It’s as clear as anything to me, after the year or so that I’ve had, that a strong underlying influencer of my ever undulating health is that I have mast cell activation issues and that these respond to circadian, circannual and other natural cycles. My mast cells get far more reactionary at sunrise, sunset, at full moon and at summer and winter equinox, and I mean markedly so, and I’m not embarrassed to talk about it openly here, and about some other patterns that I’ve noticed. If you want to explore some more regular information about mast cell disregulation issues, I will link below.
These seasonal, cyclical mast cell overreactions are hugely (but not wholly) related to my diet. So, if I happen to have consumed any of my trigger foods at the time, they becomes much more pronounced because I have literally loaded the barrel with ammunition.
It’s happening right now (due to more than one likely trigger food I’ve come into contact with…I have my prime suspects) so I am writing this post from the eye of the storm of it…which is the most useful place for closely observing the patterns. The thing is, typical though some of the food triggers are, I react much more strongly to them at certain times in the natural cycles and one of those times is in the final month before the shortest day of the year; a time that it doesn’t do for me to get complacent about my habits!
However, I missed the obvious signs yesterday as my hyperactivity steadily amped up and up throughout hours of obsessively dopamine fixing by researching online about entirely trivial things, with a finale of getting all my instruments out and jamming along to some of my liveliest folk backing tracks (hadn’t done that in quite a while), in fact I was like a live wire all day and when I’m “in it” its harder to notice the signs. It took me a long time to get to sleep last night, by which time my stomach was already bloated and sore which is when I guessed what was happening. I woke this morning with a full-blown POTs reaction, so dizzy-headed even lying down, temperature thermostat all over the place, stuffy head, sore stomach, deeply fatigued…all the signs.
Typical ingredients that get to me are fermented foods and sugar or sugar alcohols, also sulphites (and it goes without saying, gluten hence I don’t eat this at all). Its also a given that I don’t eat food colourings, dubious preservatives and so on. My diet is pretty “clean”of triggers most of the time but standards can slide gently downhill at this gloomy time of the year. It gets so much harder to withhold foods that give you pleasure when its dark outside and you’ve been trying to be good all year. For instance, I have a weakness for pickled shallots with my vegan cheeses in this season and enjoy the occasion tonic water (with its associated fruit sugar syrup sweeteners!) mixed with non-alcoholic botanicals as a weekend treat. I’ve also been indulging in GABA oolong tea, which is a great natural source of GABA (hugely helpful for the nervous system) but not so great because it’s a fermented tea and I tend to overindulge once I start drinking it. I also happen to love yeast extract on toast but that sets me off like a gas bomb these days so I seldom give in; yesterday I did. Oh, and did I mention chocolate…no cane sugar but agave and coconut blossom nectar will do it when you have mast cell issues sensitive to all the other forms sugar comes in. And then (as I’ve written about various times before) there’s the quagmire of oxalates, in chocolate, even in potatoes and rice and so many other comfort foods.
Even supplements can be precarious. With pain levels higher at this time of year, I also need more support than usual but do you know how hard it is to find a CBD edible with no sugar or fruit alcohol in it (capsules don’t seem to work for me and the oil-under-the-tongue versions makes me gag)? Other supplements that help me have sorbitol and manitol in them; these all affect me, if not immediately then they build up the more I have to take the supplement. As previously shared, I can only take a very low dose of NAC due to the effect on my gut, even though this helps enormously with executive function, brain fog and immune support. I’ve pulled back on mega dose B1 for the winter season for the same reason (I still take 100mg a day but that’s a fraction of what I was dosing mid summer) and will experiment with a higher level again once the days start getting longer as I really do suspect my tolerance, as per everything, is strictly seasonal. For more on this, see my earlier post.
I know my body well enough to clock all these patterns and, after last year’s acute slide into severe POTs in December, just in time for the Christmas festivities, I don’t want a repeat. This is also a mouldy, mildewy time of year so I have to keep my house clean as a whistle (without toxic or triggering chemicals or aromas) and even a walk in a damp wood can set my symptoms off, whereas I’m pretty robust outdoors in summer (hayfever snd a couple of tree allergies aside). Changes in weather, air pressure and geomagnetic levels are other ways that my mast cell reactions are highly seasonal as one-plus-one trigger can make for a much more overt flare-up. Being indoors more in the darker/colder months leads to far more EMF exposure, sedentary habits and further lack of natural lighting from lack of outdoors activities.
The point of this post is to flag up that different times of day, month or year are not necessarily created equal when you have mast cell overactivity going on. If you are already the kind of person that is prone to sensory excitability (I could just as easily say “if you are neurodivergent”) then you are probably likely to have mast cells that stand guard in an altogether more zealous way than the average person, so this may be you.
