Molds belong to the fungus family of organisms and can be found in food and the environment. Mold grows in damp, dark environments and can be found in various areas of your home such as bathrooms, kitchens, basements and in hidden places such as behind walls or under carpets.
Certain types of molds produce mycotoxins, which are toxic substances. A mycotoxin is a secondary metabolite produced by mold organisms and can cause disease and death.
The mycotoxins that mold secrete are 2.5 microns or smaller. This is the same size as viruses, so they are virtually invisible and as a result mycotoxin can go right through a wall and can even remain after the mold is cleaned up.
Mold and mycotoxins can cause adverse symptoms ranging from mild to severe depending on the species of mold involved and the individual susceptibility of the person. Certain mycotoxins can cause serious health risks to humans for several reasons.
Exposure to mycotoxins through inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact, can lead to various health problems. Mycotoxins may affect the respiratory system, nervous system, immune system, and other organs. In essence, the inflammation caused by mold toxicity can affect every system of the body.
Symptoms of Being Affected by Mycotoxins Include:
- Fatigue, weakness
- Brain Fog, easily confused, disorientation, short-term memory loss, difficulties with assimilation of new information and word finding
- Skin rashes and sores that will not heal
- Hair Loss
- Nausea, abdominal pain and discomfort (IBS), diarrhea
- Sleep disturbance
- Mood Swings and personality disturbances
- Chronic sinus congestion, severe nasal allergies
- Blurred vision, itchy watery eyes, sensitivity to bright light
- Coughing, breathing difficulties, shortness of breath
- Loss of equilibrium
- Muscle and joint aches/pains, cramps, unusual pain (icepick or “lightning bolt”)
Outdoors, there are hundreds of species of mold with each species preferring a particular ecological niche and nature typically maintains a natural balance amongst the species.
The mold species we are exposed to outdoors may affect us in terms of allergies and are not considered toxic. However, it is the types of molds that grow out of control in a water damaged buildings that cause major health disruptions.
These are some of the mold species we are primarily concerned about that are toxic and commonly cause illness:
- Stachybotrys (Black Mold)
Gut health and a diverse strong microbiome is essential to our overall health and mycotoxins do negatively impact the gut and microbiome in countless ways. One of the many problems caused by mycotoxins is the disruption of the balance of microbes in our gut. One study demonstrated that incubating Ochratoxin A, a mycotoxin produced by Aspergillus with different microbiota caused all of the Lactobacillus reuteri to disappear.
This is very damaging as Lactobacillus reuteri has anti-inflammatory properties, immunomodulation properties, and can help prevent diarrhea. Aflatoxins a group of mycotoxins also produced by Aspergillus decreases the diversity of the microbiome-a reduction that can lead to disruptions in hormones, immune function, and metabolism.
Individual sensitivity to mold and mycotoxins can vary with some people being more susceptible than others. All individuals should limit their exposure to mold. However, those who have adverse symptoms will need to be more aggressive about avoiding foods and other mold exposures.
Mold toxicity is very common and it is estimated that approximately 25% of the population does suffer from mold toxicity-the inability to process mold mycotoxins which leads to a series of biochemical alterations often called the Cell Danger Response.
If you have a known or suspected exposure to mycotoxins, a Urine Mycotoxin test is recommended to identify the type and relative amount of mycotoxins in your system. Urine mycotoxin testing measures the level of specific mycotoxins you are eliminating through your urine.
Identifying the specific mycotoxins present in the body is very helpful as it allows for personalized treatment plans as specific mycotoxins appear to be bound better by specific binders and certain nutrients support particular detoxification pathways that eliminate specific mycotoxins best. Urine testing also allows for accurate monitoring of the effectiveness of the treatment protocol.
One of the many reasons why mycotoxins are so damaging to our health is that mycotoxins can potentially interfere with the liver’s detoxification processes by depleting glutathione, thereby compromising the body’s ability to effectively eliminate all other toxins. Glutathione is a substance produced by our body and is our “Master Antioxidant” that supports our immune system function and promotes detoxification.
Mycotoxins deplete glutathione levels as glutathione is one of the most effective compounds in removing mycotoxins. This puts additional stress on the liver and potentially lead to a buildup of other toxins in the body. Mycotoxin-related depletion of glutathione can result in excessive oxidative stress that may lead to tissue damage and systemic illness.
