourth on their value list. And unless they raise it, they’re not going to achieve any ends.

Yoshino:

Yeah. I think that’s really important to bring up because, even in that ICI presentation that you were giving, you were talking about how traditional allopathic approaches not taking into account different states of consciousness. And, you know, you could speak obviously more about this than I can, but I’m curious, how would you diagnose someone that doesn’t really take their health into consideration, but is more focused on maybe their business and work and value that as like something that is more important?

Dr. Bruce Hoffman

Oh, I take a history and I have a questionnaire. One of my set of questions, in my 70-page questionnaire, is determining your hierarchy of values. And I ask the question; how do you spend your time, your money, your attention, what you talk about, what you’re surrounded by? And if somebody says, well, I get up at six in the morning, I go to work. I talk business all day. I come home along the cell phone, I’m doing business deals and I’m surrounded by financial books and I watch business TV. It’s pretty obvious where their hierarchy of values is. Well, you got to “rob Peter to pay Paul”. If you want to get your hypertension under control, and  your diabetes under control, how much time are you going to devote to exercise, diet, meditation, sleep, et cetera? And they go, I’ll do my best. I’ll do my best, usually means not much.

Unless you’re inspired to have health as a high value, you have to be motivated from the outside, not inspired from the inside. Motivation lasts six weeks and then you give up, you can’t sustain somebody else’s value system to motivate you if it’s not inside of you.

Yoshino:

Yeah. It’s kind of like that traditional saying, you can lead the horse to water, but ask to take a sip. Maybe sometimes a much bigger sip. So going back to non-duality and speaking of…

Dr. Bruce Hoffman:

Hey, can I just say something? Sorry Yoshino, can I just say something quick just before we leave that subject. Mahatma Gandhi said that the problem with Western medicine is it works. You know, he said that. If you’ve got heartburn, you take a PPI, you take Pepcid, it goes away, nothing to do with what you ate before, how much you drank, blah, blah, blah. So people just take a whole bunch of suppressing drugs and they get on with their life, which is fine. But if you want, if you value health and wellbeing, you want to do a lot to get where you want to be. There’s this whole new group of younger people who are called bio-hackers, who make it their life’s work to study all that it takes to sustain a healthy cell membrane and a healthy internal milieu of the mitochondria. And a brain functioning and sexuality and libido, and they just devote the whole life to enhancing that. And that’s a full-time job. So, there’s is a gradation of what you can expect from a patient from just take a few supplements, to really devote your life, to turning your life around from a health perspective.

Yoshino:

But going back to the non-duality approach, how do you at the Hoffman Centre integrate that into the practice of educating people that are your patients, and then also integrating those more nuanced approaches with allopathic approaches and Western medicine?

Dr. Bruce Hoffman:

Well, the non-duality concept can’t be taught as you know, it’s either happens or it doesn’t happen. You either wake up to non-duality or you don’t. And it’s one of those strange events that other people experience or don’t experience. That’s when you start to see reality from behind, you see it with what they call One Mind. There’s no dual mind, there’s no you and me. We are just part of the same consciousness. Everything is consciousness, and that can’t be taught. Many gurus have set for decades on their stools, talking about the fact that the very thing you seek is preventing you from finding it. So, the very seeking prevents it, it just happens. But that’s a non-dual, that’s Level Seven in my model. But then there’s the other levels which I integrate in my model of assisting people achieve maximum potential within the realms of the dual life. The non-dual part is it can’t be imparted. It happens or not.

Yoshino:

Can you break down your seven-step method, essentially? I’m curious what exactly is in each part of the system.

Dr. Bruce Hoffman:

So, the Ayurvedic or Vedantic breakdown of human reality is we arise from Brahman. The one mind, the unified field, which we call spirit. You won’t be able to see this and I’m not going to attempt, but I sort of broken it down like this. Spirit, soul, intellect, emotion, electromagnetic, physical, extended (bodies). And on each of those stages, each of those layers of an individual’s reality, there’s definitely experiences, anatomical, designations, sciences related, diagnostics and therapeutics. So that’s the system I use. If you look at my website, I believe there’s a chart there, or that ISEAI lecture. That’s a system I practically use in order to assist people and get better. But they all enter through the physical, they come with a diagnosis and their symptomatology. And then I look at all the environmental influences, the biochemical imbalances, the genetics, the structure, the brain, I do, I have a brain treatment center. So, we’re always looking at brain function. And the electromagnetic, heart rate variability, et cetera. And I take a history of early developmental trauma. And then I look at ego structures and defenses and if need be, I send them for psychometric assessments. And then for the soul piece, for the family soul, I use a genogram and do Mark Wolynn’ s work or Bert Hellinger’s work, family constellation work. And for the individual soul, do dreamwork and Jungian type approaches.

So at each layer, there’s different ways of perceiving and experiencing human reality. And so, in a two-hour consult, you’re doing your best to sort of take as much in as you can to get to know that person and where the major blocks are. So even if they come in with Lyme disease, sometimes it’s a question of inherited family trauma, that’s really running the show. Or sometimes it’s due to a traumatic brain injury and they need brainwork. Sometimes it’s all layers, all levels. So having done this for a long time I sort of getting get better and better making the diagnostic and therapeutic recommendations.

Yoshino:

Can you talk a bit about your success stories with this process? I like to understand that a bit.

Dr. Bruce Hoffman

Well, all cases in the end sort of blur into one. But you know, there’s endless amount of patients that present with, say a diagnosis of Lyme disease or mast cell activation syndrome, who believe that that’s the only reason why they are sick. But when they start to explore all the other potential diagnostic possibilities, they all of a sudden realize that that was truly a teleological entry point into a much larger dialogue with themselves. And then they start to explore the whole of their lives and they start to make the necessary adjustments. I’ve got case histories in my upcoming book. I can’t pull one right now because this sort of endless variety of different presentations that I see on a daily basis. I mean, it’s just one little thing today. I saw somebody just very recently who was in her thirties, failed marriage, young child, no direction in life, presents with depression.

Her diagnosis is depression, on antidepressants. And could I help her with her depression and poor self-esteem. Upon further inquiry I found out that she’s moving back home with her parents at the age of 38. And she was very ashamed by all of that. At 38, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m going back home. What a tragedy. And the man she just divorced, was castigating her for being hopeless, no good, et cetera, et cetera. But when you take a deep inquiry, you see that this soul has had interrupted bonds with her mother at a young age. Mother was separated from her for six weeks. She had a very poor diet. When she went to her mother in teens with developing puberty, her mother was offline, and didn’t see her. She never felt seen. And then she had the series of events, sexual abuse, medication and drug abuse, and then never really found her calling.

So, subsequently turns out that going home to mother and father at age 38 was an opportunity to actually reconnect and heal the interrupted bonds that she’d never been seen in heard for in the first half of her life. So instead of being castigated and feeling so ashamed, she now sees this as an opportunity to reconnect with her mother and father in a truly humble way where the parents, carry the greater weight, and she’s the child. And she can go back and start to integrate her life with her mother’s life and her grandmother’s life, both of whom were artists. She was a makeup artist, but always thought that her makeup career had nothing to do with art. But when it was reframed that she was disconnected from the feminine lineage and her makeup artistry was a continuation of that lineage, she all of a sudden blossomed into the realization that she was part of that maternal lineage and she need not be ashamed of it.

And even though she’d put the makeup artistry aside because of her child and she has to take care of the child because the hours were wrong, she realized she could always pick it up again, and she could step into that female lineage. And she did have a calling. She thought she didn’t, all of a sudden, she knew her whole calling was still on that feminine lineage. Her mother had had a transformation and had said to her; “darling, I realize I didn’t see you when you were younger. I apologize for that”. And all of a sudden, she had this entry into this greater feminine lineage that she could not use so she can pass on to her daughter. So, the daughter doesn’t feel as strained and shameful, et cetera, et cetera. So, yes, she’s depressed. She’s depressed because he’s in an existential crisis of not knowing. She was floundering in life, but she had all this opportunity that’s presenting itself. If she just turned the switches and started to see how it was all part of a grand design that was going to help her realign with her life calling. So, it just gets reframed in a new context and all of a sudden, the life force opens back up.

Yoshino:

Yeah. So, can you speak about the neurological significance of reframing, perceived negative events in one’s life and then transforming them into something positive in one’s mind?

Dr. Bruce Hoffman:

Well, the way I was introduced to, it’s a combination of neuro-linguistic programming and Jungian psychotherapy done cognitively, strangely enough, was through the work of a person by the name of John Demartini. And being exposed to his work, I was able to see how the perceptions that we take into life are often not real. And he uses this teaching tool. He says, look, basically in the quantum world it’s all light. Light gets broken down or dumbed down into matter. Matter is both equal positron and electrons, it’s got both sides. Our lower mind, which always seeks pleasure. One side is always excluding the other side. We always looking for dopamine and trying to avoid pain. And he says, the lower mind can see both sides simultaneously, but you can train your mind to see the integration of both sides to any event, if you just train it. It’s a cognitive restructuring of your mental processes. So, I learned how to do that. I learnt his methodology of how to re-perceive reality through non-dual, if you will, both sides, eyes. So, any event in the future, which looks disastrous, you start asking yourself, where is the upside to this so-called disastrous event? Anything you judge very negatively, like if you judge somebody with very negative trait, you’ll find out where you have the trait, how that trait serves, how that person’s negative trait is benefiting you. It’s not just something that should be a thorn in your side. And how, when you being challenged by a so-called person, who’s is sort of challenging you, where are you being supported? The universe is constantly in this flux of support and challenge, positrons and electrons, which is the basic nature of the quantum reality.

If you can train your higher mind to collapse the world into its opposites, as quickly as possible, you can stay poised in what John calls love. And love to him is just a synthesis of all opposites, where you see both sides simultaneously. And there’s no judgment or no lowering yourself into black and white unipolar perception. So, I try and assist patients like “you going home to mom, this is the most terrible thing at 38, but what is the soul wanting of you? “What is being asked of you? And once I took a history after, she came in saying that this is a horrible thing. She felt so ashamed. She left, she couldn’t wait to go home to see her mother to reconnect because it was reframed. She just saw how it had served her soul’s experience. It was necessary to go home, to receive the love of the mother in a new light, because she had had interrupted bonds all her life with mother. Her mother was ready. She had to be ready. She had to shift the perception from negative, to not positive, but just as opposite. As soon as reframed, boom, I’m going home. Thank God.

Yoshino:

No. Yeah, definitely. I mean, that’s a beautiful story, but I think, especially in the metaphorical sense, you know, when you think of a situation such as a purgatory situation, you can even think about it in certain ways, in a biblical context or in many different stories of purgatory. But we sometimes put ourselves in that purgatory by not seeing the positive association that could be taken out of that negative or what we perceive, quote, unquote, “as that negative lesson of the past”. And if there was something negative that happened the past, if I could say, Oh, that actually helped build my character for who I am today. And then constantly frame it in that context, you can find those lessons. But all those lessons are always there screaming at you to essentially, show themselves in a way that can benefit you. This is at least from my observations.

Dr. Bruce Hoffman:

Yeah. I have the firm belief that every experience that you have, whether it’s positive or negative is serving the projection, the evolution of your life experience. You sort of born over here; you die over there. The acorn does become the oak tree. The acorn needs the wind, the sun, the stresses and support of the environment to become who it’s meant to be. And, I’ve no doubt in my existence, your voids, the things you find most missing, the things you judge the most negatively actually become your highest values. In the end, you look back and I have the unfortunate and fortunate privilege of being in my second half of life. So, when you’re more soul based than ego-based not that you, without ego, not saying that, but you’re more trying to integrate the parts of you that you left behind in your pursuit and the drives of the first half of life when you’re driven. Adler drives, Freud’s drives, that you’re driven to become something in the first half of life.

And then in the second half of life, you try and pick up the pieces of the parts you left behind. And you try and reintegrate your authentic, innate self. And, in that process, you realize everything that ever happened to you was in service of your soul. There was never a mistake. You never were out of purpose for your soul’s trajectory. Nothing ever occurred to you that wasn’t in service of yourself. You have no regrets. And there’s nothing to forgive because everything was in service. Forgiveness is a ridiculous concept because it’s implying that, that one was given to you was wrong. And now you must forgive them. No, everything’s in service. Thank you for giving me that experience. Forgiveness implies I’m bigger than you. What you did to me, you were wrong, I’m right. And now I’m going to forgive you. How dare you, you know. Say, yes, thank you for giving me that experience. It’s always in service of our soul.

Yoshino:

So, speaking specifically about that forgiveness and you speak so passionately about it, but you know, if someone is suffering from some sort of shame or guilt, what sort of questions would you prompt to them to be able to have them question that shame and guilt and where that comes from. I’m curious about that.

