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Mold Toxin Exposure: Signs, Lab Tests, And Treatments

Mold Toxin Exposure: Signs, Lab Tests, And Treatments

Whether you see it growing on the wall or catch a whiff of its musty smell, mold toxicity could be playing a part in your chronic health issues.  

There are millions of types of fungi in the world. Many of these are benign. Some are beneficial, such as penicillin or edible mushrooms. Yet, others are toxic, like mold.

Just as mold lurks in dark places, mold-related illness sits in the shadows of the healthcare world and is not quickly recognized by healthcare practitioners. Its symptoms are general and vague, and mold toxicity goes overlooked and misunderstood.    

Functional medicine understands the significant threat it poses to health. Functional labs and a root cause approach effectively support the whole body in healing and provides steps to remove mold from the living space.

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What is Mold Toxicity

Different types of mold are around us all the time, but some are more dangerous than others. Mold toxicity occurs when we live and work indoors where these molds have been given a chance to grow, detected or undetected. Mold toxicity occurs when a person can't effectively eliminate the mycotoxins from their bodies. When the body can't rid mycotoxins, it results in mold toxicity and has the potential to damage multiple bodily systems. This is also referred to as "mold illness" and CIRS (Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome).

The CDC claims that molds are widespread in buildings and homes. The most likely mold species found indoors are:

  • Aspergillus
  • Cladosporium
  • Penicillium
  • Alternaria
  • Stachybotrys

Who's at Risk for Mold Toxicity

Mold produces tiny particles called spores. Much like pollen, spores and mycotoxins are lightweight and travel easily through the air. Both spores and mycotoxins can encounter our skin, respiratory tract, and GI tract.  

While we all experience exposure to mold spores and mycotoxins, not everyone gets sick or reacts. Those more likely to face illness include:

  • Family history of allergies or asthma. 1 in 5 people have environmental allergies (mold included). If allergies or asthma run in the family, you are more likely to react to mold.
  • Respiratory conditions like asthma or COPD. Already compromised airways are more likely to worsen when exposed to mold.
  • Workplace exposure. Working environments such as farming, baking, millwork, carpentry, and greenhouse work may have higher exposure to mold.
  • Living in a space with high humidity. Mold is more likely to grow when indoor humidity is above 50%.
  • Working or living in a building that has been exposed to high moisture.
  • Poor ventilation. Damp areas, such as the bathroom, are prone to housing mold. Tight seals on windows and doors also trap moisture and block proper ventilation.
  • Genetics. According to the research of Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker, 24% of the population he studied showed a type of HLA gene that does not effectively detoxify mold or other biotoxins.

What Are the Symptoms of Mold Toxicity?

Mold toxicity symptoms often overlap with other conditions and can be challenging to diagnose. Common symptoms include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Sinus congestion
  • Skin rashes
  • Nosebleeds
  • Asthma attacks

Immune-compromised individuals may see more severe symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Brain Fog
  • Body aches
  • Changes in mood
  • Headaches
  • Memory loss
  • Liver and kidney issues
  • Digestive issues

Not only do mold toxicity symptoms overlap with other conditions, but it is not always apparent when and where mold exposure occurred. This both adds to the mysterious, elusive nature of mold toxicity and to the lament of doctors and patients trying to determine the cause.

How Does Mold Toxicity Affect Your Health?

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Research has found a strong connection between patients struggling with chronic fatigue syndrome and mold exposure. In this 2013 study, 93% of patients with a prior CFS diagnosis showed the presence of at least one mycotoxin in their urine.

Neurological and Cognitive Impairment

Most mold toxins are fat-soluble. With fat covering much of the brain and nerves, the nervous system is particularly vulnerable to mold toxicity. A 2011 study showed children to have a significant decline in IQ scores when exposed to indoor mold for more extended periods. Other studies show those exposed to mold will experience loss of motor control, reaction time, memory loss, and verbal recall.

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS)

MCAS is a host of symptoms caused by the overactivation of a part of our immune system, which causes the release of inflammatory chemicals into our system. MCAS is commonly triggered by exposure to toxins, including those from mold.

Eczema

Eczema disrupts the skin's ability to be a protective barrier to pathogens. This study found mold to facilitate the process. Several species of mold have been found to cause the most common form of eczema, also called atopic dermatitis.

Asthma

Asthma is an inflammation-driven process and carries a genetic component. This study found asthma to be more prevalent in children with the rs7216389 T allele when exposed to mold. Also, research shows that 2 out of 3 adult-onset asthma cases result from mold exposure.

