Mold 101: Mold Toxicity

Mold’s Effects on Human Health & Treatments

Mold toxicity is an important topic to address since I have seen a significant rise in mold-related symptoms here in New York City. Symptoms can vary depending on the individual and their lifestyle, and mold is often a great pretender and instigator of dormant viruses or bacteria. Unfortunately, the signs of mold toxicity are often unrecognized or misdiagnosed by traditional doctors. 

mold spore education

Traditional doctors examine you, but without proper context, they often fail to see what is causing your health problems. Mold illness goes predominately undiagnosed due to the inordinate lack of knowledge on environmental and toxicological diseases in the US. Unfortunately, this leaves a large number of people to advocate for themselves, turning to the internet and Facebook groups to heal. Yes those are helpful (email me if you would like suggestions on the best Mold Toxicity Facebook groups) but they often misdirect people into ill-timed and improper treatment paths. When you work with a functional doctor, we go over your habits and environment to paint a complete picture of your lifestyle, make sure to run the correct labs throughout treatment and get to the root cause and downstream effects of the mold toxicity in your body. 

More and more people are coming to me, with an array of symptoms that usually appear in those who recently moved, joined a new gym, or started a new job. They come into a new mold-harboring environment without even realizing it, and then they can struggle for a long time without proper diagnosis and treatment. Mold can cause oxidative stress, trigger inflammation, worsen immune function, encourage brain fog, insomnia and headaches due to brain inflammation, cause itchy rashes and hives, and re-engage dormant issues like Lyme disease. Indoor mold is often not visible to the human eye and highly dangerous, carcinogenic, neurotoxic, and potentially life threatening.

In this article, we’ll go over the most common health effects toxic mold patients face, common mold hiding places, diseases that go hand in hand with mold poisoning, as well as my methods of diagnosis and treatments.

mold spore education

What Is Mold and Where Can You Find It?

Mold is a type of fungus and it can found essentially everywhere, with no consensus on the exact number of species, but estimates range from tens to hundreds of thousands, according to CDC. Mold species reproduce with spores, which, when inhaled, can trigger allergic reactions. Certain mold species also produce mycotoxins that trigger a series of adverse downstream side effects in humans. 

Mold prefer warm damp areas, which is why they are commonly found indoors, in rooms with high humidity like bathrooms, basements, and kitchens. But. don’t think other areas are immune, as mold can appear at any damp place, including carpets, drywall, under wallpaper, in furniture stuffing, inside leaky pipes, flooded areas, and more. It can be especially dangerous if a mold-harboring area is in your bedroom since it’s where you spend hours upon hours deeply breathing, or closet since all of your clothes will be exposed as a result.

Although your home is the first place you should inspect, other sites like your work can be causing the problem as well. Mold can grow inside air vents, and then it can spread around the office quickly, affecting the health of all employees. Or maybe you joined a new gym, with a less than clean locker room or sauna where it’s humid; the perfect environment for mold growth.

Mold is also quite common in food. The FAO — the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization — estimates that 25 percent of the world’s food crops are contaminated with mycotoxins.  Peanuts & coffee are the biggest offenders, spices (coriander, turmeric and ginger) and grains are up there as well. For an in depth list of mold species and watch outs head to the World Health Organization’s website.

So, What is Toxic Mold Exposure? 

Mycotoxicosis /my·co·tox·i·co·sis/ (mi″ko-tok-sĭ-ko´sis): poisoning caused by exposure to mycotoxins.

Toxic mold exposure is in essence, mycotoxicosis. For reference, a mycotoxin is a toxic secondary metabolite produced by mold. Mycotoxicosis, is used synonymously with mold toxicity, or mold illness and it occurs when a person does not have antibodies to mycotoxins and mycotoxins have accumulated to high levels in their brain and body. While, not all species of mold produce pathogens (disease causing elements), several species of fungi are known as pathogenic and produce toxic substances – mycotoxins being one of them.

mold spore education

Many of us are exposed to mold daily, however 75% of us are genetically able to fight off the toxicity. So what does that mean for the other 25%? Let’s find out.

