How to Reduce Your Major Triggers for Mast Cell Activation

by | May 9, 2023 | Blog

Are you experiencing symptoms of mast cell activation syndrome? Do you want to improve your health? The first step you need to do is to reduce your triggers for mast cell activation. This sounds like a no-brainer at first, but you may still be confused. What are your major mast cell triggers? What steps do you need to take to reduce these mast cell triggers? I want to offer you a practical and simple guide to reduce the major triggers for mast cell activation and decrease mast cell-related symptoms. Get ready and take some notes.

What Are Mast Cells?

Your mast cells are a certain kind of white blood cells in connective tissues, including your digestive tract, skin, respiratory tract, urinary tract, reproductive organs, surrounding your nerves, and near your blood vessels and lymph vessels. They are responsible for storing histamine and other inflammatory mast cell mediators that they can release to protect your body when they encounter an allergen, irritant, chemical, microbe or other agent.

What Is Mast Cell Activation Syndrome?

Your mast cells play a vital role in your immune system and overall health. Overactive mast cells, however, can turn into a problem. They can increase the risk of mast cell disorders, including mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS). MCAS is a complex health condition that may lead to widespread symptoms and health problems (1, 2, 3, 4).

Symptoms of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome

Symptoms of MCAS may vary from person to person. These can be widespread, affecting several areas of your body. They may be mild to severe. Many of the symptoms of MCAS are similar to chemical intolerance. Your symptoms of MCAS may include:

  • Rashes, eczema, and other skin issues
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Low blood pressure
  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches of migraines 
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite or low appetite
  • Rapid weight loss or weight gain
  • Rhinitis
  • Gastrointestinal troubles, including abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
  • Nervous system symptoms, such as anxiety
  • Vision changes

Triggers of Mast Cell Activation

Mast cell activation may be triggered by a variety of factors, including:

  • Mold
  • Allergens, including insect bites, pollen, dander, gluten, other foods, and preservatives
  • Infections, including viruses and fungi
  • Chemicals and other toxins, including conventional cleaning and personal hygiene products
  • Heavy metals, including mercury from dental work
  • Smells, including perfumes and other conventional beauty or body products
  • Medications, including antibiotics, ibuprofen, and opiate pain relievers
  • Physical or psychological stress from anxiety, exercise, lack of sleep, pain, rapid temperature changes, or other factors
  • Hormonal changes, including hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle
  • Mast cell hyperplasia, a rare health condition related to certain chronic infections or cancers

How to Reduce Your Major Triggers for Mast Cell Activation

If you want to reduce your symptoms of mast cell activation, you want to start by reducing your exposure to major triggers for mast cell activation. Here is what I recommend:

Reduce Mold Exposure and Improve Mold-Related Symptoms

Mold is one of the major triggers of mast cell activation. Mold can hide in your home in your bathroom, kitchen, and basement, behind old wallpaper, behind old paint, under carpeting and rugs, plants, air conditioner, and any areas affected by leaks, moisture, and water damage. It’s critical that you check your home for mold and remove any mold issues, especially if water leaks have been an issue. 

If the problem is small, you may be able to deal with it yourself. But if it’s affecting larger areas, you may need professional help. I recommend checking the mold removal steps outlined in this article. Addressing any mold-related symptoms is also critical. I recommend checking out this article on mold illness and working with a functional medicine professional for recommendations.

Reduce Exposure to Allergens

Allergens are another major trigger of mast cell activation issues. Allergens and even sensitivities may be to food or other things, like insect bites. Insect bites are more difficult to avoid. I recommend wearing protective gear, using natural bug spray, and watching your surroundings.

Food allergies and food sensitivities are much easier to address. Common food allergens and food sensitivities include gluten, soy, casein, dairy (cow’s milk), peanuts, eggs, shellfish, fish, and preservatives. You may have some other personal sensitivities. You may get tested for food allergies. While there are blood tests for food sensitivities too, they can be unreliable. Trying an elimination diet is the best way to check for your personal sensitivities. Once you know your food allergies and food sensitivities, I recommend avoiding them to reduce mast cell reactions and symptoms.

