‘Allergic’ to flickering lights?

Flickering lights, whether shadows of trees on the road on a bright sunny day, or fast action movies, or actual strobe lights, have all been problems for me in the past. Migraine headaches after a light show at a music concert became expected. I stopped going to them or action movies – or once or twice went but wore sunglasses the whole time.

Epilepsy? Strobe lights of a certain timing can trigger epileptic seizures but I haven’t had seizures of any typical sort. I recently consulted a neurologist who ordered an EEG – which I wasn’t informed included intense strobe lights, for many minutes. I didn’t have a seizure during the EEG but I did have a bad mood meltdown/reaction almost immediately after leaving the office and it lasted for an hour or two instead of a few minutes to a half hour which has been more typical of my odd behavior symptoms.

I had been fairly stable ever since finding out more about Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, and avoiding most of the ‘avoid list’ foods. So search engine – yes, theoretically, someone else also wondered about why people with overactive mast cell problems are also sensitive to flickering lights – may be suggesting to the brain nystagmus of the eyes: (How Flickering Light can Cause an Allergic (MCAS) Response), – or it really could be the EMF of electronic screens too – but that wouldn’t explain why I was triggered by strobe lights used for an EEG screening, or the lights of an action movie. Just a busy black and white pattern can give me a slight headache feeling.

Not a definitive answer, however there often aren’t definitive answers with unusual health symptoms. Getting the problem under control is the goal, applying labels is more about society or insurance claims.

So – if you see me in sunglasses – it may be because I’m ‘allergic’ to the flickering of lights.

Fluorescent lighting causes flickering. In animal-based research it was found to affect inflammation and immune responses. Cellular perception of oxidative stress may lead to an increase in IL1-beta and TNF. Seeing flickering lights may suggest to innate genetic pathways that we may need to make an additional immune effort – and does.

In all three organisms, Fluorescent light (FL) induced transcriptional changes of the acute phase response signaling pathway and modulated inflammation and innate immune responses. Our pathway and gene clustering analyses suggest cellular perception of oxidative stress is promoting induction of primary up-stream regulators IL1B and TNF. … Overall, the conserved nature of the genetic responses observed after FL exposure, among fishes and a mammal, suggest the presence of light responsive genetic circuitry deeply embedded in the vertebrate genome.” (2)

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” – Edgar Degas

Confirmation or congeniality bias – we tend to believe information that supports our current belief far more readily than information that contradicts it. We may be twice as likely to find and believe information that is in agreement with our belief than to give credence to information that contradicts it. (Hart et al, 2009, 3) (Decision making ebook/WiseInsights)

To see a new idea or solution we may first have to take off our blinders that keep us focused on an old idea or more limited scope of what might be possible answers. Flickering lights give me a headache and can affect my mood when more intense or for more extended length of time – am I just imagining it? or it did happen? many times – yes, and wearing dark sunglasses is protective for me, whether watching an action movie, rock concert, walking around a grocery store lit by fluorescent lights, or driving at night in urban areas with a lot of highway lights and headlights from oncoming traffic.

The mechanism of action of flickering lights triggering an immune reaction may involve a health status pathway of normal immune function that may include detecting nystagmus like light patterns as theorized regarding MCAS, (1, 5), and/or it may involve intense blue light over activating light sensing TRP channels until depolarization doesn’t occur as rapidly as in normal vision. (6) Whatever the mechanism – flickering lights inducing illness may have been weaponized. (4)

Sunglasses – check.