Dr. Bruce Hoffman:

So, guilt is the perception, that in the past you’ve done something that’s caused others more pain than pleasure. So, the only question you need to ask is where do you think that experience that you gave that individual, where did it serve them? How did they perhaps benefit from that experience? Could you please look in the seven areas of their life? We have spiritual, which is our calling. We have relationships, social friends, we have health and beauty. We have careers, we have making money. And we have intellectual, mental development. If you feel guilty by some act you’ve done, it’s incumbent upon you to ask; where do you think that person benefited in those areas of their life that served their evolution? Keeping in mind that everything serves, everything is in evolution of the soul’s progression. So where might it have served them? Not where did it damage them? We know that there’s both sides. Yes, it was maybe painful to them, but how did it serve their evolution in the end? And if you ask those questions, which of the seven areas did they benefit, you could find? Some people because of pain, you’ve caused them, branch out and start to develop. They read, they go to courses, they connect with their family because they sort of destitute and in pain that they have to reach out to whoever they can. So, they start forming relationships back with strange family members. They form new friendships. They go online, they go to self-help, they go to retreats. They build careers around the adversity that you caused them. So, at the end of the day, you’ve got to ask the right questions of individuals.

Nobody suffers without gaining. If it doesn’t exist, the universe is not one sided. It doesn’t work that way. Which brings into question the whole victim mentality of “I’m a victim”. No, I’m not, this can provoke a whole outlandish backlash that victims will be up in arms but if you look through the lens of moral and ethics, yes, there’s victims and perpetrators. I’m not questioning that. But if you look through the eyes of the soul, there’s a balance there that’s evolutionary. And, if you look through the right lens, you can see an evolutionary projection. It’s just how I tend to see the world.

Yoshino:

No, that’s great. And I think that it’s interesting because of your background in more traditional western forms of medicine. And also, how you combined the western perspectives and also these eastern perspectives. Or what would be deemed as western and eastern. And, you’re able to eloquently, within practice, like what you do at the Hoffman Centre within practice, to be able to mold these things. And even on your bio, you said writing and poetry, which led you to the medical arts. I think that’s very important because that is what you do. Cause you’re essentially utilizing all of your experiences, your own personal pursuits, such as your pursuit of literature and poetry. And letting that inform you in a way to ask the right questions of your patients. But at the same time to ask the right questions of yourself.

Dr. Bruce Hoffman:

It’s so important Yoshino that you know to stay in an inquiring mode, a student mode. And once you have the privilege of having lived longer is you start to see patterns and trends. You’ll see an individual present with anxiety and OCD and anorexia and so forth and so on, and like a young woman in her thirties. And then you’ll see this archetypal trend that exists that she’s addicted to perfection. And she’s following the value system of a patriarchy, which is inculcated. And she’s introjected somebody else’s value system, like an overbearing father and wants it to achieve. And you see these archetypal trends emerging in your practice. And that’s based on reading, is based on literature, is based on knowing. In the ancient Greek temples, once you’ve gone through, this is in my lecture, the outer healing and the inner healing, you are then sent out into the theater where you watch Greek tragedies, which were archetypal or depictions of life. And you see these trends occurring. You see these people in certain stages. If you don’t know the stage of life the person’s in. Your first half of life patients, very different from second half of life patients. They’re not the same. They’re different flavor, different. You approach them differently. You got to be sensitive to the stage of life. And if I wouldn’t have known that. If I hadn’t been exposed to all these different paradigms of insights.

Yoshino:

Uh, I’m curious. You were speaking of liking essentially, or interested in Jungian philosophy, but also have you read a lot of Joseph Campbell? I’m sure you have.

Dr. Bruce Hoffman

Well, when I first got interested in Jungian work, Joseph Campbell was very popular. He had that PBS series, I think, in the 90’s…

Yoshino:

Power of Myth. Is that right?

Dr. Bruce Hoffman

I don’t know how old you are, Yoshino. Hahaha

Speaker 5:

No, I’m 34.

Dr. Bruce Hoffman:

You probably were. But, Joseph Campbell did the Power of Myth. It was everywhere on PBS. And we watched that series. I’ve got all the videos. We have all the VHS videos of that. I still have that.

Yoshino:

I know I’ve seen them.

Dr. Bruce Hoffman:

I still got them in my library right there. And I read his books and yes, very moved, very beautiful. He was a big influence.

Yoshino:

No, I was just curious, because you were talking about seeing certain patterns and archetypes.

Dr. Bruce Hoffman:

You do see them; you see them over and over again. It’s quite uncanny when you tune to those archetypes. And, you can see when a person is presenting with symptomatology, when it’s got nothing to do with the western diagnosis. When it’s actually a calling from the soul to wake up to a deeper transformation, that’s being asked of them. And you just get used to knowing how to have that dialogue with people and when to watch out for signs and symptoms. And know that, oh, the Lyme disease is not Lyme disease. It’s the fact that they are misaligned with, they haven’t integrated an aspect of themselves, which is calling to be integrated. They’re still living out the first half of life, dictates, which need to be given up at some stage. You can’t,  a 70 year old man in a Ferrari, that’s diagnostic. It’s just is.

Yoshino:

Yeah. I mean, I’m sure you can see many examples of that from either people that are also in your working profession or there’s so many examples of that. And, just someone having a Ferrari at any point of life, you just have to ask, like, what is the reason for that? You know, and also you can only drive one car at a time. They can’t drive two at a time, at least not from what I understand.

Dr. Bruce Hoffman:

Yeah, there’s all those clues, the history taking is filled with clues. And you just got to be sensitive to them and hopefully tuned in as much as you’re able to. And so that requires a whole new curriculum for the healers of the future. It has to be rewritten. The curriculum must be rewritten. Not to say that MDs must become healers. I disagree. Doctors should stay doctors. Stay with all that. Stay with a mechanized symptom-organ system- method medicine. Be very good at it, be the best at it. And leave them alone. Don’t ask them to become healers. Let’s have a new curriculum for healers. People are called into a different way of interrelating with their patients. And let’s have that curriculum outlined. And let’s co-exist with each other in equal exchange, which doesn’t happen. Doctors have this peculiar arrogance that what they’re not up on, they down on. And so, anything that doesn’t fit into that model, they tend to dismiss, which is unfortunate.

Yoshino:

Makes sense. I mean, it’s essentially breaking up the paradigm that if you believed in this certain way of life being educated by the system. And it creates a certain type of way that you think about the world and your perception of your space in it, essentially.

Dr. Bruce Hoffman:

Absolutely.

Yoshino:

I have one more question for you because I don’t want to take too much of your time and I appreciate you for taking the time to be on the podcast, but what sort of advice do you have for artists and creatives?

Dr. Bruce Hoffman:

Wow. I spoke to you before we got on,  that my great love is art. Now in the last 10 years, I rediscovered this huge passion, interests, and I was deeply moved by art and still to this day. Before I answer the question, I was estranged, I was South African living in Canada, and I felt deeply homesick. But as soon as I started to buy South African art with its imagery and symbology, I could bring it over and have it in Canada, I settled down, I had living symbols of my African heritage with me, and there was no such need to go back home. So, I mean, artists generally are tuned in, at a deeper dimension and they bring forth symbolic messages and are able to translate archetypal stories, like poets. When they tuned in and the higher their skill, both intuitive and skill, the deeper the symbolism, the deeper the impact on that, because we all resonate at some level with archetypal symbolism. It hits us like a break when it’s true. And it speaks to us.

So advice, I’m in awe of artists. I mean, those surrealists’ artists like Leonora Carrington. Oh, my goodness. I mean, what were they bringing forth? And what’s really going on. I’m fascinated. I believe some of their outer lives are maybe quite chaotic, but they sort of balanced it with this inner rock of their own unconscious that just pours through them. So, I think it’s an equal balance between outer neuroses, if you will. Then in a solidity and what a beautiful exchange, what a beautiful gift to humanity.

Yoshino:

Well, I mean that’s a sound observation. It sounds like you have a very deep love for and appreciation for the arts and what the arts can provide for humanity.

Dr. Bruce Hoffman

Yeah. Poetry. I mean, Mary Oliver, The Wild Geese. Oh man. When it speaks, it speaks and you just fall over into ecstasy. It’s so archetypally resonant. It’s just makes life meaningful. Provides meaning. It’s a beauty. Beauty and meaning.

Yoshino:

I agree. I agree.

Dr. Bruce Hoffman:

Have you ever seen that movie? The Great Beauty?

Yoshino:

I haven’t, no. When did that come out?

Dr. Bruce Hoffman:

Oh, it’s by that French (incorrect- Italian) director, Paolo Sorrentino. It’s about a man who gets to be in the 60s and nothing inspires him anymore. And so this whole movie is about him visiting sights and sounds. And is in Rome, all this opulence and decadence and nothing excites him. And he’s just like desperate. Until he realizes that at some stage he was moved by a great beauty. It happened to be in the form of a woman he loved. But all of a sudden, he just wakes up to some things that he’s left far behind. And he wakes up into another phase of his life, realizing how many years he’d lived in this outer world without connecting to his true inspiration. It’s a beautiful movie. Wow.

Yoshino:

You know, what that reminds me of,  have you seen Citizen Kane recently?

Dr. Bruce Hoffman:

You know, I saw it once and I read it. I’d read how perfect a movie it was. And when I watched it, I thought, what are they talking about? But after 10 minutes, I watched each frame and I immediately got the majesty and the marvelous sort of symmetry and exactness of the whole development of that movie. And I’ve got why it’s one of the greatest movies of all time. I just could see it just so obvious actually, you know, Jungian.

Yoshino:

Definitely. Well, I just bring that movie up because what you’re talking about specifically at the end of the film. I don’t think I need to say like spoiler alert because this film came out in, I think 1945 or 43, but at the end of the film he just keeps on saying rosebud. And then you find out what that symbolized to him. And so, I think, he does all these things throughout his life to attain power, to attain wealth, but then this was it, I believe it’s a sled when he was a child carried so much meaning and symbolism to him. And it’s just interesting how there’s that consciousness shift. So it just kind of sounded similar to the film that you were telling me about.

Dr. Bruce Hoffman

Well, now I’m going to watch both movies back-to-back and then keep that in mind to see the connections. Well, we live our lives through symbols and meaning in the end, the outer world is just a playground for meaning and symbol.

Yoshino:

It’s interesting. Just to leave you with this, but yeah. I’ve been meaning to crack open Jung the Book of Symbols. Is that what it’s called? I have it downstairs and I need to spend some time, cracking that open. But anyways, thanks so much for doing this and taking the time. I appreciate you for doing this.

Dr. Bruce Hoffman

Yeah, absolutely lovely. I’m going to look at your podcast and see what else you’ve done. That it is inspired me through your connection to the artists and artistry.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. You might like some of the artists, you know? All right, Bruce. Well, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Dr. Bruce Hoffman:

Thanks for the talk. I appreciate the talk. Thank you.

Grain Free Nut Free Chocolate Chip Coconut Cookies

Grain Free Nut Free Chocolate Chip Coconut Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Ottos cassava flour
  • 1 cup organic Tigernut flour
  • 1 cup organic gf/df chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup organic coconut shreds
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut sugar (for sugar free you can sub with 100 percent monk fruit with no fillers)
  • 2 pastured eggs
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup ghee, melted
  • 1 Tbsp pure vanilla (alcohol free)
  • Pinch sea salt

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 325F
  2. Gather a large mixing bowl and combine all the dry ingredients.
  3. Add the wet ingredients and using your hands, knead dough until all ingredients have been combined. (you want a dry batter to prevent cookies from spreading while cooking)
  4. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and form dough into small balls. Spread out evenly on your baking tray and press down with a wet fork.
  5. Bake for 10 min or until golden. Let cool before transferring to a glass storage container. These cookies can be frozen for up to 2 months.

Nutrition Tip

Ottos cassava flour is a godsend if you are someone following a low histamine, MCAS friendly diet. Ottos cassava flour is the only cassava flour that I have found that is NOT fermented. Crazy huh? Who would have thought that a root vegetable flour would need to be fermented! Cassava is an excellent source of carbohydrates, fibre, vitamin C, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin. This delicious root vegetable also contains 25 percent protein! No wonder this satiating food is a staple in so many parts of the world.

If you are looking for a sweet treat while following a therapeutic diet, look no further than these nutrient dense, flavourful cookies!

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Excipients

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Excipients

Mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) is a complex disease that I’ve previously written about at length. It’s a multi-faceted condition that can often be frustrating and difficult to manage for both the patient and the provider.

Mast cells are immune cells that function to help your body get rid of what they deem to be harmful compounds. In the presence of a harmful substance, the mast cells release mediators such as histamine, leukotrienes and prostaglandins which help your body to expel the invader.

However, in certain individuals, mast cells can be oversensitive and release large amounts of mediators in response to certain triggers. These include heat, cold, sunlight, certain medications, and certain foods, among other things. These reactions can cause a cascade of symptoms of varying severity, up to and including anaphylactic shock.

Treatment for MCAS involves identification and strict avoidance of your triggers, along with medication therapy and lifestyle changes. Medications that may help with the management of MCAS include H1 and H2 histamine blockers.

However, sometimes these changes alone aren’t enough to help you completely manage your MCAS. You may also struggle to identify what triggers your MCAS reactions.

MCAS is considered ‘idiopathic’ when triggers can’t be identified. If you’re struggling with idiopathic MCAS, this article will be of interest to you.

