Is this common household toxin affecting your health?
Several months ago, I had a man and his wife come to my visit due to a host of symptoms in which lab testing revealed thyroid problems. They both developed hyperthyroidism, where thyroid hormones are too high. Symptoms varied somewhat for both, but each had an elevated pulse rate, felt warmer than usual, had insomnia, and anxiety. The wife had lost weight, and the husband had elevated blood pressure and mild chest pain. Hyperthyroid is much less common than hypothyroidism (deficiency of thyroid hormones). As I took this couple’s history, I found out they had a mold problem in the house they were renting. When asked why they were still living in this home, they responded that they did not think the management would take care of the mold problem. As well, it would be challenging to move with three children.
In addition to home mold testing by a mold company (which showed problems), I ordered urinary mycotoxin levels. Mycotoxins are toxins produced by molds, which really are fungi. Mycotoxins and fungi can cause illness in humans and animals. The term mildew is a layperson’s way of referring to visible mold growing in an indoor environment such as fabrics and wood. Both of my patients had extremely elevated urinary levels of certain mycotoxins (meaning the body burden level is high) associated with water-damaged buildings. It was probably no coincidence that both developed uncommon thyroid diseases around the same time.
What are Fungi, Mold, and Mycotoxins?
Fungi are microbes that are found throughout the natural environment. They serve a purpose by breaking down decaying and dead materials in the environment. Fungi use dirt, dust, wood, paper, paint, insulation, carpet, wallboard, ceiling tiles, and other common materials for nutrients. They gather nutrients from the substances they breakdown. They can thrive indoors and outdoors over a broad temperature range when there are moisture and nutrients available. Most prefer a temperature of 59F-86F. Disease promoting mold species such as Aspergillus and Penicillium only require a minor amount of moisture to thrive. Mold disperses into the environment in spore forms. People acquire mycotoxins from water-damaged buildings through the air they breathe, contact with their skin, and food contamination from mycotoxins in the air.
Modern research has now shown that mold contamination in buildings is quite common. One study from Harvard reported the prevalence of indoor mold growth in an assessment of 5 communities North American homes ranged between 22% to 57%.
There are many mycotoxins associated with mold toxicity. Following are four major groups of mycotoxins associated with water-damaged buildings:
Ochratoxin: most common is Ochratoxin A. This mycotoxin originates from water-damaged buildings and certain foods (cereal grains, coffee, grapes) wine, beer, dried beans, and spices). It is associated with serious health problems and is associated with toxicity of the kidneys, genes, immune system, nervous system, and is considered a possible human carcinogen (cancer-causing agent).
Aflatoxins: Aflatoxin B1 is considered to a very carcinogenic mycotoxin. It is also toxic to kidneys, genes, immune system, and liver. It is a leading cause of liver cancer in developing countries.
Trichothecenes: includes “black mold” that people commonly see in their home. This greenish-black mold is caused by Stachybotrys chartarum. It grows on materials with a high cellulose content such as gypsum board, paper, and fiberboard. Trichothecenes are extremely toxic and have been used as biological warfare agents. They can cause harmful effects on multiple organs that can cause vomiting and diarrhea, weight loss, nervous disorders, cardiovascular problems, immune system depression, blood clotting problems, skin toxicity, reproductive problems, and bone marrow damage.
Gliotoxin-mycotoxin produced by aspergillus, penicillium, and candida albicans. These mycotoxins can cause immune suppression, lung infection that can spread to other organs, and nerve toxicity.
And there are more concerns since fungi in water-damaged buildings can have direct infectious activity in addition to the mycotoxins released. So, you have a double whammy, the infectious component of fungi, and the mycotoxins they release. If that wasn’t enough, water-damaged buildings also tend to have various bacteria that cause disease by causing infection and releasing toxins known as endotoxins that damage the immune and nervous system.
