Category Archives: Eosinophils & Mast Cells

Traveling to Orlando FL with Mast Cell Issues and Food Allergies

For the first time in 14 years, our family took a week long vacation with just the 4 of us: my husband, me and our two grown children – Morgan (almost 22 years old) and Michaela (27 years old). We headed to Orlando, Florida for a week’s worth of fun and sun in December. With Morgan on the quarter system for college, and Michaela already working, this was an ideal time to vacation during “low season”.

Denver International Airport

We flew Southwest Airlines on a non-stop flight from Denver to Orlando. Southwest has worked great for all of us in the past, and has allowed Morgan to preboard and wipe down his area. Traveling to Florida, we were on a brand new plane which was on its first day of flight, which was wonderful! That flight and the flight home worked perfectly – both were mid-morning flights, so not the first flight of the day, but we’ve never required that as part of our travel plans. When we boarded the flight home, the flight attendant told us that the previous flight also had no peanuts served, which made for a nice, clean plane. But we still wiped down the area where Morgan sat.

Traveling and managing Morgan’s food allergies – peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish and shellfish – along with his pet and environmental allergies pales in comparison to managing Michaela’s and my mast cell symptoms. She  and I both eat only organic foods; however, her diet is vegetables and fruits, while I tolerate only a few foods – chicken breast, turkey breast, frozen Cascadian Farms hash browns and broccoli. My husband, Robert, is on the Whole 30 food plan – so cooking for all of us requires a short order chef!

Actually, we don’t ever eat out because of the organic food requirement, and the mast cell issues require much more vigilance than even food allergies. The type of water that I drink can affect my stomach! Unbelievable, but true. And for those of you with mast cell issues, I’m sure you know what I mean. So, braving a family vacation is a big deal. It also requires a lot of patience on each person’s part since each of us has different needs depending upon the situation. We’ve learned to also have activity days and rest days to keep positive attitudes!

We rented an AirBnB house that guaranteed it was pet and smoke free, and had a full kitchen since we would be cooking every meal. We planned ahead by finding out where the local grocery store (Publix) was, and I special ordered from them a week’s worth of the frozen potatoes that I eat. We also found a  Whole Foods for Michaela’s foods, although it was 30 minutes from where we were staying. Morgan and Robert purchased their foods from each of these stores also.

The pool area in the community center where our AirBnB was located.

I didn’t bring the organic ground turkey that I usually eat because I had called ahead to Publix and Whole Foods to ensure that they would carry it – plain with no spices added. However, when we arrived neither actually carried it, despite their reassurances that they did. This created a search across Orlando to find such a product. We finally did find a different brand, but I learned to bring it in the future since it’s so difficult to find elsewhere!

In regard to bringing food, we got a letter from our allergist to allow us to bring food onboard the plane through TSA. This letter was never requested, but we had it just in case it was. Also, the allergist’s letter delineated that we would be bringing frozen food in a cooler and checking it through as baggage. This too worked just fine with Southwest Airlines, and they never requested the doctor’s letter.

We found that the home we stayed in wasn’t well equipped with kitchen supplies, so thankfully I had brought a few frying pans and lids in my luggage. I always bring my own yellow colored spatula so that even my family knows which spatula is mine! I also brought my Instant Pot in my luggage. Since Michaela and I are part of Dr. Li’s private practice of Chinese Herbs for Allergies, Dr. Li has asked that I only eat meat cooked in the Instant Pot to help my stomach heal, and purchasing another one in Orlando didn’t make sense. So we brought a second suitcase with all these kitchen supplies!

All the grocery shopping and driving took us half of the first day in Orlando to set ourselves up. Then the fun began!

We went to the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral for our first outing. We packed our lunches and left them in a cooler in the car while we visited the Cape. We neglected to call ahead to see if a microwave would be available, and later we were told it wasn’t. In fact, they wouldn’t even allow any outside food in the space center, even with a medical condition from what we were told. So we ate our lunch cold (cold potatoes, broccoli and chicken will fill up the stomach, but doesn’t make a tasty meal!)  in the car. Not the ideal situation, but we enjoyed each other’s company. And with my husband being a space enthusiast, we had a great time seeing all the exhibits.

We headed down to Cocoa Beach that same day. Being from Colorado, getting to see the ocean is a big deal. We enjoyed it thoroughly, especially since it is “low season” and there was hardly anyone else there, despite what we would call hot weather in December – mid-70’s!

Cocoa Beach

The next day, we went to Disney Animal Kingdom. We wanted to especially see the new Pandora – World of Avatar, and to visit the Tree of Life. Michaela and I had to pre-make our meals the night before so that we would just have to heat them in the park. Morgan and Robert were able to bring salads and sandwiches – no heating required!

The Tree of Life in the Center of Disney Animal Kingdom

We searched online and found that they have lockers near the opening gate, which is where we put all of our lunchboxes plus snacks. Thanks to an inquiry on my AllergicChild Facebook page, I found out that the park does have one microwave for the public in the Baby Center area.

The park doesn’t have a lot of air conditioned locations, and with the temperature in the lower 80’s plus the humidity, our daughter began to have heat issues. You may remember me blogging about this issue here when she ended up hospitalized after having two grand mal seizures.

Thankfully, right next to the Baby Center, there was a First Aid office. She was able to get a bag of ice and sit in air conditioning for a little while to cool off. Twice more during the day, she went to First Aid to get more ice. I can’t say enough nice things about the Disney employees in First Aid – they were just magnificent. Each time she would come in, they provided a large plastic baggie of ice, and remembered her name from the first time. They treated her with such kindness, and we were so grateful for that.

Since the lockers we chose were at the park entrance, and the baby center was in the center, Michaela would walk with her plate of food piled high with cauliflower, carrots and squash nibbling until she got to the microwave. Several times, we had people stop us asking where she got her food! Dozens of people in the locker area brought their own food. Disney asked no questions about the coolers or even the water I brought in, which was wonderful.

The day was really long since we stayed for the River of Lights nighttime show, but it was well worth it.

River of Lights Show at Disney Animal Kingdom

We had all walked miles, and with feet hurting, we headed back to our AirBnB ready for bed!