Common drugs known to trigger MCAS

  • Vancomycin is an antibiotic often used in C. Difficile treatment, which is known to cause ‘Red Man Syndrome’.
  • Morphine and other opiates, with fentanyl and Dilaudid being the opiates that are the most easily tolerated.
  • Aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSIADS), like Motrin and Advil, are only sometimes a problem as in certain people they can actually act as mast cell inhibitors.
  • Angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors, known as ACE inhibitors, are drugs used to treat hypertension and can increase bradykinin levels, which in turn activates mast cells.
  • Beta-blockers are used to treat hypertension, anxiety and tachycardia and lower the threshold for mast cell activation, interfering with the efficacy of epinephrine if this is needed for anaphylaxis. A glucagon pen can be used as an alternative if beta-blockers are necessary to treat other conditions.
  • Some local anesthetics, such as benzocaine, procaine, tetracaine, and chloroprocaine, can trigger mast cell activation, although lidocaine is usually well tolerated.
  • Some muscle relaxants like atracurium and succinylcholine can act as triggers, but vecuronium and pancuronium are usually well tolerated.

One relatively recent development in the treatment and management of MCAS involves considering drug and supplement excipients or inactive ingredients, rather than the actual drug itself. Drug formulations vary significantly between brands and there’s mounting evidence to suggest that many people with MCAS may have reactions to certain excipients found in their medications and/or supplements. The same drug or supplement made by different manufactures with different dyes, excipients, or fillers may provoke very different reactions in patients with MCAS. The active drug itself may not be the issue, but the excipients, dyes, and fillers may be the culprit.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • What excipients are
  • How they can trigger mast cell responses
  • Some of the most common harmful excipients
  • How to tell if you’re having a reaction to an excipient
  • How to identify and avoid excipients that may worsen your MCAS

What are excipients?

Excipients are inactive ingredients found in over-the-counter and prescription medications, as well as in vaccines. These ingredients play a number of different roles in the proper delivery of the active ingredient to the body and many of these roles are absolutely necessary to facilitate the efficacy of the drug. (1)

In fact, most drugs are made mostly of excipients and the active ingredients represent only a small percentage of the drug by weight.

According to Dr. Jill Schofield of the Center for Multisystem Disease, excipients “are supposed to be ‘inert’ and ‘safe,’ but they may cause problematic reactivity in MCAS patients, including anaphylaxis.” (2)

Unfortunately, many excipients pose a risk of reactivity in people with MCAS, so it’s important to fully consider the impact of not only the active ingredients of a drug, but also its inactive ingredients when starting a new medication.

Types of excipients

There are over a thousand known drug excipients and the list grows almost daily, as researchers continue to develop new drugs and drug delivery systems.

Here are some of the main categories of excipients and their role in medications, according to Dr. Schofield:

  • Lubricants: These prevent pills from sticking together in storage, examples being silica and magnesium stearate
  • Binders and fillers: These provide volume to pills and bind ingredients together. Binders and fillers include cellulose and polyethylene glycol.
  • Coatings: These protect pills from damage, make them easier to swallow, and may provide ‘time-release’ or ‘extended-release’ function, examples being shellac and gelatin.
  • Dyes: As you’d expect, these alter the color of medications. Dyes used include FD&C red #5 and FD&C blue #2.
  • Flavourings: These alter the taste of the drug to mask bad-tasting ingredients and improve acceptance of the medication, especially in the case of children. Flavouring examples include sucralose and xylitol.
  • Preservatives:Substances such ascitric acid and retinol palmitate improve the shelf life of medications.

This is just a small sampling of some commonly used excipients. Not only are there hundreds more individual excipients, there are also many more categories of excipients that play different roles in medications. If you have had a previous reaction to a vaccine for unknown reasons and wish to be receive a specific vaccine in the future you may wish to consult this chart and consider having a sensitivity test run on you for the VACCINE INGREDIENTS. 

How can excipients affect MCAS?

Dr. Schofield describes people with MCAS as “canaries in the coal mine.” If you’re unfamiliar with this turn of phrase, it refers to the canaries that were carried by miners deep into mines when they worked. If there were toxic levels of gases present in the mine, the canary would die well before the miners, serving as warning that they needed to get out of the mine.

People with MCAS, like the canaries in the coal mine, are profoundly more sensitive to the chemicals they’re exposed to than other people. Unfortunately, this means that many people with MCAS experience reactivity to one or more drug excipients. These reactions can manifest in the following ways:

  • Fatigue
  • Malaise
  • Gastrointestinal upset, such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Skin rashes
  • Itchy skin
  • Hives
  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Flushing
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia

However, this isn’t a complete list of symptoms of excipient reactivity. MCAS is such a complex and individualized disease and symptoms can differ vastly from person to person.

If you’ve been diagnosed with MCAS and have removed your known triggers but are still experiencing symptoms, it may be time to investigate drug and supplement excipients and how they may be affecting you.

What are some of the common harmful excipients?

Some of the most common excipients that people with MCAS are reactive to include alcohol, dyes, and povidone. In fact, according to Dr. Schofield, dyes and alcohol are a great starting point for determining excipient reactivity in MCAS patients, primarily because so many people are reactive to them.

Povidone

Povidone is an extremely common excipient, used as an ingredient in hundreds of drugs. (3) It’s a polymer that’s added to drugs to help disperse the active ingredient evenly throughout a liquid or powder solution. It’s also used as a binder and to help drugs in pill form disintegrate properly. It’s water-soluble, so it’s commonly used in liquid drug solutions as well as in tablets or capsules.

It’s an ingredient in betadine, an antiseptic iodine solution that’s used to prep the skin before medical procedures. According to Lawrence B. Afrin, M.D., if you’ve previously been diagnosed with a betadine allergy, it’s highly likely that you’re actually sensitive to povidone. (4) You see, iodine is absolutely vital for proper body functioning so it’s illogical, and emerging research suggests it’s impossible, to be allergic to iodine (5). Because the only ingredients in iodine solutions like betadine are often water, iodine, and povidone, and it’s highly unlikely that you are allergic to water or iodine, this leaves povidone as the likely culprit.

Dyes

Dyes are ubiquitous in medications, a very common MCAS trigger, and unfortunately serve no purpose beyond an aesthetic one.

Although you may find that you’re only sensitive to one or two dyes, it’s often best to avoid all FD&C dyes when possible. Ferric oxide red and yellow may be better tolerated by people with MCAS, according to Dr. Schofield.

You should note that even white tablets may contain dyes, so you’ll need to check the ingredient list for confirmation.Many drugs have dye-free formulations or, in the case of drugs in capsule form, you can discard the capsule. This is often the only portion of the drug containing the dye and you can then simply take the powder inside.

Alcohol

According to Dr. Schofield, alcohols are an extremely common trigger. They’re commonly added to liquid medications, IV medications, or topical medications, which are applied directly to the skin.

Alcohol has some antiseptic qualities, which is why it’s used to disinfect the skin prior to medical procedures, along with being used as the active ingredient in most hand sanitizers. It’s also used as a solvent, to help suspend the active ingredient evenly throughout a drug, and as a preservative, to extend the shelf life of a drug.

Luckily, tablet or capsule forms of alcohol-containing liquid or IV medications are often alcohol-free. This makes them a potential alternative that wouldn’t cause reactivity.

Although these are some of the most common excipients that MCAS sufferers may react to, theoretically you could have a reaction to any of the hundreds of excipients that are used in medications today. This is why an understanding of how to identify an excipient reaction is of the utmost importance for people with MCAS that suspect they have excipient triggers.

Adhesives

Many adhesives are based in glycerin, which is corn-derived. If people react to corn, they may have problems with standard adhesives. Standard tegaderm adhesive wound dressings may be replaced with Opsite 3000 and the IV 3000 line of adhesive products.

Another product is DuoDerm Extra Thin CGF Dressing. If adhesives can’t be used and a patient needs an IV line, this can be wrapped with guaze, on top of which tape is then fastened. All IV bags should be DEHO free to reduce the risks of mast cells reactions

How to tell if you’re reacting to an excipient

There are several ways to tell if you’re reacting to an excipient in a drug, according to Dr. Schofield.


First and foremost, you should suspect excipient reactivity if you have an unexpected reaction to a drug that you previously tolerated well. In this case, some questions you can ask are:

  • Did you get this from a different pharmacy than usual?
  • Is this drug from a different manufacturer than the one that was well tolerated?
  • Was there a risk for environmental contamination when this drug was compounded?

Next, you should suspect an excipient reaction if you have different reactions to two different medications that are in the same class of drug. For example, loratadine and fexofenadine are two over-the-counter antihistamines that function in similar ways to help manage allergies. If you react differently to these drugs, it may be because one contains an excipient that you’re reacting to.

Additionally, if you experience side effects that aren’t typical for a drug, these side effects may actually be a result of reactivity to one of the excipients in that particular formulation of the drug.

You should also consider an excipient reaction if you react to a drug or supplement within the first few doses of taking a new pill. 

Finally, if you’ve been diagnosed with multiple drug allergies or intolerances, you should strongly suspect excipient reactivity. Particularly if you’ve been diagnosed with an iodine or betadine allergy, this is a strong indicator that you may actually be sensitive to povidone. This is an excipient that’s commonly added to iodine solutions along with a variety of other medications, including those as seemingly harmless as over-the-counter pain medications.

Identifying and avoiding harmful excipients

Identification of excipients to which you’re sensitive will require collaboration between you, your physician, and your pharmacist.

According to Dr. Schofield, once you’re able to identify an excipient that you react to, it should be added to your allergy list. However, you shouldn’t add the medication in which it was found to that list, as it’s likely you’re only sensitive to the specific excipient and not the medication itself.

Luckily, due to the availability of different brands and formulations of drugs, it’s often easier than you expect to find a formulation of your needed medication that doesn’t contain any of your excipient triggers.

However, you’ll need to thoroughly review the ingredient list of all medications you’re prescribed, or purchased over-the-counter, to see if they include any excipients that you’re sensitive to. Dr. Schofield recommends using DailyMed, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine that provides detailed information about medication ingredients, including excipients.

You may need to get creative in your avoidance of your excipient triggers. For example, if the tablet form of a medication contains an excipient you’re sensitive to, check to see if there’s a capsule, liquid, or IV form that would be okay for you.

As I already mentioned, if you’re sensitive to dyes, you can often just discard the capsule that contains the dye and still use the powder inside the capsule. You can sprinkle it on top of yogurt or mix it into a drink.

If you find that you’re profoundly sensitive to a certain excipient, you may need to have your medications especially compounded in a ‘clean room’ that poses minimal risk for cross-contamination with your triggers. Your local compounding pharmacist should be intimately involved with the challenges of MCAS and the potential risks of excipient reactivity. Sourcing of the pure powder ingredient in a medication may be necessary. Compounding pharmacies should be accredited with their parent organization, the Pharmacy Compounding Accreditation Board (PCAB).Established in 2007 by eight of the nation’s leading pharmacy organizations, PCAB offers the most comprehensive compliance solution in the industry. This includes the combining, mixing, or altering of drug ingredients to create a medication pursuant to a prescription order for an individually identified patient.

In Canada, most of the compounding pharmacies will use microcrystalline cellulose, known as Avicel, as a filler. This compound is derived from wood pulp and contains strings of glucose molecules strung together. It’s commonly used a texturizer, an anti-caking agent, a fat substitute, an emulsifier, an extender, and a bulking agent in food production.The most common form is used in vitamin supplements or tablets or as an alternative binder in compounding medications. Some people may also not tolerate gelatin capsules and are given vegicaps as a substitute. These are composed of hypromellose, short for hydroxypropyl mMethylcellulose (HPMC), a substance that’s prepared from cellulose, which is the main polysaccharide and constituent of wood and all plant structures.

Additionally, excipients aren’t only found in medications. If you’re sensitive to an excipient, you’ll also need to check foods, supplements, cleaning products, cosmetics, and body care products to see if they contain any of your excipient triggers.

Please reach out to me or my team if you need help managing your MCAS or identifying potential triggers or excipient reactivity. My team is extremely experienced with the management of MCAS, and we can help you formulate a plan to identify your potential triggers and remove them so that you can have some relief.

References:

  1. Abrantes CG, Duarte D, Reis CP. An Overview of Pharmaceutical Excipients: Safe or Not Safe? J Pharm Sci. 2016;105(7):2019‐2026. doi:10.1016/j.xphs.2016.03.019 Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27262205/
  2. Schofield J. The Problem of Excipient Reactivity in MCAS Patients. Lecture from The Center for Multisystem Disease, n.d.
  3. National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Database. Povidone, CID=131751496, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/povidone (accessed on May 31, 2020)
  4. Afrin LB. Re: [MASTerMinds] Precautions for Oral Surgeons doing Wisdom tooth extractions in CCI patients? #cci #mcas #dental. Email communication from MASTerMinds listserv. 2020 May 8.
  5. Dewachter P, Mouton-Faivre C. Allergie aux médicaments et aliments iodés : la séquence allergénique n’est pas l’iode [Allergy to iodinated drugs and to foods rich in iodine: Iodine is not the allergenic determinant]. Presse Med. 2015;44(11):1136‐1145. doi:10.1016/j.lpm.2014.12.008

Diagnosis of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome – A Global Consensus 2

Diagnosis of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome - A Global Consensus

Please take a look at this newly published peer-reviewed article by Dr. Lawrence Afrin of which I was a co-author, on the revised criteria for the diagnosis of mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS):

Diagnosis of mast cell activation syndrome: a global “consensus-2”

One of the most common difficulties patients seem to face after they have been to our clinic and given a diagnosis of mast cell activation syndrome is when they return to their GP’s or specialists with a description of this syndrome. Traditional medicine is well-schooled in the diagnosis of systemic mastocytosis, a condition characterized by an increased number of mast cells as opposed to MCAS which is a diagnosis arrived at due to the increased activity of mast cells (and not an increase in the actual numbers).