My dysautonomic symptoms (dizziness, heart palpitations, changes in blood pressure, anxiety), stomach bloat, acidity and generalised belly ache, increased bathroom frequency, burning or crawling sensations in skin and soft tissues, burning tongue and soles of feet, inflamed joints, blurred vision, itchy scalp and ears, severe sinus congestion that comes on abruptly, louder than usual tinnitus, even breathlessness (and I am sure I have missed some symptoms out) can come on so strongly and acutely at sunrise that it wakes me up in a hot sweat or heart pounding, or perhaps so air hungry I have to sit up in bed. And when I say sunrise, I mean the very moment an iota of gloaming begins to send extremely defuse photons of light into the dark, so at approximately 5.30 to 6am in winter, maybe as early as 3am in summer). This, regardless of whether my eyes are uncovered or not since my body minutely senses the change in dynamic; of this I have no doubt.
Temperature regulation swings both ways once I am into a reaction, from boiling hot to frigid cold, back and forth, and will stay this way for hours, depending on the degree of the flare-up I’m having. The same at the other end of the day; my afternoon may be interrupted by the sudden onset of symptoms and suddenly everything is curtailed at this time of year (not so hard to live with in summer when the sun sets at bedtime). The very ups and downs of the sun can sometimes trigger a glutamatic excitability so intense (depending on my other exposures that day) that it can mimic being glutened or accidentally eating MSG (for more on the effects of glutamates as an agent of neuronal excitability see my other post on this). In the old days this would have me racking my brain, how had my food been contaminated but now I know it can just be this combination of factors…time of day, month or season combined with one or two things known to overexcite my mast cells even slightly.
Full moon is coming on Thursday and will make it far worse for me (this is a very long recognised effect, so much so I have planned any trips or demanding events around the moon for over a decade) so I know I need to pull right back on any trigger ingredients this week. The effect of full moon intensifies, amplifies and superpowers all of the above effects for at least 48 hours in my case. In fact, at this end of the year full moon can exacerbate pain and stomach issues so much I feel like I want to crawl out of my own body. New moon has its own version but in the opposite way to overstimulation (I am more likely to crash without the initial rocket launch). Either way, anyone who disregards the moon’s effect in their health patterns is extremely shortsighted in my opinion. We may not pay much, if any, mental attention to these cyclical shifts but our bodies, as per the whole of nature, certainly do register them as highly significant movers and shakers of biological and psychological behaviours the same way the moon moves oceans and seas.
The winter equinox week has been a cacophony of disautonomic health issues for me for just so many years I’ve lost track (and have long since ceased regarding it as “mere coincidence”) but last year was one of the worst. I’ve actually come a long way in my health this year, breaking new ground when it comes to diet and my resilience in the face of various health triggers but these cyclical effects still hold sway; so I still need to be more wary, or at least aware, of the added risks at these times. I know that if I add provocation through my diet or daily habits (including over doing things) I will make it far more likely I have a flare-up so it’s a time of necessary wind-down for me (not the Christmas amp-up that most people seem to engage in) since health comes first.
Then the first cold snap can herald intensely exacerbated symptoms (even before that cold has arrived since my body can be bizarrely preemptive…on average displaying the ‘response’ to various environmental effects at least 48 to 72 hours ‘before’). I’ve talked about the profound effects of extremes of air pressure before (on hypermobility symptoms and, I have no doubt, mast cell expression and the rest).
Just knowing how something as minor as a sunset can knock the legs from under me (and of course that happens in prime time mid-afternoon at this time of year) means I’m not surprised and don’t expect too much…not a good time to schedule that zoom call or go out for a drive. In fact I pretty much wind my day down after lunch until December is past and then it’s remarkable how much more I start to achieve come January onwards. As soon as my body registers the cyclical shift towards expanded daylight hours, I start to reap the benefits; and rather than log this as a flaw, I prefer to regard it as a miracle of attentiveness that my body is so switched onto nature in this way!
I can never quite put aside the thought that Mother Nature must have wanted it this way; and that human beings really aren’t designed to rush around all day and to be busy and productive just the same all year around like little factory workers.
One of the most notable effects for me, now that I really pay attention to my neurodivergence, is that when a mast cell reaction takes place, my ADHD gets much more pronounced. It’s as though a desperate strive for dopamine and serotonin to fix the situation only accelerates in proportion to how much my mast cells are feeling triggered. So my mind speeds up, my focus becomes narrow and fixated, usually on dubious objectives (such as researching or shopping for things I didn’t even know I needed a short time ago) and I can’t put anything down, loosing sight of my brakes. Sleep becomes more allusive and I wake-up to a running start. Of course I also run a very high risk of burning out or crashing when I’m like this; or doing something I will regret. Anything additional that crops up (eg. a sensory trigger or situation to handle) is the straw that breaks the camel’s back and I can be quick to become irritable or lose the plot.
