Do you have a basement that is always damp and kind of smells a little funky? Or did your home ever experience water damage? If so, there’s a good chance that mold is growing and that your body is being exposed to its dangerous effects.
Don’t think you are out of the woods if you live in the southwest. Even though it’s not as damp there, mold and mycotoxins exist even in arid and dry desert environments. Arizona is actually in the top 6 states who have the worst mold problems.
Even without visible signs, there could still be mold growing in your home without you even being aware of it. What’s equally concerning is that your workplace or other areas that you spend the majority of your time could also be contaminated with mold. Your body could be dealing with mold toxicity every day without your knowledge.
While mold exposure may cause non-serious adverse effects like runny nose, watery eyes, coughing, wheezing, itchy throat, and skin irritation, it can also cause more severe health concerns that you should be aware of.
Mold and Mycotoxin-induced illnesses (MMII) are becoming more apparent to healthcare providers, especially functional medicine doctors since we look more in-depth at lifestyle factors and environmental toxins. More data is being presented that suggests mold may be the underlying reason for many health issues. It’s vital that we know if our body is being exposed to mold so we can find the source and eliminate it from our life and improve our wellbeing.
Mold and Mycotoxins
You might be wondering, “what exactly is mold and what’s mycotoxins?”. Mold is a type of fungus that usually grows in moist areas, outside or inside. It can range in color from purple, orange, black, and green to white. When it reproduces it spreads tiny spores off into the air. It’s the little spores we breathe in that can affect our health. While minute mold exposure isn’t too concerning, chronic exposure is what negatively affects a lot of patients.
Mycotoxins are a toxic secondary metabolite created from mold that can cause disease and even death in severe cases. Mycotoxins can be found where there is apparent mold (say in your home), as well as on the food that we eat. If mold was growing on a particular crop before or after harvest, it could produce mycotoxins that you then ingest.
Health Conditions Caused By Mold Exposure
If you are exposed to mold a little bit here and there, your body has a process to get rid of those toxins. However, if you are exposing your body every day to mold and mycotoxins, your body will struggle to keep up with eliminating them. Eventually, those toxins will build up and can cause issues throughout your body. Here are some health conditions that are widely being accepted as a result of mold exposures.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
One study from 2019, stated that 39.4% of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome patients said their symptoms of post-exertional malaise (delayed or significant worsening of CFS symptoms following physical activity) were because they were exposed to mold. In addition to that, 93% of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome patients whose urine was tested, had at least one mycotoxin present in the sample.
Changes to Your Gut Microbiome
It’s becoming clear that mycotoxins are disrupting the gut, particularly in the intestinal epithelial. When our gut is unhealthy, it can cause even more issues throughout the body, including hormone disruption, depression, and anxiety. So if you are exposed to mold on a regular basis, it could be affecting your gut health and therefore causing several other health issues.
However, the good news is that there has been some evidence of a bi-directional relationship between the gut and mycotoxins. So whenever our gut is healthy, our microbiome is capable of eliminating these mycotoxins from our bodies. Some main ways you can focus on improving your gut health are by eating more organic whole foods, learning how to manage stress, and avoiding antibiotics and other toxic substances (watch out for household cleaners!).
Patients who were exposed to mold had higher accounts of inflammatory symptoms and suffered more negative effects on their immune system. These patients tested had abnormally high levels of IgG, IgM, and IgA, which suggests an increased risk for autoimmunity. When patients experience mold exposure over long periods of time (mostly because they are unaware of it), it can cause chronic inflammation, which can cause a number of other serious medical issues as well.
Mold exposures and mycotoxins can cause neurological damage leading to dementia, pain syndromes, delirium, movement disorders, and disorders of balance and coordination. Many mold-exposed patients have elevated antibodies to neuronal antigens, which is an indicator that neurological issues may be present. One study showed how individuals who worked in buildings with water damage had significant loss of visual contrast sensitivity (VCS), which is a sensitive measure of neuro dysfunction.
Chronic Respiratory Problems
Severe mold toxicity may cause shortness of breath, allergic rhinitis, increased respiratory infections, exacerbation of asthma, or even more serious lung problems. Because mold sends out spores to reproduce, we are more likely inhaling those spores and exposing our lungs to those chemicals. In fact, in one meta-analysis, it was found that there was a 30% to 50% increase in asthma and asthma-related health problems caused by dampness or mold in homes.
How to Limit Your Exposure to Mold
- Get your home tested for mold. Get a professional to remove the mold so more spores don’t get released into the air, exposing yourself to even greater mold toxicity.
- If you have a suspicion that your workspace contains mold, bring it to your company’s attention.
- Dust regularly to clean so spores of mold aren’t lingering in your house.
- Make sure your air system is up to date and running properly.
- Let in fresh air as much as possible, even if it’s for a couple of minutes each day.
- Eat a low mold diet consisting of avoiding processed foods, gluten and grains, and mold and yeast containing foods like yogurt, cheese, and dried fruits.
Can You Test For Mold Exposure?
There are ways that you can be tested for mold and mycotoxins to see if you need to remove mold from your home or avoid specific workplaces, make changes to your diet, or take specific supplements to help. Some of these include tests for Mycotoxins, T and B Lymphocyte Panel, Immunoglobulins, and Stool Analysis for Fungus along with others.
If you are worried that you are experiencing symptoms due to mold exposure, get in contact with a functional medicine provider. Dr. Lisa Ballehr, Functional Medicine Practitioner, located in Mesa, AZ, can help you determine if mold is the underlying cause for your health problems. You can take her FREE Online Health Assessment here to get started.