Mold: Dangers and Healing Strategies
by Dr Mercola
Mold in your home, school, or workplace can pose a number of serious health problems that you may not realize are related to mold exposure. This article is part of a series of articles I wrote about this silent health threat. The focus of this particular article will be on some of the more serious medical conditions—some deadly—with which mold has been associated.
In a previous interview with mold expert Dr. Jack Thrasher, he estimated that as many as 40 percent of American schools and 25 percent of homes have mold infestations, unbeknownst to the people occupying those buildings. It follows that adverse health effects of mold may be reaching pandemic levels.
Growing right along with mold are what are called “gram negative” and “gram positive” bacteria.1 Just like mold, they require moisture and organic material to thrive and are often found growing in the same places as mold, and the synergistic action between mold and bacteria further worsen inflammatory health conditions. Oftentimes, bacterial infections occur alongside fungal infections and make treatment more complicated.
Everyone is potentially at risk for toxic mold exposure, regardless of your geographic region, climate, socioeconomic status, race, age, or gender. As with most other medical challenges, knowledge is your most powerful weapon.
Many common health problems may be associated with mold exposure, but very few people have connected the dots. This is why it is SO important for you to be aware of the seriousness of this problem and become familiar with what to look for.
From a toxicity point of view, some mycotoxins (toxic substances produced by mold) are actually far more toxic than heavy metals, in terms of concentration. Mycotoxins also tend to affect more biological systems in your body than do pesticides or heavy metals, partly because fungi have the ability to dodge your immune system by rapidly mutating, while at the same time producing chemicals that suppress your immune system.
If your immune system is stressed in any way, or if you are extremely sensitive and have allergy-like reactions to a variety of agents, then you may be even MORE sensitive to mold than the average person and have chronic symptoms directly related to mold in your environment. But even if you are generally healthy, mold can still pose a significant risk if you are caught off-guard.
Mycotoxins are chemical toxins present within or on the surface of the mold spore, which you then unwittingly inhale, ingest, or touch. These mold toxins are extremely potent and often affect nearly every organ system in your body. Some effects resemble radiation sickness. Some are neurotoxic and produce central nervous system effects, including cognitive and behavioral changes, ataxia, and convulsions. Approximately 70 percent of the people with confirmed exposure to toxigenic molds exhibit significant neurotoxicity.
Scientists believe that mycotoxins are the organism’s way of holding a competitive edge by defeating other organisms that are trying to thrive in the same environment—like humans, for example.
One of the reasons mycotoxins are so toxic is they can cross directly into your brain. According to Dr. Thrasher, your olfactory neurons are in direct communication with your brain—there is no barrier. Anything you have inhaled or smelled, even if it doesn’t have an odor, can go directly into your brain via these olfactory neurons. Mycotoxins have even been found to enter your brain via optic muscles and optic nerves. This lack of a blood-brain barrier has been confirmed in scientific studies.
This creates the potential for mold-induced sinusitis to lead to serious brain complications if left untreated.
More than 200 mycotoxins have been identified from common molds. Mycotoxins interfere with RNA synthesis and may cause DNA damage. Mycotoxins, even in minute quantities, are lipid-soluble and readily absorbed by your intestinal lining, airways, and skin. Even spores that are no longer able to reproduce can still harm your health due to these mycotoxins—in other words, “dead” mold spores are every bit as dangerous as “live” ones. The spores do not produce the toxins—rather, it is thought that the toxins are produced when the spores are produced by the mold colony.
The mycotoxins that have probably received the most attention by researchers are the trichothecenes, produced by Stachybotyrs chartarum and Aspergillus versicolor, two of the molds I’d like to discuss due to their especially toxic effects.
When these mycotoxins are present, they can suppress and even destroy your immune system, including your lymphoid tissue and bone marrow. Animals injected with SC toxins experience hemorrhaging from their brains and other organs, including their thymus, spleen, lungs, intestine, liver, and kidney. Humans with chronic exposure to SC mycotoxins have reported the following health problems:
- Cold and flu symptoms
- Respiratory problems, such as asthma and nose bleeding
- Memory loss
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Dermatitis and rashes
- Fatigue and generalized malaise
- Hair loss
- Pulmonary hemorrhage, emphysema-like disease
- Autoimmune disease
Dangerous molds have now been linked to a number of different diseases16 that are prevalent today, including learning disabilities, gastrointestinal disturbances and GERD, heart problems, cancer, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and several autoimmune diseases. Kurt and Lee Ann Billings wrote the book Mold: The War Within17 after extensive personal bouts with toxic mold exposure, writing extensively about their experience and recovery. They describe ongoing problems with thyroid regulation, in terms of both excess and deficiency, among a multitude of other health problems.
The truth is, when your immune system is impaired, almost anything can happen in terms of negative health effects. This makes identifying the cause a real challenge, and when mold is hidden, it is extremely easy to miss the link between toxic mold exposure and a persisting health problem. This makes it that much more important to find a healthcare provider who can perform a smart, comprehensive evaluation if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having an unexplained medical condition.
Unfortunately, there is no precise formula for rebuilding perfect health if you have been damaged by mold or its toxins. No one set of interventions will work for everyone. Treatment depends on many factors—the type of mold you were exposed to, length of exposure, your overall health, medications, allergies, genetics, and a host of other factors.
