Mast Cell Activation Syndrome: Is Toxic Mold an Unusual Trigger?

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) is a condition that is believed to be caused by the release of “mast cell mediators” in response to an allergen or other triggers. These mast cell mediators can cause a variety of symptoms, including swelling, hives, itching, rashes, joint and muscle pain, palpitations, difficulty breathing, and severe fatigue. While most commonly triggered by allergens, there is growing evidence that, in some cases, MCAS can be triggered by exposure to toxic mold.

A 2003 study involving a group of ninety-five patients presenting with unclassified chronic non-allergic symptoms of unidentified etiology presented results suggesting that exposure to airborne toxins might be a risk factor for developing MCAS. The study measured the IgE antibody levels of the participants and found that those exposed to mold had significantly higher IgE levels (average level of 263U/mL) when compared to those without mold exposure (average level of 106U/mL). Additionally, they found that the higher the IgE levels, the more severe the symptoms of MCAS.

In 2010, another study involving a much larger group of patients with MCAS aimed to “determine if one or more types of mycotoxins, specifically trichothecenes, may be involved in exacerbating symptoms or contributing to the pathogenesis of the illness.” They tested the blood samples of the patients for the presence of trichothecenes and found that 31.3 percent of the patients tested positive for these toxins. This suggests that exposure to toxic mold spores may be an underlying trigger for some cases of MCAS.

However, it’s important to note that the evidence for toxic mold being a trigger for MCAS is still preliminary. The studies discussed are small and limited in some ways, and further studies are needed to form any definitive conclusions. Additionally, a large portion of the study groups was already known to have been exposed to mold, which may skew the data.

One study found that:

“Exposure to molds is most commonly associated with allergies and asthma. However, it is now thought to be associated with many complex health problems, since some molds, especially Trichoderma, Fusarium and Stachybotrys spp, produce mycotoxins that are absorbed from the skin, airways, and intestinal lining. People exposed to molds and mycotoxins present with symptoms affecting multiple organs, including the lungs, musculoskeletal system, as well as the central and peripheral nervous systems. Furthermore, evidence has recently implicated exposure to mycotoxins in the pathogenesis of autism spectrum disorder. The effects of mycotoxins can be mediated via different pathways that include the secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines, especially from mast cells.”

Effects of Mycotoxins on Neuropsychiatric Symptoms and Immune Processes

More Research is Needed on the Potential Role of Mold in MCAS

Although there is some evidence that toxic mold can trigger MCAS, more research needs to be done in order to make firm conclusions. For example, a larger study is needed that looks at a variety of mold species and their potential effects on MCAS. Additionally, more information is needed on the actual mechanisms involved in how mold exposure can lead to MCAS.

Currently, most experts agree that allergic reactions are the more common triggers for MCAS. These reactions can be a result of inhaling allergens such as pollen, dust, pet dander, and even some foods. In some cases, the allergen may be unknown, as is the case with idiopathic anaphylaxis.

It’s important for individuals who are susceptible to MCAS to avoid exposure to any potential triggers. Depending on the individual’s sensitivity level, this could include avoiding outdoor activities during times when pollen levels are high, keeping the home free of dust and pet dander, and even seeking out low-allergen foods. For individuals who may be at risk for MCAS due to exposure to mold, it’s important to find and address the source of the mold and to use measures to prevent further exposure.

Reducing An Individual’s Exposure to Triggers of MCAS

Reducing one’s exposure to any potential triggers of MCAS is the key to managing the condition. Identifying the potential sources of allergens, chemicals, and toxins can be the first step to avoiding them.

If a person has been exposed to a potential trigger, such as by visiting a moldy home or being exposed to high levels of pollen, avoiding any further exposure is essential. Getting the allergen or toxin out of the environment can help to reduce a person’s chances of experiencing MCAS symptoms. Additionally, getting out of the environment and getting some fresh air can be helpful in reducing an individual’s exposure to potential triggers.

It’s also important to be aware of the symptoms of MCAS and to take steps to treat them promptly in order to prevent them from becoming more severe. Anti-histamine medications or other medications and supplements specifically targeted to treat MCAS can help to reduce the symptoms. At Sprouts Health, we use a lot of herbal mast cell stabilizers as well as some prescription and over-the-counter medications. Additionally, avoiding stress and getting adequate rest can also help to reduce the symptoms of MCAS.