Can mold cause illness? It’s likely your Western medicine healthcare practitioner will tell you that mold-related illness is solely an allergy to mold or only a serious issue to those who are severely immunocompromised. This, however, is not true.
Mold-related illness is not just an allergy, causing a stuffy nose and sneezing. Mold can affect everyone on a deep systemic level. It can even kill you.
Although we are exposed to mold and fungus in outdoor environments, when it grows in your home and workplace in an enclosed space, exposure even in low levels may be harmful to your health. It is estimated that 50% of buildings in North America and Europe may have water damage. But biotoxin illness is not just from water damaged buildings.
Mold can be injected, absorbed, inhaled or ingested. Biotoxins exist in food, such as grains, legumes and coffee beans, and although in minute amounts, they may cause harm to some people.
Mold can even grow in medical devices, such as breast implants, and leak into the system due to malfunctioned valves, leading to the possibility of systemic illness. Biofilms can grow on prosthetic heart valves, joint prosthetics, catheters and pacemakers and lead to serious infection and chronic inflammation.
Just like many organisms, biotoxins are an organism’s protection mechanism. Bees and jellyfish sting, snakes bite—these chemicals are toxic and released in fight mechanism to protect the organism.
With mold, these biotoxins also known as mycotoxins, are able to cross the blood brain barrier and penetrate the brain and intestinal wall. It’s like throwing a wrench into your immune system, even for the healthiest person. Mycotoxins will cause your body to fight itself in an immune response, attacking these invaders and creating systemic inflammation over time with exposure.
In fact, scientists say that mycotoxins are more harmful than pesticides. Some countries have even attempted to use concentrated doses of mycotoxins in biological warfare.
Early symptoms of mold toxicity are vague and mirror a myriad of illnesses, so it is frequently diagnosed as something else. Those exposed to mold have been told they have generalized anxiety and/or depression and given a handful of antidepressants. They have been told they have chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia and prescribed immunosuppressants. They’ve been told they are simply hypochondriacs afraid of the world. Biotoxin illness, however, is a real illness caused by mold that impairs every bodily system.
Symptoms may include chronic fatigue, memory issues/brain fog, gut issues, muscle and joint pain, headaches, depression and anxiety, heart palpitations, hair loss, metabolic and hormonal issues and much more.
“Insomnia, headache, dizziness, mental confusion, poor concentration, poor short-term memory, forgetfulness, can’t remember names or words, poor word recall, disorientation, decreased learning ability, extreme thirst, low blood pressure, poor body temperature regulation, numbness, tingling, tremors, vertigo, Parkinson's-like symptoms, mood swings, anxiety, irritability, lack of sex drive, swollen and painful lymph nodes
Metallic taste in mouth, bile reflux, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, weight loss, weight gain, urinary frequency
Shortness of breath and tachycardia (fast heart beat) with exercise, cough, wheezing, asthma, swelling or edema, heart palpitations, heart pounds intermittently
Joint pain, shooting pain, ice-pick sharp pain, burning pain, stabbing pain, muscle cramps, muscle aches, muscle weakness, fleeting pain/pain that moves around, tics, spastic muscles, charlie horses, hands curl up like a claw, toes/feet curl up, morning stiffness
Blurred or hazy vision, eyes sensitive to light, eyes tear easily, puffy/dark circles below the eyes, night blindness, ringing in the ears, hearing loss, dizziness, sinus/nasal congestion, nose bleeds, sensitive to odors, vocal cord polyps, nasal polyps, laryngitis or raspy voice, burning in the throat, or sore throat
Fatigue, weakness, flu-like symptoms, exhaustion, insomnia, sensitivity to environment, and possible multiple diagnoses from various doctors.
Skin is sensitive, skin is itchy, feels like bugs crawling on skin, feels like bugs stinging or biting but there is nothing there, easy bruising, Itchy pimples, skin sores, bumpy skin, thickened skin, skin peeling, burning sensations, red face, sweats - especially at night, static shocks, skin reacts to sun, even though clothing sometimes, vitiligo, cherry hemangiomas, and urticaria, commonly known as hives.”
Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome or CIRS is another name for mold-related, biotoxin illness coined by the physician and researcher, Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker, who performed studies while diagnosing and treating this illness in his practice. Through lab findings, symptom gathering and targeted tests, he was able to target biotoxin exposure as the root cause of his patients’ illness, especially noted in genetically-susceptible patients.
It is estimated that approximately 24% of people are more susceptible to mold toxicity due to their genetics--That’s over 80 million people in the United States. New research indicates that this number is actually extremely low, and that the more realistic impact is closer to 40-60% of the worldwide population.
Those with the HLA-DR gene type are predisposed to developing systemic inflammation when exposed to even small amounts of biotoxins, which may lead to developing CIRS.
The HLA-DR type’s immune system does not initially recognize biotoxins and make proper antibodies against them. Persistent exposure to biotoxins creates high levels of inflammation, leading to dysregulation of multiple systems.
Over 36 different diseases are related to the root cause of possessing the HLA-DR trait combined with exposure to mold due to the inability to recognize mycotoxins and remove them readily from the body. As a result, the body stores these toxins in fatty regions, such as the brain.
Eventually, the body loses the ability to recognize the difference between what is “self” (healthy cells and organs) and what is a “foreign invader.” This confusion creates immune system misfiring where the body literally attacks itself. This is why biotoxin illness is closely related to autoimmune diseases.
Mold affects everyone, however, even those who aren’t genetically vulnerable to it. Although those exposed to mold who don’t have genetic vulnerability may initially be asymptomatic, long-term exposure will eventually affect even the healthiest of immune systems.
Some mold is more toxic than others. Stachybotrys chartarum, also referred to as “toxic black mold”, is a greenish-black mold that has gained notoriety as being one of the most toxic forms.
Other varieties, though, pose health risk, as well. These include Aspergillus, Chaetormium, Cladosporium, Fusarium, Mucor, Penicillium, Rhizopus and Wallemia—and there are many subcategories of these types of mold--all capable of growing in your house and causing systemic toxicity.
If you’re seeking evidence-based information regarding the detrimental systemic effects of biotoxin illness, here are some studies that connect the dots.
1. AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE AND CANCER:
A Finnish study of 2 cohorts exposed to mold through work or living environments were tracked, their health information compared to the general population living in the areas not exposed to mold.
36.6% of people chronically exposed to toxic mold (2-3 years) experienced various types of autoimmune conditions, including rare syndromes.
Compared to those not exposed to mold, cohorts impacted by biotoxins had an increase in Irritable Bowel Disease as well as increased fungal dysbiosis. These gut issues were more prominent in those who also presented with autoimmune disease.
Thyroid abnormalities including autoimmune thyroid disease was diagnosed in 20% of the occupants in these mold-damaged buildings, suggesting an increased prevalence of 340%.
There was a 600% increase in the incidence of breast cancer as well increases in incidence of lymphoma and lung cancer in non-smokers within the mold-exposed cohorts.
The data suggests that exposure to mold for even 2-3 years can detrimentally impact healthy individuals, even to the extent of loss of life.
2.CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME AND MITOCHONDRIAL DYSFUNCTION:
In a six-month Midwestern study of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome compared to a healthy control group, it was found that 90% of participants with chronic fatigue syndrome had spent a significant amount of time in a water-damaged environment. 93% of participants had at least one type of mycotoxin in their urine. Healthy individuals did not have mycotoxins in their urine, according to the study control group.
Common symptoms in the diagnosed chronic fatigue syndrome arm of the study included fatigue, headache, flu-like symptoms, cognitive complaints, myalgia, gastrointestinal problems and various neurological symptoms.
