By Dr. Beth O'Hara
The earthy aroma. The comforting warmth. The robust flavor. Having a few minutes to sit quietly with my thoughts and set my intentions for the day.
These were all joys that coffee brought me.
And I knew I was getting some health benefits from drinking coffee, too!
Coffee has many known health benefits, like having:
- High antioxidant content
- Inflammation-lowering properties
- Brain-protective properties
Further, studies have shown that pure, whole-bean coffee may have properties such as:
So, why did I give up drinking coffee? And when did I finally pick it back up again?
My health journey has been complicated, to say the least.
However, slowly but surely, I started putting the pieces of my health puzzle together.
A big part of addressing those conditions involved dietary changes.
Including giving up my old coffee.
It turns out that coffee was triggering my MCAS symptoms. It was also adding to my histamine load, which contributed to my Histamine Intolerance symptoms.
Here’s more on that...
MCAS and Coffee
If you haven’t heard of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or Histamine Intolerance, here’s a brief overview of each of these conditions.
Let’s start with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS).
What Are Mast Cells?
It helps to first understand what mast cells are. They are immune cells found in every tissue of the body except the retina. Mast cells respond to everything, both inside and outside your body.
They play important roles in keeping you healthy. However, they can get dysregulated.
To understand why dysregulated mast cells can be a problem, it may help to think of mast cells as defenders of a castle. They protect you from harmful invaders like bacteria and viruses, for example. However, if they become dysregulated, they can't discern between good and bad.
Not only will they see toxins and pathogens as threats, but they can also see safe things like foods as threats. That’s where you can get food intolerances to things that should be safe and healthy to eat.
When mast cells get dysregulated like this, that’s when you can get Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.
What Is MCAS?
Mast Cell Activation Syndrome is defined as an inflammatory condition that comes and goes. It occurs in two or more systems of the body. It can present with or without allergies, anaphylaxis, or sensitivities.
People with MCAS often feel like they have “mystery symptoms” because it presents so differently for everyone. Mast cells are found in every tissue of the body except the retina. That's part of why the symptoms can vary so widely.
But the key is that more than one system of the body is affected.
For example, one person may experience symptoms affecting the digestive system, like GI distress and food intolerances. Alongside these issues, they may also experience symptoms related to the integumentary system (skin), like itching and rashes.
Another person may experience symptoms in the neurological and respiratory systems. They may have symptoms like brain fog and anxiety, along with asthma and congestion.
These symptoms may seem unconnected, but the mast cells are the connectors in these conditions.
Some of the top MCAS symptoms include:
- Environmental sensitivities
- Chemical sensitivities
- Food sensitivities
- Joint and muscle painItching, hives, and rashes
- Digestive issues like constipation and diarrhea
- Brian fog
- Respiratory issues like coughing, sinus congestion, and asthma
- Headaches and migraines
- Watery eyes or irritated eyes
- Hormonal Imbalances
- UTI-like symptoms
Contributors to Mast Cell Activation Syndrome can include:
- Exposure to toxic molds and mycotoxins (toxins that come from mold)
- Exposure to toxic chemicals like pesticides
- Food triggers
So, how does coffee play a role in MCAS?
One reason conventional coffee may contribute to MCAS symptoms is toxins.
Unfortunately, most coffee brands you can buy are full of toxins, and toxins are major mast cell triggers.
Toxins in Coffee
A few toxins that can be found in coffee include:
- Pesticides- found on beans that have been treated to deter disease and pests
- Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) -can be present in foods roasted at high temperatures or foods that have been smoked; can cause inflammation, which exacerbatesMCAS
- Acrylamide -naturally-occurring chemical that develops in foods cooked at high temperatures
- Mold and mold toxins (mycotoxins) -mold can grow during coffee growing and processing due to poor practices; mycotoxins are the toxins mold creates
Mold and mold toxins (mycotoxins) are a lesser-known but big problem with most conventional coffee.
In one third-party test, mold was found to be growing in green coffee beans from 46 brands!
Mold Toxicity is the #1 root cause of Mast Cell Activation syndrome that I see.
Two of the most common mycotoxins found in coffee are:
- Aflatoxin B-1 ─ can be found in green coffee beans, has been shown to be carcinogenic, immune suppressive, and can cause liver disease.
- Ochratoxin A ─ often comes from rotting coffee beans or using unhealthy fermentation processes; it is harmful to the kidneys, liver, and immune system
That’s a little bit about MCAS. I also mentioned that I had a histamine intolerance.
Next, look at what Histamine Intolerance is.
