This woman has a condition that prevents her from eating anything but two foods: oatmeal and baby formula

Food plays a crucial role in most cultures around the world. After all, we need it to survive.

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So what would you do if you could only possibly eat two foods for the rest of your life, but you couldn’t even choose which ones? That’s a question for Caroline Cray Quinn, 24, a healthcare recruiter based in Massachusetts who has a condition called Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, also known as MCAS.

Caroline Cray Quinn

According to Healthline, a mast cell is part of the immune system and is normally found in the bone marrow and around blood vessels. When someone has MCAS, their mast cells release an overload of chemicals into the body, causing a wide range of symptoms, including allergic reactions. In a TikTok video that now has over a million views on the platform, Caroline revealed how she can only eat two different foods as a result of MCAS: oatmeal and hypoallergenic baby formula.

Person in kitchen scooping flour into measuring cup for baking

Caroline detailed how she mixes the formula with the oatmeal and will have three cups for breakfast, two cups for lunch and three cups for dinner to properly meet her nutritional needs.

Bowl of oatmeal with a spoon, accompanied by bananas and almonds on a wooden surface

Oatmeal in a bowl served with banana, almonds and almond milk for a healthy breakfast. Old wooden table background. Healthy lifestyle concept

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To learn more about her medical journey and what life looks like on this hyper-specific diet, I caught up with Caroline. “I was first diagnosed with MCAS in 2018 after an anaphylactic reaction to traces of tree nuts turned into a series of recurring anaphylactic reactions to foods I wasn’t allergic to,” she told BuzzFeed. “I was in and out of the hospital for two months, and then my allergist referred me to a mast cell specialist who finally gave me the official diagnosis after several tests. My symptoms included ongoing anaphylaxis, difficulty to breathe, restricted airways, narrow lungs. , wheezing, tight throat, hives and rashes.”

Close-up of a person's neck with a visible red rash, possibly an unusual medical condition found on the internet

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According to mastcellhope.org, one of the qualifications to officially diagnose MCAS is if a patient “suffers from recurrent and severe anaphylactic episodes involving more than one organ system.” In addition, systemic mastocytosis, a different and rare disorder, must be ruled out.

Person using an epinephrine auto-injector on the thigh for emergency treatment

I was curious how Caroline discovered the only two foods that wouldn’t cause her to have this type of reaction. She said: “I was hospitalized for a mast cell outbreak in the spring of 2019. The only food that wasn’t causing an allergic reaction was oatmeal. Obviously, the human body can’t live on flour alone of oats due to lack of nutrients. So a doctor had the brilliant idea to have me try hypoallergenic infant formula and I tolerated it great! One can has 57g protein, 90g fat, 200 g of carbohydrates, 2,000 calories and sustainable levels of minerals (calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, etc.) and vitamins (A, B, C, D, E, K, etc.). So that’s where I get all my nutrients.”

Container of nutritional powder based on amino acids with vanilla flavor EleCare Jr for over 1 years.

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Caroline’s life has changed dramatically since her diagnosis. “Before I got sick, I was a D1 varsity rower and a carefree, go-with-the-flow kind of person,” he said. “When I got sick, I had to give up three years of rowing because I was constantly having allergic reactions, and my body was exhausted and very weak. I also had to structure myself a lot in terms of my new regiment of medications, a limited diet, tracking my symptoms for my doctors, health insurance, and pharmacy logistics.”

Caroline Cray Quinn rowing a boat

In terms of his social life, there were many adjustments to be made. “Not being able to eat regular food is hard sometimes, especially during the holidays, because I miss the food,” she said. “Before I got sick, I never realized how closely social culture is tied to meals. For example, going to lunch with a co-worker, Thanksgiving dinner with family, celebrating a birthday with cake or going to a nice restaurant for a first date. Food is socializing! I still include myself in these experiences, just minus the food, so I’ll bring a thermos of my food to a restaurant.. If I’m the that I make plans, I definitely tend to choose activities that don’t involve food, like going to an art museum, going for a walk, or inviting people over for a painting night.”

Top down view of a person at a dining table holding a glass of wine on a plate with a variety of Thanksgiving foods

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To learn more about the medical side of MCAS, I contacted Dr. Payel Gupta, an allergist in New York City. My first question to her was about how common this diagnosis is. “MCAS is considered relatively rare, but its prevalence may be underestimated due to challenges in diagnosis,” he told BuzzFeed. “As an allergist, encounters with MCAS can vary by patient population and geographic location, and the type of practice the allergist has. Some allergists specialize in mast cell disease, from so they can see more of these patients.”

I was also curious about how MCAS works on a biological level. “Biologically, in MCAS, mast cells become hypersensitive to triggers such as stress, certain foods, medications or environmental factors,” he said. “When triggered, these mast cells release various inflammatory substances, causing the symptoms associated with MCAS.”

3D rendering of a detailed, spiky virus-like particle on a black background

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As for treating the condition, Dr. Gupta said it “usually involves a combination of identifying and avoiding triggers, medications such as antihistamines or mast cell stabilizers to reduce symptoms, and, in severe cases, immunosuppressants or biologics to control mast cell activity.” Caroline, who is treating a severe case, has a specific regimen that includes the following: biweekly Xolair injections, weekly Hizentra infusions, Cromolyn Sodium, and 10 different antihistamine and anti-inflammatory pills.

A patient connected to an IV drip

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Caroline’s ability to eat other foods in the future is still a question mark. “I wish I could say for sure that my diet will expand, but right now it’s up in the air. I’m working with my mast cell specialist to expand my diet in the coming months by testing the foods of a single ingredient, low. – Histamine foods, such as sweet potato, carrots and broccoli.”

Caroline Cray

In the meantime, sharing her story on TikTok has helped her connect with others with the disease and explore alternative treatment avenues. “I have received some really great advice from them on how to expand my horizons on my healing journey. What I mean by this is that I have been approaching and treating my MCAS with mainstream western medicine (i.e. pharmaceutical drugs), which is definitely necessary, but it has. It is now clear to me that there are a ton of other holistic healing resources (ie somatic practices, meditation, nervous system regulation, functional practitioners, etc.) that can help me even more! I started posting about my MCAS experience to raise awareness and help others, but it’s actually helping me a lot!”

Close-up of Caroline

Caroline posts a lot about life with MCAS, so if you want to know more about how she deals with this disease, you can follow her on TikTok.

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