Reference List

  1. Russell Irvin Johnston, @russjj, How Flickering Lights can Cause an Allergic (MCAS) Response. March 9, 2019, medium.com, https://medium.com/@russjj/how-lights-flickering-can-cause-an-allergic-mcas-response-c0e250ef37f9
  2. Boswell M, Lu Y, Boswell W, et al., Fluorescent Light Incites a Conserved Immune and Inflammatory Genetic Response within Vertebrate Organs (Danio Rerio, Oryzias Latipes and Mus Musculus). April 2019, Genes 10(4):271, DOI: 10.3390/genes10040271 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/332195692_Fluorescent_Light_Incites_a_Conserved_Immune_and_Inflammatory_Genetic_Response_within_Vertebrate_Organs_Danio_Rerio_Oryzias_Latipes_and_Mus_Musculus
  3. Hart W, Albarracín D, Eagly AH, Brechan I, Lindberg MJ, Merrill L. Feeling validated versus being correct: a meta-analysis of selective exposure to information. Psychol Bull. 2009;135(4):555-588. doi:10.1037/a0015701 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4797953/
  4. Yasemin Saplakoglu, Russia Claims Strobe-Light Weapon Causes Nausea & Hallucinations. Is That Even Possible?, February 15, 2019, livescience.com, https://www.livescience.com/64774-russia-navy-weapon-hallucinate.html
  5. Naren Srinivasan, Oliver Gordon, Susan Ahrens, et al., Actin is an evolutionarily-conserved damage-associated molecular pattern that signals tissue injury in Drosophila melanogaster. eLife 2016;5:e19662 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.19662 https://elifesciences.org/articles/19662Thus, extracellular actin detection via a Src-family kinase-dependent cascade is an ancient means of detecting cell injury that precedes the evolution of adaptive immunity.
  6. Katz B, Payne R, Minke B. TRP Channels in Vision. In: Emir TLR, editor. Neurobiology of TRP Channels. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2017. Chapter 3. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK476112/ doi: 10.4324/9781315152837-3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK476112/These studies have led to the identification and characterization of TRP as a light-sensitive and Ca2+-permeable channel (Minke, 2010Montell, 2011Hardie, 2011). Illumination of fly photoreceptors induces a cascade of enzymatic reactions, which result in activation of the light-sensitive TRP channels (Minke, 2010Devary et al., 1987). To function as a reliable light monitor, each stage of the phototransduction cascade needs an efficient mechanism of activation as well as an equally efficient mechanism of termination, ensuring that, at the cessation of the light stimulus, the photoreceptor potential will rapidly reach dark baseline.Failure of response termination at the stage of R activation was designated the prolonged depolarizing after (PDA) potential by Hillman, Hochstein, and Minke (Hillman et al., 1983Minke, 2012). The PDA, like the light coincident receptor potential, arises from light-induced opening of the TRP channels in the plasma membrane. However, in contrast to the light coincident receptor potential, which quickly declines to baseline after the cessation of the light stimulus, the PDA is a depolarization that continues long after light offset (Figure 3.4) (see Hillman et al., 1983Minke, 2012 for reviews). … Thus, massive R to M photoconversion by intense blue light induces a PDA, while M to R photoconversion by intense orange light suppresses the PDA.In summary, the PDA is observed only when a considerable amount of photopigment (>20%) is converted from R to M. The larger the net amount of R to M conversion, the longer the PDA. 

Glyphosate increases histamine, both may be a factor in COVID19

Recent posts include a long one on glyphosate, biofuel, and liver disease and how it may be increasing inflammation in severe COVID19; and two other posts (a, b) are about how an immune allergy type reaction increases histamine and a variety of symptoms, and which may be a factor in LongCovid. Foods and the health of our intestinal microbiome, bacteria and other microbes, can also increase histamine directly or indirectly. Some foods contain histamine and others cause more histamine to be produced. Glyphosate residue may also cause an increase in histamine. (1)

Genetics may be a factor in who is more at risk for having excess histamine. There is an enzyme needed to break down the excess histamine from foods, within the intestinal tract, which some people may not be able to make. It can be purchased as a supplement and taken with meals. Other people may have overactive mast cells which are the type of immune cell that produces histamine throughout the body. (1 , 2)

If the mast cells are overactive, MCAS – Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, symptoms may be more severe than a seasonal allergy type of histamine reaction and may include: “rashes, hives, itching, flushing, fainting, headache, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), fatigue, chronic pain, trouble breathing and many more.” (2) To complicate trying to figure out if this is a problem for oneself or a patient the overactivity of mast cells may also be associated with other complex conditions that have varied symptoms too, including: “allergies, autism, autoimmune disorders, cancer, diabetes, Ehler-Danlos syndrome, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, mastocytosis, migraines and obesity.” (2) Add the various symptoms together and a person might have a confusing mixture of “twenty to thirty symptoms” and feel “extremely ill.” (2)

Lab tests frequently are not helpful for many of the conditions or MCAS and it may also be unclear whether a person is having histamine symptoms because of intestinal digestion or microbiome problems or due to overactive mast cells throughout the body. Severity of symptoms may be worse if the problem is related to mast cell activation throughout the body. Treatment approach would also be different. Some people might be helped by use of the digestive histamine enzyme while others wouldn’t need it. Both types, digestive histamine excess and mast cell over activity, would be helped by decreasing histamine containing foods or ones that increase release of histamine from mast cells. Eliminating all histamine from the diet would be impractical if not impossible. Reducing the amount might make a significant difference though in reducing the negative symptoms. More details about identifying the type of problem with lab tests or other clinical indicators and an elimination diet description are available here: westonaprice.org. (2)

Glyphosate as a stimulator of histamine release (1) would create a different list of foods to avoid. See the previous post “a long one on glyphosate,” the list of tips are summarized at the top of the post, so the full length can be skipped if desired.