Systemic mastocytosis is most often diagnosed by using a biomarker called tryptase, whereas the diagnosis of MCAS has much broader diagnostic criteria as this article will outline.

For a much more in-depth description of MCAS, please see my treatment page and the following articles:

  1. Treating Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS)
  2. Mast Cell Activation Syndrome: When You Immune System Runs Rampant
  3. Natural Treatments For Mast Cell Activation Syndrome
  4. Your Ultimate Guide to the Low-Histamine Diet

Podcast: Mast Cell Activation Syndrome With Dr Bruce Hoffman

I was recently interviewed for The Dr. Hedberg Show, where we spoke about mast cell activation syndrome and how exactly the condition is diagnosed. In this podcast, we reviewed the similarities that exist among certain conditions (fatigue, brain fog, and GERD to name a few) and how they may be indicative of mast cell activation syndrome.

 

Dr. Hedberg: Well, welcome everyone to “Functional Medicine Research.” I’m Dr. Hedberg. And I’m really looking forward to today’s conversation with Dr. Bruce Hoffman. He’s a board-certified physician, and he has a Fellowship in Anti-Aging Medicine, as well as a Master’s Degree in Clinical Nutrition. He’s a certified functional medicine practitioner. And, one of the really interesting things about him is that, in addition to his clinical training, he studied with many of the leading mind-body and spiritual healers of our time. People like Deepak Chopra, Paul Lowe, Osho, Ramesh Balsekar, and one of my favorites, Jon Kabat-Zinn.

So, Dr. Hoffman, you shared the stage with Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. John Demartini. And he continues to spread his inspiring vision of healing and wellness with audiences and patients around the world. So, Dr. Hoffman, welcome to the show.

Dr. Hoffman: Thanks very much, Nikolas. I’m glad to be here. Thank you.

Dr. Hedberg: Great. So I’m really looking forward to this discussion on mast cell activation syndrome. It’s something I haven’t seen a lot of in my practice. I have heard a number of lectures on this and read quite a bit about it. And it seems to be an area of your expertise. So why don’t we jump right in and just talk about what mast cell activation is, and how is this condition diagnosed?

Dr. Hoffman: Sure. I first got interested in mast cell activation syndrome when I started to work with a cancer patient advocate by the name of Dr. Mark Renneker out of San Francisco. And he alerted me to the connection between cancer and mast cell activation syndrome, particularly in gynecological cancers. And then put me in touch with Dr. Lawrence Afrin, who leads one of the major sort of advocacy groups for mast cell activation syndrome as opposed to systemic mastocytosis, which I’ll explain in a bit.

And so, I’ve been for the last three to four years working with Dr. Lawrence Afrin’s group and learning to understand the implications of mast cell activation syndrome in most of the patients that we see. Which are chronic multisystem, multisymptom patients who, as you know, have been everywhere and remain frustrated with the one disease, one drug paradigm that we learned at medical school. So, what I learned over time was how to separate between two specific conditions, one called systemic mastocytosis and the other called mast cell activation syndrome.

Mast CellBut before I begin with that, I’d like to say that mast cells are part of, they’re produced in our bone marrow, and they’re part of our immune system. And they make up a very small percentage of it. And they act as defense structures against incoming invading pathogens. So, anything that comes into our environment or into our biome, mast cells are often at the first line of defense. And they were actually discovered a long time ago, 1878, I believe, by Paul Ehrlich. And he called them mast cells because they were fat and puffy.

And the word mast in Greek means breast or the German means masticate. So, this is how the name mast cell got generated. Just for your North American readers, I say mast, and most people don’t know what I’m saying. So, it is mast in North America. People often don’t know mast cells, what I’m saying.

So, these were originally discovered by Paul Ehrlich when he developed specific staining for them. And since then, they sort of lingered on in the literature. They were linked early on to cancer, but that sort of faded out of the picture until it was resuscitated by some Italian researchers who now are doing massive amounts of work on mast cell activation syndrome and cancers. And then it really sort of resurfaced in the 1990s and didn’t really gather steam until about 2007, when two, you know, researchers and clinicians put together sort of a consensus statement on what constitutes MCAS.

There are two different schools of thought and they do tend to conflict with each other in terms of the diagnostic criteria. But basically, mast cells being part of the immune system, and regulating many of the incoming so-called antigens or toxins tend to be distributed in almost all tissues, but nowhere quite as much as on mucosal surfaces: so eyes, mouth, skin, GI tract, bladder, etc. They’re also found in other tissues, you know, lungs and heart tissues, and brain, many mast cells are activated in the brain.

And so, when they get triggered, they do tend to release many, many mediators of inflammation. And it was estimated that there were over 200 mediators of inflammation that get released by these mast cells. But Dr. Afrin in a very recent post, as of last night, said that he’s now changing his opinion that he believes there are over 1,000 mediators released by mast cells. All these inflammatory mediators like histamine, like proteases, prostaglandins, leukotrienes, all these inflammatory mediators that then set up this multisystem, inflammatory response, which can confuse diagnosticians particularly if you have been trained in single organ, you know, specialties.

So that leads to the sort of difficulty with the diagnosis as people present with many different symptoms. And unless you have an understanding of mast cell activation syndrome, and a method of sort of sifting through the multiple systems they can present, you can often get very confused and misled. So, the recent, you know, people speaking about mast cell activation syndrome is an attempt to bring some coherence to this somewhat disorganized field. And hence, establishing criteria for the diagnosis, lab tests, and then treatment protocols. So now it’s coming into its own and I think you’re going to hear a lot about it in the years to come.

Dr. Hedberg: Mm-hmm, so we’re talking about illnesses that may be so-called mystery illnesses, and multifactorial presentations like gut issues, skin, brain, and things like that. Can you just let everyone know some of the overlap that you see in various conditions in your practice that would specifically indicate mast cell activation syndrome?

Dr. Hoffman: Yeah. So, mast cells, when they release the inflammatory mediators, can present locally or systemically. So, a local condition would be something like hives, urticaria, or interstitial cystitis. Or it can be systemically like people can present with cognitive symptoms. So, they’ll have fatigue and brain fog, and associated GI symptoms, like GERD. GERD is a potentially very big diagnostic category for mast cell activation syndrome or, you know, the irritable bowel syndrome. Even the autoimmune diseases of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis have been linked to mast cell activation syndrome.

Asthma is another one. Asthma, you know, if you analyze all the triggers of an asthma response, and you identify them, like, for instance, mold, allergy or mold inflammation, which are two different criteria, and you remove the trigger and downregulate the mast cell activation potential, I can’t tell you how many cases of asthma have been absolutely shut down when you treat the mast cell activation. It’s very rewarding. The same goes for GERD, the same goes for irritable bowel syndrome. The same goes for anxiety and cognitive decline. When you target the triggers and downregulate the mast cell activation, it’s very rewarding to treat these patients, and they’re very grateful. Angioedema, another one, canker sores another one, there’s many, many symptoms in all the organs that can present with this syndrome.

Afrin has written a chapter in a book. The book is called “Mast Cells,” the editor is David Murray. The chapter is chapter…I think it’s chapter 6, and it’s called Presentation, Diagnosis and Management of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. And at the back, he gives a long, long list of every organ that can be affected from ophthalmic, to lymphatic, to pulmonary, to cardiovascular, and just goes through all the systems. Even fibromyalgia, even osteoporosis, headache, all the mood disorders, dysmenorrhea, endometriosis, many of the hematological conditions, the immunological conditions. There’s a huge long list of different organ systems that can be affected that present as isolated diagnoses to specialists, but often they miss the overriding pathophysiological basis to the condition.

And our training as MDs makes us very aware of what is called systemic mastocytosis, which is when the mast cell from a clonal perspective within the bone marrow becomes amplified. There’s actually a mutation of the KIT gene. And the mast cells become very high in numbers. So, there’s increased numbers of mast cells, which is systemic mastocytosis, which is very different from mast cell activation syndrome, which is an abnormal reaction of the mast cells, not an increased number.

So, I can’t tell you how many patients come back to me after having got the diagnosis of mast cell activation syndrome by myself with the criteria I use, go to the specialties, go to the hematologist, go to the gastroenterologist, or pulmonologist, who then does a serum tryptase and even sometimes go as far as do a bone marrow biopsy, and then come back and say, “Oh, that diagnosis is incorrect, he doesn’t or she doesn’t have systemic mastocytosis.” Systemic mastocytosis is a very rare condition, I’ve never seen one in my life. But I see almost twice a day, mast cell activation syndrome. Dr. Afrin believes that probably about 30% of the population gets affected to some degree or the other.

Dr. Hedberg: And are there any theories at this point about why mast cells become so overactive in an individual’s body. Any good research out there on that?

Dr. Hoffman: Well, there’s lots of speculation. And the most common hypothesis is that we do live in a much more sort of, you know…we’re inundated, so to speak, with multiple stressors far more than our capacity to withstand them. Our immune system, it just gets triggered because of multiple stressors. And there are many triggers for mast cell activation. Poor sleep. Stress is one of the biggest triggers. Food, I mean, food is incredible in its ability to trigger the mast cells that are in the mucosal surfaces of the mouth through to the anus.

So, we believe that our ability to…..we can no longer withstand the onslaught of our ongoing multiple stressors, whether they be environmental, emotional, nutritional. We just are in this constant state of over reactivity if you’re genetically predisposed. Now, Dr. Afrin doesn’t believe it’s necessarily a genetic condition that is transmitted through the germline. But he believes there are mutations in some of the mast cell production. And Dr. Molderings, who’s published a lot of papers with Dr. Afrin, has done a lot of research on the so-called KIT mutation, not in the bone marrow, but within the mast cells themselves, and has shown that they are these sporadic and spontaneous mutations that occur. Why those occur? I can’t say. I don’t know the answer to that. Yeah.

LAB TESTS

Lab Tests

Dr. Hedberg: So, there’s a number of functional medicine practitioners listening to this, so let’s just talk a little bit about lab tests, and some of the ones that you’re using and the ones that are beneficial. Obviously, CBC might be beneficial with elevated eosinophils, basophil, or possibly those are normal, histamine testing and things like that. What are some of the top tests you’re doing in your practice to identify this?

Dr. Hoffman: So yes, we do all the normal standard CBC and electrolytes, and liver function, etc., but those don’t usually yield what you’re looking for. And one of the challenges is that the lab testing positive results fluctuate depending on whether the symptoms are being expressed or not.

So, the first thing is you want to try and catch a person in a flare. Well, that’s difficult you know. So that’s the first challenge. And many of these tests need to be repeated over and over again until you get what Dr. Afrin likes to identify as two positive lab tests, which I’ll explain in a second. The second challenge is that you have to process a lot of these labs on ice. You have to have a refrigerated centrifuge to get accurate results. And it took me two years to get a refrigerated centrifuge. And as soon as I was able to, the positive rate of my lab has skyrocketed. Many of these lab specimens are very poorly handled. And, you know, they sit around for days and you’ll get these false positives for sure, false negatives, I mean. Sorry.

And also, a lot of the mast cell activation syndrome people or patients, they don’t always cause these abnormalities in the lab tests. Positive lab work is only obtained around 20% of the time. So, it’s quite frustrating, you know. But if you want to get lab work tests, I use sort of the minor and the major criteria. There are 10 major lab tests that we do. And then depending on the budget, we do the top 5 or 10, if we can.

And the tests that I recommend are plasma histamine, has to be chilled. And you should catch a person who’s in a flare. If they’re not in a flare, it will very often be negative. And you’ve also got to stop some of the inhibitors of histamine for five days prior to the test. Otherwise, you will get suppression of the histamine response. If people are on, you know, H1 or H2 blockers, you won’t get a positive test. And many people do take them intermittently you know.

Then we look for N-methylhistamine, which is a 24-hour urine also needs to be chilled. And then probably the one test that I get the most positives out of is the prostaglandin D2 plasma test, also must be chilled. And for that test, patients need to be off of all nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, Motrin, Advil, or aspirin, or salicylate-containing foods. They can’t have a high salicylate diet. Anything containing aspirin for up to five days.

And then the one that is also done is the prostaglandin D2, 24-hour urine, also must be chilled with the same criteria of having to be off of all these medications. And then the last one is chromogranin A, and for that test you have to be off proton pump inhibitors and H2 blockers like famotidine. So, if you do go on proton pump inhibitors and so forth, they can falsely elevate chromogranin A.