It can take much more body awareness than I used to have (since learning I am neurodivergent has inspired me to work extra hard at this lately) to notice “oh I’m being triggered by something(s)”. I then try to take pause and think back to any likely triggers, what have I eaten, been exposed to, where are we in the cycles of life, what was my health like this time last year, then I notice the patterns. I began clocking these patterns even before I realised my neurodivergence but now they make so much more sense; how could I possibly be just so sensitive on the outside and not equal so to minute shifts and changes on the inside? There is nothing I can take for granted since everything about me is hardwired to notice things that others miss.
Once I have this overview, I also know “this too shall pass”. I also try to learn from my mistakes (though nobody is perfect so I’m not too hard on myself when I make mistakes). It’s a lot to live with, having to be this involved in how your body responds to some pretty usual things but its worth the effort when you make some headway.
Without noticing these cyclical patterns, and if I had continued to assume that health issues only ever behave in a linear way as western science does, I would have been lost in the muddle of my own health scenario a very long time ago!
So why does a mast cell flare up provoke an increase in ADHD-type behaviours? Well having a mast cell reaction is extremely over stimulating so it’s as though making myself manically busy is my way of distracting myself with an equally stimulating activity; like when some people with sensory processing challenges actually mimic the very thing that is triggering them (as though matching it with the same or nearest equivalent sound or whatever it happens to be may be an attempt at blanking it out in a way that they themselves feel in control of). Its the feeling of “if I can’t stop myself from feeling overstimulated then, at least if I am in control of some of the stimulation, I will be OK”. By keeping so mentally busy yesterday, I took my mind off what was happening in my body…until I had to stop and try to go to sleep.
Which makes me think of all those kids with ADHD that get punished and branded for “bad behaviours”. If only more time was spent trying to work out (if they can’t do it for themselves) what they have been exposed to, inside and out (diet being a key player) how much more helpful could that be? Believe me, I had no say over my hyper fixated day yesterday but at least I was able to direct all that intensity I was feeling into harmless pursuits (then try to avoid being triggered again). This is probably all some of these kids need in order to cope better; not to be told they are broken or bad.
So today is the day after and I feel pretty wrecked physically and my serotonin has bummed out so I feel extremely flat and borderline depressed. When I’m like this, I need to keep stims to a moderate level in order to recover (not abruptly cease them altogether, as I talked about the perils of before, since it would leave me floundering in a sort of cold turkey effect…this is not a day for attempting to lie down quietly in a dark room, however bad I feel). Rather, I have to get the level of stimulation just right which can be a tall order when your vision is burry and your body in pain.
For instance, so far I have had to reconsider using my much needed SAD lamp (which helps keep my serotonin levels up but can also be overstimulating) and instead try to get my quota of natural daylight by sitting right next to the window and making myself go out for a walk on this dark and dreary day. I know I need to stay off the more obsessive research projects that seem to be so compulsive to me yesterday and which are still calling me (none of them are really important) and find something gentler to do. Its also a day that I am more likely to fixate on sensory triggers so I need to keep them at an absolute minimum or use distractions such as soothing (not overstimulating) music or ear plugs before I tune into all the things that set my misophonia off (see my last post on this) since this is going through the roof today…already, I’ve had someone’s car alarm go off for about 20 mins right outside my house. Everything, even the more reasonable stuff (noise, lights, EMFs, clothing that rubs) seems more aggravating when I am in a mast cell flare!
My thoughts get exponentially faster and more all-over-the-place the more I’m being overstimulated and its all too easy to assume I have to harvest all these thought by setting myself the task of doing a load of research or writing (which comes with rewards but can also perpetuate the overstimulation). I really need to remind myself that if any of those ideas or thoughts are really important they will come around again at some other time, or at most carpark a few notes but not let myself get too embroiled in a long-winded task that is likely fuelled by the desperate search for reward and distraction. Above all, too much computer time is a not going to help me to feel better given how sensitive I am, so I know I really need to lift my gaze up from a screen today and find other things to positively stimulate me…and so I will, once I’ve published this post 😉
Mastcell360 – website resource for all things mast cell activation syndrome related
The Circadian Clock Drives Mast Cell Functions in Allergic Reactions – research paper 2018
The interplay between mast cells, pineal gland, and circadian rhythm: Links between histamine, melatonin, and inflammatory mediators – research paper 2020
Regulation of plasma histamine levels by the mast cell clock and its modulation by stress – research paper 2017