Many Illnesses Related to Mold
The respiratory illnesses that mold causes that are widely accepted include cause asthma, respiratory infections, sinusitis, runny nose, cough, and allergy problems is widely accepted. However, there is a growing amount of published literature demonstrating the wide-ranging effects of mold exposure, including inflammatory reactions. This includes:
Immune System Problems
Neurological Problems including cognitive impairment, balance problems, tremors, headache, and others
One published review paper noted that most people with mold toxicity have numerous symptoms which can be debilitating.
Indicators that your building may have dampness and microbial growth:
Condensation on surfaces or in structures such as windows
Visible mold, like black mold
Poorly maintained air conditioning system
History of water damage
One medical journal recommended that anyone with a chronic respiratory disease or anyone chronic illness (especially nervous or immune system-related) should have the buildings they inhabit evaluated for water damage and mold toxins. This makes sense since 50% of buildings in North America show water damage!
How to deal with mold toxicity
If you have a health condition that may be related to mold exposure, or if you suspect mold growth in your home or work-place, the best thing to do is to work with healthcare professionals knowledgeable in this area. A doctor that is well versed in nutritional and integrative medicine is very helpful in developing a comprehensive treatment program.
Identifying the type and severity of the mold in the building is of paramount importance. As well, a doctor can order a variety of tests, including urinary mycotoxins, to see how the body is affected.
Treatment from a building-related illness from mold requires being removed from the environment, having the mold problem fixed in the building, and being treated for possible fungal infection and mycotoxin burden.
Follow an antifungal diet. An excellent choice is the Kaufmann Diet, as provided in the book Eating Your Way To Good Health.
Supplement with binders that bind mycotoxins and other toxins (bacterial endotoxins). Examples include activated charcoal, apple pectin, and clay.
Supplement with a herbal formula or individual items that are anti-fungal. Examples include oregano, grapeseed extract, resveratrol, and others.
Supplement with a formula or individual nutrients that support detoxification. Examples include glutathione, N-acetylcysteine, vitamin C, milk thistle, B vitamins, phosphatidylcholine, and magnesium. We also use intravenous nutrients at our clinic, including glutathione.
Take a probiotic that supports immunity, gut health, and detoxification.
Consider additional detoxification therapy, such as sauna therapy. We use ozone-steam sauna therapy at our clinic.
Use a dehumidifier and air filtration system in your home.
Good News for Mold Sufferers with Holistic Treatment
I treated the husband and wife for their thyroid problems which initially required medication. However, after moving out of their home and following the nutritional and detoxification protocol recommendations they made a full recovery and did not require further medication. Interestingly, their teenage son had developed chest pain and shortness of breath living in the contaminated mold home. He also followed my treatment and made a full recovery.
Hope, J. (2013). A Review of the Mechanism of Injury and Treatment Approaches for Illness Resulting from Exposure to Water-Damaged Buildings, Mold, and Mycotoxins. The Scientific World Journal, 2013, 1-20. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/767482
Pizzorno, J., & Shippy, A. (2016). Is Mold Toxicity Really a Problem for Our Patients? Part 2—Nonrespiratory Conditions. IMCJ, 15(3). Retrieved 2 May 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4982651/pdf/8-14.pdf.
Pizzorno, J. (2016). Is Mold Toxicity Really a Problem for Our Patients? Part I—Respiratory Conditions. IMCJ, 15(2). Retrieved 2 May 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4898283/pdf/6-10.pdf
Ratnaseelan, A., Tsilioni, I., & Theoharides, T. (2018). Effects of Mycotoxins on Neuropsychiatric Symptoms and Immune Processes. Clinical Therapeutics, 40(6), 903-917. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clinthera.2018.05.004
Storey, E., Dangman, K., Schenck, P., DeBernardo, R., Yang, C., Bracker, A., & Hodgson, M. (2004). Guidance for Clinicians on the Recognition and Management of Health Effects related to Mold Exposure and Moisture Indoors. Health.uconn.edu. Retrieved 2 May 2020, from https://health.uconn.edu/occupational-environmental/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2015/12/mold_guide.pdf.