You’ll also learn why certain foods can make both conditions worse.
Histamine Intolerance (HIT) and Coffee
Histamine Intolerance is what happens when your body can’t keep up with your histamine load.
Histamine Intolerance symptoms can include:
- Skin irritations like itching and hives
- Gastrointestinal issues like bloating, gas, and diarrhea
- Respiratory issues like asthma, sneezing, and congestion
- Brain fog
- Headaches and migraines
A lot of these are very similar to the symptoms of MCAS. But with MCAS, symptoms are often more severe and widespread.
You can have Histamine Intolerance without Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. But I often see them together.
Earlier, you read that mast cells are like the defenders of the castle.
And one of the ways mast cells fight back is by releasing chemicals called mediators. There are over 1000 known mediators, with one of the most well-known being histamine. It plays a role in inflammation and other healing processes.
Histamine Intolerance and MCAS often go hand in hand because mast cells release histamine, and histamine, in turn, triggers mast cells. It becomes a self-feeding cycle for those who have dysregulated mast cells and a heavy histamine load.
The foods you eat may also contribute to your histamine load.
For some people, histamine isn’t ever a problem.
But some people develop Histamine Intolerance, a condition where your body can’t break down histamine as fast as it’s coming in.
A few examples of why your body may not be able to keep up with your histamine load include:
- Consuming an excess of high-histamine foods
- Low histamine-degrading enzymes like DAO
- Dysregulated immune system
- Dysregulated nervous system
- Nutrient deficiencies
Coffee and Histamine Intolerance
Coffee itself isn’t naturally high in histamine.
What makes a difference is how it’s grown and processed.
Coffee may cause a histamine reaction if it has:
- Artificial sweeteners (artificially flavored coffees)
- Additives and preservatives
- Been fermented (the fermentation process increases histamine in foods)
When I found out that coffee may be contributing to my symptoms of MCAS and HIT, I had to give it up.
I worked diligently to reduce my toxic load to help calm my mast cells.
And I reduced my histamine load by choosing lower-histamine foods.
That included giving up coffee. But I started to feel better, so all the changes were worth it.
I missed those warm cups of coffee on cold winter mornings, though.
And I still craved delicious iced coffee drinks on warm summer days...
Then I found Purity Coffee®. It had some notable differences that made me consider having coffee again.
Reducing Triggers in Coffee
Because of the many health benefits coffee has and because I just missed having it as part of my morning routine, I was looking for a low-histamine, toxin-free coffee.
That’s how I found Purity Coffee®.
Here’s what makes Purity one of the healthiest coffees for those with MCAS or Histamine Intolerance:
- It’s USDA organic
- It’s toxin-free - no pesticides or mycotoxins (mold toxins)
- It isn’t fermented, so it doesn’t raise histamine levels. The smokeless coffee roasting machines ensure low levels of PAHs and acrylamides (meaning no inflammation-triggering chemicals from high heat and smoke).
- They only choose top-quality coffee bean varieties with high antioxidant content.
And Purity Coffee® offers a tasty decaf. It doesn’t taste like burned chemicals or leftover bottom-of-the-pot coffee, like some decaf.
The taste is full, rich, and satisfying.
Here’s what else you should know about decaf coffee, MCAS and HIT.
I advise my clients with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Histamine Intolerance to start with decaf.
Decaf still offers many of the other health benefits you’d get from caffeinated coffee. However, if you are sensitive (common with MCAS), you don't run the risk of causing insomnia, which is common with both conditions.
Here’s what you need to know about decaf, though:
Most coffee is decaffeinated using methylene chloride, which is a toxin.
Purity Coffee® uses a different process, the Swiss Water® Process, to decaffeinate their beans. This method means less toxic exposure and better flavor, in my opinion.
And Purity’s decaf coffee is 99.9% decaf.
If you can tolerate caffeine, Purity’s caffeinated coffee is excellent, too.
I’ve enjoyed being able to have coffee again. I’ve even come up with specialty coffee drinks to replace the sugary coffeehouse beverages. I use histamine-friendly ingredients like coconut milk and ground vanilla beans to give my drink something extra special.
If you think you may have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or Histamine Intolerance, I highly encourage you to talk with your provider.
It’s always important to get the support you need for your health.I know how challenging chronic illness can be. And one thing I’ve found helpful for dealing with it is appreciating everyday joys and celebrating small wins.
For me, coffee is a simple joy in life. And being able to drink coffee again was a small victory.
These small victories go a long way toward maintaining hope and a positive outlook. And if these small wins happen to taste great, too, I’m in!
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