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Mold Illness: Is Toxic Mold in Your Home Making You Sick?

Image of an older home that may have mold, and lead to mold illness.

You might be surprised to hear this – but it’s very common for your home air quality to be more polluted than the air outside. This is due to poor air circulation, inadequate filtration, and indoor air contaminants. Another major contributor to the impact indoor air pollution has on our health, is the fact that we now spend 90 percent of our time indoors.¹ In this article, we’re covering mold illness, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

What’s more, researchers concede that there are many indoor air toxins we don’t fully understand and need more information on.² Even the cleanest homes have many ecosystems throughout their home. This is especially so in any home that’s exposed to humidity, moisture, or dampness due to flooding. According to several studies, it is estimated that approximately 50% of all buildings, including homes, have moisture problems and mold.³

Biocontaminants known to thrive in damp indoor environments include gram-negative and positive bacteria, endotoxins, microbial and non-microbial volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and mold mycotoxins.⁴ Of these different biocontaminants, the one I’ve seen causing the most trouble in my own personal practice has by far been mold mycotoxins.

Image of mold spores under a microscope, as it relates to mold illness.

What Are Mold Mycotoxins?

Mold is a very natural part of the circle of life. Molds are needed to decompose organic material. Though there are different species of mold, mainstream media commonly refers to all harmful molds as “black mold” or “toxic black mold.” Stachybotrys chartarum species is “black mold,” however, not all toxic mold is Stachybotrys. There are several others that make people and animals sick.

Several molds/fungi produce secondary products called mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are very tiny molecules that can sneak into your body and cause extensive damage. They are among the most toxic substances found in existence.⁵  They are so damaging that they have been implicated as chemical warfare agents.⁶

Mycotoxins are extremely small and therefore they can pass through cell membranes, which makes it hard for your immune system to identify and attack. Because of this, mold illness usually starts with chronic, low-level symptoms that slowly creep up until they become widespread and debilitating.

What Causes Toxic Mold?

One of the reasons mold illness is on the rise in our country is because we make our houses out of materials perfect for mold growth. Wood and drywall are basically paper and when they get wet, they don’t dry easily. This creates an ideal petri dish for mold proliferation.

When I was watching the news this past hurricane season, I couldn’t help but think of all those flooded homes and their potential for mold growth.⁷ But your home doesn’t necessarily need to flood for it to be susceptible to mold growth. Areas under your sinks, crawl spaces, attics, and basements are all susceptible to mold.

Mold and its mycotoxin byproducts can be found in homes, offices, and schools – here exposure is usually through inhalation of airborne particles. But you can also be exposed to mycotoxins through food.

Image of corn, a food that's high in mycotoxins.

13 Foods Highest in Mycotoxins

Foods that are dried and stored for long periods of time are susceptible to mycotoxins. With that in mind, here are the top 13 foods highest in mycotoxins:⁸

  1. Corn
  2. Peanuts
  3. Wheat
  4. Barley
  5. Sorghum
  6. Rye
  7. Rice
  8. Cheese
  9. Milk
  10. Coffee⁹
  11. Chocolate
  12. Legumes
  13. Cereals

19 Toxic Mold Symptoms

The human leukocyte antigen system (HLA) is controlled by genes that code certain proteins on the outside of cell membranes.¹⁰ These proteins have an important role in our body’s immune response.  Some of us have certain HLA-DR gene combinations that make us genetically susceptible to mold illness or what is commonly referred to as chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS).

Dr. Scott and I like to describe this genetic susceptibility in terms of a flower pot metaphor. Imagine that your body is a flower pot. Normally, this pot would have holes in the bottom of it so that anything that pours into the pot can drain out the bottom. For those of us with genetic susceptibility to mold-related illness, it is as if we have a flower pot without any holes in the bottom of it so that what pours in can’t drain out. 

The exposures we have over our lifetime then become cumulative and either a significant exposure or some other stressor cause our pot to overflow.  Mopping up the floor won’t be enough to help CIRS. We have to turn off the ‘hose’ of toxins pouring in while we theoretically carve out new holes in the bottom of the flowerpot.

If a reaction in your body has been triggered due to mold, you will be permanently more sensitive to future mold exposures. This may mean you’re more sensitive to mold in food and also to water-damaged buildings.

Normally, if you’re a healthy individual and you don’t have these HLA-DR gene combinations, a little bit of mold in your food won’t hurt you (there are exceptions, of course). However, if you are susceptible, which 25 percent of the population are, you will be more sensitive to mold in your foods and your home.¹¹ People with the HLA-DR gene combinations are often called, “canaries in the coal mine” because they’re the first ones to become sick from moldy buildings.

More often than not, when we have a patient come into our office with mold-related illness, they usually are experiencing extreme fatigue and feel like they’ve been sick forever with no explanation.

Image of a woman touching her forehead with her eyes closed. Experiencing fatigue and headache related to mold illness.

