Mast Cells and PCOS – A Little Known Connection
Guest post by Dr. Felice Gersh
Few women, or even their doctors, have heard of a mast cell activation condition, and even fewer connect this condition to Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. But making this connection opens the door to treatments that can improve the health and well-being of women with PCOS.
What is a mast cell activation condition?
Essentially, this is a condition where specific immune cells, mast cells, are overly sensitive, and this leads to a chronically active immune system and uncontrolled inflammation.
What are mast cells?
Mast cells are key players in the innate immune system. This division of the immune system is your body’s first line of defense against all “invaders” (viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites).
Mast cells are your innate immune system’s most powerful fighters! They patrol all of your body’s interfaces with the outside world — the lungs, the sinuses, the entire GI tract, your skin, and even your vagina. Each mast cell is filled with histamines compounds. When these mast cells detect an invader, they launch an attack by basically exploding and releasing their inflammatory compounds in the region of the invasion. These compounds signal other immune cells to rush to the site of the invasion, causing swelling, redness, and pain. When there really is a dangerous invader, this system is a powerful defense.
What is the connection between mast cells and PCOS?
In some people, such as women with PCOS, there is a mast cell activation disorder. Their mast cells are too sensitive and they explode too easily. When this happens, non-dangerous compounds can cause mast cell explosions and small invasions can cause the equivalent of a nuclear retaliation. A person can end up in a state of constant inflammation.
Quercetin stabilizes mast cells
Quercetin is a polyphenol, a powerful antioxidant found in plants, that desensitizes mast cells and makes them more resistant to exploding. You can find it in apples, peppers, tomatoes, and leafy greens, but it’s nearly impossible to get a therapeutic dose through diet alone.
For women with PCOS, in particular, I recommend taking a daily quercetin supplement to stabilize mast cells. By lowering system inflammation, quercetin across-the-board improves many inflammation-related symptoms of PCOS including insulin resistance, weight gain, high blood pressure, and acne. I recommend that all of my PCOS patients take 1000 mg of quercetin daily, and the results have been phenomenal! Because it is so effective, I now use it as a first-line therapy.
Felice Gersh, MD
Medical Director, The Integrative Medical Group of Irvine
Double Board Certified – Obstetrics and Gynecology and Integrative Medicine
www.felicelgershmd.com (educational site)
Author, with her daughter, Alexis Perella: PCOS SOS – A Gynecologist’s Lifeline to Naturally Restore Your Rhythms, Hormones, and Happiness (Available on Amazon)
Weng, Zuyi et al. “Quercetin is more effective than cromolyn in blocking human mast cell cytokine release and inhibits contact dermatitis and photosensitivity in humans.” PloS one vol. 7,3 (2012): e33805. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033805