How to Spot Mold In Your Home

Typically, you can see or smell larger mold infestations. Smaller ones and areas you are seldom in (i.e., crawl spaces, attics) are more difficult to spot.

Signs to look for:

  • Areas where water pools or condenses (bathrooms, under sinks, water leaks). Mold can only grow where there is a source of moisture.
  • Staining on the walls that seep out even after cleaning.
  • Musty, mildewy smells, especially after an area gets wet.

Functional Medicine Labs to Test for Mold Toxicity Patients

Inflammation

If mold toxicity is an issue, then inflammation will be a factor too. When mycotoxins are prevalent indoors, they can act as pro-inflammatory mediators, thus leading to the disease process (especially respiratory diseases).

According to reports from the US Government Accountability Office and the World Health Organization, increased levels of cytokines (interleukins and C4a, in particular) are connected to mold toxicity.

Mycotoxin Test

The best way to test for mold toxicity is to look for mycotoxins in the urine. Vibrant Wellness, Great Plains Laboratory, and RealTime Laboratories all provide urine lab tests to screen for the presence of mold toxins within the body.

Genetic Testing

The MTHFR polymorphisms shares a connection to proper biotoxin elimination capabilities, and a genetic profile can help determine its presence.

Functional Medicine Treatment for Mold Toxicity

A root cause approach to support the body involves supporting the immune, inflammatory, and detox pathways allowing for proper drainage. It doesn't matter what toxin we need to excrete; the organs of elimination must be opened to reduce the toxin load. This means regular bowel movements, sweating, and maintaining good hydration. To do this, integrative practitioners will focus on removing the toxin; then focusing on nutritional, supplemental, and lifestyle factors to help the body gently detox.

Reduce Mold Exposure

The functional medicine approach begins with reducing exposure to mold toxins. Here are some ways to address mold in your home:

  • Identify and remove the source. Repairing leaks, improving water drainage, fixing ventilation, and eliminating moisture will arrest mold growth.
  • Clean-up through remediation professionals can help adequately and safely address the mold-contaminated area.
  • Dust sample testing. Testing dust samples may provide insight if you suspect mold and don't have a visual on the source. The ERMI test is EPA-approved and will identify and quantify the indoor mold burden of a building.
  • Maintain proper humidity levels. Monitor the humidity level in your home, especially in humid climates and summertime. It is generally advisable to keep levels below 50%.

Nutrition for Detox

In Functional Medicine, diet is often used as the first line of therapy for toxic overload. Many practitioners follow a medical-based detox program that combines a whole food, low inflammatory, elimination diet. This included a simplified list of foods to eat, foods to exclude, and supplements that support all levels of detox. Fiber is crucial to proper elimination as it binds to toxins and helps usher them out of the body through the gastrointestinal tract.

Supplements for Detox

Increasing specific nutrients and supplements can help clear unwanted compounds out of your body by supporting the body's natural detoxification pathways.

Binders

Also called sequestering agents are nonabsorbable materials that can bind toxins and eliminate them through the GI tract. A common binder found to be effective for multiple mycotoxins is activated charcoal.

‍Glutathione

We can't discuss detox without discussing Glutathione (The Master Antioxidant). Glutathione plays a role in phase II of liver detox. It functions as an antioxidant, which helps reduce oxidative stress and remove free radicals generated during detoxification. Research suggests that mycotoxins can decrease the formation of glutathione due to reduced gene expression of the enzymes needed to form glutathione.

‍N-acetylcysteine (NAC)

‍NAC stimulates glutathione biosynthesis, promotes detoxification, and acts directly as a scavenger of free radicals. Ochratoxin A (OTA) is a naturally occurring food-borne mycotoxin in various agricultural products worldwide. It has been shown that the toxicity of OTA could be decreased by maintaining glutathione production with N-acetyl cysteine (NAC).

Garlic

The compound allicin found in garlic has been shown to both inhibit fungal growth and kill fungal cells.

Green Tea

The polyphenol components of green tea play a role in the induction of phase 2 detoxification enzymes. This study showed that 500mg of green tea polyphenol daily increased the ability to detox the mycotoxin, aflatoxin B1.

Summary

Our ability to detoxify and eliminate toxic chemicals, including mycotoxins, is a significant component of health. Though mold won't be behind every chronic condition, it does deserve the benefit of being ruled out. If you are struggling with your health, you may need to ask some important questions. Do you spend time in a damp or water-damaged building? Is mold contamination evident in your home or workplace? Do you experience chronic fatigue or immune issues? If these answers are yes, mold toxicity could be the root of your issues. A functional medicine approach provides comprehensive testing and treatments to remove mold from your home, detox the body, and restore health.

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