Mold is a complicated topic. In Part I, we addressed where mold can be found in our homes ; in Part II, where mold can be found in our food. In Part III we will discuss what makes mold illness so complicated and how to start to address it.
All molds are potentially allergenic. Most commonly, people can be allergic to mold spores. Think of mold spores almost like what pollen is for plants. They become airborne and help with mold reproduction, and they are present in nearly all environments. People can develop allergies to breathing these mold spores, and develop reactions much like one experiences from seasonal pollen allergies. These reactions are an over activated histamine mediated immune response that can cause itchy/watery eyes, coughing, sneezing and even asthmatic restricted breathing symptoms. Use of antihistamines and removal of the mold pollen with a good HEPA filter (some good options include: https://www.dyson.com/air-treatment/purifiers, https://www.airdoctorpro.com/, https://www.iqair.com/us/, and https://foustco.com/all-products/air-purifiers/) can dramatically improve these symptoms. Remember, if you have mold growing inside your home, you do need to have that remediated to have the best benefit from any treatments or air filters.
Mold Illness (CIRS):
Mold illness, also known as CIRS, or Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome, is both difficult to treat and to diagnose. CIRS tends to occur after significant exposure to a water damaged building (read more in Part I). The issue here is the toxic metabolites produced by certain molds like Stachybotrys, Asperguillus, and Fusarium, known as mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are biotoxins which are very small, fat-soluble molecules that easily pass through the cell membrane, making them difficult to detox. Like mold spores, mycotoxins travel through the air. They can be inhaled, absorbed through the skin or ingested in mold-contaminated foods (read more in Part II). These toxic chemicals cause an inflammatory response which can create symptoms that are widely varied and vague. These include central nervous system disruptions such as dizziness, cognitive impairment, insomnia, mood changes (either anxiety or depression) and a low threshold for pain; Mast Cell responses like itching and wheezing; and gastric issues like digestive pain and discomfort. In addition, CIRS can be associated with and progress to autoimmune type reactions with positive ANA titers and hypercoagulable markers (like elevated d-dimer).
A strong association has been established between people who have HLA gene types and mold illness. The HLA gene variants are carried by approximately 24% of the population. Those who carry these genes tend to have a more difficult time detoxifying from mold toxins. This can sometimes help to explain why two people who are both exposed to the same moldy environment may respond in very different ways.
It is important to note that often people with a chronic inflammatory response related to mold toxin exposure have been often diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, attention deficit disorder, post traumatic stress. In addition, people with neurodegenerative conditions, like: Alzheimers Disease and Parkinsons disease have been found to have mold toxins. All of these conditions can get some level of improvement if mold toxins are found and addressed with removal of the source of exposure and some detoxification.
How do I know If I have Mold toxin related symptoms?
Diagnosis of symptoms related to mold toxins most commonly requires a history of persistent unremitting symptoms and history of ongoing exposure to a source of mold exposure (think water damage in a building, home or work place). To find out if this might be at the core of your health issues, you might benefit from trying a Visual Contrast Sensitivity test (VCS Test - https://www.vcstest.com) This is a simple online screening test that measures the neurological function of the optic nerve and can help to increase suspicion of the presence of mold toxin exposure. A 1997 study by Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker and Ken Hudnell showed that those people with mold toxin illness were more likely to have abnormal VCS test results. This test, though interesting, is not conclusive and should not be considered diagnostic. An irregular result may mean that further investigation is warranted.
In addition to the VCS test, there are also Urine mycotoxin tests, which directly measure the presence of mold toxins in the urine. In NYS we use the https://realtimelab.com/product/mycotoxin-test/. If this shows mold toxins in the urine, there is a very high suspicion for mold toxin exposure. However, if it's negative, it doesn't mean there is no mold toxin exposure, since some people's ability to detoxify mold toxins may be compromised and can cause false negative results.
It's important to remember that Mold allergy and Mold toxin exposure can cause a multifaceted, multisystemic illness which requires a mold-literate doctor to diagnose and to treat. Because people respond differently, cases are highly individualized. The best thing to do if you suspect you may have mold illness is to seek out a mold literate doctor, like those trained at the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (www.AAEMonline.org).
Helpful Tools for Mold Toxin Detoxification:
The tools that tend to help the most in detoxifying from mycotoxins are ones that can help to extract the fat-soluble molecules from the cells and ones that support phase II liver detoxification. Additionally, it is important to ensure that the toxins make their way out of the body and are not recirculated.
Sauna -Whether you use a sweedish or infrared sauna, through the act of seated sweating, they are one of the best tools for improving the detoxification process. The act of sweating slowly and successfully moves toxins in general out of the body through the skin. While most don't think much of the importance of sweat in helping to detoxify, it really is very effective and important. The one challenge with sauna, is that some people just don't sweat that easily. This can be true in the beginning, but don't give up, stick with it and you'll see some amazing benefits for your overall health. A good resource for IR sauna is - https://www.standwellness.com/infrared-sauna.
Broccoli Sprout Extract - Broccoli sprouts are very rich in sulforaphane. This sulfur-rich compound is found in all cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, watercress and bok choy. Sulforaphane aids in phase II liver detox which is critical for toxin removal. A good supplement to add to help with improving Liver detoxification is DIM Detox - 2 caps at dinner can be very helpful.
Ox Bile - Ox Bile is a crucial tool to include in any detoxification regime. Bile’s job in the body is to aid in the digestion and process of fats and fat-soluble toxins, but it also is an important part of improving liver and gallbladder drainage. This means that it helps to get toxins out of the liver in an efficient way. A sign that a person could be deficient in bile is either floating stools or constipation. If this is the case, consider using an ox bile supplement, take 1 with breakfast and dinner.
Binders - As your body passes fat soluble and other toxins into the digestive tract, it is important to ensure that the toxins do not get reabsorbed and recirculate back into the body. Binders, like: activated charcoal, zeolite, and bentonite clay help by binding to the toxins and escorting them out of the body.
Most importantly, it is important to work with your mold literate health care provider to help individualize a plan to help you find the source of the mold exposure and then work with you step by step to help your body with an effective detoxification strategy.
This blog is a collaboration by
Dr. Morrison and Tapp Francke.