Over active mast cells may involve cannabinoid deficiency. Mast cells have both Cannabinoid Receptor Type 1 and Type 2 on the cell surface and when activated they cause an inhibition of the mast cell.

Mast cells contain CB1 and CB2 receptors, which when activated inhibit mast cell release (R). Research shows that cannabinoids can suppress mast cell degranulation. … Our results show that CB1 and CB2 mediate diametrically opposed effects on cAMP levels in mast cells. ” (3, 4)

We have previously shown that exposure of mast cells to cannabinoids that bind to both CB1 and CB2 cause a net suppression in the proinflammatory responses.” […] “At short time points, ligation of either CB1 or CB2 leads to a suppression of cAMP levels. However, over a longer exposure time course, the cAMP responses that follow ligation of the two receptors are diametrically opposed. These results allow us to draw two conclusions. First, the results imply that CB1 and CB2 receptors are not redundant when co-expressed in mast cells. Secondly, the results suggest that the two receptors couple to distinct signalling pathways that diverge downstream of the Gαi/o proteins to which they are both coupled.” (4) – that may suggest that a short time, small amount of THC & CBD may not help suppress the mast cells, by increasing cAMP sufficiently, a longer exposure, larger dose is needed – and that both the CB1 and CB2 receptor types need to be activated for the suppression of mast cell. CBD activates CB2 receptors and THC activates CB1 receptors.

CBD alone without THC maybe ineffective at treating dysfunctional mast cells because THC has a strong binding affinity for both CB1 and CB2 receptors, cannabidiol (CBD) has no particular binding affinity. Instead, many of the therapeutic benefits of CBD are created through indirect actions.” (3)

Edibles or smoke? “However, when it comes to MCAS patients who are more severe, they tend to not tolerate ingesting the Medical Cannabis oil or edibles but may can inhale the actual Organic Medical Cannabis Flower and find great relief from MCAS symptoms.” (3)

More information about mast cells and what they do is included in Mast Cells: MCAS, genetics and solutions. geneticlifehacks.com (1) Viruses can activate mast cells, which then release histamine and other inflammatory cytokines and chemicals. The immune mast cells are also called granulocytes because when activated they release little packets, granules, full of the inflammatory chemicals. Flu virus has been found to activate mast cells and mast cell inhibitors helped reduce lung damage and mortality in severe cases of influenza. Too much inhibition during an active infection might not be helpful though, because the goal is to kill the virus infected cells or other pathogens that can activate mast cells. (1)

What does histamine do?

Brain histamine promotes wakefulness and orchestrates disparate behaviors and homeostatic functions.” […] “Dysfunctions of the histaminergic system may also contribute to the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis and its murine model of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis,” […] “Histamine neurons send broad projections within the CNS that are organized in functionally distinct circuits impinging on different brain regions.” (5)

Histamine promotes wakefulness, so an excess may lead to insomnia problems, and it affects a lot of varied behaviors and balance of functions throughout the body, disparate – a wide range of behaviors, which suggests why there can be such a wide range of symptoms, and homeostatic – balance of body functions – no longer as able to stay at an even center, too tired, or too excited, too cold or too flushed, numbness or pain – roughly. Too itchy too often.

Histamine itch and non-histamine itch are mainly mediated by TrpV1 and TrpA1 respectively. In addition, Trp channels can be coupled to cytokine receptors, toll like receptors or may even be directly activated by pruritogens.” (6)

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can involve overactive mast cells and excess histamine activating Trp channels in the intestines, (1), leading to sudden diarrhea and/or pain. “Pruritigens” refers to other chemicals that directly activate Trp channels such as horseradish or Latex that cause itching, (pruritus). Others may cause the bowel symptoms of IBD including cinnamaldehyde from cinnamon, capsaicin from hot pepper, curcumin in turmeric, and other chemicals in spices or herbs like ginger, cloves, and mint. Previous post 1, post 2/webpage G3.5-3.6.2, G5.

Yes, it is not easy to figure out what you can eat if you have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, or to safely use as skin care products or medications as some of the ingredients might be Trp channel activators.

Medications that may help reduce mast cell activation in the condition of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, similar to Inflammatory bowel disease but less severe, include mast cell stabilizers and “a medication to reduce prostaglandin E2 synthesis (e.g. a COX2 inhibitor) stopped the hypersensitivity in the animal model of IBS. [ref]” (1) Pomegranate peel extract and other antioxidants may act in part through COX2 inhibition. (previous post) Prep tips for pomegranate & the peel: G13.