And then after that, we’ve got prostaglandins 11 beta F2 alpha, a 24-hour urine, also must be chilled. And then the one that most MDs know about, which is serum tryptase. But this is rarely elevated in mast cell activation syndrome. It’s very important that every doctor who wishes to sort of work with mast cell patients knows this to be true. Because if the tryptase comes back normal, very often, the entire sort of clinical diagnostic differential gets thrown out, “Oh, they don’t have mast cell activation syndrome.” Big mistake, big, big, big mistake.

One of the criteria, one of the two different schools of the consensus criteria, they say that you have to have the serum tryptase elevated over 20% of baseline, or have a baseline greater than 15 nanograms per mil. But Dr. Afrin, who’s somewhat opposed to the consensus statement put out by Aiken and others, he highly disputes this finding and he doesn’t agree entirely that this is one of the main criteria to make the diagnosis. And I tend to agree with him.

Leukotriene E4, a 24-hour urine. Plasma heparin because heparin gets secreted by mast cells. And then a blood clotting profile, thrombin, PTT and INR is often done. And those are the top 10 and then after that, there’s many others; anti-IgE receptor antibodies, pheochromocytoma workup. We often do factor VIII deficiency workup, we do urinary metanephrines often. We almost always get an immunoglobulin profile IgG, IgA, IgE, and IgM. You might see IgE elevated or not. Often you won’t have an elevated IgE. So many people think “Oh, if a high IgE, then it can’t be this.” But that’s not true you can get a non-IgE-mediated mast cell activation. People then do bone marrow biopsies. People can do gastrin, serum gastrin levels. And then as you mentioned, the CBC with eosinophils and basophils can sometimes are elevated. Antiphospholipid antibodies are also often done.

And one test I like to do in the functional world is the Dunwoody Lab test for zonulin, histamine, and the DAO enzyme activity because that’s the diamine oxidase enzyme that sits on the villi that can be genetically compromised. Or because the villi are compromised, you cannot produce enough diamine oxidase. And that’s when you start to put people on low histamine diets and use the HistDAO enzyme to help break down any remaining histamine in food.

But I can tell you the one test that I tend to rely on more than any other right now, apart from the serum and urine test, is to get restaining of any gastric biopsies people have done. This has been overwhelmingly sort of helpful to some of my chronic GI tract patients in particular. So they would have gone, you know, to a GI specialist, they would have had the normal Giemsa tissue stain, and they comment on lymphocytosis. But they don’t actually comment on mast cell activation. And unless they get what’s called the CD117 stain, you won’t isolate the mast cells.

And almost 90% of people that I’ve clinically suspected of having mast cell activation syndrome turn up once they have their biopsies restained of having over 20 cells per high-power field being positive for mast cells. Which is the cut-off criteria that’s been agreed upon by numerous researchers, highly contested, by the way, by some pathologists and gastroenterologists. But we use a cut-off point of greater than 20 mast cells per high-power field to make a diagnosis of mast cell activation syndrome, particularly in the GI tract. The mast cells are very rich in the GI tract, particularly in the duodenum, not so much in the gastric tissue, but particularly in the duodenum.

So, if they ever had a biopsy in the duodenum, phone up the pathologist or write a letter and say, “Please will you restain for the CD117 stain.” And as I said, probably 9 out of 10 come back positive, very helpful. And then the patient sees that and the penny drops then they start reading up all the literature. And then they get on board for the treatment protocols which are, you know, quite…it can be onerous, and they can be extensive. But they’re very clearly delineated with multiple challenges along the way. Because people react to the medications and/or the supplements that you give them because that’s the nature of the condition.

EXCIPIENTS

pills

So, they’ll come back and say, “I can’t take the H1 blocker because I got worse.” Well, most of the time, it’s because it’s the excipient, the additive, the filler, or dye inside the medication that triggered the mast cell syndrome and it’s not the actual problem. You know, they’re not reactive to the supplement, they’re reactive to the excipient within the supplement or the drug. So those are some thoughts.

TREATMENTS

Doctors in meeting

Dr. Hedberg: Right. So once you’ve identified that someone has this syndrome, let’s talk about some of the natural treatments. You just mentioned that some of them are very difficult to follow. And some of these patients are…there’s probably a fair amount of trial and error with some of these patients figuring out what works for them. So, can you just talk a little bit about some of the treatments you’re using?

Dr. Hoffman: Sure. One of the hallmarks of this condition and one of the setups in my interaction with patients is a description of the complexity of the diagnosis and the challenges. And if you don’t have that conversation, you’ll often get a frustrated patient because they’ll come back with flare-ups and they understand it. So, I encourage that all your practitioners who wish to dive into this field really wont understand how patients can flare and how they

may have multiple triggers at any given time. And that the treatment may need to change, and that they mustn’t become frustrated, they must just stay for the long course. And they are sort of part of the team of trying to work out these multiple moving targets.

So the education is number one. I have two handouts, where I’ve described mast cell activation syndrome and mast cell activation syndrome treatment. I make sure they’ve read that. If they’re more interested, I give them Dr. Afrin’s book, “Never Bet Against Occam.” There are many patients who love to read because it’s filled with case histories. So once they get sort of an insight into other cases of complex presentation, they get encouraged to push on. So, education is first.

Second is to try and identify the triggers that trigger their mast cell activation. And this is one of the greatest challenges because there are many triggers from, you know, hot, too much heat, too much cold, stress, poor sleep, as mentioned. And then we get into the more obvious triggers, chemicals, heavy metals, dietary antigens, and then infections or inflammatory triggers like mold.

So, part of the process of working up mast cell patient is not just diagnosing the syndrome, but also trying to work up the triggers. So, in most patients, I do multiple food sensitivity profiles. I don’t just do IgG. I do IgG, IgG4, I do the so-called LEAP test. I do…am I allowed to mentioned lab names on your podcast?

Dr. Hedberg: Yes, definitely.

Dr. Hoffman: Okay. I do the lymphocyte sensitivity tests, the LEAP test. I do, as I said, IgE testing, IgG, IgG4. And I do Cyrex Lab food, I do the 10x, I think it is, with all three panels looking for dietary antigens. So, the Cyrex panel is different from the Meridian Valley food panel. Meridian Valley says it’s an IgG, IgE panel, but I disputed that once, and I’m not too sure there’s much IgE in the Meridian Valley panel. I think it’s more IgG. Whereas the Cyrex panel is more IgG and IgA. And you’ll often get contradictory findings. They’re very frustrating. That’s part of why allergists like to just throw them out, they say, “Don’t bring me this nonsense.”

But once you’ve been doing functional medicine for a long time and you have an understanding of the different complexities of dietary triggers, you can look at these profiles and you can sort of pull out the relevant data. And I encourage those of you who may be new practitioners is not to take each test literally. So, if they have a high say a banana on the one test and it’s not on the other, you want to look at the general profile of the dietary antigen testing. You don’t want to be too specific because if you get too specific, most people will have nothing left to eat. So, I’d look at the dietary antigens and most of the time, but not all the time, controversially or not, I tend to put people on the Paleo, autoimmune, low histamine diet for the first month or two. And I can’t tell you how many people immediately settle down just on that one intervention.

And I take out the high histaminic foods, and that is a very important part of it. And one of the great crazes right now is to use all these fermented foods to heal gut permeability, but it’s a disaster for the mast cell person. So, I’m always pulling people off sauerkraut, and kombuchas, and bone broth, it’s a huge trigger. So, all the fermented foods, and then all the leftover foods. As foods break down, then the proteins, the histamine gets broken down by bacteria that releases histamine. So, leftovers are no, no. We also ask people to, once they’ve cooked a meal, to put in the freezer and then to take it out and unfreeze it, but not to leave it sitting in the fridge for days.

And then things like tuna fish, huge triggers, the nightshades (tomato, potato, eggplant, peppers), huge triggers in many people. And even amongst, you know, some of the vegetable kingdom, you know, peas and beans can be triggers of mast cell activation. And so, you have to be careful when you look at the testing, you’re going to sort of see… when I look at particularly the Meridian Valley test, you can often see a mast cell patient, they’ll show up, all the legumes will be positive, all the histaminic fruits will be positive. Candida will often be positive.

And there’s like a trend you can see it and then immediately, you know this is a mast cell activation profile for food antigens. So, we remove the foods, we always treat gut dysbiosis as you know. I use two different labs for gut analysis. I use the Genova GI Effects, and I use the Diagnostic Laboratory Solution’s GI-MAPs. They contradict each other all the time, you know, one will have a zonulin of 700, the other one has zonulin as normal.

But then you just got to use your clinical acumen and your experience and correlate the labs against the symptom profile of the patient and do the best thing. I do tend to use Dunwoody Labs for the zonulin, the DAO, and histamine, as I mentioned. And then the second page of that test is all the LPS, the lipopolysaccharides, to see if there’s been any endotoxemia. And if there’s been any bacterial endotoxemia, you start entering into a whole new world of immune upregulation, which, you know, you have to down regulate in your treatment protocols and heal the leaky gut, etc. which I’m sure your listeners are very well aware of.

PHARMACEUTICALS

Stethescope sitting on open book

So A. is education, B. is testing, C. is removing the histaminic foods and downregulating inflammation in general. And then we get to specific treatments. And I differentiate between pharmaceuticals and botanicals. I tend to preferentially go to the pharmaceuticals to start with because they work quickly, if they’re going to work. And I tend to secondly, add botanicals. But I tend to be an MD, you know, it’s just my preference. I’m sure many naturopaths would go the other way. And many patients refuse to do pharmaceuticals and then I just have to use botanicals.

Pharmaceutical perspective, they must be compounded, you can’t get over-the-counter. Although paradoxically, some people do better on the over-the-counter than they do on the compounded. This is one of the challenges is what you think is going to work doesn’t work. This is why try, try, and try again, you know.

So, first thing, H1 blockers. Histamine 1 blockers, and I tend to use levocetirizine in a dose of 5 milligrams going up to 7.5, even 10 milligrams. And I think the trick to using H1 blockers is you have to dose it round the clock. You know on the box it will say “24-hour relief” that’s not true. You need to dose it at least 12 hourly and sometimes 8 hourly to create full round the clock mast cell blockade. And you’ve got your H1 blockers, you’ve got your first-generation and your second-generation. The first-generation H1 blockers like Benadryl, or ketotifen, cross the blood-brain barrier and have a sedating effect so those are often given at night.

I love to use ketotifen, I use lots of it on a dose ranging from 0.25mg, which is a homeopathic dose almost, right up 2 to 3 milligrams at night. And if there’s any issues with insomnia, it works like a dream. It’s absolutely spectacular for sedation. The problem is sometimes they over sedate when you have to lower the dose. But it also downregulates mast cell activity at night. So first-generation H1 blockers, I prefer ketotifen over Benadryl. Second-generation H1 blockers, I use levocetirizine as my preferred go-to H1 blocker.

And then I use H2 blockers, and I use famotidine in a dose of 20 milligrams twice a day, sometimes going up to three times a day. And this tends to downregulate all the mast cell activation activity in the GI tract.

One of the little tricks of the trade I’ve picked up over time is if you do the Genova GI Effects, you’ll often see that eosinophil protein X marker a little high, that’s almost a slam dunk for mast cell activation…not always because there’s other things that trigger that. But if you see that with a constellation of other positives, you follow that marker closely because when that starts to downregulate, you know, you’ve got your mast cell activity under control. So those are my first two go-to medications H1 and H2 blockers.

Probably my next is cromolyn. Cromolyn is a mast cell stabilizer particularly for people who are very food sensitive. You take it before meals. I give it along with the HistDAO enzyme. And that dose you can take it from 100 to 300 milligrams, and that can also be a major game-changer in many people’s lives. You have to play with the dose, you have to play with the different companies that make it. It’s a bit of a tricky thing, but it can really have a huge effect on downregulation of mast cell activation.

And then the fourth drug that I use, and many patients have come back to me with this fourth drug, Singulair, montelukast. This downregulates leukotrienes, which are one of the thousand mediators of inflammation. One of the things that we’ve noticed in mast cell syndrome is that when you think a patient has an upregulated leukotriene pathway, which is typical for asthma, you give the montelukast or the Singulair and the asthma is managed.

Well, it so happens that one can’t predict which class of drugs is going to work on which mediator. So, if you give a mast cell stabilizer for food sensitivities, guess what? The asthma may go away. Or if you give Singulair for asthma symptoms, the hives go away. So, thereis crosstalk amongst many of the mediators. And it’s a great mystery as to why that occurs, nobody’s worked it out yet. Dr. Afrin said he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know why this happens and he’s going to keep researching till he works it out. So those are the four drugs I use, probably the top four drugs I use over and over again.

SUPPLEMENTS

supplements

Nutraceuticals, of course, Quercetin, tops the list, no question about it. There’s a product called Natural D-Hist made by Ortho Molecular, that’s my go-to supplement over and over again. Two, three times a day seems to be the magic dose. And then using HistDAO one to two before each meal that seems to be the number one nutraceutical.