Protect Your Immune System

Infections are one of the major triggers of mast cell activation. In fact, MCAS became more well-known in the mainstream media due to COVID-19 triggering mast cell activation and MCAS as part of long hauler syndrome (5). Supporting your immune system is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of infections and decrease your risk of severe illness and complications. 

I recommend following an anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense diet rich in organic greens, vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices, sprouts, grass-fed meat, pasture-raised poultry and eggs, and wild-caught fish. Remove inflammatory foods, including refined sugar, refined oil, additives, artificial ingredients, gluten, conventional dairy, junk food, overly processed foods, food sensitivities, and food allergens. Sleep 7 – 9 hours of sleep at night. Move your body throughout the day and exercise regularly. Reduce your stress levels.

Improve Chronic Infections

Chronic infections can become an underlying issue behind overly activated mast cells and MCAS. Addressing underlying chronic infections, including small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), and Lyme disease, is critical (6, 7). I recommend working with a functional medicine practitioner to get tested for chronic infections and receive personalized recommendations. I recommend booking your consultation with me here.

Replace Conventional Products

Chemicals and toxins tend to hide in our conventional cleaning, personal hygiene, body, and beauty products (8). They may be major triggers for mast cell activation. I recommend choosing organic, natural, and homemade options instead. Avoid the use of plastic. For storage, use glass containers, silicone zip lock bags, cloth bags, paper bags, and beeswax wraps, depending on the food. 

Avoid plastic, especially BPA. Instead of plastic water bottles, use mason jars, glass bottles, or stainless steel. Instead of plastic bags, choose organic cotton cloth bags. Instead of plastic cups, plates, or utensils, choose glass, bamboo, or ceramic options. If you need something you would throw out, choose biodegradable options.

Reduce Heavy Metal Exposure

Heavy metal exposure is another major trigger for mast cell activation (9, 10). Dental amalgam fillings are one of the major sources of heavy metal exposure. Avoid mercury-filled amalgam silver fillings. If you have any, consider getting them removed by a biological dentist. 

Heavy metals, along with other chemicals, may hide in your tap water too. I recommend drinking purified water to reduce your risk. Check your home for lead, as it may be hiding in the paint, dust, or pipes. Finally, avoid smoking and second-hand smoking.

Unfortunately, our food supply has become contaminated with toxic metals as well. Arsenic in rice and products made from rice, including rice cakes; mercury in fish; cadmium in seafood; lead in dark chocolate and sweet potatoes, as a few examples. Stick to fish that fall into the “least mercury” category, and choose Basmati rice grown in California, rinsing it beforehand then cooking as you would pasta.

Reduce the Use of Medication

Medications can also trigger mast cell activation syndrome. If you are currently on any medication, do not stop them without speaking with your doctor. I recommend that you consult your doctor about the medications you are being prescribed, especially if you’ve been experiencing symptoms of increased mast cell activation. Check if there are alternative options, whether it’s other medications or natural treatment methods. You may check this list for common medication triggers of mast cell activation.

Reduce Stress

Though it’s often forgotten, stress is among the major triggers of mast cell activation (12, 13). I recommend reducing your stress levels and learning stress management strategies. Practice meditation, mindfulness, breathwork, guided relaxation, and gratitude. Try journaling, positive affirmations, coloring, arts and crafts, and taking relaxing baths. 

If you’ve been dealing with trauma, anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, or simply could use a listening ear, visit a therapist or counselor. Since physical stress may also trigger mast cell activation, I recommend being careful and avoiding risky or strenuous activities.

Improve Hormonal Health Issues

Hormonal imbalances and fluctuations may also increase mast cell activation (14, 15). If you are having symptoms of estrogen dominance or other hormonal issues, I recommend working with a functional medicine practitioner for testing and personalized recommendations. I recommend booking your consultation with me here.

Next Steps

Beyond reducing your mast cell triggers, your next step is to stabilize your mast cells. I recommend reading this article with my top recommendations for stabilizing your mast cells.

If you want to improve mast cell activation-related symptoms, I recommend that you speak with your doctors first for more personalized health information and support. I invite you to schedule a consultation with me here to see if you can benefit from the strategies listed in this article. 

If you are dealing with any chronic health issues, for advice on how to improve your nutrition and health, I welcome you to start a functional medicine consultation with me for further personalized guidance. You may book your consultation here

Learn more about working with Dr. Gannage