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My Flood Story and What to Do About Mold

0 2 years ago

This is one of the most important posts I’ve written to date. It’s about something that’s had a profound effect on my life, and something that affects at least 100 million people in North America alone. It’s something that matters even more to people in the path of the recent hurricanes.

It matters so much to me that I funded and filmed my first and only documentary about it. It matters so much that I’ve decided to stop charging for a limited time to watch the documentary – it’s more important that people see it than that it pays for itself.

It’s all about toxic mold from water damage. Here’s why mold is so personal to me, and why knowing this can dramatically improve your life if you’re recovering from a tropical storm.

My flood story

In 1997, I was living in California’s Central Valley with my parents when storms caused a levee to fail. Six feet of river water overran my parent’s home – and 1,000 others. We had exactly four hours to move all of our possessions, and the last pickup truck pulled out as the encroaching water lapped over its wheels. Thanks to good friends, we saved 90% of our stuff, but lost family photos and heirlooms, and ultimately our home.

When the water receded in a few days, we worked in the house to try to save it, with the help of dozens of volunteers. Their willingness to help convinced me of the basic goodness of people, a belief I hold to this day.

But the volunteers – and my family – paid a price with our health we didn’t know about. We were working with moldy materials because any time drywall or wood or almost any surface gets water damage, toxic soil molds take over and bloom.

The problem with mold

As humans, our bodies’ energy-generating system is based on ancient bacteria that evolved to become the mitochondria in our cells. Mold is the ancient enemy of bacteria, ergo toxic to your mitochondria. (Antibiotics that kill bacteria come from mold!)

Keeping mitochondria working at their highest potential is what keeps us biologically young and performing at our best. This system is the topic of Head Strong, my last New York Times science bestselling book.

Exposure to the poisons made by toxic molds in water damaged buildings causes inflammation and mitochondrial damage, so your body doesn’t make energy the way it should. When that happens, all sorts of systems in your body go haywire, with so many symptoms it’s hard to nail them down.

How mold impacts your mitochondria

  • Mold toxins are genotoxic – they cause DNA damage and mutate your DNA, which can lead to cancer and cells that don’t function well. [1][2][3][4]
  • They break down myelin, the fatty covers that insulate your neurons and allow them to send information throughout your brain.[5] Myelin breakdown is a primary component of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.
  • Mold toxins are capable of contributing to neurodegenerative disease.[6][7] They have the capability to damage your brain, and another study tied brain fungal infections to Alzheimer’s Disease.[8][9]

Symptoms of mold exposure

The symptoms that stand out the most are crippling fatigue, anxiety, and mood swings. The problem is that your house was just flooded by a hurricane, so it’s normal to feel these things, right? You just need to push harder. But no matter how hard you push, it keeps getting harder. That’s because you are dealing with a poison you breathe (or absorb through your skin) as you’re working on your home or unpacking damp belongings.

Then other symptoms set in, like:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Chronic sinus infections or strep throat
  • Extremely poor memory
  • Headache and migraine
  • Frequent nosebleeds and unexplained bruising
  • Excessively stiff joints and muscle pain
  • Tingling feelings and restless legs
  • Lightheadedness and vertigo
  • Incredible thirst
  • Intense need to urinate without a full bladder
  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis and gout
  • New food allergies (especially to gluten and dairy)
  • Abdominal pain and new Crohn’s disease
  • Metallic taste in the mouth
  • Sudden change in electrostatic discharge when you touch things
  • Worsening of nearly every neurodegenerative and autoimmune disease

Even worse, you might experience four of these symptoms, your spouse a different two symptoms, and your friend none at all. Because we all have different biology, our bodies will react to mold toxins in different ways.

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