We took a rest day the next day, and Michaela and I headed out to visit a Network Spinal Analysis chiropractor in the Orlando area. These doctors are specifically trained in a type of chiropractic work that involves gentle, precise touch to the spine cuing the brain to create new wellness promoting strategies.

We’ve found that part of the mast cell symptoms is extreme back pain, and all the walking we did the previous day was wreaking havoc on our spines. We found a lovely young woman who had recently opened her practice, and got us aligned and ready to walk the next day at Universal Studios Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

This was the big event that we were most looking forward to.  Universal  also had no issue with us bringing food into the park. And I brought my own water without anyone asking anything about it.

The lockers were once again near the opening gate of the park, however this time the microwave was very close in a “nursing room” in the family center.

We decided to purchase the 2-park pass since Hogsmeade is in one park, and Diagon Alley in another. My husband owns a marketing consulting firm, and he declared that as good marketing! And, of course, much more costly, but well worth it.

The Knight’s Bus in “London”

The weather was much cooler on this day (mid-60’s), and foggy which made for a great day to visit the magical world of London,  feeling it was somewhat realistic to their actual weather.

We next went to Diagon Alley where Morgan got to taste his first Butter Beer.

Tasting Butter Beer for the first time!

Morgan had previously emailed Universal to inquire about whether Butter Beer would be safe for him. He listed his food allergens, and got this response:

Burdick, Bob (NBCUniversal, Orlando) (bob.burdick@universalorlando.com) wrote:

Hi, in Universal Studios, we have fruit stands in the parks with apples, oranges, grapes, watermelon on them. Also have lemon and strawberry slush carts which will be ok, also have turkey legs on carts that are just smoke plain. We have a full service unit it is Lombard’s landing and Finnegan’s, we have a chef in each unit have the server bring the chef to the table and he can go over all the things he can do for you In Islands of Adventure we have 2 full service units one called Confisco’s and one is Mytho’s, we have Chefs in both of those units, have server bring Chef to table and he can go over the things he can do for you, we have another walk up unit it is Thunder Falls, we have smoke chicken, smoke pork ribs, and roasted corn on cob and roasted potatoes with fresh herbs and salt and pepper, also have French fries all natural cooked in soy blend oil that is the only thing cooked in those fryers too.  I will also say no desserts at all from any of the restaurants too. 

We also have three broomsticks which have smoked chicken and smoked pork ribs, roasted corn on cob, baked potatoes, roasted potatoes with onions, garlic, salt and pepper, and fresh herbs and some salads too.  

The butterbeer is nut free, is made in a separate room. Pretzels and popcorn are ok too. The soft serve is ok at florean ice cream shop, not the hard pack ice cream. The restaurants in citywalk will be able to help you with your allergy all units have 4 chefs in them   

If you need any more information or help feel free to give me a call at 321-388-2123, Chef Bob.

We never purchased any food product in the park, but it was lovely to have all this information if we did. There was a lot of fish and chips on the menus in both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, but obviously there would have been safe food items if Morgan had wanted to eat.

There were several shops with candies and sweets in them. This is the ingredient label on the back of Chocolate Frogs which states, “Contains Milk and Soy. Allergen information: Shares Equipment With and Produced in a Facility Containing Milk, Egg, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Wheat and Soy.” We didn’t find one candy that didn’t have this labeling. The candies were great for gifts, but not safe for Morgan to eat.

The Wizarding World overall was superb. If you go, you have to purchase a wand! There is a map of all the locations where the wand will work it’s magic…I’ll leave it at that because that’s part of the fun figuring out how to create the magic!

There were rides and shops throughout both parks, and once again we walked until our feet swelled! We road the train, the Hogwarts Express, in between the two parks.

Mischief Managed!

The next day was a rest day to pack up and get ready to fly home. We realized that we had cooked 21 meals on the 4-burner stove in the Air BnB kitchen, and no one went hungry!

If your family is like ours, and doesn’t or can’t eat out, it’s still possible to have a wonderful vacation and cook every meal yourself. With a lot of pre-planning and preparation, we had the most wonderful, magical vacation!

 

 

 

Mast Cell Disorders and Other Medical Conditions

Through the years I’ve shared our stories of managing food allergies (in our now college age son). Rarely have I shared stories about our adult daughter with celiac disease and mast cell issues. This time, I’m going to share about her recent experience, since there are so many things we learned.

Earlier in July, Michaela got overheated while being outside in the Colorado sun enjoying a festival. She was mostly inside a tent, but since there was no electricity, the air was stale and approaching 100 degrees. She estimates she drank 8 bottles of water during 4 hours of being at the festival trying to keep herself hydrated. She knew that she needed to keep pushing the fluids, even if it activated her interstitial cystitis.  It’s a constant balancing act for her to drink enough to stay hydrated, but not end up in the bathroom every 30 minutes.

She began to feel drained and went back home and drank more water thinking she was still dehydrated. Her first mistake, we learned, was to not drink fluids with electrolytes. With her mast cell disorder centered in her gut, she is very careful to eat only organic foods and pure water. She doesn’t drink Gatorade because of the coloring in it, but there are electrolyte alternatives, we’ve since learned!

A few hours later she began vomiting every few minutes and having diarrhea, and felt thoroughly awful. At that point, I felt she probably needed an IV of saline to help her body get regulated. On a Sunday evening, there wasn’t any choice but to go to the Emergency Room. At the ER, we told them about her mast cell disorder and wondered if she could be triggered by the heat of the day and having a mast cell reaction. The nurse on duty was somewhat aware of mast cell issues, which was nice. They put in an IV, gave her saline, and Zofran (to ease the nausea), and gave her oxygen since her pulseox was low. She still wasn’t feeling great, so they gave her 25 mg of Benadryl with some extra saline so it wouldn’t burn on the way in.

Shortly thereafter, she began saying “I feel so disconnected” over and over again. Then, within a few minutes, she had a grand mal seizure right in front of my husband and me!

We’ve been through a lot of medical issues with our children through the years, but nothing compares to the horror of observing a seizure of this magnitude. It lasted for about 20 seconds, which seemed like 20 years. She was frothing at the mouth, with a horrible guttural sound emanating. Her arms were drawn up to her chin, wrists bent, while her face and chest turned beet red. Her eyes rolled back into her head and she became unconscious. We screamed for help and the medical staff came running and gave her 2 mg of Ativan.

Once the seizure stopped, they took her in for a CT scan of her brain to see if there was something occurring there, and she had another seizure, from what we were told, during the scan and received another 2 mg of Ativan.

Since we were at an Urgent Care Facility that transforms to an ER in the after hours, they needed to get her to a hospital for observation overnight. She was transported by ambulance to St. Francis Hospital, and my husband joined her for the ride while I drove behind in the car. She was completely unable to respond to any commands during the ride to the hospital. My husband said that the EMTs kept talking to her trying to get her to squeeze a hand or say something. There was no sign of any cognition or awareness at that point.

I called our son, Morgan, during my drive to let him know what was occurring. He is in Denver working this summer, and by this point it was 10 pm. He jumped into his car to make the hour drive to the hospital.

By the time I arrived, she was processed into a room. We were told there was nothing on the CT scan that would indicate it was a brain disorder causing the seizure. The hospital doctor thought that it was too much water, and not enough electrolytes since her sodium count was at 126. (Her normal sodium count is 140 from previous blood tests).

Morgan arrived by 11:30 pm and walked into the room, got really close to Michaela’s face and called out her name. It was the first sign of any recognition or response when she mumbled “back hurts” and then a tear rolled down her cheek when he was talking with her.

She slowly was able to respond to commands, but was completely confused as to where she was and why. We would go through the entire story, and 15 minutes later, she would ask again, “Where am I?” It was frightening, and we worked on not jumping to conclusions.

My husband remained in the hospital overnight with her, while Morgan and I went home to catch a few hours of sleep. All night she was writhing in back pain as the doctor and nurses tried to figure out why. They took an x-ray, which showed nothing broken in her back, and they summarized it as muscle spasms from the seizures.

The next day Michaela was sent home with instructions to do a follow up with a neurologist and her primary care doctor. The chest x-ray showed no issues of aspiration, so we felt she’d do better at home getting some sleep. She had virtually no short term memory though. We were frightened that there was a serious cognitive issue occurring, and spent a lot of time Googling seizure side effects and the aftermath.

Within 24 hours of her release, she was running a 103 temperature, and back to the emergency room we went – this time to the ER attached to St. Francis hospital. The ER doctor was concerned about meningitis, so a spinal tap was ordered in the ER. It thankfully showed negative. Then the chest x-ray came back and showed that she had aspiration pneumonia. She was hooked up to an IV for saline, and put back on oxygen because her oxygen percentage was plummeting into the low 80’s.

There wasn’t one doctor or nurse who was aware of mast cell activation disorders, so we were explaining over and over again what medicine to give her and what not to give her. Thankfully, each person was receptive enough to listen and to learn.

She was put into the hospital overnight again. She began receiving IV antibiotics immediately. She cannot tolerate Tylenol or any NSAIDS (NSAIDS are a mast cell degranulator and not recommended for those with mast cell issues). Therefore, the nurses brought cool cloths and ice packs to bring her temperature down.

Her back pain was still horrific, so she was started on an IV pump of Fentanyl, the only pain medication suggested for mast cell patients, other than Tramadol. That began to help the pain subside, and to allow her to rest.

The neurological tests were ordered while she was in the hospital. She had an MRI and an EEG of the brain. Nothing appeared to be abnormal, which was an incredible gift. The short term memory loss, we were told, was a normal by product of the seizures and should get better over time.

An MRI of her lumbar spine showed two bulging disks, which were the source of all her back pain. It was postulated that the seizure caused these, which is amazing that the body can hurt itself so badly!

2017-07-13 20.18.40

Since Michaela owns a pet sitting and dog walking business, she was trying to keep up with everything while in the hospital. The short term memory loss made for some interesting issues as I tried to work her phone and to ensure all the dogs, cats, and pet sitters were taken care of! At one point, I had to ban her from being on the phone unless I was there to ensure she didn’t schedule something and then forget!

While she was in the hospital, my husband and I were running home to cook her safe foods to eat and then transporting them to her room. There was nothing on the hospital menu that was organic. And the hospital had no refrigeration that we could use, so we were bringing coolers from home or getting ice from the nurse’s station and adding it to mini tubs in the room to keep her food refrigerated.

It was a very long week. By Friday, we were both so exhausted from tag teaming. I slept in the hospital for 3 nights (if you’d call 3 hours of interrupted sleep really sleeping!) and then went home for a short nap. After that I monitored her pet sitters and her business during the day. My husband slept at home and then cooked safe food for her. He worked from her bedside during the day, and continued to train doctors, nurses and CNA’s about mast cell issues and celiac disease.

The infectious disease doctor wanted to release her with oral antibiotics since she’d had 3 days of IV antibiotics by the time she was being discharged. We nixed that idea since she has had so many gut issues with antibiotics, and were thrilled that she was tolerating the medication as well as she was. The doctor agreed to have a PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) inserted into her arm to her heart, and to have her Dad and I taught by a home healthcare nurse how to administer the antibiotic every 6 hours around the clock for another 5 days.

In the almost 4 days she was in the hospital on the second round, we ran into only one CNA who had heard of mast cell activation. She had just taken a biochemistry class in school where it had been discussed. There were so many conversations where we had to explain what could occur if she was triggered by, for example, contrast dye in an MRI. There is so much need for the medical community to be trained on Mast Cell Activation!

Once home, we began the around the clock antibiotic administration. It was almost like a feeding schedule of a newborn baby.

After being on antibiotics for a few days at home, she began to experience burning mouth – a sign of oral thrush. We then added Fluconazole to her list of drugs administered through her PICC line.

When she visited her primary care doctor, as a follow up to the hospital visit, he thought that the heat had triggered a mast cell “event” creating the massive purge of vomiting and diarrhea that she experienced. On top of that, her not drinking electrolyte water created a sodium imbalance. The two issues combined to drop her sodium suddenly, creating the seizure. That was his best guess as to the cause of the seizures. We may never know for sure. However, we’re very grateful that it doesn’t appear to be anything related to her brain function.

She visited a wonderful chiropractor that has helped to re-align her back so that the 2 bulging disks are slowly dissipating.

With mast cell issues, and the various autoimmune diagnoses that she has, keeping her body in balance is a daily struggle. She has learned that she’s going to have to be FAR more careful about being in high temperatures and getting overheated. She’s also discovering many electrolyte drinks to enjoy.

It’s amazing what the body can go through, and that it can heal! We so appreciate all the love and prayers you have provided to her and to our family through this harrowing episode.

Healing through Traditional Chinese Medicine for EoE/Mast Cell Diagnosis

I have been a patient in Dr. Xiu-Min Li’s private practice for about a year now, and it was time for me to meet her in person. We have been having once a month telephone appointments. Meeting Dr. Li in person was like meeting a rock star! She and I hugged each other like long lost friends, having spoken on the phone for a year.

I have written about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) before, and you can read that blog post here.

Most of Dr Li’s patients travel to New York City to meet with her before they start treatment. However, it is VERY difficult for me to travel, and being an adult, she was willing to consult with me after receiving a battery of blood tests and endoscopy results for my eosinophilic esophagitis and mast cell disorder diagnoses. I also have IgE allergies to several foods – peanuts, onions and corn.

Because of these diagnoses, and gut issues every time I try a new food, I am currently eating just 4 foods: organic chicken breast, organic turkey breast, organic broccoli and Cascadian Farms organic hash browns. (For some reason, those potatoes, having been parboiled to perfection, work for me while homemade hash browns parboiled do not.) Mast cells and eosinophils are crazy!

When I travel I must either bring these foods or be able to purchase them. And because all of these foods are low in calories, I eat 6 times a day, about 2 hours apart. I have to cook all the foods for my stomach to tolerate them – not that I would be eating raw chicken! But even raw broccoli doesn’t work for me currently.

My recent trip to meet Dr. Li felt like a big accomplishment. I was able to stay with a fellow food allergy Mom, and to use her kitchen to cook all my meals. I ordered my food from FreshDirect and had it delivered to her apartment prior to my arrival. What a wonderful service that is in New York City! And what a wonderful friend I have to put up with me cooking non-stop!!

As far as the Traditional Chinese Medicine that I’ve been taking – I’ve been on a cream IIIvb, which looks like avocado dip, and I apply it once a day, every day. I’ve recently begun an herbal foot bath, which is all that I can tolerate currently. Most of Dr. Li’s patients use herbs in a “real” bathtub, however I am currently too sensitive for that. The combination of these two treatments, which permeate the largest organ – the skin – have begun to decrease my body’s sensitivities. I have yet to begin to swallow any TCM treatments. Again, most patients are able to start with this, but my system is still in need of healing more before I will be able to swallow any teas or pills. Dr. Li’s protocol is not something that I could manage myself, and I couldn’t go to a local store to purchase the herbs. I feel very grateful that I have a doctor, with such knowledge, managing my care.

I realized how much better I’m doing when I was asked by Dr. Li to rate my improvement. I’m far less reactive to smells and contact with the environment. I have much more energy. (That’s the real issue with mast cell degranulation for me – it zaps my energy). And I’m far less anxious. I really want to eat different foods, and Dr. Li thinks that’s in my not-too-distant future. She wants to try some Chinese vegetables because it’s something I haven’t ever eaten, so hopefully my mast cells won’t recognize the food as an invader!

For me, TCM is more about how I feel than any blood test result. We aren’t trying to cure any food allergy. I’m willing to not eat a few foods that I’m allergic to…I’d like to be able to eat all those other foods that currently I can’t tolerate because of the mast cell/EoE issues!

Dr. Li suggested that I purchase a pressure cooker to cook the meats that I eat to make them more easily digested. Upon returning home, I immediately purchased an “Instant Pot”. What a wonderful little device! I can cook my chicken in 15 minutes, while my potatoes are cooking on the stove. This allows me to always eat fresh, and to cease microwaving foods to reheat them, which Dr. Li wants me to quit doing – “as much as possible in our busy lives”. She’s always so patient and kind!

instant-pot

I’m continuing to increase the amount of cream that I apply, and to increase the amount of herbs in my daily foot bath. It’s so exciting to feel healing occur in my body.

The various medications that I’ve been on – Ursodiol, Zyrtec, Zantac and Ketotifen – only mitigate symptoms. They do nothing toward a true cure or healing. I’m grateful to have them, and I’ve been able to decrease the amount of medication that I take daily since starting on the TCM protocol.

The future looks very bright!

 

 

 

 

Traditional Chinese Medicine: The “Cure” for Food Allergies?

If you haven’t heard of Traditional Chinese Medicine, you’re in for a treat! And if you have, you know that Henry is the author of “Food Allergies: Traditional Chinese Medicine, Western Science, and the Search for a Cure”. Henry graciously offered to answer a few questions about this treatment option for eczema, food allergies, mast cells and even Eosinophilic Esophagitis!

Chinese herbs

Henry, what made you interested in writing a book about Dr. Xiu-Min Li’s research regarding Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and her search for a cure for food allergies?

First of all, Nicole, thanks for giving me this opportunity to communicate with your readers. I hope they will find it informative.

The six most obnoxious words in the English language are “as I say in my book” so at the expense of stealing my own thunder…. I met Dr. Li when I went up to her office at Mount Sinai at the suggestion of my cousin and co-author of an earlier book, Dr. Paul Ehrlich, a prominent pediatric allergist. We also had a new website, AsthmaAllergiesChildren.com,  and he told me, “I have been practicing for over 30 years and this is the first thing that sounds new and hopeful to me.” So I met Dr. Li. When she showed me photographs of the dramatic changes her therapy had made on really bad atopic dermatitis, I knew something was up. I mean, these were bleeding, sores on the feet of a ten-year-old girl. Within a few months, the skin was clear and she was painting her nails. I have a daughter. That means something to me.