The 19 most common toxic mold symptoms include:

  1. Extreme fatigue
  2. Brain fog
  3. Memory problems
  4. Mood swings
  5. Depression
  6. Difficulty concentrating
  7. Weakness
  8. Muscle aches
  9. Light sensitivity
  10. Chronic cough
  11. Sinus issues
  12. Vertigo
  13. Metallic taste in the mouth
  14. Static shocks
  15. Sugar cravings
  16. Inability to regulate temperature
  17. Digestive issues
  18. Excessive thirst and frequent urination
  19. Headaches

Mycotoxins Health Effects

In addition to chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS), mycotoxin exposure is associated with chronic fatigue and other illnesses including allergies, asthma, mast activation cell syndrome, mitochondrial disease, pulmonary diseases, and fungal rhinosinusitis.

It’s suspected that we don’t fully realize the widespread impact of mycotoxins on our health. Recent research suggests that mycotoxins are capable of causing cancer, cognitive issues, and more. Due to their extremely small size and various mechanisms, mycotoxins can have incredibly damaging effects in the body. 

Depending on the type of mycotoxin, they can cause:

  • Damage to DNA
  • Induce cancer¹²
  • Cause renal failure
  • Decrease function of neurotransmitters
  • Induce seizures and tremors¹³
  • Increase lipid oxidation
  • Increase oxidative stress¹⁴ 
  • Impair the mitochondria
  • Inhibit protein synthesis
  • Suppress glutathione
  • Cause neuronal damage

The widespread damage mycotoxins can cause in the body makes related illnesses very difficult to diagnose and treat. If you suspect you’ve been exposed to mold, you should make an appointment with a doctor who has experience in mold-related issues.

Image of medications that may be used for mold illness.

Mold Illness Treatment

When it comes to treating mold illness there are certain protocols that have been widely publicized. Because of our personal experience with CIRS and our vast experience with patients, we have created our own  Fully Functional® CIRS Treatment Protocol. It is a comprehensive and personalized approach geared at IDENTIFYING and REDUCING mold/mycotoxin exposure while OPTIMIZING detoxification and SUPPORTING the immune system.

Here’s are some important steps and suggestions we have for minimizing mycotoxins in your home:

  1. Priority number one is removing yourself from the moldy environment. This includes getting rid of porous items that came from the moldy environment.
  2. Next, you need to get on a very clean, mold-free diet and have adequate hydration. The air you breathe needs to be clean. I recommend using a water filter and an air purification system. Make sure the air purification system filters out particles of 0.1 microns or less.
  3. Test for and treat any underlying conditions, especially MARCoNs.
  4. Use binders to help pull toxins out of the body. When you’re detoxing from mold, it’s important that you avoid becoming constipated. Magnesium citrate can be used to aid in regular bowel movements. Our magnesium can be purchased here.
  5. We also highly recommend regular infrared sauna use to sweat.
  6. Dry brushing also helps optimize detoxification.
  7. Eliminate food sensitivities, sugar, alcohol, and foods known for being high in mycotoxins.
  8. Use glutathione (and nutrients to help support glutathione production in the body including N-acetylcysteine and glycine), our body’s most potent detoxifier, to help flush these toxins from the system.
  9. Consider innovative treatments including pulsed electromagnetic frequency treatment, ozone therapy, and occasionally immunoglobulins when needed.
  10. Work with a Functional Medicine doctor who is an expert in mold-related illness.

Finding a Functional Medicine Doctor for Mold Illness

If you suspect you’ve been exposed to mold,  you should make an appointment with a Functional Medicine doctor familiar with mold-related illnesses.

We are considered experts in mold-related illness and it is one of the most common conditions we see in our practice. This diagnosis can feel daunting but you don’t have to do it alone. You can book an appointment by clicking here. We are also happy to speak with you at (317) 989-8463, Monday-Thursday, from 8AM – 5PM Eastern time.

We see patients from all over the country but do require one in-office appointment per year. The rest can be done via phone. If you’d prefer to find someone in your own area, I recommend checking the Institute for Functional Medicine for a doctor and looking for someone experienced in mold-related illness.

Sources:
1 https://www.epa.gov/report-environment
2 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19793773/
3 https://iaqscience.lbl.gov
4 https://iaqscience.lbl.gov
5 https://moldpedia.com/mycotoxins
6 https://cmr.asm.org/content/16/3/497.full
7 https://www.fema.gov/pdf/rebuild/recover/fema_mold_brochure_english.pdf
8 https://www.fsis.usda.gov/
9 https://daveasprey.com/one-ugly-mug-the-science-behind-just-one-mold-toxin-in-your-coffee/
10 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HLA-DR
11 https://www.survivingmold.com/docs/Berndtson_essay_2_CIRS.pdf
12 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8843466/
13 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3935042/
14 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3179161/

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