Mast cell activation may also be involved in autoimmune diseases including Multiple sclerosis, Type 1 Diabetes, and Rheumatoid arthritis. (1) The excessive release of cytokines and inflammatory chemicals can lead to cell damage in surrounding tissue. Mast cells tend to be located within specific tissue areas of the body or along epithelial layers (skin and membrane linings of blood vessels or other tissue), rather than be free moving like some other types of immune white blood cells. (1) Some people may have overactivity in some areas of the body rather than throughout the entire body.

Regarding COVID19 illness, the cytokine interleukin 6 (IL-6) tends to be present in excess, (8), and it is a mast cell activator. (1) Vitamin C can help inhibit IL-6. (7)

Psychological stress causes mast cells to release their histamine and other chemicals – uh oh, time to think serenely about that. (1)

Tips to worry less – can you do anything about them? If no, try to let them go. Writing worries on notes and putting them in a worry jar is one idea – you did something about it. You can look through your worries later. If yes, plan your time – 1. write down your goals, long term – 5-10 years, mid length, this year, and short term, this day/week/month, and 2. make an action plan, what steps to take today, write a list. 3. Do your plan, cross off your list items. It can feel more organized and good to check off your short term goals, and more peaceful to have a plan. (9)

Regarding the complexity of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, or histamine from food – writing down your symptoms and daily food, beverages, and other lifestyle issues that standout from your routine can help to start seeing a pattern of which foods or habits might be adding to the problem. Elimination diets are quiet simple to start and need to be followed for a couple weeks to get the body cleared out of the potential problem foods and hopefully start feeling better, whether itchy, headaches, fatigue, brain-fog, or pain, numbness, or other symptoms. Then add only one thing back and see if symptoms return. Symptoms may be fairly immediate, or the next day or two so gradual reintroduction will be easiest to track whether it seems to cause symptoms.

Lab tests and other help and medication may be nice too, if available, but an elimination diet can be done fairly easily and safely. Stick to a variety of foods from the different food groups and read bottles on any supplements or medications to check for ingredients that might also be trigger substances ‘starch’ is usually wheat or corn based unless specifically labeled like tapioca or arrowroot starch. Other post (a) includes links with a food diary and information about elimination diets for histamine issues. Not all people have exactly the same sensitivities and there can be an additive effect, many problem foods on the same day as stress – may become a flare up. Some of the lists vary and some are more restricted than others, but most have similarities in the worst risk foods. Starting with eliminating some of those and seeing if you start feeling better can also be a way to work towards learning what are problem foods for you personally.

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

Reference List

  1. Mast cells: MCAS, genetics, and solutions, geneticlifehacks.com, https://www.geneticlifehacks.com/mast-cells/
  2. Hidden in Plain Sight: Histamine Problems, westonaprice.org, https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/modern-diseases/hidden-in-plain-sight-histamine-problems/
  3. Www.TickedOffMastCell.Org, Medical Cannabis: Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, 10/24/2019, ibcnj.com https://ibcnj.com/medical-cannabis-mast-cell-activation-syndrome/
  4. Small-Howard AL, Shimoda LMN, Adra CN and Turner H, Anti-inflammatory potential of CB1-mediated cAMP elevation in mast cells. Biochem. J. (2005) 388, 465–473 https://anandaenterprises.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Anti-inflammatory-Potential-of-CB1-mediated-CAMP-Elevation-in-Mast-Cells.pdf.pdf
  5. Passani MB, Panula P, Lin JS. Histamine in the brain. Front Syst Neurosci. 2014;8:64. Published 2014 Apr 28. doi:10.3389/fnsys.2014.00064 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4009418/
  6. Sun S, Dong X. Trp channels and itch. Semin Immunopathol. 2016;38(3):293-307. doi:10.1007/s00281-015-0530-4 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4798920/
  7. Härtel C, Puzik A, Göpel W, Temming P, Bucsky P, Schultz C: Immunomodulatory Effect of Vitamin C on Intracytoplasmic Cytokine Production in Neonatal Cord Blood Cells. Neonatology 2007;91:54-60. doi: 10.1159/000096972 https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/96972#
  8. Grifoni E, Valoriani A, Cei F, et al. Interleukin-6 as prognosticator in patients with COVID-19. J Infect. 2020;81(3):452-482. doi:10.1016/j.jinf.2020.06.008 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7278637/
  9. Gerry McCann, How to Manage Your Time Worry Less and Discover more Happiness, youtube.com, https://youtu.be/RgBb4xNrM-s