Many people don't realize it, but toxins in the air we breathe can put undue stress on your heart and overall health. My son Dr. Drew Sinatra, a naturopathic physician, has a lot of experience diagnosing and treating mold toxicity. So, I asked him to write today's blog about the dangers of mold and what you can do to keep yourself healthy.
My dad, Dr. Stephen Sinatra, has classified mold as one of the 14 most dangerous toxins to the heart, and with good reason. Mold toxicity is one of the most pervasive, and least understood, health issues in today’s world—and unfortunately it’s a health issue that many doctors miss.
Like Lyme disease, mold is the “great masquerader.” It can cause a wide variety of symptoms to appear, mimicking other illnesses. Over the years I’ve learned that if someone is sensitive to mold and is quite ill, there is nothing more important than treating the underlying mold problem, first. That’s because if mold-induced illness isn’t addressed first it can cause an enormous amount of inflammation, free radical stress, and toxicity in the body.
But Not All Mold Is Created Equal
There are thousands of mold species, some helpful and some problematic. On the positive side, some mold species help to recycle organic matter which is very important for the ecosystem. Other mold species are utilized for food production—for instance making bread, cheese, sausage, and alcohol. Plus there are medications created from mold, such as penicillin, lovastatin, and cyclosporine.
But other mold species can make you ill. “Sick building syndrome,” for example, often results from mold spores circulating in the air ducts of a building. These tiny spores, invisible to the naked eye, can produce mycotoxins that make us sick. Mycotoxins can be absorbed through the intestines, lungs, and your skin. The most problematic mycotoxins include ochratoxin A, aflatoxin, and trichothecenes.
What are the Symptoms of Mold Exposure?
As I mentioned earlier, the health effects of mold can mimic a variety of other illnesses. Mold symptoms can include fatigue, weight gain, headaches, asthma or coughing or wheezing, chronic sinus infections, muscle and joint pain and weakness. They can also include visual disturbances, balance issues, cognitive dysfunction (i.e. trouble concentrating, remembering words, and “brain fog”), dizziness, irritable bowel syndrome, skin rashes, fever, swollen lymph nodes, mood swings, numbness and tingling, and nosebleeds.
The most common health effects of mold I see in adults is mental and physical fatigue, headaches, morning sinus congestion, and muscle aches. For children, asthma and a cough are common, as is a suppressed immune system where they catch every cold and flu that goes around.
When Should You Suspect that Mold Exposure?
If your home or office has had water damage or water intrusion and nothing was done to remediate it within 24-48 hours, it’s likely mold has grown. Mold can grow with very little moisture, so make sure small leaks are repaired and damp areas like bathrooms, showers, and windowsills are well ventilated and cleaned regularly.
You may have experienced a time you stayed in a hotel, a friend’s house, or perhaps your basement and smelled a musty odor. That odor is often caused by microbial volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) which are not thought to affect our health in a negative way. This musty odor, however, is a red flag that mold growth is present.
There are many companies that will come to your home and test for the presence of mold spores. One of the most popular mold testing methods is to collect air samples indoors and outdoors and compare them. The indoor mold count should be less than outdoors. Unfortunately, air testing for mold is limited in its effectiveness and can lead to false negative results since it only provides a brief snapshot in time of which mold spores are present.
One of the better, more effective, tests for mold is the Environmental Relative Mold Index (ERMI) which is available at Mycometrics or EMLab P&K. It analyzes a sample of dust from the home using a DNA-based method for identifying specific mold species. This test also has its limitations, but overall is a good test to start with.
Lastly, you can place petri dishes in suspicious areas for a short amount of time and send in for an analysis called Immunolytics. This can be an inexpensive option to determine if mold is growing in your home. Yet, this test can lead to false negatives. So if you strongly suspect mold and the test comes back negative seek other testing methods above for a second opinion.
You Can Also Test for Mold in the Body
One reason mold is so harmful is the spores and mycotoxins create a domino effect, causing your body’s inflammatory response to go into overdrive. And some people are more vulnerable to these health effects than others.