Your best approach is to find a well-informed physician who has expertise in environmental medicine. Together you can devise an appropriate treatment plan, based on your own unique physiology and situation.
That said, there is much to be learned from those who are on the other end of what you’re going through. You are definitely not alone! By finding some good resources and arming yourself with the best information, you’ll decrease the amount of time-consuming “trial and error” along your path to recovery. Many people have suffered for years because they simply didn’t have information like what I am presenting in this report.
One excellent resource is the book Mold: The War Within by Kurt and Lee Ann Billings. The Billings learned the hard way about the damaging health effects of mold—and the level of ignorance about mold’s effects by the medical profession as a whole.
In the early stages of their road to recovery, the Billings went through many physicians who either didn’t believe mold was behind their suffering, or whose treatments were little more than shots in the dark. When they did eventually find physicians who agreed their problems were related to mold poisoning, they offered little help other than prescribing dangerous antifungals and other drugs that contributed nothing to their recovery.
It comes as no surprise to me that Kurt and Lee Ann Billings found the most beneficial intervention in their recovery was a radical change in diet. What they did was cut out every food that fuels fungal growth—namely, sugars, grains and grain-based foods, and simple carbohydrates. By eliminating milk, bread, crackers, pasta, cereal, nearly all fruit, and anything made from refined white flour, they literally STARVED the mold out of their bodies.
Fungi, including yeast and molds, need sugar in order to survive. So what you eat really matters, since any organism living in your body depends on your diet to sustain it. Fungi will thrive on a diet high in fructose, sucrose (table sugar), lactose (milk sugar) and other sugars.
This is not new information. Low sugar diets have been popularized in the battle against Candida overgrowth (Anti-yeast diet, Candida Diet, etc.), and mold thrives in similar conditions as yeast. It makes perfect sense that people with fungal infections begin to regain their health when they begin taking away the fungus’ food supply.
Sugar also suppresses your immune system and commonly contains mold contamination itself, which are two good reasons to avoid it. But cutting out sugar and grains may not go far enough. A Ketogenic Diet that is free of gluten, Cottonseed, Sugar, Peanuts, Corn, Sorghum and Hard Cheeses is the best place to start.
Probiotics: Probably the most important supplement for recovering from mold-induced illness is a good probiotic. Your gastrointestinal tract is your first line of defense against mold and its toxins, and having a GI tract populated with beneficial flora is crucial for optimal immune function. Probiotics help repopulate your GI tract with these beneficial bacteria.
The “good” bacteria help keep the “bad” bacteria (and other organisms like mold and yeast) in check. This is why, as discussed earlier, antibiotics are so counterproductive if you have a fungal infection.
Without the proper microflora, fungi and their toxins can break through the walls of your intestinal tract and enter your bloodstream. When your bowel is toxic, the rest of your body soon follows. Sensing this toxicity, your immune system reacts with a vengeance, trying desperately to overcome this perceived assault, which results in systemic inflammation. And when your blood is full of toxins, your organs responsible for cleansing it (liver, kidneys, skin, lymph) become overloaded and multi-system health problems can occur—which is what many people experience after mold poisoning.
It is important to remember that the catalyst for the entire illness is disruption of healthy intestinal flora. This is why paying careful attention to your GI health is SO vitally important, and a high quality probiotic is helpful beyond measure. I just can’t emphasize this enough.
Garlic: Garlic is a potent antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, immune system stimulant, and detoxification agent. Garlic also helps clean out the respiratory tract. The best form is raw, whole garlic, rather than a supplement derived from garlic, as it is the synergism of the whole food that makes it so clinically active. Eat the cloves whole, or run them through your juicer alongside your veggies.
Ginger: Ginger is also an antifungal and antibacterial. It helps dislodge congestion in your respiratory tract, and is also a great digestive aid. Ginger also makes a great addition to fresh juice.
Cayenne: Cayenne is a catalyst for the other herbs.
Goldenseal: Goldenseal, with its active ingredient berberine, has antibacterial and immune-enhancing properties. However, it should not be used for long periods of time.
There are undoubtedly many other helpful natural agents, and you will have to rely on the expertise of your healthcare providers to find which ones are best for you. It will require some degree of trial and error. The take-away is, there ARE options if you suspect you’ve been poisoned by mold. And as usual, the natural approaches are much safer and more effective for restoring your health than antifungal drugs, antibiotics or steroids, which are the worst options by far.
Here are a few strategies I highly recommend incorporating into your recovery plan:
• Glutathione is mentioned by Kurt and Lee Ann Billings as being helpful. Glutathione is your body’s most powerful antioxidant and has even been called the “master antioxidant” because it maximizes the activity of all the other antioxidants. The best way to increase your glutathione level is by consuming a high quality whey protein. It should be cold pressed, undenatured, derived from grass-fed cows, and free of hormones, chemicals and sugar.
• Omega-3 fats are also very important, from a mixture of plant and animal sources. The best source of animal-based omega-3s comes from krill oil.
• Artichoke leaf extract: A study published in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry in 20044 found that extract of artichoke leaf was toxic to many types of fungi, including both molds and yeasts.
• Vitamin D: Research suggests vitamin D may prevent mold allergies, so make sure your vitamin D levels are optimal.
• Air purification: To ensure you are breathing the cleanest air possible, I recommend you avail yourself of an air purification system. Air can contain mold and mold spores, among other toxic particles. My favorites are active purification systems that utilize low levels of ozone.