We are diving in to those triggers that can be at play when it comes to histamine mediated symptoms. Last week, we went deep into the connection between hormonal imbalances and the role they play in potentiating histamine. Read that post here.
This week, let's go deeper into cortisol, and the role that stress can play in the scenario of histamine and mast cell activation.
Stress Hormone: Cortisol
Cortisol is a hormone in the glucocorticoid family. It’s your body’s main stress hormone.
During an acute stressful event, cortisol gets released in the body to keep inflammation down and regulate blood pressure. It also increases your blood sugar levels to prepare your body to deal with the stressful event.
Cortisol is released when you perceive a situation to be stressful. It starts in your brain when your hypothalamus (in your brain) releases corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF) – also known as corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH).
CRF/CRH then signals the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which finally signals the adrenals to produce cortisol.
This pathway of signalling is called the HPA axis (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis).
Stress, CRH/CRF & Mast Cells
Before we get into stress and mast cells, let’s take a quick look at a normal stress response.
When cortisol is released by your adrenal glands (these are small glands that sit on your kidneys, shown in the image above), the cortisol circulates throughout the body and binds to receptors on cells throughout your body to alter cellular function, in order to allow your body to best handle the stressful situation.
This action is a normal response and a beneficial one, when stressors are acute and short term.
Where the problem lies
When you have MCAS, that HPA signalling is still happening, and contributing to the picture. But in addition, there is another more direct route that impacts your mast cells.
The CRH that is released by your hypothalamus binds directly to mast cells and triggers the release of a compound called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). (1)
It is this pathway rather than the HPA axis that explains how stress can rapidly trigger mast cell symptoms.
Research confirms CRF involvement in atopic dermatitis and psoriasis (2), and also to neuro-inflammation and Alzheimer’s (3).
To add to all of this, mast cells in the Gastro-Intestinal tract also have the potential to be impacted by stress (4, 5)
What symptoms do you have of rapid onset when stressed?
Do you think this pathway explains your feeling of being overwhelmed?
It is easy to get frustrated when your response to daily stressors seems so much worse than other people you know.
When stress leaves you with eczema, psoriasis, diarrhea, brain fog or other symptoms that aren’t normally associated with stress, it can be hard for people in your life to understand the connection.
It is important for everyone to have strategies to help them cope with stress, but this is especially so for individuals with MCAS.
This can look different for each individual. Asking for support from a loved one or family member / build a gratitude practice / do yoga / meditate / craft / volunteer are all great ways to get started on reducing those stress levels.
Take a moment - invest in your breath
A strategy that you can use anywhere at any time without other people noticing is breathing. You have to breathe anyhow, so why not find some ways to breathe that help you stay calm!
There are many different techniques you can find online, but we suggest you start with this simple one.
Inhale through your nose and count to four as you breathe in.
Exhale through your mouth and try to add one additional count to your exhale.
Struggling to breathe in through your nose? Choose foods from our Shopping List to help bring that nasal inflammation down.
Listen, you don't have to go this whole journey alone. That in and of itself can help reduce your stress levels. If you haven't yet, we invite you to join us in our Online Community. We have a group chat, where you can connect with others who are on the same journey as you. It's free to do so! Click through to this spot online to register.