Share & Earn


Brain on Fire: The Role of Toxic Mold in Triggering Psychiatric Symptoms

0 2 years ago

By Mary Ackerley, M.D.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Mary Ackerley is an integrative psychiatrist who recently obtained certification in the Shoemaker Protocol used to treat toxic mold illness. She did her M.D. at the University of Maryland; her medical residency at Johns Hopkins; her M.D.H. at the American Medical College of Homeopathy; and her undergraduate degree at Harvard University. She practices in Tucson. The following is a slightly shortened transcript of a recent talk she gave to a group of physicians and researchers interested in the health effects of toxic mold.

I get asked all the time, “How did a psychiatrist get interested in mold?”

My interest really stems from my clinical experience. As an integrative psychiatrist, I attract people who are not able to be helped easily by traditional meds. They go to their doctors, they’re given some Zoloft or Prozac or Xanax. Not only does it not do anything, often times it makes them worse. So they start to seek out someone like me, who’s willing to work with different methods.

Although people complain of depression and anxiety, I often find that fatigue and muscle and joint pain are the stronger complaints. Those are complaints that are usually ignored by traditional busy family practitioners because it’s all lumped together under the heading of “Depression.”

I was doing a CME credit on depression, and the case study was a woman with joint and muscle pain, fatigue, back muscle pain, anxiety and depression. The whole thing was that you were supposed to learn to diagnose all these somatic complaints as depression.

But in fact, what I do is the opposite.

Eventually I began to realize that I was attracting some patients who told me they were mold patients. They came to me with strange labs and even stranger protocols. I was pretty traditional in just looking at it and saying, “I don’t know what this stuff means.” Then I would start to work on their depression and anxiety.

For me, quite frankly, I grew up on Long Island on the east coast, and I really thought that mold was natural and not a big deal. Every basement smelled moldy.

But I was kind of curious, and I eventually got one of Dr. Shoemaker’s books because patients were handing them to me.

First Experience Treating Mold

Then one day, a patient that I’d known pretty well for a couple of years arrived really late for her appointment. She was a woman in her seventies and she was usually pretty well put together. Now she was pretty disheveled and confused. She told me she couldn’t even remember how to get to the office, which was very strange. She’d had the same problem with another physician and drove around the block for an hour, and couldn’t remember how to get to the office.

I was actually pretty concerned. She’d been seeing me for mild depression and a tremor. We’d been doing some supplements that had been helping, but the tremor hadn’t been touched.

She told me that over the past few weeks, she’d seen a few other doctors. She had referred herself to an ENT because her sinusitis was acting up. She had referred herself to a dermatologist because now she had this strange rash on her shins which concerned her. She also was having problems with some aches and pains.

I was definitely concerned, so concerned that I made a note that I was going to call her sons to talk about getting her into assisted living.

I asked if there was anything new that had been happening. She said the only thing that had changed in her life was that she had decided to renovate the house she was living in and that the walls were being torn out. She told me that she smelled mold and that mold had been found behind several walls.

I was like, “Oh, okay, mold. I’ve heard of this before.”

Finally it occurred to me that maybe this was really a mold patient.

We started reading Dr. Shoemaker’s book Mold Warriors together. We found the list of the symptoms. She read them and said, “Oh, I have ice pick pains” and “Oh, I have all the mental symptoms of the brain fog and I’ve been urinating and my stomach’s been hurting.” She was about to see a GI person to get a workup for stomach pains.

She was presenting to me as a psychiatrist with confusion, severe brain fog and an increase in her depression. But she actually had multiple symptoms and had seen many doctors now. Nobody had been able to help her with anything.

We read a little further in Dr. Shoemaker’s book, and I said, “Cholestyramine seems pretty innocuous to use, I’ll try it for you.” So I gave her a prescription for cholestyramine and told her to take it three to four times a day.

She came back three weeks later and I was looking at a different person. It was a very startling experience. She was on time for her appointment, looking alert and put together. She was coherent and neatly dressed. It was like a really different person.

The only thing that had been changed was adding cholestyramine. It was very impressive to me that something that I was calling pre-dementia had been eradicated.

Inflammation and Psychiatry

So I got much more interested in mold and I began to read Dr. Shoemaker’s work to learn about biotoxin illness.

What I found after learning how to do these strange labs is that quite a high percentage of my integrative psychiatric patients actually had some degree of biotoxin illness, based on having haplotypes for mold with dreaded genes or very high elevated cytokines.

That certainly wasn’t anything that I’d ever been taught in medical school or continuing education, or in any of the alternative educational experiences that I had pursued. I became really fascinated about exploring the evidence-based literature for some explanation.

What I found is that neuroinflammation — which is mediated by a variety of mechanisms including cytokines — is very widely documented in the psychiatric literature. It’s just that that knowledge isn’t in most clinical practices.

One thing I’d like to point out that is sort of fascinating to me is that Dr. Shoemaker has often said that it’s about 25% of the population that is susceptible to biotoxins. When you add up all the psychiatric illnesses that people are exposed to, it’s actually about 25% of the population that has been diagnosed or is said to have psychiatric illness.

Is that a coincidence? Perhaps. But it’s a very interesting coincidence to me. Because again, there is a very extensive and robust line of research that neurotransmitter theory alone is really insufficient to explain most psychiatric illness — although it does sell SSRI’s quite well.

Autoimmune Disease, Infectious Illness and Mood Disorders

There is some very recent research that has come out on inflammation and depression. It is from Denmark, which is considered a homogeneous population. They had access to records of 3 million people. (1)

They showed there that if you had a diagnosis of either autoimmune disease — which would include things like Hashimoto’s or rheumatoid arthritis or Sjogren’s — it actually increased risk of being diagnosed with some sort of a mood disorder like depression by 45%. If you’d been hospitalized for some sort of infectious illness, that increased your risk of having mood disorders by 62%. And if you had both of those things happen to you, you doubled your risk of subsequently being diagnosed with a mood illness.

Infections and Toxins

Some of the infections and toxins that we know are associated with depression and anxiety are molds. Neurological Lyme is also well known for creating psychiatric complications. There is good evidence that streptococcus infections not treated properly can lead to obsessive-compulsive disorder, also called PANDAS.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *