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Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Its Connection to Toxic Mold

Mold Toxicity Illness Tampa FLIf you’ve experienced severe allergy-like symptoms — such as hives, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, and severe diarrhea — and your doctor diagnoses you with allergies — you may actually have mast cell activation syndrome

Mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) flares up when mast cells, which are located throughout the body, inappropriately release excessive amounts of chemical mediators, such as histamine, in response to a trigger, including one or more of the following:

  • Alcohol
  • An allergen
  • Certain chemicals
  • Certain food items (which vary among individuals)
  • Certain fragrances (such as perfume or cologne)
  • Certain medications
  • Exposure to sunlight
  • Heat or cold
  • Heavy metals
  • Infection (bacterial, viral, or fungal)
  • Mold/fungus

When mast cells function as they should, they help defend the body against threats, such as harmful viruses, bacteria, and fungi. However, when these cells become overly sensitive, they release chemical mediators in response to non-threatening triggers. Sometimes, they release too much.

What makes mast cells overly sensitive? Several factors can cause or contribute to the development of MCAS, including the following:

  • Food triggers
  • Infections
  • Toxicity
  • Genetic susceptibilities
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Hypoxia (low oxygen)
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Stress
  • Head trauma

Here at BioDesign Wellness Center, we’re seeing a strong connection between patients with MCAS and environmentally acquired illness (EAI) — typically from water-damaged buildings and the subsequent exposure to mold toxins, microorganisms, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Learn More Here: How Gastroenterologist Helps Treat GI and Bowel Disorders

In fact, MCAS and EAI share many of the same symptoms (see our previous post,“Meet the Patient: Case Study on Treating Toxic Mold Illness via Remote Visits). It seems that chronic exposure to toxic mold and other environmental irritants makes mast cells highly sensitive to a variety of triggers. 

Mast Cell Mediators

Mast cell activation syndrome causes repeated bouts of anaphylaxis — a life-threatening allergic reaction that usually occurs within seconds of exposure to a trigger. During these episodes, mast cells release excess mast cell mediators, including the following:

  • Tryptase
  • Histamines
  • Cytokines
  • Interleukins
  • Prostaglandins

These chemical molecules are like distress signals, warning other cells in your body of a perceived threat. The warning triggers an inflammatory response to fight the threat, but the excess inflammation that results becomes life-threatening in itself.

Diagnosing MCAS

Mold Toxicity Illness Tampa FLDiagnosing mast cell activation syndrome involves running lab tests to check for elevated levels of tryptase in the blood and for elevated levels of N-methylhistamine, 11B -Prostaglandin F2α (11B-PGF2α) and/or Leukotriene E4 (LTE4) in the urine.

However, levels of these mast cell mediators may be normal unless you’re currently experiencing an episode. Hence, patients with MCAS often go undiagnosed and continue to experience episodes whenever they’re exposed to a trigger that has yet to be identified. 

A familiar metaphor? When your car is experiencing intermittent breakdowns but runs like a well-spun top when you bring it to your mechanic.

Here at BioDesign Wellness Center, we dig deeper to identify each patient’s triggers and the possible underlying causes of mast cell activation syndrome, which may include one or more of the following:

  • Food intolerances: These can be identified through lab testing or an elimination diet. 
  • Mold toxins: We order a urine test to check for the presence of mold toxins — the most common culprit behind mast cell activation syndrome.
  • Heavy metals and environmental toxins: Heavy metals and environmental toxins can contribute to an overactive immune system. Common sources include lead, mercury from dental amalgams, and organophosphates from fertilizers. We order lab tests based on each patient’s history and symptoms.
  • Genetic predispositions: Hereditary factors can contribute to mast cell activation syndrome symptoms. For example, some people have excess histamine due to impaired function of the histamine-degrading enzyme diamine oxidase (DAO). Genes can also inhibit a patient’s ability to detox.
  • Head trauma and stress: In at least one study, mast cell activation syndrome has been connected to brain injury, stress, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome Treatment

Conventional treatment for mast cell activation syndrome generally involves the use of pharmaceutical and over-the-counter medications to alleviate symptoms, such as the following medications:

  • Epinephrine (such as an EpiPen) for severe reactions
  • First generation H1 blockers diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and hydroxyzine (Vistaril)
  • Second generation H1 blockers, including loratadine (Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec), and fexofenadine (Allegra)
  • H2 blockers, such as ranitidine (Zantac) and famotidine (Pepcid)
  • Aspirin, to block production of prostaglandin D2 and reduce flushing. However, aspirin can also trigger episodes in many patients
  • Montelukast (Singulair) and zafirlukast (Accolate) to block the effects of leukotriene C4 (LTC4) and zileuton (Zyflo) to block LTC4 production

While these medications can be very helpful for dialing down the immune response and alleviating symptoms, we are committed to helping our patients identify and address the root cause of mast cell activation syndrome.

In our experience, a patient’s mast cell activation syndrome is most commonly related to mold exposure in a water-damaged building — usually the current or a previous residence. If the exposure is current, having the home checked and remediated (if necessary) is a key first step.

We tailor our treatment protocol to each patient. Treatment may include:

  • Natural supplements to reduce mast cell activation
  • Identification and avoidance of triggers
  • A personalized gastrointestinal repair protocol to restore balance to the gut microbiome (the beneficial bacteria and other microorganisms living in the intestinal tract) and repair any damage to the intestinal lining
  • A personalized detox protocol to support the body’s natural ability to detoxify itself
  • Anti-inflammatory nutrients to reduce inflammation
  • Peptides to support the body’s natural ability to heal itself (see our previous post “Protecting and Repairing the Body with BPC-157”)

The key to reducing mast cell activation is understanding the causes, triggers, and genetic susceptibilities. Many people are suffering needlessly with MCAS due to an environmental trigger or a susceptibility that hasn’t been found.

If you are experiencing symptoms of mast cell activation syndrome, whether those symptoms are life-threatening or not, we encourage you to schedule a thorough evaluation with a functional and integrative medical practice.

A thorough exam includes a close examination of your health history and family history along with targeted lab tests to evaluate nutritional deficiencies, genetic susceptibilities, hidden infections, toxins, allergies, food intolerances and sensitivities, and other factors. 

Don’t settle for treatments that merely scratch the surface and suppress symptoms. Demand a comprehensive and personalized approach that identifies and addresses the root causes of whatever is ailing you.


Disclaimer: The information in this blog post about mast cell activation syndrome and its connection to mold, is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect current medical thinking or practices. No information contained in this post should be construed as medical advice from the medical staff at BioDesign Wellness Center, Inc., nor is this post intended to be a substitute for medical counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate medical advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a licensed medical professional in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.