How is Oral Immunotherapy (OIT) different from TCM?

OIT, like all immunotherapy, works by essentially over-stimulating the part of the immune system that produces allergic antibodies—allergen-specific IgE—by feeding progressively larger doses of the allergen until it can’t keep up with demand, allowing the part that produces tolerogenic antibodies—IgG—to gain the upper hand. Instead of allergen-specific IgE occupying the receptors on mast cells and basophils, IgG starts to occupy them instead. Allergens that once triggered reactions by connecting with IgE on those cells are rendered harmless.

Traditional Chinese medicine as practiced by Dr. Li works on modulating the immune system. There are two kinds of helper cells involved, Th1, which helps fight infections, and Th2, which is associated with allergies. In a normal immune system, IgE is a tiny fraction of IgG. But for various reasons, Th2 and IgE gain a disproportionate share of immune response. Dr. Li’s therapies restore Th1 and Th2 to their natural equilibrium. Oh, and one thing I have to stress is that Dr. Li also treats digestion so that the gut has a better chance of breaking down allergenic proteins before they can be absorbed into the blood stream and find their way to different parts of the body.

Let me add that immunotherapy and TCM are not competitive or mutually exclusive. TCM patients are also receiving OIT, just as they are receiving shots and sub-lingual immunotherapy. There’s no single therapy that will help every patient in the long run.

How long has Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) been used by Dr. Li to treat patients for food allergies?

Her private, independent clinic got started to treat recalcitrant eczema while she did more conventional research in her “day job”. However, in the mid-1990s, food allergy mothers she met at a fundraiser for the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute, where she was doing research, upon hearing of her success with eczema, told her their kids’ stories and she was so moved she set out trying to find ways to help, backed by Dr. Hugh Sampson, her boss. It was a very bold move. Dr. Li was trained in both western medicine and TCM. She looked to the classical TCM formulary for answers, and started to find them, starting with a treatment for intestinal parasites. It is important for your readers to understand that while Dr. Li is following all the NIH protocols for her investigational drugs, she is also allowed to use versions of these medicines as supplements in her clinic.

Is she working on having fewer pills to take/teas to drink as part of her protocol?

Yes, Nicole. One of the problems with these treatments is that because they are derived from plants, therapeutic doses require lots and lots for prolonged periods. Compliance is a challenge for all of us, whether we have diabetes, asthma, or even just take a low-dose aspirin (as I’m supposed to do—don’t tell my doctor). Dr. Li works with her own lab and scientists in China to refine the medicines and reduce the burden on patients. Her food allergy herbal formula-2 had a dosage of 10 pills, three times a day for a phase-2 trial. Lots of subjects had trouble. The next trial will use B-FAHF-2–refined with butanol, a form of alcohol—that will take the dose down to six or eight pills a day total. Much easier.

Have there been any patients on TCM long enough to say that their immune system has been remodeled, and they are no longer allergic to foods?

Yes there have, although most of her patients have complex co-morbidities—and it’s a work in progress for many of them. I suggest your readers also check out an article published last year in a Canadian journal about three cases of frequent severe food anaphylaxis to see how dramatic the changes can be.

In a video at last year’s Food Allergy Bloggers Conference, you and Dr. Li were interviewed for a podcast. Dr. Li mentioned using TCM for patients with Mast Cell Activation Disorder (MCAD). Has she had any success with patients with this condition?

In the new book that Dr. Li and I have co-written, there is case of this, also called mast cell activation syndrome. Just so you know, MCAD or MCAS for mast cell activation syndrome is disease in which mast cell degranulation is triggered by all kinds of things, from foods, to exercise, to heat…really lots of things. It didn’t even have a name till 2010 or a practice parameter till 2011. It can be IgE mediated or not. We have one whole chapter in our book devoted to one case of a girl of 14 who suffered for 5 years without a diagnosis even, and almost died. Dr. Anne Maitland, a colleague of Dr. Li’s, is gaining a reputation as an MCAS specialist, and the two of them are doing great work. The case we write about it the book will tug your heart strings.

What about children with Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE) – are they able to tolerate the herbs? Have any children been ‘cured’ of their EoE?

The short answers are “yes” and “yes”. In my first book I have a case of a boy who was successfully treated, and according to his mother now has the enviable position of being able to eat pizza every day with his friends. Before he couldn’t tolerate dairy.

Let me add a key point here—all Dr. Li’s treatments are highly individualized. You don’t go in and get the food allergy pill, or the asthma pill, or the EoE pill. You get a combination of things that help with the multiple organ systems that are involved. The herbs overlap, and so do their effects.

And one more critical point: Dr. Li is a full-time scientist and a part-time healer. The scope and ambition of her research is breathtaking. Her chemists and biologists love working for her. A month doesn’t go by when I don’t hear about something new emanating from her lab or suggested by researchers elsewhere who have been following her work.

Tell us about the new book you are writing – when should we expect it? What’s the topic?

Think The Godfather and The Godfather Part 2, where the sequel is as good as the original. This book updates the food allergy research from the last book but also goes into greater detail on ASHMI—anti-asthma herbal medical intervention, which I only wrote about briefly the last time. But it’s huge for people with this condition. It also goes into the atopic dermatitis treatment at length, Crohn’s Disease, MCAS, and some other things. I wrote the first one the way I did because I was learning the science on the fly, but this story is much bigger than any single allergic disease. Dr. Li is getting an award next year from the Future of Health Technology Institute, which is normally very high-tech and where the people obviously see this as very important for the way we understand and treat disease. The new book will be out some time in 2016. After writing two books in three years, don’t expect a third one any time soon, although I know if there is it will be better than Godfather Part 3.

(For more information about Dr. Li’s practice, see liintegrativehealth.com.)

For more information, please also see Henry’s book, Asthma Allergies Children: A Parent’s Guide and the Facebook page, Chinese Herbs for Allergies

Henry Ehrlich is the editor of asthmaallergieschildren.com and co-author of Asthma Allergies Children: a parent’s guide and half a dozen other books. He was a long-time professional speechwriter, with three grown children and one granddaughter.

Henry (3)

Henry at the 2014 Food Allergy Bloggers Conference speaking about Chinese Herbs for Allergies along with Dr. Li.

 

Asthma of the Gut aka Eosinophilic Esophagitis

Most of you reading this blog are probably familiar with asthma – the ‘regular’ asthma that is in the lungs, causing mucous production, coughing and wheezing. Asthma is a serious illness causing NINE deaths per day in the USA. For some people, it’s very hard to get it managed properly. For others, a cocktail of inhalers, bronchodilators and nebulizers are needed.

Now, imagine if you had asthma in your gut!

“Asthma of the Gut” is the best description I’ve heard yet to explain Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE). Gastrointestinal doctors are now using this term regularly to explain this debilitating condition.

EoE

What is EoE? According to APFED (American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders) it is: “an allergic inflammatory disease characterized by elevated eosinophils in the esophagus. EoE is a newly recognized disease that over the past decade has been increasingly diagnosed in children and adults.” APFED has more detailed information about EoE which you can read here.  There may be a genetic link in some families, and environmental allergies may also be a component.

According to AAAAI (American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology) : “In EoE, large numbers of white blood cells called eosinophils are found in the tissue of the esophagus. Normally there are no eosinophils in the esophagus. EoE can occur at any age and most commonly occurs in Caucasian males. The symptoms of EoE vary with age. In infants and toddlers, you may notice that they refuse their food or are not growing properly. School-age children often have recurring abdominal pain, trouble swallowing or vomiting. Teenagers and adults most often have difficulty swallowing. The esophagus can narrow to the point that food gets stuck. This is called food impaction and is a medical emergency.”

Diagnosis of EoE

The diagnosis of EoE can be tricky since it can mimic other illnesses, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), celiac disease, parasitic infection, Crohn’s or colitis. In general, if you have the symptoms discussed above, an endoscopy is going to be performed, where esophageal biopsies will be obtained. If you (or your child) have at least 15 eosinophils in at least 1 high-power microscopy field, then you are likely to receive the diagnosis of EoE.

Mast Cell Involvement/Treatments

I haven’t heard of specific research on this; however, I want to mention some anecdotal evidence that I have. Almost every parent of a food allergic child that tells me that their child is inhalant allergic to a food has later been found to have EoE. I’ve had two GI doctors tell me that if eosinophils are elevated in a person, then mast cells are also elevated. When mast cells are elevated, a person is much more sensitive to their environment, and more likely to react to even the smallest exposure of an allergen.

It takes a special lab staining technique to check for mast cells in the gut, and most GI doctors in the USA aren’t using this stain. Therefore, if the doctor checks for mast cell involvement, too many times they erroneously think there isn’t a mast cell increase. Yet, both my daughter and I have later had the Alcian Blue 3 staining completed on our biopsies and found that our mast cells were extremely high!

In adults, GI doctors are regularly prescribing mast cell stabilizers (such as Ketotifen or Gastrocrom) for their patients with eosinophilic disorders. Yet children with EoE are commonly not receiving these medications. According to AAAAI, “Glucocorticosteroids, which control inflammation, are the most helpful medications for treating EoE. Swallowing small doses of corticosteroids is the most common treatment. Different forms of swallowed corticosteroids are available. At first, higher doses may be needed to control the inflammation but they are linked with a greater risk of side effects.

Proton pump inhibitors, which control the amount of acid produced, have also been used to help diagnose and treat EoE. Some patients respond well to proton pump inhibitors and have a large decrease in the number of eosinophils and inflammation when a follow up endoscopy and biopsy is done. However, proton pump inhibitors can also improve EoE symptoms without making the inflammation any better.”

Elimination diets and/or elemental diets (amino acid formula) are other treatments for EoE. Yet even those don’t work well for some people.

You may have read about a family who chose a wildly different treatment for their son when none of the standard treatments worked. You can read what Gerson Therapy did for this little boy here.

Eosinophilic Gastrointestinal Diseases (EGID)

According to APFED, “Eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) is far more common than the eosinophilic gastrointestinal disorders that affect the rest of the GI tract. ”

I am that rare bird! I have a diagnosis of  eosinophilic involvement throughout my gut – stomach and intestines in addition to esophagus – my diagnosis is Eosinophilic Gastroenteritis, which my doctor said is equivalent to the evil twin: Mastocytic Enterocolitis.

All of these terms just sound so much easier as “Asthma of the Gut”.

In the case of the gut, where 75% of the immune system resides, there is certainly a need for some mast cells to fight off parasite or bacterial infections. However, eosinophilic disorders create a gut with an abnormally high amount of eosinophils (and mast cells) in the esophagus,  stomach, duodenum, intestines and colon. Inflammation occurs, and the lining of the gut is damaged creating malabsorption. It is a dangerous cycle to get into.

What are the symptoms of EGIDs?

Healing EGID

Because there is virtually no research on EGIDs – there are so few people to study – I’ve taken on my own recovery. I do eat a very limited, organic diet currently to help my gut heal. I take several medications to manage my mast cells and eosinophils (Budesonide, Zyrtec, Zantac, Ursodiol and Ketotifen). My gut is healing enough now to slowly decrease my Budesonide!

The biggest healing force I’ve found is meditation. If I envision my gut healing, on a daily basis, I’ve found that my intention is stronger than any illness!

 

Food Allergies, Mast Cells & Hitting Your Threshold

Food Allergies, Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE), Autism, Asthma, Celiac Disease and Eczema all have mast cell issues in common. There is a huge need for research into food allergy and its relationship with these other diseases. You have probably heard of most of these diagnoses except for maybe a new diagnosis called Mast Cell Disorder.

My daughter’s and my diagnosis with a Mast Cell Disorder has lead me to do some research into mast cell disorders and how they relate to these other diseases, especially since my daughter also has tree allergies, celiac disease and ADHD; I have EoE, environmental and other severe food allergies; and my son has a diagnosis of multiple life threatening food allergies, eczema, environmental allergies and asthma. I believe there’s a huge opportunity to find a cure for these diseases by combining research efforts.

I’ve heard from so many families who have one child with celiac disease and one with food allergies; or some other combination of the issues above that there seems to be a link between these conditions. And as far as I know, no research has been done to look at a ‘main cause’ of all these diagnoses. Yet, all are on the rise in our children.

Additionally, with the Oral Immunotherapy (OIT) and Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT) research that’s currently being done in an attempt to find a cure for food allergies, it concerns me greatly that children participating in a research study may not be aware that they might be trading one disease for another. They may be getting rid of their food allergies, and end up being diagnosed with EoE or a mast cell disorder somewhere in their future.

In fact, some children have to cease participation in a research study because of a diagnosis with EoE, that later resolved after ending peanut desensitization. Research on milk OIT was reported at the recent AAAAI meeting where patients were found to become more reactive to milk after three to five years of desensitization. I’m wondering if this is because a threshold has been reached where their immune system has gone into a constant state of reaction – another way of explaining a mast cell disorder.

So much isn’t known about how the immune system functions, and approximately 75% of our immune system is in our gut. It’s quite a gamble in an attempt to find a cure for food allergies!

The Allergic Response

I’m not a medical doctor nor an allergist, but this is what I understand occurs in our body when the body senses an invader, or foreign substance, and the immune system is triggered. An allergy is an overcompensation of the body’s immune system when confronted with the protein of a food, a drug (such as penicillin), a bee sting or an airborne pollen that the body views as an invader. The body releases an overload of histamines in response to the attacker substance, which can create symptoms such as a runny nose all the way to the extreme of anaphylaxis.

The immune system normally protects the body from harmful items such as bacteria or viruses. In the case of allergies, the immune system has a hypersensitivity or an allergic reaction. During an exposure to an allergen, B cells are alerted and turned into plasma cells which produce IgE (immunoglobulin E) antibodies to fight the “invader.” These antibodies travel through the body until they come into contact with the immune cells called mast cells.

mast cell

Mast cells are present in the skin, respiratory system and the gut and are important to keep us healthy by fighting off  viruses, etc. The antibodies attach themselves to the mast cells via a receptor on the surface and remain attached. That way the next time the immune system meets up with the same invader, the system is primed to react again.

Eosinophils are white blood cells that are one of the immune system components responsible for combating parasites and certain infections. IgE, mast cells, basophils, and eosinophils are essential components of allergic inflammation. Mast cells are tissue resident cells and uniquely required for immediate hypersensitivity. Basophils are largely circulating cells, but home to areas of allergic inflammation during the late phase response. Eosinophils are resident to the GI tract, but also home to allergic inflammatory sites.

Patients with EoE have a high level of white blood cells, or eosinophils, in their esophagus. Research has shown the relationship between high eosinophils and high mast cells.  Dr. T. C. Theoharides of Tufts University has found that children with autism have high mast cells, which he postulates causes the severe form of “brain fog” that these patients experience. The brain-blood barrier is compromised and affected by high mast cells. Research has found that patients with untreated Celiac disease have depressed levels of mast cells, as do patients with eczema in different recent research.

Patients with mast cell disorders may or may not have true IgE food allergies; however most of these patients are triggered by high histamine foods. Many are triggered by pollen allergies, and/or certain drugs that increase mast cells. Some, like myself, are so sensitive that food dyes in medications can cause a reaction. It’s interesting that all of these conditions involve mast cells not being “normal.”

A Little History

Since my diagnosis of a mast cell disorder in 2010, I realized how long I have suffered from other allergic issues. I had severe environmental and pollen allergies as a child; got diagnosed with several food allergies in 1993, three years after my daughter was born; and continued to have more and more stomach aches after my son was born in 1996. I got stung by a wasp in 2006, which put my body ‘over the threshold.’

It took 4 years before I got a diagnosis of a Mast Cell Disorder from Dr. Philip Miner, a gastroenterologist with the Oklahoma Foundation for Digestive Research in Oklahoma City, OK. I later found out that Dr. Miner has been researching mast cell disorders since 1988, and only recently has his work been incorporated into medical literature. More and more patients are being diagnosed with mast cell disorders since Dr. Miner has developed the various criteria to review. There are only a few research centers in the USA that have knowledge about mast cell disorders. You can find a listing of these here. Dr. Miner has trained several of these physicians. He is the ultimate researcher, and tells his patients to ‘never give up hope’ that he can help you feel better.

Mast Cell Disorders

You may have heard of systemic mastocytosis or urticaria pigmentosa (also called cutaneous mastocytosis); however Dr. Miner found that there is a spectrum of mast cell disorders that don’t necessarily biopsy in the bone marrow or the skin. One can have a pooling of mast cells in any organ, and my daughter and I have such a pooling in our gut. Patients diagnosed with systemic mastocytosis or urticaria pigmentosa also frequently have stomach aches, since the high mast cell count is not only in their bone marrow or skin, but also frequently found in their stomach.

I’ve learned from Dr. Miner that those of us with mast cell issues have a threshold over which we begin to react. This is true with most of the allergic issues. A high pollen day along with a virus can send your child’s immune system over the edge to where they break out in hives for no apparent reason. Yet what’s really going on is an onslaught of mast cell activity that has made it appear that your child can no longer tolerate certain foods, for example. Or it appears they are having inhalant reactions; or suffering from stomach aches during the Spring and Fall when pollen season is high. Too many mast cells in the body react, and the child goes over a threshold, and begins to react to virtually everything.

The high mast cells in our gut affect the mucosal barrier in our stomach and intestines leading us to ‘leaky gut’ syndrome. This allows even more food proteins to pass into our blood stream causing more food allergies and more reactive issues. My daughter’s leaky gut was exacerbated/created by her celiac disease which she had for 10 years prior to a diagnosis.

The immune system threshold may be reached by a virus, a fragrance, pollen in the air, a drug or a high histamine food. If a patient with a mast cell disorder is skin prick tested or blood tested for an allergy, there may not be a true IgE allergy to the “invader.” The mast cells are just twitchy and ready to react to anything and everything. These reactions can be in the form of hives, stomach aches or life threatening anaphylaxis.

