Silent Spores, Serious Symptoms: The Covert Threat of Mold

Many of us go about our daily lives without considering the possibility that mold could be silently affecting our health. Some of us think that we have one issue (concussion, for example) when we are actually suffering from the inflammatory effects of chronic mold/mycotoxin exposure. However, in either case, knowing when and how to detox your body from mold is increasingly important, given the widespread nature of mold exposure and its potent effects on our well-being.

The Pervasiveness of Mold

Mold is a common yet often overlooked part of our environment. It lurks in the air we breathe, the soil we live on, and even in foods we consume daily—such as grains, nuts, spices, and dairy. The insidious nature of mold means it can accompany you on your clothes, shoes, pets, and even reusable shopping bags, finding its way into your home. While not all mold is harmful, and it takes certain environmental conditions to thrive into a formidable health adversary, but when it does, it can wreak havoc on your immediate and long-term health.

How Do I Know If I've Been Exposed to Mold?

We all have. As we mentioned, mold is everywhere; in our cheeses, peanut butter, attics, basements, garages, soil, the woods, camps... anywhere there is moisture and organic material, there is mold. Mold spores are ubiquitous and can settle on virtually any surface.

Mold is a type of fungus that can grow almost anywhere there is moisture and organic material. The following conditions are necessary for mold growth:

  1. Moisture: Water is essential for mold spores to germinate and grow. High humidity levels, water leaks, condensation, and flooding are common sources of moisture in indoor environments.
  2. Food Source: Mold feeds on organic materials such as paper, wood, cardboard, and ceiling tiles. In homes, mold often grows on damp surfaces like walls, floors, and ceilings.
  3. Suitable Temperature: Most molds grow best in temperatures that are comfortable for humans, between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 26 degrees Celsius). However, some molds can grow in temperatures as low as 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius) or as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius).
  4. Oxygen: Mold needs oxygen to grow but does not require light; hence it can also grow in dark areas.
  5. Time: Mold colonies can start to grow on a damp surface within 24 to 48 hours.

Controlling indoor moisture is the key to preventing and stopping indoor mold growth. If an environment is dry, it is unlikely mold will grow.

In residential (and often commercial) scenarios, the prime cause of mold is damp or water-compromised organic building material (wood, sheetrock, etc). Although water damage can happen anywhere in a building, it is more likely to occur in bathrooms, laundry rooms, crawl spaces, non-climate-controlled warehouses, attics, saunas, and other wet, high-humidity, stagnant environments. Slow, intermittent, undetected roof leaks, faulty air-conditioning systems, inadequate insulation, slow-leaking pipes, improperly maintained (often front-loading) washing machines, and improperly installed dryer vents are just a few of the hundreds of sources of toxic mold growth.

Mold and Mold Toxins

Both mold and the toxins produced by mold (mycotoxins) can potentially make people sick. However, the mechanisms and severity of illness can differ.

Mold can cause various health issues, particularly for those with mold allergies or sensitivities. Mold exposure can lead to symptoms such as nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, coughing or wheezing, eye irritation, or, in some cases, skin irritation. People with mold allergies may have more severe reactions, and immune-compromised individuals or those with chronic lung illnesses, like obstructive lung disease, may get serious infections in their lungs when they are exposed to mold.

For many people, mold exposure is not a significant health threat. Still, it can become problematic when it grows indoors and reaches higher concentrations, like in damp or water-damaged buildings. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) found in 2004 that there was sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheezing in otherwise healthy individuals with asthma symptoms in people with asthma and hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals susceptible to that immune-mediated condition.

Mycotoxins are more insidious. These toxic compounds (at first exposure) typically don’t cause immediate symptoms, as the body can remove them through your liver. However, the body sometimes cannot remove them as quickly as they accumulate. As they build up, they can cause a wide range of health problems depending on the type of mycotoxin, the duration of exposure, and the individual’s genetics, health, and sensitivity. 

There are approximately 16 main toxins produced by mold. The most notorious mycotoxins, aflatoxin, and ochratoxin, can lead to severe health outcomes, including life-threatening conditions like cancer. Mycotoxins have a unique capacity for causing damage because, unlike mold spores that cannot enter the bloodstream, they can circulate through your body, binding to fat, making them challenging to eliminate and potentially causing widespread inflammation and systemic issues.

