Cause Of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

A Cause Of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Mast Cell Activation

Do you live in Ottawa? Are you looking for the cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

If so, you are in the right place.

Today, I will discuss the role of mast cell activation as a cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

In This Article:

Let’s begin by looking at what mast cells are.

What Are Mast Cells?

Mast cells are essential and are found in many of the body’s barriers, including the skin and the mucosal lining of the digestive tract.

Mast cells also affect systemic immune responses to pathogens such as bacteria or viruses.

Mast cells can be activated by a wide range of factors, some of which we will talk about later.

They also produce a wide range of immune mediators (small proteins) responding to an invader (e.g., microbes).

Abnormal, chronic activation of mast cells can contribute to a wide range of conditions, including the following:

  • Mastocytosis
  • Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS)
  • Respiratory conditions such as seasonal allergies
  • Skin conditions such as Eczema
  • Gastrointestinal disorders

Let’s look at what symptoms chronically activated mast cells play a role in different parts of the GI tract.

What Symptoms To Chronically Activated Mast Cells Produce In The GI Tract?

The chronically activated mast cells produce the following symptoms in The GI tract:

  • Esophageal – heartburn, dysphagia, globus and chest pain.
  • Stomach – Dyspepsia
  • Small and Large intestine – Abdominal pain and discomfort, diarrhea and constipation.

Many of these symptoms overlap common GI conditions such as IBS or Irritable bowel syndrome.

This similarity can make diagnosis difficult; however, we will discuss how, rather than mast cells being a separate cause, they may play a role in the mechanism that produces IBS symptoms.

Let us examine how mast cells orchestrate the immune system’s response to pathogens.

How Mast Cells Orchestrate The Immune Systems Response To Pathogens In The Gut

Mast cells orchestrate the immune system’s response to invaders in the gut by stimulating the release of various immune mediators.

An example of an invader in the gut is food allergies and sensitivities, which stimulate the release of IgE and IgG antigens.

These antigens attach to the Mast cell and stimulate an immune response, including the following:

  • B and T cells are part of your frontline or Adaptive immunity.
  • Mast cells can affect the permeability of the cells that line the gut leading to fluid moving into the gi tract and bloating.
  • Neutrophils, Dendritic cells and Macrophages kill pathogens in the gut.
  • Cytokine and mucous production produce an increased inflammatory response in the gut.
  • Mast cells also play a role in the leaky gut by affecting the Epithelial cells.
  • Mast cells affect the smooth muscle in the gut lining causing poor gut motility and visceral Hypersensitivity. Poor gut motility can lead to IBS.

Let’s examine and look at now what GI conditions are commonly associated with mast cell activation.

What Conditions Are Commonly Associated With Mast Cell Activation?

The GI conditions associated with mast cell activation are split into two main categories, including the following:

Functional GI Disorders

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Functional Dyspepsia – recurring symptoms of an upset stomach that have no apparent cause.

Adverse Food Reactions

  • Food Allergies
  • Food Sensitivities
  • Food Intolerances

Let’s look at the growing scientific evidence of the association between IBS and activated mast cells.

The Growing Scientific Evidence Of An Association Between IBS And Mast Cell Activation

There have been several recent scientific papers concluding an association between IBS and mast cell activation, including the following:

Let’s now look at what factors and mechanisms underlie mast cell activation in the gut.

What Factors And Mechanisms Underlie Mast Cell Activation In The Gut?

Several factors underlie mast cell activation in the gut, including the following:

  • Gastroenteritis or food poisoning
  • Dybiosis includes the overgrowth of bacteria (e.g. staph aureus), h.pylori, Candida and parasites.
  • Chronic stress
  • Past emotional and physical trauma
  • Food allergies and sensitivities

Let’s now summarise what we have found.

What Have We Found?

GI infections and mast cells may play a role in food-triggered symptoms in patients with functional disorders such as IBS (via local IgE responses).

Dybiosis (e.g. Staph Aureus overgrowth) may prime mast cell activation, further promoting food antigen-triggered symptoms.

Now It’s Over To You

Do you suffer from IBS?

Do you understand more about the role of mast cell activation as a cause of irritable bowel syndrome?

Leave me a comment below.

Do You Need Help?

If you need help, I suggest you book a free functional medicine discovery session with me to determine whether my functional medicine approach fits your child’s needs.


The information provided on this website is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease. Please do not apply this information without first speaking with your doctor.