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Mold Toxicity, Mold Illness, and Chronic Symptoms

0 2 years ago

If you have multiple chronic symptoms, you may have wondered if mold toxicity — an illness caused by mold and mold toxins — is the cause. Chronic fatigue symptoms, autoimmunity, and allergic symptoms are often attributed to mold or water damaged buildings. But is mold toxicity really to blame?

Toxic mold can definitely cause a wide range of symptoms, but medical researchers don’t agree about its role in complex illness.

In this article, we’ll explore what mold toxicity is and what kinds of health issues it can cause. We’ll discuss whether mold toxicity is real, and we’ll talk about what to do if you suspect you have mold illness, including testing and mold illness treatment.

What Is Mold Toxicity?

Mold toxicity is illness caused by exposure to mold spores and mold biotoxins. As the word implies, biotoxins are toxic substances made by biological organisms, like molds or bacteria.

Mold toxicity is widely recognized as a cause of symptoms or illness in animals and people from exposure to moldy foods [1, 2] but has also come to suggest illness caused by mold growth in water-damaged buildings.

However, whether people can become chronically ill from long-term exposure to airborne mold particulates (small pieces of mold) and biotoxins indoors is controversial [3].

Symptoms of Mold Exposure, Mycotoxins, and Mold Illness

Respiratory symptoms, like sinus trouble, are well documented in people who have experienced indoor airborne mold exposure and mold allergies [4, 5]. And symptoms of mycotoxin (biotoxins produced by molds) exposure from mold in foods is also well validated in studies [6]. But some evidence suggests long-term exposure to airborne mold and mycotoxins can cause more systemic health problems and health conditions [7]. Mold exposure symptoms may include:

  • Respiratory symptoms such as sinusitis, asthma, wheezing, runny nose, sneezing, shortness of breath, swollen nasal passages, and chronic upper respiratory tract problems [8, 9, 10]
  • Allergy symptoms [9] or allergic reactions
  • Neurological symptoms, such as memory loss, brain fog, executive function disorders, depression, vision changes, and even autism spectrum disorder [11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16].
  • Chronic fatigue [17, 18]
  • Digestive symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or vomiting [1, 19]
  • Inflammation [20]

A minority of people may have a hypersensitivity to molds and mycotoxins, termed Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS) by Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker.

Health Effects of Mycotoxins

Mold can cause irritating symptoms, but mold toxins — called mycotoxins — are often the bigger problem.

Not all types of molds produce mycotoxins, but many do, including common household molds like Aspergillus, Penicillium, and Stachybotrys chartarum (black mold) [7]. Fungal mycotoxins have been shown to cause adverse human health effects [21], may behave as allergens, and some types can be more toxic than industrial toxins [22].

Consider these examples:

  • A mycotoxin called trichothecene, released by mold species such as Stachybotrys chartarum, has been shown to disrupt the immune system, nervous system, and hormone and energy production [19].
  • A clinical trial found that inhalation of Beta-D-glucans, a mycotoxin, produced a significant increase in inflammatory markers [23].
  • Mycotoxins in foods have been shown to cause digestive system effects, such as shrinkage of the intestinal villi, changes in the gut microbiome, and hormone imbalances, and are associated with some digestive system cancers [1].
  • A clinical study found that mold-exposed people had decreases in neurological function on assessments compared to controls [24]. These included changes in reaction times, grip strength, memory, and impaired vision.
  • And a series of cases of pediatric lung hemorrhage were associated with mycotoxin exposure from water-damaged homes [8].

Is Illness From Mold Exposure Real?

Researchers are trying to clarify the health effects of exposure to mold and mycotoxins. According to an article in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal, “…many of the puzzle pieces — exactly who is vulnerable, to what extent, and under what conditions — are still missing. The vast information gaps that remain continue to feed significant controversy…” [25]

A 10-year longitudinal study showed a positive association between chronic mold exposure, inflammation, and “sick building syndrome” (illness caused by exposure building they live or work in) [20]. Studies suggest mold and mycotoxin exposure increases a systemic inflammatory response [26], which generally has been shown to contribute to health problems such as heart disease and gum disease [27, 28, 29, 30, 31].

However, there isn’t yet strong evidence to support this hypothesis or to confirm how systemic mold illness works [10, 32].

But despite all this controversy, many people do seem to become ill from mold exposure in moldy buildings and appear to improve when treated for mold illness. The challenge we need to meet is to determine who truly needs mold illness treatment.

About Mold and Mycotoxin Testing

Mold and mycotoxin lab tests can help define a mold illness problem but need to be used carefully. As you choose how to move forward with your case, be aware of the following:

  • Mold and mycotoxin testing is a new technology without much data. This doesn’t mean testing can’t be useful, but it needs to be interpreted by knowledgeable practitioners who know what they’re doing.
  • Mold can be a red herring. Just because mold or mycotoxins show up on a test result doesn’t mean they are the cause of your symptoms. If not interpreted correctly, this can distract you from your true root causes.

Mold illness is complex. Testing may not provide you with clear answers or a road map to ideal treatment.

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