Is Mold life saving or toxic?
The answer is that mold can be both life saving and toxic, depending on the circumstances.
There are some molds that are used to produce medications and foods. The strain penicillium is used to create the lifesaving antibiotic penicillin, and the mold strain Rhizpus is used in the production of the anti-inflammatory drug cortisone. Other strains are used to make cheeses, like Camembert or to make bread, beer and dry-aged steaks, tempeh, soy sauce and salami. The point is, mold is essential for our current society since it is used in so may beneficial ways. Mold is also essential to our ecosystem as it works to recycle nature’s organic waste. For more information about the importance of mold in our environment check out the movie, Fantastic Fungi. (Warning- you might fall in love with fungus watching this amazing film…).
While most strains of mold are harmless, there are strains that can be problematic and cause severe health problems. The issue with mold occurs when it gets into your home and grows in an unsuspected dark, damp place. These places in your home can occur where water leaks around windows, pipes, basements, or from your roof causing water damage. It is approximated that 40-60% of modern homes have water damage. This is due to the fact that modern building materials are more susceptible to mold. Materials like paper-based drywall are more vulnerable to water damage than their older counterparts like stone or brick. The mold issue is compounded by the fact that modern homes are built with less airflow to help improve energy conservation. This makes it more difficult for any trapped water to dry out. Additionally, the rapid pace of building homes that has taken place over the last 40 years has lead to a greater chance for poor construction quality, leading to poorly-fitting pipes, which leaves a greater chance for leakage and for mold growth.
As mold grows in water damaged areas, they can affect us in two specific ways. They can produce mold toxins and they can cause allergies. Mold toxins, like trichothecen (from Stachybotrys) and ochratoxin, aflatoxin and gliotoxin (from Aspergillus and Penicillium), when growing in an a damp poorly ventilated area, can accumulate in the area around the growth of the mold. As the mold toxins increase in an area, if a person happens to be living in the space, they can slowly over time get greater levels of exposure and not realize the exposure is happening. These mold toxins cause a host of health issues, like brain fog, poor concentration, exhaustion and upper respiratory issues.
In addition to molds creating mold toxins, they also serve as allergenic triggers in susceptible individuals. This is why there can be multiple people living in a moldy environment but not all of them are reactive. Symptoms of mold allergy are very similar to symptoms of outdoor pollen allergy, only the symptoms are generally occurring all year long.
The most important thing to remember about mold is, ideally, prevent its growth by identifying and cleaning up water leaks as soon as they're detected. Keep a close eye on your living environment, and watch for water stains on the walls, ceiling and floors. Also, look for mold growth, which can occur in poorly ventilated bathrooms (mildew is a type of mold and can be a harbinger of other, more toxic mold growth). And, if you suspect mold is in your home due to persistent allergy or chronic symptoms, you can always consider taking a 1week vacation from your home and see if your symptoms improve. Then, return to your home environment and see if the symptoms return. That surely suggests exposure to something and suggests additional investigation is warranted.
So how can you tell if your house has mold?
1. Look for any places where there is obvious water damage. Look for evidence of leaks like a staining on your walls or ceilings. Water travels so the evidence of these leaks can show up anywhere, but check especially in the areas where there are more likely to be leaks. This includes anywhere there is a water source as in bathrooms, basements and kitchens.
2. Test the area using a Mold Test kit like this one. This works by leaving the kit open in the environment for a period of time. You then close the kit and see if anything grows on it. If it does send the kit in for testing to identify the type of mold growth.
3. You can also use an ERMI like this one by Mycometrics. This kit tests the air for the presence of mold both past and present. It works by identifying the mold via a dust sample. This can help to identify mycotoxins in the environment even if there is no current mold growth.
If there is evidence of mold in your home, it is best to contact a local mold remediator and make a plan for remediation or possibly even a move.
Keep an eye out for our next blog on Mold with more details about how it can adversely affect our health and what to do about it.
This blog is a collaboration by
Dr. Morrison and Tapp Francke.