A Foundational Principle of Functional Medicine is to remove what is harming the body and give the body what it needs to detoxify and heal. So, in essence the goal, is to lower total toxic body burden and increase the body’s reserve of healing nutrients and compounds essential for optimal functioning.
This strategy will lower total toxic load and infectious burden and strengthen the immune system and resilience against disease.
In terms of diet, this means to avoid those foods that are often contaminated with mold and to increase the intake of phytonutrient, fiber rich foods that support the body’s detoxification and healing processes and promote a diverse microbiome and healthy gut integrity.
One mycotoxin, aflatoxin, has been shown to cause cancer and is most commonly found in peanuts and corn.
Other foods commonly contaminated with mold include:
- Grains-corn, sorghum, wheat, rice, and breads made from these
- Nuts -peanut, pistachio, almond, walnut, Brazil nut, hazelnut, and coconut
- Fruit -dried and overripe fruits, fruit juice, tomato, lemons, jams and jellies
- Cheese -Roquefort, blue, Gorgonzola, Stilton, Brie, Camembert
- Processed meats -bologna, lunch meats, bacon, hamburger, salami, hot dogs, sausage
- Beer -most common in home-brewed, fruit varieties
Tips for reducing exposure to mold and mycotoxins in food:
- Purchase small amounts frequently.
- Discard any grains, nuts, or dried fruit that looks discolored, unusual, or moldy.
- Make sure that food is stored properly in a dry place and at a moderate temperature.
- Do not keep food for extended periods of time. Read the “best buy” or “use by” dates.
- Eat a diverse diet to reduce exposure and increase variety of nutrients.
- If you choose to eat bread or baked goods keep them in the refrigerator or the freezer.
- Eat or freeze leftovers as soon as possible.
A few examples of protocols and interventions to support the body’s healing and detoxifying capabilities are as follows:
- Optimize elimination and excretion
- Appropriate hydration
- Exercise, infrared sauna-sweating, Epsom salt baths. Sweating is a very effective elimination route.
- Optimize bowel function and proper elimination
- Use of appropriate binders to prevent recirculation of mycotoxins and enhance excretion.
- Optimize gut microbiome diversity and gut integrity
- A healthy diverse microbiome aids in the transformation and elimination of toxins
- Probiotics-Spore Probiotics in particular as they increase the biodiversity of the microbiome which strengthens gut lining, resilience, and function
- Elimination Diet to eliminate inflammatory compounds that compromise gut integrity such as gluten.
- Increase intake of organic herb and spices
- Supplements to support mitochondrial function
- NAD+, Acetyl L-Carnitine, ALA, NAC, CoQ10, Resveratrol
- Optimize biotransformation
- Liver Support (DIM, Milk Thistle, NAC, ALA, Selenium)
- Bile Acid Binders
- Enhance bile acid secretion and prevent recirculation of toxins
- Minimize toxic load and total body burden
- Clean Environment-
- humidity less than 40%, air purifiers
- Vacuum and dust often as mycotoxins reside in dust
- Clean Water
- Clean Food-primarily organic, nutrient and fiber rich low mold diet
- Clean Mind-stress is a toxin
- practice love and gratitude and whatever your spiritual practice is
- time in nature
- embrace the ones you love
- Clean Body-epson salt baths, dry brushing, infrared sauna, clean skin care products
- Clean Environment-
- Increase intake of foods containing detox nutrients
- Organic parsley, cilantro ½ to 1 cup daily in food or smoothie
- Green Tea
- Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussel sprouts, cabbage and broccoli sprouts which contain sulforaphane a precursor to glutathione.
In addition, intravenous treatments for mycotoxins have been found to be effective in mitigating for mycotoxin induced dysfunction.
Some of the most studied IV treatments include:
- Phosphatidyl Choline
Functional Medicine Practitioners work on addressing underlying health issues contributing to mold toxicity by taking a comprehensive approach. This would include a thorough medical history, inquiring about environmental exposures, laboratory testing, biochemical and inflammatory testing, and nutrient status testing. The results of the medical assessment and the type of mycotoxin exposure will establish the appropriate treatment protocol involving a combination of various integrative therapies to restore the body to health and homeostasis.
- Deficient Glutathione in the Pathophysiology of Mycotoxin-Related Illness
- A Review of the Mechanism of Injury and Treatment Approaches for Illness Resulting from Exposure to Water-Damaged Buildings, Mold, and Mycotoxins
- Mycotoxin: Its Impact on Gut Health and Microbiota
- How Mycotoxins Affect the Gut