Mold and Your Genes

The answer to ones genetic predisposition toward mold illness lies in the expression of their HLA-DR gene. Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) is the protein the HLA-DR gene expresses and is found on most cells in your body which signal to your immune system which cells are okay and which it should fight off. When this protein is functioning properly the immune response is activated when foreign threats enter the body – such as biotoxins. Unfortunately, those with the ill-functioning HLA-DR gene have a misprocessing of antigens, which inhibit the immune system from reacting correctly to infection and toxins. Without the production of antibodies that are needed for deactivating and removing mold toxins these mycotoxins are stored throughout the body. More of than not, they store in the fatty regions of the body, like the brain, and wreak havoc on one’s health. The body also begins to exhibit autoimmune symptoms and disease states ad the body loses its ability to correctly differentiate between foreign and owned cells. With over 36 different diseases that can result from a HLA-DR carrier’s exposure to mold it’s no wonder that traditional medicine has trouble treating toxic mold symptoms. 

So if you have a gene mutations such as MTHFR and HLA – which one in four people do – your immune system is not able to produce some of the vital antibodies to mycotoxins. This means that at least a quarter of the population has a difficult time fighting off the mycotoxins that are so prevalent in our environment.

How Does Mold Enter Your Body

There are several ways in which mycotoxins can enter your body:

  • Breathing – When inhaling, spores, and mycotoxins come in contact with our respiratory system. 
  • Eating – Ingestion is another common way of pathogens entering our body, especially if the food has been sitting on your counter for some time.
  • Skin contact – Mycotoxins can enter our bodies even through dermal absorption, especially if there are cuts and wounds on the surface. 

Mycotoxins mostly enter our body when inhaling, and the mucous membrane in our nose is there to stop it. However, when the air concentration of these molecules is high, like in mold-infested rooms or a wet sauna, they can get past our mucus membrane and invade our upper respiratory tract and lungs, causing infections and irritations. And once mycotoxins come in contact with your blood, they can travel anywhere. They have been detected in many tissues and organs, urine, cancerous breast tissue, breast milk, spinal fluid, lymph nodes, kidneys, and it looks like the sinuses are the primary mold harboring places. Molds can also be found in brain tissue, and the effects are infections of the central nervous system.

What Are The Most Common Mold Toxicity Symptoms?

In my experience, a wide array of symptoms can manifest if you’ve been exposed to mold spores. Symptoms will vary depending on how long someone has been in a moldy environment, what type of mold and mycotoxins are detected, as well as the overall health status of the individual, genetics and lifestyle factors. 

Some patients ask me: “What are the symptoms of toxic black mold exposure?” and the truth is that symptoms vary because the variations of mold toxicity is extremely vast. That is why it is essential to work progressively and systematically with a health practitioner who can help you detox your body of the toxins, byproducts and address potential co-conditions.

asperigilloma
Aspergilloma of the lung and close-up view of Aspergillus fungi, 3D illustration. Also known as mycetoma, or fungus ball, a lesion produced by fungi Aspergillus in immunocompromised patients

Common symptoms associated with toxic mold exposure include:

  • Allergy-like symptoms
  • Hormone changes
  • Gastrointestinal issues 
  • Mood changes
  • Immune system dysregulation
  • Energy 
  • Skin rashes
  • Brain fog
  • Visual impairment
  • Neurological impairment
  • Night sweats
  • Tremors 
  • Vertigo
  • Hair loss

Multiple studies demonstrated that long-term exposure could also lead to feelings of chronic fatigue, anxiety, depression, impaired memory, decreased libido, and stomach pains. Research shows that our neurological, respiratory, and immune systems are most affected by water damage and mold.  A study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology showed that mold exposure in early childhood led to an increase in asthma prevalence in children at the age of 7.

Mold toxins are lipophilic, meaning their molecular structure consists of fatty acid molecules. Because of this, mold toxins migrate to and deposit in the brain because the brain is the ‘fattiest’ organ, consisting of 60% fat – and thus neurological symptoms often coincide with mold toxicity. 

Because mold exposure symptoms are different between individuals and overlap with so many other conditions, general non-integrative physicians often do not even consider mold toxicity when making a diagnosis. People often suspect conditions like Lyme disease, Fibromyalgia, Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth, and Ehlers-Danlos Syndromes. Often these conditions can overlap but in truth are a byproduct or re-engaged due to mycotoxins in the body. 

