Mold is a type of fungus that grows in the form of multicellular filaments called hyphae. There are tens of thousands of mold species that have evolved to survive harsh conditions. Mold reproduces by means of small, lightweight spores that travel through the air. These spores contain toxic chemicals called mycotoxins that can be inhaled and lead to mold toxicity.
Mold toxicity is a very prevalent and underdiagnosed condition that can consist of a variety of symptoms. Although anyone can suffer from mold toxicity, 25% of the population is particularly vulnerable due to a genetic predisposition that inhibits the clearance of biotoxins.
Learn about sources of mold, how mold affects the body, and more below.
Because mold grows on organic matter, it is an increasingly common part of our environment and people can be exposed in a variety of ways. Mold is able to feed on the moisture and warmth of its surroundings, leading to the release of mold spores and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). In fact, research suggests that mold can surface anywhere after just two days of moisture exposure.
Outdoor sources of mold include:
- Stagnant water sources
- Forests, beaches
Unfortunately, mold is also commonly found indoors, which is typically more harmful as mold spores can accumulate in higher concentrations due to a lack of airflow. Mold spores can enter homes, schools, and workplaces by attaching to clothing, shoes, or pets. Additionally, homes in climates where it frequently rains or that reside near the water are more likely to develop mold as they are exposed to moisture more often. It is common for mold to be found in damp bathrooms, basements, carpets, tiles, drywall, washing machines, and dishwashers. Some of the most common varieties of indoor mold are Aspergillus, Cladosporium, and Stachybotrys atra, all of which are considered black mold.
There is a growing number of health problems caused by mold inhalation. This is thought to be, in part, due to the rise of people living in urban areas. Researchers at Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Maranon in Spain reported that Aspergillus spores in outdoor air are more common in urban than rural settings in the province of Madrid. The continuing rise in global population has also pushed more people into environments that are likely to breed mold such as coastal and riparian floodplains, other bottomlands, and hurricane-prone areas.
Other mold risk factors are on the rise due to poor building practices that have been accepted for convenience. For instance, poorly built roofs leave behind rainwater that fosters mold growth. It is also common for venting clothes dryers to be located in a spot where they direct moisture to vulnerable areas inside homes. Additionally, modern homes often have tighter building envelopes, slowing the escape of water vapor and allowing it to become trapped and grow mold.
It is important to note that the same conditions that allow for mold growth also foster bacteria, MVOCs, beta-glucans, live or dead spores, fungal fragments, endotoxins, dust mites, cockroaches, and other pests. This combination of toxins can trigger an immune response and exacerbate chronic illnesses.
How Mold Affects the Body
Fungal secondary metabolites or mycotoxins affect numerous bodily functions mainly through triggering an immune response that leads to chronic inflammation. Mycotoxins impact both the innate immune system (the first line of defense against invading pathogens) and the adaptive immune response (specified immune response that eliminates certain pathogens and prevents their growth).
Mycotoxins such as aflatoxins and ochratoxins (which are produced from Aspergillus) as well as fumonisins (produced by Fusarium) have immunomodulatory properties. Consequently, these mycotoxins alter the body’s inflammatory response. Specifically, they target the functionality and production of cytokines, macrophages, and neutrophils.
Mycotoxins bind with cytokines, leading to an increase in clot formation and arterial blockages. This can lead to headaches, muscle aches, lack of temperature regulation, and brain fog. Increased cytokine levels then trigger action from white blood cells such as macrophages and neutrophils. This inflammatory immune response can restrict blood flow and reduce the amount of oxygen transported to tissues, resulting in fatigue, shortness of breath, and muscle cramps.
Another contributing aspect to the chronic inflammation experienced with mold toxicity is due to the way in which mycotoxins impair the white blood cell’s regulation cytokines, which leads to an increase in infections and a slower recovery from these infections.
Moreover, some mycotoxins inhibit the production of messenger cells, leukotriene B4, by targeting the enzyme, LTA4 hydrolase. This interrupts communication between the immune cells and minimizes the body’s defense mechanism. Because the first line of defense is impaired, it is difficult to develop adaptive immunity and eliminate the mycotoxins. As a result, the body is likely to experience chronic inflammation and a host of other issues.