About 24% of the population has a genetic susceptibility (HLA-DR) that prevents proper excretion of mycotoxins. In other words, once you’ve been exposed to mycotoxins they continue to recirculate in your body, resulting in an overactive immune response that disrupts many symptoms in the body.
If you suspect you have a mold or mycotoxin illness traceable to an exposure to a water damaged building, seek help from an integrative physician who is knowledgeable about the health effects of mold. He or she may run the following labs on you to better understand if mold is a contributing factor in your illness: TGFb-1 (Labcorp), MMP-9, C4a (National Jewish Health), CD-57 (Labcorp), VEGF, MSH, HLA-DR 1-5 and DQ, and a mold IgG allergen panel (Labcorp). Most of these labs are non-specific, so other medical conditions need to be ruled out.
There is also a urine test available through RealTime Laboratories that tests for mycotoxins. It shows you how many mycotoxins (in parts per billion) are being excreted in the urine, which can provide valuable information about mold exposure. This test is available through some integrative medicine specialists. However, it is very expensive—costing close to $700 so you want to keep that in mind.
Finally, there is an online test called the Visual Contrast Sensitivity Test that is a great screening tool for biotoxin exposure. Biotoxins, including mycotoxins, can disrupt neurological function, and alter the ability of your eyes to contrast shades of light and dark. If you fail this test there’s a 92% chance that neurological function is affected by a biotoxin such as a mycotoxin produced from mold.
The Good News is Mold and Mycotoxin Illness is Treatable
Once you determine mold is making you ill, there are many treatments to remedy the situation. First and foremost, the source of the mold must be eliminated. Consider hiring a professional remediation crew so you don’t risk exposing yourself to more mold spores and mycotoxins. Remediation can be an expensive process, so make sure you get quotes from a variety of mold remediation companies.
Plus, here are some ways to eliminate mold from your body, and reduce the recurrence of mold in your home…
- Binders and sequestering agents such as activated charcoal, bentonite clay, chlorella, zeolite, and cholestyramine bind to mycotoxins and remove them. They also help to prevent the reabsorption of mycotoxins in the gut.
- Sauna therapy is an excellent way to remove mycotoxins from your body. In fact there is research showing that orchatoxin is excreted through sweat.
- Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that helps support detox pathways, and can be used in conjunction with saunas to help mobilize and remove mycotoxins. If taken orally, 1 tsp a day (450 mg) will suffice. It can be administered intravenously as well.
- Probiotics like Lactobacillus rhamnosus can degrade or bind certain species of aflatoxin.
- Make sure other yeasts in the body such as Candida are under control. Sometimes it’s necessary to use systemic herbal antifungals.
- Avoid high mycotoxin content foods like grains (corn, wheat), chocolate, wine, coffee, beer, cheese, sugar, and peanuts. I personally believe that when people react to wine it’s not the sulphite content, but rather the mycotoxin content, that causes a headache or fatigue to kick in.
- Exercise in any form will increase blood flow throughout the body and increase the mobilization of mycotoxins from fat stores.
- HEPA air purifiers can help remove mold spores from the air, and reduce the overall toxic burden.
- Dehumidifiers remove moisture from the air and can really make a difference in a damp environment like a basement.
In conclusion, if you are chronically ill, go from doctor to doctor, and conventional medicine just can’t figure it out—three things should come to mind: chronic undiagnosed Lyme disease, overexposure to EMFs, and undiagnosed mold. It could be any one of the above, or a combination of all three, that’s making you ill.
- Hardin BD, et al. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2003;45(5);470-478.
- Shoemaker RC, et al. Neurotoxicology and Teratology 2006;28(5):573-88.
- Shoemaker et al. Neurotoxicology and Teratology 2005;27(1):29-46.
- Hope J. Scientific World Journal. 2013. doi: 10.1155/2013/767482.
- Dr. Andrew Campbell. YouTube. The Effects of Mycotoxins on Human Body.