A patient of mine had been misdiagnosed with thyroid problems for a near decade and kept feeling worse and worse. They had brain fog, excessive fatigue, and hair fall and after one consult and a review of labs we realized it was mold toxicity at the root. With proper treatment that included IV’s, detoxification, supplementation and binders, my patient recovered in full within a couple months and is now off her thyroid medication. 

Iv therapy for mold toxicity in nyc
IV detoxification & nutrients support a mold treatment protocol

Approaches to Mold Exposure Testing

When mold exposure was first identified as a health issue, the main tests used looked purely for general inflammation markers and antibodies. The test in and of itself did not actually identify true toxicity, nor was it specific. And, if your immune system is not functioning normally there was a risk of a false negative. The tests now are much more specific and we’ll review them in detail later in the article.  

Interestingly enough, mold can cause systemic effects in the body from acute or chronic exposure. Someone who understands that well and is  also a pioneer in understanding how low-dose biotoxin exposure, including toxic mold and algae, impacts our health and contributes to disease-states is Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker. His website SurvivingMold.com, is a website that is coveted in the biotoxin-effected community. In 2010, a group of people working in the mold field published this consensus report based on the expert experiences of those in the biotoxin-field and dubbed mold toxicity a Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS). It’s referred to as that throughout PubMed and since the report was published. 

His idea is that people who are more prone to illness have a genetic makeup that prevents them from getting rid of all toxins. When a foreign particle enters our body, it binds with white cell receptors and is noticed by our immune system. That leads to the beginning of antibody response, which typically results in the elimination of foreign substances if they have been recognized as dangerous. Dr. Shoemaker also highlights the importance of reviewing ones genetics, immune system responses and tests together.

Tests I Run For Mold Toxicity Exposure: 

  • Traditional Lab Testing: I look at VEGF, Transforming Growth Factor Beta -1, VIP, HLA-DR, C4a, Alpha-MSH, cortisol, Leptin, ADH, DHEA-S, and Testosterone. I also look at MMP9 blood level, as it is a good indicator of biotoxin-related inflammation.
  • Ermi Testing: The Environmental Relative Moldiness Index was developed to detect mold contamination in buildings.
  • VCS Test: I use the Visual Contrast Sensitivity Test as a screening test to see if you could be suffering from mold exposure.
  • Great Plains Lab Testing: I use the MycoTOX Profile through Great Plains Lab Testing as another invaluable tool to assess mold exposure.
  • Genetic Test: The official name of the gene I look out for  is “major histocompatibility complex, class II, DR beta 1.” HLA-DRB1 is the gene’s official symbol. The HLA-DRB1 gene provides instructions for making a protein that plays a critical role in the immune system. As addressed in above the Genetics section, the HLA complex helps the immune system distinguish the body’s own proteins from proteins made by foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria. I look at both HLA-DRB1 and HLA-DRB5 genes. 

What Does Mold Toxicity Treatment Look Like?

Before starting the treatment, you should consider prepping the body for three days by taking curcumin, Alka Seltzer Gold, and glutathione. I’ve found over the years this protocol really works extremely well in reducing the herx reaction, which, for those of you who have never had one, is a short-term worsening of symptoms at the beginning of treatment protocols. 

mold toxicity and treatment
  • REMOVE YOURSELF FROM THE ENVIRONMENT: The first step of healing from mold toxicity is removing yourself from a mold-infested environment. That is a non-negotiable. Also you need to remove all contaminated articles of clothing, furniture, etc. as well. It is a massive undertaking but if you continue to expose yourself to mold throughout treatment you will render the treatment ineffective. 
  • PEPTIDE THERAPY: The process of healing from mold toxicity continues by taking specific peptides to reduce the body’s inflammation. I use RG3 Synapsin, BPC157 (Body Protection Compound), and VIP (Viscoactive Intestinal Peptide). The peptides regulate RNA replications in mitochondria, which are essential for fueling our cells with energy. That way, your cells have enough power to fight inflammation and to repair cell damage. That is essential for the restoration of neurons, clearing brain fog, and regaining clarity.

RG3 Synapsin and BPC157 are administered in the form of a nasal spray. Their goal is to stimulate the regeneration of neurons by helping the production of NAD. NAD is one of the essential energy molecules in our cells, and it is necessary for metabolic processes. RG3 Synapsin is combined with B12 Methylcobalamin, to increase the blood/brain barrier absorption and accelerate neuron regeneration.