Number two would be vitamin C, either orally or intravenously, sometimes can have a huge benefit as well. Green tea has an effect. Turmeric or curcumin can have an effect but some people react to it. If you see on the food sensitivity profile, if you see that it’s positive in at least one or two tests, you can use it, but you want to be cautious because it can sometimes activate mast cell activation. You got to be careful with turmeric. Resveratrol is another one. And chamomile tea has some calming effects. So those are my sort of…they’re called the A team of my nutraceutical approach.

And the B team is sort of…there are many others like luteolin, Ginkgo biloba, Pycnogenol. Pycnogenol is a great one too I use quite a lot of Pycnogenol. Feverfew works. There are many things that can work. So, I pick and choose and go through them and change them. I ask everybody to first identify the triggers, if they can, and then to start rotating the pharmaceuticals and/or nutraceuticals and see which has the biggest blockade effect. And people soon work it out, you know. You’ve got to get a good compounding pharmacist on your side. And you got to make sure that they don’t fill the compounded pharmaceuticals with lots of fillers and dyes because some people react to that.

And then one of the other challenges…I just had a very seriously ill patient present to a hospital with anaphylaxis and she was on polypharmacy. She was on 10 different drugs. And many of the drugs she was on were triggers for her mast cell activation. And those were never identified as triggers by her medical team. And so, we asked the pharmacist to go through each drug and look for the additives. Many of them had iodine in them, many of them, there was soy extract base, and those had to be changed accordingly. And she settled down. So those are some of the challenges I have.

Dr. Hedberg: And one of the drugs that wasn’t mentioned was LDN, low-dose naltrexone, I know some practitioners are using that for this. Have you tried that or used it?

Dr. Hoffman: I do use low-dose naltrexone. It’s part of the many other…there’s many other alpha-lipoic, and so forth. And LDN is definitely part of it. And LDN has an effect particularly on autoimmune responses and downregulation of an inflammatory response. It’s not my first drug though, I don’t go to LDN as my first line. I use it if there’s autoimmunity and lots of gut permeability then I bring in LDN. And LDN is challenging because people give it at night but it can be very activating. Just yesterday, I saw a patient who since she started LDN hasn’t slept a wink. We changed it to morning.

Dr. Hedberg: Right. So how do you deal with the psychoneuroimmunology aspects of this condition? You know, some people, they develop a deep identification with their illness, and then they develop a lot of beliefs about things that they’re sensitive to. And we’re not saying that it’s all in their head, but we do know from the PNI research that what we believe, and what we emphasize, and think about, and focus on can affect the immune system and our biochemistry. So, are you using any kind of cognitive behavioral therapy or things like that, that could help some of these patients who are so focused on their condition and their hypersensitivities?

Dr. Hoffman: Yeah, because this opens up a huge area of the work that I’ve been forced to look at over time and for which I use quite a complex algorithm to sort of diagnose and treat. I’ve studied Ayurveda for years and I use the Ayurvedic model of layers and levels of healing. And when a person presents with specific belief systems around their condition, I have to sort of look through the layers and levels of what may be playing a role in that belief system.

Just very briefly, I tend to look at these diagnostic criteria. I look at the family system to see what family system they were born into and what beliefs the family system carried. Because I can’t tell you how many cases get resolved when we do what’s called family constellation therapy and look at the entanglements of the forefathers and ancestors, and how those epigenetically got transferred down to the offspring. Very profound piece of work, I cannot emphasize it enough. And I encourage all functional medicine practitioners to get a very sound footing on the epigenetic transfer of family system trauma and the entanglements that can be inherited, completely silently, unknown consciously to the patient, only uncovered through work in family constellation therapy whereby certain methodology is employed to determine what these factors may be. So that’s number one.

Number two, I look at early developmental trauma patterns, and ego strength, and defense systems of a patient. And I employ a number of ways to identify that. The number one system that I look at is looking at defense structures of the patient and the ego strength. And you can tell after, you know, half an hour, is this person…do they have good ego strength? Are they resilient or they do have a fragile ego structure? And I send people for quite a lot of psychometric testing to establish some of these criteria.

I have a psychologist I work with who is able to help me with some of the psychometrics. And we even do, you know, some of the simple psychometrics testing, and even the Burns Inventory, the ACE Questionnaire. When we do qEEGs, we do the in-depth psychological assessment that’s provided by the CNS Vital Signs software to look at which of their psychological profiles are most dominant. Is it anxiety, OCD, is it depression, etc.?

So we look at that level of their development, the ego strength and their defenses. And then we look at early developmental trauma. And as you know from literature, people who have early developmental trauma have very different brain structures. They have, you know, very often this hugely enlarged anterior cingulate gyrus. They have in their beta, their fast brainwaves, there’s two to three standard deviations above normal. Their capacity to inhibit the sort of reptilian, limbic brain is diminished. And those are challenging patients, very challenging, and you have to address that level of healing.

This is not a biological intervention. There’s not much you can do biologically unless you identify what the core ego strength resilience of the patient is. How much projection of will the patient has? Many patients will sit in front of you, project the will to heal on you. And that’s a slippery slope. If they are not invested in sort of figuring it out on their own with you, you have a problem on your hands, you know. And patients will often project their early developmental trauma of parents on to you, whether it’s positive or negative. Best to have a positive projection in the beginning. But if you are the evil father that you get projected onto you, you’re in trouble.

So it behooves all of us as functional medicine practitioners to kind of try and identify, who is this person sitting in front of me, what did they inherit, how was the early developmental life? And then what defenses are they employing to keep away feelings they don’t want to feel? And I use a psychological technique called ISTDP. And I refer that out to somebody who’s specialized in it. That person I use is also very well versed in CBT. But CBT, without the underpinnings of the complexity of the presentation, can sometimes not stick. It can be very helpful to some, but for those who are fragile with projection of will, CBT will not hold. You can’t use CBT, it washes off them, you know, they won’t be able to hold that.

The next thing I do, I do NeuroQuant MRIs on everybody as well as a qEEG. And I look at the brain patterns and I can’t tell you how helpful that is. If you’ve got this high beta brainwave, and you’ve got maybe high theta brainwaves with not enough alpha, you’ve got work to do. And then you correlate that with the NeuroQuant MRI, and we look particularly for the amygdala upregulation. Many of these people with anxiety, OCD, and belief systems around the illness, who are multiple chemically sensitive and environmentally sensitive and are triggered by everything, will have a very…..the amygdala will be 2 standard deviations above normal, being like in the 97th percentile. The thalamus will be in the 97th percentile.

Hand holding image of brain

And the thalamus is rich in mast cells. So, when the thalamus is high, the amygdala is high, you want to ask about mast cell activation, and you want to ask about early developmental trauma. Because the amygdala gets increased in size when there’s repeated stresses on the fear-based part of the limbic brain. And if I see that, I often start inquiring about other techniques to downregulate the amygdala. And that we use DNRS, as you’re probably aware of the Dynamic Neural Retraining System.

We do refer people to that, we do neurofeedback, we do biofeedback, we do vagal tone stimulation. And we start to bring in the Porges polyvagal theory of, you know, sympathetic, parasympathetic dorsal vagal shutdown. And we try to work out where in this constellation of symptoms is this patient presenting? Are they in dorsal vagal shutdown with a rigid defense and sort of no will to get better? Are they getting secondary gain? That’s a very different patient from the one who’s, you know, loved by the parents, no developmental trauma, is loved and seen by a mother, develop appropriate right prefrontal cortex to self-regulate, has financial resources, is loved by the husband, the kids are doing well, they have a home to go to. This is how it works.

And we have to work out who are we sitting in front of when it comes to addressing some of these complex beliefs about, you know, is this a biological overreactive reactive mast cell syndrome, or is this a psychologically overreactive amygdala? Or is this person highly defended? Do they have the ego structure to take on what I’m about to tell them? It’s complex, as you know. I think that…

Dr. Hedberg: Right. And it’s a difficult situation for everyone because, you know, we don’t really get a lot of training, if at all, in all these things you just mentioned. So, we have to learn these things on our own, learn how to incorporate them. And then at the same time, present these to the patient in a way that isn’t telling them that you know, “This is just all in your head” or helping them understand that some of this could be due to your childhood and the way that your parents treated you, and all these kinds of things that happen. And I have done a few podcasts with some experts on adverse childhood experiences and things like that.

So, it’s refreshing to hear you talk about all these things, and it just creates a very complex picture on how to put it all together. And you know, like you said, they come to see you and they put all the burden on you for the healing. And then, you know, you come back with recommendations that, “Well, we need to work on your childhood trauma or your relationships,” and things like that. So, this is a very difficult, you know, condition to take on as a practitioner. I mean its massive amount of mental and emotional output that you have to take on.

Dr. Hoffman: Yes, one of the commonest words I see in the referrals back from specialists is this so-called, awful term, somatization disorder. And it’s just not true 90% of one of the most stressful diagnoses for one of these patients to get is the so-called somatization disorder but it’s often handed out. You know, and, “Yeah, it’s all in your head,” this is so awful. There may be a component that is filtered through the neurological pathways and then synapses. And they may tend to have an upregulated sensory system that processes things somatically. But it doesn’t mean to say that we have to discard this as all psychological, which is very often the insurance companies like to do things like that and some of the specialties too.

I recently referred a patient to a psychiatrist for insurance purposes and I sent five articles plus a written response. “Please do not diagnose this patient as being psychiatric, he has the following conditions.” And then we listed the mast cell activation, the mold sensitivities, electromagnetic sensitivities, etc. And I sent him five papers in support of the validity of this diagnosis. I haven’t heard back yet; I’m waiting to see what the response is. We often have to advocate for our patients in this way because they do present with neuropsychiatric manifestations, but it’s as a consequence, it’s not the cause. Although there may be some issues which provoked, you know, an expression of a mast cell disorder, but you can’t separate you know, mind-body, you’ve got to work with the whole continuum.

Dr. Hedberg: Exactly. Well, this has been really excellent. How would you like people to find you online, what’s your website and contact information?

Dr. Hoffman: The website is hoffmancentre.com. And the phone number here is 403-206-2333. That’s the phone number for my clinic. I do have a number of blogs on my website, and I post to Facebook and Instagram. But my website has a lot of the histaminic articles as blogs, so they can access them on there.

Dr. Hedberg: Excellent. So, to all the listeners, I have created a transcript of this conversation, which will be on drhedberg.com. So just search for Dr. Hoffman and you’ll be able to get the entire transcript there in case you missed anything. Well, thanks for tuning in, everyone. Talk to you next time. This is Dr. Hedberg, and take care.

Natural Treatments for Mast Cell Activation Syndrome

I have recently returned from a most stimulating conference/think tank with Dr. Afrin and 30 other leading clinicians on Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) at Commonweal—a cancer retreat centre in northern California.

MCAS is a type of mast cell activation disorder (MCAD) characterised by an abnormal activation of mast cells resulting in chronic multisystem polymorbidity of a general inflammatory nature, with or without an allergic nature. Mast cells are white blood cells that are concentrated at the entrances to body tissues (ears, ears, nose throat, skin, genitalia, rectum), and when activated, they release over 200 signalling chemicals (e.g. histamine, prostaglandins, leukotrienes, cytokines and chemokines). These chemical mediators trigger inflammation in response to the invasion of foreign toxins, infections or chemicals, resulting in a range of chronic symptoms. With MCAS, this function becomes upregulated and chronic, occurring at inappropriate times in response to substances that are not necessary a threat. This can lead to widespread symptoms in many different body organs and systems.

Mast cells are located throughout your body in many different tissues, primarily including dermatological, gastrointestinal, neurological and respiratory tissues.  While we need mast cells to protect us from threats, they become a problem when they are overactive and hyper-responsive and will not ‘turn off’. Dr. Afrin, a leading mast cell researcher, believes that between 15 and 20% of the North American population may be affected  by MCAS. The symptoms of MCAS vary greatly. As a result, many people spend years, even decades, in search of a correct diagnosis, visiting many different subspecialists. What is more frustrating for patients is that many doctors are not familiar with the multiple ways in which MCAS may manifest.

MCAS is often found in individuals with hypermobility syndromes (Ehlers–Danlos syndrome), postural orthostatic hypotension (POTS) as well as chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS) and tick-borne illnesses (Lyme disease and co-infections).

The most common symptoms of MCAS include:

  1. Feeling as though you have been sick forever
  2. Trouble with allergies and asthma
  3. Overreaction to insect bites, bee stings and chemical intolerances
  4. Facial and chest flushing
  5. Skin rashes that come and go, including hives and angioedema
  6. Itchiness and a burning feeling
  7. Brain fog and headaches
  8. Poor wound healing and easy bruising
  9. Waxing and waning of symptoms

The condition may be mild in some people and only exacerbate in response to a significant life stressor, which may be either physical or psychological in nature (divorce, bankruptcy, loss of job, travel, infection, death of a loved one, exposure to novel infections, occupying a water damaged building, exposure to cold or heat). In others, symptoms may develop from a young age and slowly become worse over time. People with MCAS are likely to experience a few of the most common symptoms. Because mast cells are located throughout the body, symptoms can affect the eyes, nose, ears, throat, skin, heart, blood, lungs, gastrointestinal tract and the nervous, endocrine and musculoskeletal systems.

