There is a growing body of scientific evidence indicating that exposure to toxin- producing molds is a significant health risk to persons who have lived or worked in water damaged buildings. Often times, many of these people are unaware that they have been exposed to mold and mold toxins (mycotoxins). Chronic illness, especially chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), has been highly associated with exposure to water-damaged buildings and mold. It has been estimated that as many as 25% of the buildings in the U.S. have incurred some degree of water damage.
The symptoms of toxic mold exposure depend on the types of mold and mycotoxins, the duration of the exposure, and the overall health of the person affected. Ongoing exposures can be a very serious health issue, resulting in chronic illness. Genetically susceptible individuals, especially persons with gene variants of the HLA genes, are at higher risk. Mycotoxins damage the immune system which may render mold patients more sensitive to other infections, such as Candida albicans and previously contracted viral infections such as Epstein Barr. This results in a further exacerbation of their overall symptoms. Unfortunately, the importance of evaluating for the potential of mold illness and beginning appropriate treatment is often overlooked.
The nose and sinus cavities appear to be the major internal reservoirs where mold is harbored in what are called biofilm communities. Mycotoxins can also be stored in body fat, tissues, and the organs. Common symptoms associated with mycotoxins include coughing, wheezing, asthma, shortness of breath, sneezing, various skin rashes, burning in the throat and lungs, and sinusitis. Cognitive impairment symptoms are also common including memory loss, confusion, and brain fog. Vision problems, eye irritation, ringing in the ears, headaches, dizziness, muscle weakness, multiple chemical sensitivities, joint pain, muscle pain, seizures, depression, anxiety, irritability, fever, chills, sleep disorders, coagulation abnormalities, kidney toxicity, aplastic anemia, and numerous other symptoms have all been associated with mycotoxin exposures.
According to Dr. Joseph Brewer, a published mold researcher, mycotoxins bind to DNA and RNA, alter protein synthesis, increase oxidative stress (free radical formation), deplete antioxidants, alter cell membrane function, alter apoptosis (programmed cell death) and disrupt mitochondrial function resulting in an impaired ability of the body to meet its energy requirements. Interestingly, Lyme disease, CFS and mold toxicity can all result in immune dysregulation, mitochondrial dysfunction, abnormal cytokine profiles (high amount of inflammation), autoimmunity, and immune deficiency. The similarities between these conditions are notable.
Testing for mold/mycotoxins is a simple and usually noninvasive procedure. In most cases, only a urine sample is required.
Treatment options vary widely depending on the severity of symptoms and each patient’s metabolic uniqueness. In some cases antifungal drugs are recommended. These drugs work by destroying the cell membranes of the fungal organisms (mold). However, they can also damage human cell membranes. They are also known to have other side effects including liver toxicity. Metabolically weakened and chemically sensitive individuals may not tolerate antifungal drug therapies well. Antibiotics (the kind that target bacteria) will not kill molds and fungi, so these are generally not helpful. Steroids are generally not recommended as these drugs can suppress an already weakened immune system.
How to treat mold and mycotoxin exposure:
You must remove yourself from the source of contamination before attempting any other treatments.
- Use a nutritional supplement containing bentonite clay or charcoal that will help trap and bind internal mold and mycotoxins and eliminate them. Normal bowel function is critical, so consider adding magnesium malate.
- Enhance detoxification of the liver with milk thistle, n-acetylcysteine, glutamine, alpha lipoic acid, or a specialized powered medical food designed for detoxification.
- Add methyl B12, methylfolate, and vitamin B6 to support a detox system in the body called methylation.
- Choose a high quality probiotic to help re-establish normal gut flora.
- Optimize your vitamin D3 levels.
- Add colostrum to help booster immunoglobulin status
Foods to avoid when you have a mold-related illness:
- Alcohol, as it contains saccharomyces yeast (beer in particular) and other mycotoxins
- Wheat and all wheat products
- Rye, corn, and barley in all forms
- Peanuts, these are known to be contaminated with dozens of molds
- Sorghum, this is used in a variety of grain products and alcohol beverages
- Sugar (from sugar cane and sugar beets)
- Hard cheeses, dried fruits, black pepper
Dr. John Dixon can be reached at the Natural Medicine Group (760) 345.7300.
Sources: 1) Brewer, et. al., Global Journal of Medical Research, 2015; 2) http://www.mdpi.com/journal/toxins