Other previous diagnoses included fibromyalgia, lyme disease, peripheral neuropathy, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome and neural-mediated hypotension, migraine, chronic dermatitis, gastroparesis, chronic abdominal pain, irritable bowel syndrome, interstitial cystitis, anxiety, depression, chemical sensitivity, vertigo, chronic sinusitis, gluten intolerance, tremor, myoclonus and cognitive dysfunction.
In 76 (68%) of the participants, symptoms were so severe that they were either unable to work, receiving disability or unable to attend school.
The study indicated that mitochondrial dysfunction is a possible cause of these health issues, and that the mitochondrial dysfunction may be triggered by exposure to mycotoxins.
3. INFLAMMATION AND IMMUNE SYSTEM DYSFUNCTION:
One study found that people working in damp buildings produced anywhere from 2 to 1,000 times more inflammatory messengers.
33 patients in this study worked in a mold-infested office setting compared to participants in a control group, who were healthy adults from Los Angeles, who did not work in a building exposed to mold. The control subjects had no known history of mold exposure and lacked any symptoms related to biotoxin illness.
All of the mold-exposed patients had occupational exposures from 1–5 years in length to S. chartarum, A. niger, C. herbarum, and P. chrysogenum.
Various tests were used to measure differences between the two groups, such as blood draws, pulmonary function testing and measuring cytokine and chemokine response levels.
Cytokines and chemokines are immune cell regulators, responsible for quieting or exciting systemic inflammatory responses. They help direct the development, interactions and activation of immune cells.
Results of this study demonstrated that various varieties of mold may induce changes to inflammatory and immune responses. Changes in cytokine and chemokine genetic expression and sensitivity after chronic mold exposure were seen in the mold-exposure group. These changes to cytokine and chemokine activity caused by biotoxins may negatively affect the immune system’s ability to fight infections and other environmental toxins, increasing affected individuals’ overall toxic load and leading to a domino effect of other syndromes and illnesses.
4. COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT AND NEUROLOGICAL ISSUES:
Brain scans of people with mold illness show abnormalities compared to control groups of healthy individuals without exposure to mold. This indicates that biotoxin illness and its related inflammation may impact the brain’s structure and cause nervous system dysfunction.
In one study, patients who had been exposed to mold were impaired on a variety of cognitive measures, including verbal learning, visual-spatial learning and memory, psycho-motor speed, and emotional functioning.
Mold-exposed patients in other studies also displayed similar symptoms of neurological dysfunction as compared to controls, including an inability to stand on one's toes, inability to walk in a straight line with eyes closed, short-term memory loss, altered blink-reflex latency, verbal recall impairments, as well as issues with color discrimination and reaction time.
Another study on the psychological and neurophysiological effects of various molds consisted of 182 individuals with confirmed mold exposure. These patients reported cognitive, physical and emotional symptoms, including depression, anxiety and mood swings. Their quantitative electroencephalography results indicated hyperactivity in their frontal cortex. Other neurological findings showed cognitive impairments similar to traumatic brain injury patients with impaired function in completing various cognitive tasks.
A study from Poland on the neurological effects of mold exposure in 277 children aged infant to six years showed a statistically significant decrease in IQ scores (approximately 10 points) when children were exposed to indoor mold for more than two years. In addition, longer exposure to mold tripled the cognitive impact, resulting in IQ scores below the 25th percentile. These findings are consistent with other studies linking mold with cognitive impairment as well as animal studies demonstrating the neurological effects of mold.
According to the World Health Organization, “7 million people died in 2012 - one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure. This finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk.”
More studies, education and familiarity with protocols are necessary to help those currently suffering from the effects of mold toxicity.
If you believe you and/or loved ones have been exposed to mold and have the symptoms described in this blog post, your first step to getting better is to remove yourself from the toxic environment.
Work with a naturopath and nutritionist regarding the next steps toward reducing inflammation and mold's impact on your health. Research your area for a practitioner trained in the Shoemaker protocol.
Read Part 2 of this blog segment for information on natural ways to heal from biotoxin illness.