The symptoms of MCAS are often confusing. For a long time, many people with MCAS have been told that their condition was psychosomatic or ‘in their head’. Fortunately, awareness of this frustrating and debilitating condition is spreading. Testing for MCAS is somewhat complex and confusing, as positive biomarkers may only be observed when a patient has a flare up. Incorrect collection of specimens may also lead to false negative testing. Many specimens need to be chilled with a refrigerated centrifuge, which is not available in every lab or doctors’ office.

If you need a comprehensive overview MCAS, I encourage you to read my article: Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Histamine: When Your Immune System Runs Rampant.

The most common drugs that are prescribed for treating MCAS include:

  • Histamine 1 blockers – Hydroxyzine (Atarax), Doxepin (Silenor), Cyproheptadine (Periactin), Loratadine (Claritin), Fexofenadine (Allegra), Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), Ketotifen (Zaditen) and Cetirizine (Zyrtec, Reactine).
  • Histamine 2 blockers – Famotidine (Pepcid, Pepcid AC), Cimetidine (Tagamet, Tagamet HB) and Ranitidine (Zantac). Famotidine is chosen most often because it has fewer drug interactions than Tagamet.
  • Mast Cell Stabilisers – Cromolyn (Cromolyn Sodium, Gastrocom—oral form, Nasalcrom—nasal spray, Opticrom—eye drops, and there is a nebulised form and a cream can be made from a bottle of Nasalcrom and Eucerin or DMSO cream), Ketotifen (both a mast cell stabiliser and an H1 blocker) and Hydroxyurea (Hydrea).
  • Mast Cell Inhibitors – Montelukast (Singulair), Zafirlukast (Accolate) and Zileuton (Zyflo). Pentosan (Elmiron) is used in the genitourinary tract for perineal pain and interstitial cystitis.
  • Antibody neutralisers – Omalizumab (Xolair).
  • Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitor – Imatinib (Gleevac).
  • Stimulants – Mixed salts amphetamine (Adderall XR), Methylphenidate (Ritalin) and Ephedrine (Epipen provides an acute rescue injection when experiencing an anaphylactic episode).
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDS) – Helpful in some, a trigger in others.  Aspirin is the most commonly used NSAID. COX 2 selective NSAIDs—Celecoxib (Celebrex)—are also used.
  • Low-dose Naltrexone (LDN) – Used in a step-up dosing at night.
  • Cannabinoids – Drobaninol downregulates neurons and mast cells via inhibitory cell-surface cannabinoid receptors (not available in Canada). CBD is more helpful than THC.
  • Benzodiazepenes – Addresses the inhibitory mast cell benzodiazepine receptors. Use short-acting varieties. Lorazepam (Ativan) and Clonazepam (Klonopin, Rivotril) are best when used three times daily. Valium and Midazolam are also sometimes used.
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors – may occasionally be of benefit.
  • IV Immune Globulin (IVIG) – this treatment is sometimes used in MCAS.

While your doctor may prescribe you some of these mast cell stabilizer drugs to help your symptoms, there are also several natural treatment options. A benefit of using natural treatments for MCAS is that you can take these on your own and they do not require a prescription. However, because most patients with MCAS present differently, it is a good idea to implement these with the guidance of a functional medical doctor who is experienced in MCAS.

Although there is a good possibility that you will eventually find the right therapeutic combination of treatments that will help alleviate many of your symptoms, the fact is that there are no specific biomarkers that will predict which therapy will be the most effective for your specific manifestation of this condition. Trial and error with both drug- and non-drug-based options is often the name of the game.

Also, if you opt for natural treatments for MCAS and mast cell activation disorder, always be sure to disclose everything you are taking to your doctor so he or she has a clear idea of what is going on. It is also important that you make only one change at a time when attempting different combinations of treatment options.

Advantages of Using Natural Treatments for Mast Cell Activation Syndrome

There are many advantages of using natural treatments for MCAS, including:

  1. Lower cost
  2. No need for a prescription
  3. MCAS patients are often sensitive to pharmaceuticals, particularly the excipients (bulking agents, binders, fillers, dyes) within the products. Patients will have to work closely with their compounding pharmacists to help identify a list of offending ingredients in drug formulations. If a patient has a strange reaction to medications (e.g. insomnia while using a typically sedating antihistamine), it is likely a flare up of mast cells in the CNS causing the problem and not the drug itself.
  4. Some drugs block DAO—an enzyme in the gut that breaks down histamine
  5. Many patients prefer natural treatments
  6. May have benefits beyond mast cell stabilisation

Disadvantages of Using Natural Treatments for Mast Cell Activation Syndrome

  1. Supplements are bioactive compounds that may have unacceptable effects
  2. They may interfere with known medications
  3. They still have to be processed through the same liver detoxification enzymes as pharmaceuticals and thus may have unacceptable side effects
  4. Supplements may also contain excipients that produce unacceptable side effects

Many of my patients find that these natural treatments are sufficient when it comes to treating their MCAS. For others, these natural treatments allow them to reduce the number or amount of drugs they need. When it comes to natural treatments for MCAS and mast cell activation disorder, the most effective work in the following ways:

  1. Stabilising mast cells
  2. Increasing histamine breakdown
  3. Reducing histamine levels
  4. Stabilising the immune system and reducing inflammation

With that in mind, here are some of the best natural treatments for MCAS according to the mechanisms they influence. These recommendations were presented at the think tank by Dr. Brian Bouch, a leading integrative medical doctor from California.

1. Stabilising Mast Cells

One of the best things you can do for MCAS is add natural treatments that stabilise your mast cells. Such therapies work by inhibiting the inflammatory mediators mast cells release and can be broken down into three groups (A, B, and C) based on how helpful and potent they are.

The “A” Team:

  1. Quercetin  – 2000 mg daily, dose divided
  2. Green tea (EGCG, L-Theanine) – 2 to 3 cups daily. Supplement with 500 mg (175 mg of ECGC) twice daily
  3. Curcumin (Meriva is a common brand name) – 1 to 4 g daily, dose divided
  4. Chamomile tea (Apigenin, luteolin) – 1 to 2 cups before bed
  5. Resveratrol – 20 mg twice daily
  6. Diamine oxidase enzymes (DAO) – 2 capsules with each meal
  7. Vitamin C – may need a non-citrus source such as rose hips – 1 to 3 g daily

The “B” Team:

  1. Luteolin – 100 mg twice daily
  2. Ginkgo biloba – 500 mg daily
  3. Silymarin – 500-1000 mg daily, doses divided
  4. Shea oil – 3 capsules daily
  5. Ellagic acid – 500 mg daily
  6. Pycnogenol – 500 to 1000 mg daily
  7. Magnolia/Honokiol – 200 to 250 mg twice daily
  8. Parthenolide (Feverfew) – 200 to 400 mg twice daily

The “C” Team:

  1. Fiestin – 100 mg twice daily
  2. Rutin – 200 mg daily
  3. Genistein (isoflavone)
  4. Mangostin (often taken as a juice) – 500 to 1000 mg daily
  5. Xanthium (dihydroleucodeine, also known as cocklebur) – 6 to 9 capsules daily
  6. Isatis (indoline) – 6 to 9 capsules daily

Here is some further information about select products that are used most often

Quercetin

  • Found naturally in stinging nettle, grapefruits, onions, apples, black tea, leafy green vegetables and beans
  • Downregulates the enzyme that converts the protein histidine to histamine—histidine decarboxylase
  • Inhibits the release of histamine, prostaglandins and leukotrienes— three of the most common inflammatory mediators found in MCAS
  • Decreases the production and release of inflammatory cytokines—the inflammatory mediators responsible for many of the symptoms of inflammation related to MCAS
  • Often used as a primary therapy—has been shown to be more effective than the pharmaceutical Cromolyn
  • Treats allergies, contact dermatitis, photosensitivity and inflammation
  • The dihydrate form has the best bioavailability
  • Dr. Theoharides, a top mast cell researcher, has produced a product called NeuroProtek, which contains quercetin, luteolin and rutin. At least 8 capsules must be taken daily for maximum effect.

Green Tea – EGCG

  • EGCG is the most common polyphenol found in green tea
  • Inhibits calcium influx into mast cells, thus preventing their degranulation
  • Inhibits mast cell production of inflammatory mediator leukotriene C4.
  • Has other benefits: improves brain function, improves dental health, lowers risk for cardiovascular disease, combats skin aging
  • Lowers risk for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes mellitus

Curcumin 

  • Widely used in popular supplements for lowering inflammation
  • Best found in phospholipid forms such as Meriva
  • Has antiallergic activity—inhibits the degranulation of mast cells in a dose-dependent manner
  • Inhibits inflammatory molecules—interleukin-4 and tumour necrosis factor -?
  • Widely used in cancer and joint inflammation

Resveratrol

  • Found in grapes, berries and peanuts
  • Reduces the expression of inflammatory markers IL-6 and IL-8
  • Inhibits IgE allergy reactions

Vitamin C

  • Research has shown that when Vitamin C levels fall in the blood, histamine levels increase exponentially. When Vitamin C is reintroduced, histamine levels fall exponentially
  • There is very little evidence in the literature, however, to support its use as a natural antihistamine
  • It is frequently combined with quercetin in supplements—a popular supplement is Natural D-Hist by Ortho Molecular Products. Take 2 three times per day for maximum effect
  • Be careful of citrus-based Vitamin C and be aware that high does can cause diarrhoea. It is best to take smaller amounts more frequently
  • Slow-release formulations may be better

Silymarin

  • Silymarin, an extract of milk thistle, which has been shown to attenuate mast cell-mediated anaphylaxis-like reactions
  • It also prevents the release of proinflammatory cytokines such as tumour necrosis factor, interleukin 6 and nuclear factor–kappa B.
  • Also known to have hepatoprotective, anti-carcinogenic and anti-inflammatory effects. Widely used to protect against drug- and chemo-induced liver toxicity

Other supplements that have been used in MCAS:

  • Lipoic acid
  • N-acetylcysteine
  • Ashwagandha – an Ayurvedic remedy known as an adaptogenic herb that modulates the body’s response to stress. Withaferin A is a compound found in ashwagandha that has been shown to prevent mast cells from releasing histamine and other inflammatory mediators
  • Vitamin D – usually best at higher doses. Need to test blood levels

Important Caveat:

Both quercetin and green tea extracts may inhibit the COMT enzyme. If you have a COMT ++ enzyme (slow function) on your 23andme, be careful when using these two supplements. The COMT gene determines your ability to process catechols, oestrogen and the major neurotransmitters adrenaline, noradrenaline and dopamine. Your anxiety, insomnia and pain may increase due to further slowing down of the excretion of these excitatory chemicals plus the excitatory catechols, substances found in green and black tea, coffee, chocolate, green coffee-bean extracts and quercetin.

Other things to consider in MCAS patients:

  1. Ensure you have sufficient magnesium levels, as a deficiency has been shown to induce the emergence of mast cells, particularly in the liver. Magnesium also has hundreds of other important functions in a healthy body.
  2. Zinc is another mineral you should ensure you’re getting enough of because it is important in appropriate mast cell signalling.
  3. Stress reduction is also important in stabilising mast cells. When you’re stressed, your body releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which is associated with the activation of skin mast cells. Incorporate meditation, yoga, breathing exercises and other stress-reducing techniques into your daily life.
  4. Maintaining a schedule is a great way to help stabilise your mast cells because they exhibit circadian rhythm patterns. Try to wake up and go to sleep at the same time each day. Also, avoid electronic screens before bed or wear a pair of blue-blocking glasses for better hormone regulation.

2. Increasing Histamine Breakdown

Diamine oxidase (DAO) stabilises mast cells, but more importantly, it is the predominant enzyme that breaks down histamine. To increase your DAO levels, you can take DAO enzymes. I recommend taking two capsules with each meal. You can also increase your DAO levels with high doses of vitamin C.

You should also avoid anything that blocks the release of DAO. First and foremost, this includes any form of alcohol. Histamine and alcohol metabolic pathways share common enzymes—aldehyde oxidase and aldehyde dehydrogenase. When you drink alcohol, histamine is released from your mast cells and DAO is simultaneously inhibited. This can cause a runaway chain reaction, which results in greater sensitivity to alcohol and worsening histamine intolerance. Aged cheese and wine together may induce a major mast cell activation.

3. Reducing Histamine Levels

To reduce histamine levels in your body, you should adopt a low histamine diet. Avoid the following:

  • Alcohol
  • Smoked and cured meat
  • Seafood
  • Pickled foods
  • Fermented foods
  • Leftovers
  • Canned fish or meat
  • Berries, especially strawberries
  • Nightshades, including tomatoes and potatoes
  • Preservatives
  • Vinegar

Try to eat foods as fresh as possible, and stick to anti-inflammatory foods. Adding rosemary oil to fish reduces histamine formation as the fish ages.

For a comprehensive resource on low-histamine foods, diets and recipes, I recommend my guide on the Low Histamine Diet as well as Healing Histamine.