Mycotoxins' Effects on Health

The presence of mycotoxins in the bloodstream can lead to various health concerns. Some concerns are directly from the mycotoxins themselves, and others are from the body’s response to these toxins.  

The Liver

When it comes to the liver, some mycotoxins are particularly hepatotoxic (liver-damaging), capable of inducing liver damage, disrupting protein synthesis, and impairing metabolism, potentially culminating in liver fibrosis or hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer). 

The Kidneys

Kidney function can also be compromised, as mycotoxins interfere with renal filtration and reabsorption processes, which may precipitate acute kidney injury or chronic kidney diseases. Mycotoxins have also been shown to disrupt the neurological connections to the kidneys, decreasing the amount of anti-diarrhetic hormone (ADH), leading to increased urine production, increased thirst, electrolyte imbalance, headaches, and renal impairment.  

The Brain and Mind

Neurologically, mycotoxins have been implicated in neurodegenerative disorders through mechanisms including mitochondrial dysfunction, oxidative stress, and apoptosis (programmed cellular death) within neuronal cells, leading to cognitive deficits and motor abnormalities. The effects of mycotoxins can be experienced in the short term as mental fogginess, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, suicidal ideation, focus/memory problems, tinnitus, changes in heart rate or rhythm, and more. Additionally, changes in another brain-derived peptide called MSH lead to fatigue, pain, hormone abnormalities, appetite changes, sleep pattern disruptions, mood swings, and much more.

The Lungs

When exposed through inhalation, the lungs can suffer from mycotoxicosis, resulting in respiratory distress and inflammatory responses, which, for susceptible individuals, at first feel like shortness of breath or “air hunger,” coughing, chest pain, or asthma. Eventually, it could evolve into chronic respiratory conditions or hypersensitivity pneumonitis. Additionally, when inhaled, mycotoxins can lead to colonization of a treatment-resistant bacterial infection in the sinuses called MARCoNS, which can lead to chronic sinusitis, nasal polyps, development of nasal cysts, bad breath, nasal drip, and reoccurring upper respiratory tract infections.

The Immune System

Mycotoxins can have profound and diverse effects on the immune system, often compromising its ability to function effectively. These effects can be either immunosuppressive or immunostimulatory, depending on the type and level of exposure to the mycotoxin. Mycotoxins can also contribute to a state of chronic inflammation, which is linked to a host of diseases, including autoimmune disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, and certain cancers. Chronic exposure to low levels of mycotoxins can subtly alter immune function, sometimes leading to immune dysregulation, where the body struggles to respond appropriately to disease challenges. 

The Gut

Lastly, the gut experiences alterations in the microbiota compromised intestinal barrier function, and inflammation, which can manifest as gastrointestinal distress and contribute to the pathogenesis of disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, systemic inflammation, detoxification issues, gluten and other food intolerances, creating a domino-effect to every other organ system in the body.

Recognizing Mold Illness

Sadly, the diagnosis of mold toxicity is often missed. The symptoms of mold exposure are so broad and varied that they are frequently mistaken for depression, persisting post-concussion symptoms, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune diseases, and other chronic conditions. Additionally, because mycotoxins are opportunistic, they are often associated with debilitating diseases such as Lyme disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and fibromyalgia.

Mold exposure is a stealthy health issue; many individuals suffer from its effects without pinpoint recognition of mold as the culprit, significantly since the response is delayed, sometimes days, from exposure and persists for days after leaving the moldy environment.  Mold toxicity is a chameleon in the medical world—it presents with a vast array of symptoms that are easily mistaken for other illnesses.