The use of these peptides is essential in the early stages of treatment, as they support the clearing of brain inflammation, improve energy levels, and help the immune system re-regulate. 

  • DETOX & BINDERS:  Binders are insoluble particles that can pass through your gut unabsorbed and their role is to attract and bind toxins inside your gut to eventually remove them. Binders can do so since they are positively charged, which attracts a negative charge of mycotoxins. Once bound, mycotoxins can’t go through the intestine wall, and they are excreted from the body. However, the type of binder to use is very much dependent on the type of mold you have. If ochratoxin is the primary toxin, then the medications cholestyramine or Welchol® will be the best binders for this type of toxin. If you have aflatoxins or tricothenes, then chlorella, activated coconut charcoal and bentonite clay are the best binders. If someone has all the mycotoxins, then we would put together a binder stack that covers every toxin. And again, once we know which toxins are primary, we can be more specific about which binders to use.
  • SWEATING: Infrared saunas can help get rid of mycotoxins faster by helping to mobilize big soluble particles. Studies show that saunas can significantly help with the elimination of mold and mycotoxins from the body. Sweating is also an effective way of flushing out heavy metals, which allows binders to be a lot more productive, and your body to detox more quickly.
biohacking doctor in nyc
Sauna and a binder for those healing from mold
  • SUPPLEMENTATION: Other supplements like NAC, glutathione, alpha-lipoic acid, phospholipids can help reduce inflammation. Since they have antioxidant properties, these supplements eliminate free radicals and minimize cell damage.  Vitamin D is also a significant part of mold toxicity treatment, as research has shown that it can reduce asthma and allergy symptoms, and help with other respiratory problems. Mycotoxins target our mitochondria, which results in ATP production drop that leads to fatigue. CoQ10 is a natural antioxidant that protects our mitochondria, and studies show that taking regular CoQ10 supplements helps eliminate fatigue.
  • NUTRITION: Certain foods like wheat, barley, rye, corn, peanuts, sugar, even alcohol, and hard cheeses should be avoided if you are particularly sensitive to mold.
mold toxicity treatment

Hydrating properly and drinking dandelion tea can speed up the treatment. Studies have shown potential antioxidant and hypolipidemic effects of Dandelion, which can help with the overall procedure. Cholestyramine, a common mold binder, has the potential to cause nutrient deficiencies, which is why it is essential to use it and similar binders at the correct time, and alongside a medical professional.

Don’t forget to eat your greens, as chlorophyll (CHL) has antifungal properties that help eliminate mold toxicity symptoms. CHL can do that by protecting cells from mycotoxin-induced damage, especially from one of the most potent and common mycotoxins – aflatoxin.

How to Get Rid of Mold in Your Home

Although there is no consensus on how much mold is harmful to your health, I advise my patients to act as soon as they spot any fungal growth in their homes. If beyond your ability to clean it is best to hire professionals.. You can find mold remediation contractors on these websites:

  • NORMI (National Organization of Remediators and Mold Inspectors)
  • The IAQA (Indoor Air Quality Association)
  • IICRC (Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification)
  • ACAC (American Council for Accredited Certification)
  • RIA (Restoration Industry Association)
  • The IAQA (Indoor Air Quality Association)

You can also take some steps to prevent mold from growing in your home. Inspect all areas around windows, doors, and plumbing. Get a dehumidifier and keep your air moisture levels below 50%. Ventilate your rooms properly and make sure to turn on the bathroom fan when you’re taking a shower. 

NEVER USE BLEACH TO CLEAN MOLD! 

If a small area of your home is infested, you can attempt to clean it, but don’t use bleach. It was labeled ineffective by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and it can even increase toxicity of mycotoxins, worsening your mold exposure symptoms. Instead, you can use natural products like tea tree oil, which proved to be a potent antifungal agent.

If you suspect that you might be suffering from mold toxicity as you are experiencing unexplained symptoms like fatigue, weakness, headaches, and brain fog, book an appointment with me today so that we can find out the root of your health problems! Once we determine if mold is to blame, we can organize mold eradication plan and start the treatment.

References:

  1. https://survivingtoxicmold.com/symptoms_list
  2. https://www.clinicaltherapeutics.com/article/S0149-2918(18)30229-7/fulltext
  3. http://www.fao.org/3/x2100t/x2100t08.htm
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  27. https://www.emlab.com/services/ermi-testing/
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