Mold enters the body through the skin and through inhalation, making respiratory function a primary target of mold. Once inhaled, mold can quickly colonize the lungs and sinuses as they are optimal growing conditions. This leads to the continual release of mycotoxins. Moreover, biofilms can form around the mold colonies, protecting them from the body’s immune system.
The sinuses are particularly susceptible to mold colonies and many species of Aspergillus have been identified in the sinuses of those with chronic sinus inflammation. Aspergillosis is known to be able to colonize in the lungs of both humans and animals, which causes invasive fungal infections. Because of the respiratory tract’s susceptibility to mold, mold exposure often mirrors allergy symptoms such as coughing, runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, and asthma.
Once mycotoxins are inhaled, they are stored in the body’s fatty tissue. Given that the brain is approximately 60% fat, mold toxicity can have profound neurological effects. Mycotoxins trigger an inflammatory immune response and this inflammation in the brain can impair cognitive function and lead to symptoms such as fatigue, memory loss, headaches, insomnia, dizziness, anxiety, depression, and more.
Chronic inflammation in the brain, especially when caused by toxins, can cause long-lasting damage. This is because when the brain is in a chronic state of inflammation, glial cells can no longer support neuron health and neural communication. When inflammation is present, glial cells change their cell morphology significantly and activate rapidly. These cells generate reactive oxygen species and release signals to trigger immune cells, which results in a continuation of the body’s inflammatory response. Over time, this leads to the degradation of tissue and of the blood–brain barrier and neurocognitive issues.
Alzheimer’s specialist, Dr. Bredson, MD, has found that one-third of Alzheimer’s Disease patients are considered “Inhalational Alzheimers,” which means their Alzheimer’s is a result of chronic inflammation caused by mold or other toxins. Other diseases that can be caused by mycotoxins include: ADHD, migraines, Parkinson’s, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and more.
The Role of Mold in Lyme Disease and Chronic Illness
Mold has a significant negative impact on the immune system, making those with chronic illnesses such as Lyme disease more at risk for developing serious health issues.
Because those with a chronic illness often have a weakened immune system, their body is less likely to be able to fight off mold spores and toxins. When the mold then begins to colonize in the body, patients experience chronic mycotoxin exposure, which reduces the body’s ability to fight infection due to mycotoxins immuno-suppressant effect. Thus, the body’s weakened immune system is forced to fight the chronic illness in addition to mycotoxins, leading to a worsening of symptoms associated with both conditions. Additionally, mold exposure and toxicity elicit an inflammatory response, which worsens chronic conditions such as Lyme, Fibromyalgia, gut dysfunction, and more.
Warning Signs of Mold Toxicity
Mold illness can cause a wide variety of symptoms. Often, it is only the respiratory symptoms that are recognized but it is important to be aware of its profound effects:
- Light sensitivity
- Blurred vision
- Brain fog
- Memory loss (typically short-term)
- Chronic congestion or sinus infections
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle pain and/or joint pain
- Hormone deficiency
- Adrenal dysfunction
- Nose bleeds
- Environmental sensitivity (chemical sensitivity)
- Chronic colds, flus, acute infections
- Itchy/ red eyes
- Night sweats
- Temperature dysregulation
- Weight gain
For over a decade, there has been a consensus in the medical community that regular exposure to mold significantly increases people’s risk for disease. This public health hazard has still not been addressed with the concern it should be as governmental agencies, such as the Institute of Medicine report commissioned by the CDC and released in 2004, which concluded that the primary health concerns with mold are solely respiratory. However, mold can have long-lasting health effects, especially for those dealing with a chronic illness.
If you feel you are suffering from mold toxicity or would like to get tested, contact Holtorf Medical Group today. At Holtorf Medical Group, our physicians are trained to provide you with cutting-edge testing and innovative treatments to properly diagnose and treat your condition, optimize your health, and improve your quality of life.