The wide-reaching influence of mold is attributed to its ability to undermine the immune system. By weakening the body's natural defenses, mold toxins can precipitate direct symptoms and enhance susceptibility to further health issues. This can lead to a chronic condition called CIRS (Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome)

Illustration of mold-induced CIRS created by Genesis Performance Chiropractic

Mold-related CIRS may present with any of the following symptoms:

  • Persistent tiredness or chronic fatigue
  • Respiratory complaints such as a chronic cough, wheezing, or difficulty breathing
  • Feeling feverish with normal body temperatures
  • Unexplained fevers
  • Lethargy or malaise
  • Headaches
  • Sinus infections, pressure/pain
  • Muscular or joint discomfort
  • Cognitive fog, forgetfulness, or memory problems
  • Anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts
  • Panic attacks
  • Insomnia or Somnolence
  • Dizziness or a feeling of being off-balance
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering
  • Heart palpitations
  • Heightened sensory processing (light, sound, touch)
  • Dermatological reactions like rashes
  • Frequent or reoccurring infections/sickness (yeast infections, athlete's foot, jock itch)
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Appetite changes
  • Ringing, buzzing, humming in one or both ears
  • Frequent urination, increased thirst
  • Increased static-electricity shocks
  • Digestive upset and irregular bowel movements
  • Malabsorption
  • Food allergies
  • Clay-colored stool

But, Nobody Else Is Sick!

About 25% of the population has a genetic disposition that makes them more susceptible to illness from mold exposure. That means four unrelated people can live in a house riddled with mold, and only one person has symptoms of mold exposure. Also, if the genetic disposition is in the father's lineage, the mother may not experience anything, and the offspring may not have the genetic disposition, due to the mom's genetic contribution. Through a $300 test known as the HLA DR Mold Genetic Test, it's possible to determine if you fall into this category. For those who do, the immune system fails to recognize and eliminate mycotoxins effectively, leading to an accumulation that can wreak havoc in the body. Even minor exposures to mycotoxins can cause significant health impacts for these individuals.

Strategies for Mold Detoxification

There is an effective, step-by-step process developed by the pioneer in mold-related illness, Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker, over the past three decades that requires medical intervention.

Detoxifying the body from mold requires a careful approach to ensure the safe and effective elimination of mycotoxins. Utilizing toxin binders is an integral part of this process. Because mycotoxins are lipophilic (bind to fat), cholestyramine, a cholesterol-lowering medication, can bind to certain mycotoxins, preventing reabsorption.

In natural detoxifiers, modified citrus pectin (MCP) and alginates derived from seaweed have shown promise in research. MCP is praised for its gentle action, making it suitable for long-term detoxification. It excels when combined with alginates, forming a dynamic duo that prevents the reabsorption of mycotoxins in the intestines. This tandem not only detoxifies but is also gentle on the body, not stripping away essential minerals.

MCP also disrupts biofilms, which are protective layers that shield mold and fungus, facilitate the removal of heavy metals like mercury, and help calm systemic inflammation. Other natural agents that support detox include activated charcoal, bentonite clay, glutathione, and chlorella. These agents can help assist in the cleansing process, providing a broad spectrum of action against the various toxins produced by mold.

Moreover, fortifying the gut microbiome with a robust combination of probiotics and prebiotics is crucial to support overall health and aid in the detoxification process.

Preventative Measures and Professional Guidance

Avoiding mold exposure is always preferable but can be difficult due to its prevalent nature and propensity to hide in hard-to-detect places like inside walls. Therefore, it's vital to seek the guidance of a knowledgeable health professional when addressing concerns about mold. They can provide targeted testing and tailor therapies to address mold toxicity effectively, ultimately helping resolve mold-related health issues and paving the way to improved health and vitality.

Through comprehensive strategies that include environmental elimination, clinical interventions, natural detoxifying agents, dietary modifications, and lifestyle adjustments, individuals can effectively respond against mold exposure and its health consequences.

Dr. Antonucci
Dr. Matthew Antonucci
Doctor | Educator | Researcher
Dr. Antonucci is an experienced chiropractic neurologist, board certified in functional neurology and multiple sub-specialties, a researcher, and an international lecturer, currently seeing patients out of Minneapolis, MN. He trained extensively under Prof. Frederick R. Carrick, maintains an active private practice with licenses in multiple states, and has provided breakthrough neurorehabilitation and performance training to thousands of patients. He consults with several NFL and NHL franchises on performance training and concussion. His work has been featured on ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBS, Fox News, and more. He has delivered more than 11,000 hours of presentations, both nationally and internationally, on behalf of the Carrick Institute. Most importantly, he is a loving husband and the father of five amazing boys, whom he hopes to inspire to follow in his footsteps.

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