4. Stabilising the Immune System and Reducing Inflammation

Calming the immune system and reducing inflammation is a critical part of any MCAS protocol. The recommendations above mainly help to stabilise the immune system and reduce inflammation, though there are a few other effective methods:

  1. Check and treat any underlying infections – These can contribute to a widespread inflammatory response in the body if left untreated. These may include H. pylori, Epstein Barr and herpes simplex.
  2. Correct gut dysbiosis – Correcting the balance of your gut microbiome has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve immune system health. Specifically, there are certain strains of probiotics that have been shown to help breakdown histamine, including:

Many patients will need to experiment with various therapeutic options at different doses until they find the right combination of medications that helps with their particular symptoms. If unusual side effects are experienced with known medications, remember that the excipients contained within the medications may be the problem, not the medications themselves.

While there is no cure for MCAS, there is a lot you can do to minimise the condition’s impact on your life. The good news is that most of the natural treatments for MCAS are recommendations for a healthier life that anyone would benefit from. To read more about living with MCAS, check out 12 Tips for Living With Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.

With a chronic illness such as MCAS, it is possible to live a full life—the treatment just requires a careful, comprehensive approach. If you believe you have MCAS or have already received a diagnosis and need a functional medical doctor who specialises in MCAS in Calgary, Alberta, you can request an appointment here or call 403-206-2333.

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Resources:

https://hoffmancentre.com/2017/11/mast-cell-activation-syndrome-histamine-immune-system-runs-rampant/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22470478
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24477254
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28458279
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9421440
https://www.nature.com/articles/srep39934
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17490952
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25095772
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10344773
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4315779/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12793960
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21390145
https://hoffmancentre.com/2017/11/12-tips-living-mast-cell-activation-syndrome/

Is Your Histamine Intolerance Actually Mast Cell Activation Syndrome?

Are you wondering if your histamine intolerance or allergic reactions are actually an issue with your mast cells? Or maybe you’ve experienced chronic symptoms that seem like allergies for as long as you can remember?

Histamine is an important but potentially dangerous mast cell mediator and part of the immune system response. Histamine is secreted by mast cells into surrounding connective tissues when there’s an exposure to an allergen. Mast cell histamine works by increasing the permeability of blood vessels and allowing white blood cells and proteins to access affected tissues more easily.

Histamine intolerance is a condition that’s growing in recognition. However, it is mostly considered a part of a much wider problem which is defined as Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS); a situation in which part of the innate immune system becomes hyperactive and releases multiple inflammatory mediators, of which histamine is one.

Histamine intolerance is considered to be present when there is just too much histamine in your body for it to cope. This is further exacerbated by the fact that histamine is also present in many foods and so a person’s histamine burden may be further amplified by their diet. This histamine isn’t broken down due to a DAO gut enzyme deficiency, or a HNMT deficiency in the liver. A comprehensive guide regarding the low-histamine diet can be found here.

Histamine intolerance is a subset of MCAS

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome is often confused for histamine intolerance. The difference between the two is that when a person has MCAS, their mast cells secrete many mediators, not just histamine. Though, histamine is still a major component of MCAS it’s only a piece of the puzzle.

Histamine intolerance is actually a subset of MCAS. If you’ve discovered you’re histamine intolerant or recently received a diagnosis, you should also be tested for MCAS.

Conditions associated with MCAS

Because MCAS is a multisystem condition with inflammation at it’s core, it’s been associated with a number of other conditions including:

  • Chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Gut dysbiosis – the gut is rich in mast cells and home to over 70% of the immune system. Parasites, bacteria, fungi, and parasites can all trigger gut mast cells.
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Asthma and allergies
  • Autoimmune diseases (such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Hashimoto’s)
  • Candida overgrowth
  • Celiac disease
  • Parasite infections
  • Skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis
  • Food intolerances and allergies
  • Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
  • Infertility and endometriosis
  • Postural orthostatic hypotension (POTS)

If you’ve been diagnosed with one of these associated conditions, it could mean that being diagnosed with MCAS is more likely. Make an appointment with a doctor who specializes in MCAS and begin the diagnostic process. It can be somewhat of a journey, but once you know you have MCAS there’s a lot that can be done to relieve your symptoms and improve your life.

For a comprehensive guide on Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, you can read my in-depth article, Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Mast Cell Histamine: When Your Immune System Runs Rampant.

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Resources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25773459

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4507480/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15462834

12 Tips for Living With Mast Cell Activation Syndrome

Living with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) usually results in widespread mast cell activation syndrome symptoms that are seemingly unrelated. Unfortunately, most people go many years or even their whole life without a diagnosis.

If you’ve been diagnosed with MCAS or suspect you have this condition, the best course of action is making a series of lifestyle changes and working with your functional medicine doctor. Fortunately, many of the changes are easy to implement and you’ll see the benefits from implementing them fairly quickly.

Try not to get overwhelmed by this list, instead pick one or two items and incorporate them into your routine. Add a few items week by week, and soon enough you’ll have a comprehensive plan that has the potential to significantly improve your symptoms and your quality of life.

1. Adopt a low histamine diet

Avoid leftover foods, alcohol, cured meats, canned fish, pickled and fermented foods, berries, citrus, nuts, chocolate, dairy, yeast, soy sauce, tomatoes, vinegar, and preservatives. A comprehensive guide to a low histamine diet can be found here.

2. Avoid triggers of MCAS (non-food items)

Avoid temperature extremes, mold, emotional stress, insect bites, chemicals in personal products, medications that liberate histamine of block DAO, sodium benzoate (common food preservative), airborne chemicals, smoke, heavy metals and anesthetics.

3. Work on your gut health

Good gut health is a cornerstone of overall wellness and will help you get your MCAS under control. Cut back on food that damages the gut or causes inflammation. Take probiotics and a DAO enzyme (generic name Umbrellux DAO).

4. Stabilize mast cell mediator release

Stabilize mast cell release of histamine with quercetin and vitamin C.

5. Use H1 and H2 blockers every 12 hours

Try using 5 mg of levocetirizine twice daily and 20 mg of famotidine twice daily.

6. Block and reduce nighttime histamine release

You can block nighttime histamine release and get a better night’s sleep by taking 0.25 -1 mg of ketotifen or zaditen at night.

7. Treat existing infections

Treat any existing infections to help your body heal and reduce mast cell triggers. Get a thorough examination with your functional medicine doctor and test for any pathogens.

8. Identify and remove toxins and allergens

When you have MCAS, you’ll do your body a world of good by reducing its toxin burden. You can reduce your exposure to toxins in your daily life through cleaning up your personal care products and opting for natural solutions, using natural household cleaners, and removing mercury fillings.

9. Take helpful nutrients

Support your health with important nutrients that assist in treatment. Some of these include vitamin B6, alpha lipoic acid, vitamin C, selenium, omega-3s, N-acetylcysteine, methyl-folate, SAMe, and riboflavin.

10. Add supportive herbs

Take nigella sativa, butterbur, turmeric, ginger, and peppermint to support your MCAS treatment.

11. Get into a routine and stick to it

Try to stick to a routine because your body’s cycles are closely linked to your daily activities. This will also help you get high quality sleep, which is essential to reducing the impact of MCAS on your life.

12. Reduce stress

Stress can activate your mast cells and cause them to release mediators like histamine. Reducing stress is important for anyone living with MCAS.

For a comprehensive guide on Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, you can read my in-depth article, Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Histamine: When Your Immune System Runs Rampant.

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome Diet

Another great resource for dealing with histamine and MCAS using a mast cell activation syndrome diet and exercise is through Yasmina Ykelestam at Healing Histamine.

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How to Tell If You Have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome

If you’ve been searching for solutions to your mysterious health symptoms, they could be caused by Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.

Mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) is an immunological condition where mast cells inappropriately secrete mast cell mediators. Mediators include but are not limited to histamine, which can cause widespread and chronic inflammation.

This mediator release can be excessive and/or chronic and result in long-lasting symptoms in almost any cell of the body where their receptors are found. This can potentially affect every organ system in the body.

Some experts believe as many as 14 to 17 percent of the US population have MCAS, which is one out of every six to seven people. It’s also been estimated to take up to 10 years to reach a mast cell activation syndrome diagnosis. This is mostly due to the lack of awareness surrounding MCAS.

Because mast cell activation syndrome goes unnoticed for years, I’d like to dig a bit deeper and uncover some of the symptoms and lab work available that can help with MCAS diagnosis.

Symptoms of MCAS

Patients who have MCAS typically have been struggling with inflammation-related symptoms over the years, which commonly include:

  • Having allergies as a toddler
  • Various rashes that came and went
  • Gut conditions (that may have been misdiagnosed)
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Poor wound healing

While these are common MCAS symptoms due to mast cell mediators occurring throughout the body, a person can be affected by symptoms that are more widespread. These can include, but are not limited to the following questions:

  • Feeling as though you’ve always been sick
  • Overreaction to bee stings and mosquito bites
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling lightheaded when you stand
  • Insomnia
  • Ringing of the ears
  • Facial and chest flushing
  • Frequent colds, infections or fevers
  • Food, chemical, and drug sensitivities and intolerances
  • Heat intolerance

You can also find a comprehensive list of MCAS symptoms in my in-depth article, Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Histamine: When Your Immune System Runs Rampant.

You have the option to get testing done with a doctor to help confirm the MCAS diagnosis. I recommend you have these tests done with a doctor who’s experienced in MCAS because it’s still largely unknown, even in the medical community.

Lab work for MCAS

Working with a doctor who specializes in MCAS is your best bet as you’ll need to get testing on multiple occasions since the symptoms of MCAS wax and wane. False negatives are a common occurrence with MCAS testing. In fact, positive lab work is only obtained 20 percent of the time. However, testing can still give you a lot of valuable information regarding your mast cell mediator status. Testing for MCAS is quite complex and requires specialized handling of tissue samples.

The most important MCAS tests are:

  • Histamine – plasma – Quest 36586 – must be chilled. Normal range – 28-51 ug/l.
  • N-Methylhistamine – 24-hour urine – must be chilled. Normal range – less than 200 mcg/g.
  • Prostaglandin D2 – plasma – must be immediately chilled and spun in a refrigerated centrifuge. Must be off NSAIDS (Motrin, Advil), aspirin, ASA, anything containing aspirin, for 5 days.
  • Prostaglandin D2 (PGD2) – 24-hour urine – specimen collection must be chilled. Must be off NSAIDS (Motrin, Advil), aspirin, ASA, anything containing aspirin, for 5 days.
  • Chromogranin A – Quest 16379 – must be off proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and H2 blockers (Pepcid and Zantac) for 5 days before tests, since they can falsely elevate chromogranin A.

There are others you can have taken, which you can find in more detail in my in-depth article, Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Histamine: When Your Immune System Runs Rampant.

More information regarding a low-histamine diet may found found in my guide here.

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Resources:

20 Triggers of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome

In an effort to help you notice common triggers, below are 10 non-food and 10 food triggers that commonly provoke mediator release in those with MCAS.

10 Non-Food Triggers of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome

If you’re struggling or suspect you have MCAS, it’s in your best interest to reduce your exposure to these triggers, including:

  1. Extreme temperatures – either hot or cold
  2. Exposure to mold or Lyme disease and co-infections
  3. Emotional stress
  4. Insect bites
  5. Chemicals in personal products
  6. Medications that liberate histamine or block DAO
  7. Sodium benzoate –a common food preservative
  8. Airborne smells from chemicals or smoke
  9. Heavy metal toxicity – aluminum, mercury, lead, cadmium, bismuth and arsenic are known to be mast cell destabilizers
  10. Anesthetics

10 High Histamine Foods that Should be Avoided

Studies have shown that eliminating foods high in histamine and other triggers can significantly improve symptoms. Ten of the highest histamine foods include:

  1. Yeast and alcohol
  2. Dairy (especially fermented dairy like kefir)
  3. Gluten
  4. Fermented foods, especially sauerkraut, kombucha, miso
  5. Cured and smoked meats and fish
  6. Shellfish
  7. Citrus foods – lemon, lime, orange
  8. Vinegar
  9. Leftover and aged food – especially if left in the refrigerator and not frozen immediately
  10. Berries – strawberries, blueberries, raspberries

More information about histamine containing foods and following a low-histamine diet can be found here.

Conditions Associated with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome

Because MCAS is a chronic, multi-system, multi-symptom condition with an inflammatory theme, it’s been associated with a number of conditions and diseases, including:

  • Chronic inflammatory response syndrome
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Gut dysbiosis – the gut is rich in mast cells and home to over 70% of the immune system. Parasites, bacteria, fungi, and parasites can all trigger gut mast cells.
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Asthma and allergies
  • Autism
  • Autoimmune diseases (such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Hashimoto’s)
  • Candida overgrowth
  • Celiac disease
  • Parasite infections
  • Skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis
  • Food intolerances and allergies
  • Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
  • Infertility and endometriosis
  • Chemical and medication sensitivities
  • Postural orthostatic hypotension (POTS)
  • CIRS – exposure to mold mycotoxins is a potent stimulator of mast cell activation
  • Migraines
  • Depression
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Fungal infections
  • Tinnitus
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Cancer

In general, inflammation accompanies MCAS and most of its coinciding or associated illnesses. If you are struggling to get one of these illnesses under control, there’s a possibility MCAS could be causing further complications.

It’s a good idea to check for MCAS if you have any of the above conditions and vice versa.

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