Patients with mast cell issues may be diagnosed with celiac disease yet find their stomach aches continue even on a gluten-free diet. Or the patient may be diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, without any biopsy completed to check for high mast cells in the stomach or intestines. Information about mast cell issues is not in abundance on the Internet. Some information about Mast Cell Disease can be found at www.tmsforacure.org and emergency care can be found here.

Published research can be found here. Most of this information is about the systemic form of the disease.

Mast Cells, Histamines, Drugs and Foods

If you believe that you and/or your child is having some mast cell issues and going ‘over the threshold’ on a regular basis, what can you do? Dr. Miner has stated that there are 7 deadly sins for mast cell patients to eat: beef, pork, onions, tomatoes, wheat, oranges, and chocolate. These foods are all high in histamine and his research has shown that mast cell patients can clear up a lot of stomach issues by ceasing to eat these foods. If your child is suddenly “over their threshold” and seemingly reacting to everything, try removing these foods from their diet and see if their system calms down.

Additionally, bananas hold histamine in the body. You may not have an allergy to them, but can still experience symptoms, like hives, if you eat them.

My daughter and I are currently on a very limited diet of foods to try to calm down our mast cell activity. We eat completely organic currently and it’s working! We never had to go on a feeding tube (which many mast cell patients have to do to give their gut a rest), for which we are very grateful. It’s really hard to eat very few foods every day diligently. But constant stomach aches and hives are no fun, so there’s a lot of willingness that we both have to feel better.

If you remove preservatives, GMOs, food dyes and packaged foods from your child’s diet – even if you don’t go completely organic – you might find that your child begins to feel better. That has been our experience.

There are certain drugs that also increase mast cell degranulation. They are:

Aspirin
NSAID’s (Ibuprofen, Motrin, Aleve)
Morphine
Iodine
d-tubocurarine (used in anesthesia)
polymixins (in over the counter bacitracin)
decamethonium
alcohol (if it makes symptoms worse)
Taking even one Ibuprofen pill can affect my stomach. I’ve learned a lot of other ways to get pain relief for muscle aches!

Mast Cell Drug Regimen

There is a drug regimen that is necessary to stabilize the mast cell. Zyrtec and Zantac are used for H1 and H2 histamine blockers. Additionally, to stabilize the mast cell, Gastrocrom (Cromolyn Sodium) is often prescribed, but neither my daughter nor I could tolerate this. Instead, we are on Ketotifen in pill form, which we obtain from a compounding pharmacy since it isn’t formally FDA approved in the USA. Patients may also benefit from Budesonide, a corticosteroid, especially if EoE is also diagnosed.

For those of you with children diagnosed with EoE, you probably notice that many of these drugs are also prescribed to manage Eosinophilic Esophagitis.

In order for mast cell patients to get better, their food, drugs and environment all need to be managed. If a patient is constantly ‘bumping up’ to their threshold, the immune system is constantly firing. And likely they are miserable with stomach aches, nausea, hives, nasal congestion, etc. Eating a low histamine diet, taking all prescribed medications, and watching for individual triggers are necessary to begin the long road to feeling better.

Mast cell disorders are a chronic disorder, and one that will not be outgrown. A patient can go into remission, but it’s very difficult to get to that point if you have been suffering for years with a high mast cell count. It can take months and even years for mast cells in the gut to normalize.

Food Allergy Research & Mast Cells

I have read a lot about the research utilizing Oral Immunotherapy (OIT) and Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT) for a cure to food allergies. These desensitization protocols concern me greatly because of the mast cell involvement with food allergies. I’ve yet to see one research study wherein patients are first put through a biopsy of their esophagus, stomach and intestines to get a baseline of their mast cell count at the onset of the study. In my mind, this would give researchers a better idea of which patients are more likely to go over their threshold if their gut mast cell count is already high. I have queried this idea with a leading food allergy research doctor in the USA. His response was that it’s so difficult to get patients to enter into research trials, that asking for a child to have an endoscopy would likely have more parents decline to participate.

Ingesting small amounts of allergens is certain to increase the mast cell count in the gut, and the result could be mast cell issues in years to come. We just don’t have enough research to know what is going to happen to these study participants 10 or 20 years down the road. I say this because of the history of what has happened to me. A child with multiple food allergies may not be able to eat 4 or 5 foods. An adult with a mast cell disorder may only be able to eat 4 or 5 foods!

I receive dozens of emails from families whose children have been diagnosed with EoE, yet most have never heard of a possible mast cell involvement with their child’s EoE. Some GI docs are doing biopsies for mast cells in addition to eosinophils, yet they aren’t using the Alcian Blue 3 stain, which is the only staining that effectively picks up the true level of mast cells according to Dr. Miner. So the GI doc isn’t getting the correct information to properly diagnose the problem.

I’ve also had many discussions with parents who believe that their children have an inhalant allergy to a food. They tell me these stories that are heart wrenching about their children suddenly reacting to peanuts on someone’s breath or something similar. The reactions are frequently quite severe. Inevitably, years down the road I hear from the parent that the child has been diagnosed with EoE. This makes sense in light of the mast cell involvement. If a child has a diagnosed food allergy to peanuts, for example, that may be only part of the story. The child may also have a high mast cell count that manifests into a diagnosis of EoE. Wouldn’t it be nice if the allergist who hears a story of a child having inhalant food reactions could/would send the child to a GI doc for a mast cell disorder check up?

I wish there was more shared research on these various disorders so that children wouldn’t have to suffer needlessly without a proper diagnosis. There is still so much to learn, but I hope that my diagnosis with a mast cell disorder might help others who are suffering recognize some similar symptoms and get help!

I wish that we knew more about the workings of the immune system so that not only could we find a cure for food allergies, but also a cure for EoE, mast cell disorders, autism – the list goes on and on.

I wish that the research of all these conditions were more easily shared with all the various doctors (allergists, pediatricians, GI docs) so that patients didn’t suffer for years before getting a diagnosis.

In the meantime, our family is going to be cautious about what we eat to ensure that we do our part to cease adding diagnoses to our long list!

Read my daughter’s story of mast cell issues here.