Hi there, welcome to the first official Medical Monday! Every Monday I’ll focus on a meaty medical topic, something that might come up a lot in my practice or that I find myself teaching about a lot. One of the things I’ve been seeing more and more of recently, or maybe it’s just that I’m recognizing it more, is people with mold toxicity issues. I don’t mean just allergies to mold either, I mean mold toxins accumulating in the body and causing all kinds of health issues ranging from sinus infections to severe fatigue and neurological problems. There are a few things that are important to know about mold toxicity and your health.
Living in a moldy environment is not uncommon. Many people can recall having lived in a house or apartment with mold somewhere along the way. The first important point to know is that mold is not always visible. In fact, some of the most dangerous and insidious mold is invisible, such as black mold. Of course, that makes it harder to identify, but the point is that if there are any signs of mold at all, many different kinds of mold should be considered.
Mold toxins can create a host of different problems in the body. Some people get simple respiratory issues such as sinus congestion and recurrent sinus infections. For others, though, mold toxicity becomes a much more serious issue, with symptoms ranging from fatigue, headaches, body pain, to severe neurological issues such as dizziness, seizures, migraines, visual changes and many more. I know that many of my Lyme patients have issues with mold too – is it just a coincidence that Lyme patients happen to have mold exposure too? I think it’s more that some people have a greater susceptibility to neurotoxins, which both mold and Lyme create. This relates to HLA patterns as well as methylation issues.
So what do you do if you suspect mold might be impacting your health?
Step One: Test and Treat Your House
First and foremost, you must make sure there are no ongoing exposures to mold. Environmental testing services can come out and evaluate your home and check for mold toxins and spores. This is key to knowing what you’re dealing with, especially because as I mentioned, not all mold is visible. If there is mold in your house and you have chronic health issues, the bottom line is that you might need to move. I know this sounds extreme, but you simply can’t get well with ongoing exposures to the thing that’s making you sick. That’s like saying you are treating Lyme disease but getting bitten by ticks every day – you just wouldn’t get very far. Or like saying that you’re trying to lose weight but eating chocolate cake every day. It just won’t work. I have seen this create a lot of tension between couples too – where one is unwell but the other is reluctant to take such drastic measures as they may not understand the impact mold can have on the health of their loved one. At the very least, if moving simply isn’t an option, the house must be professionally remediated. I don’t just mean you throw a little bleach on the moldy-looking bits, I mean you have an expert come in and turn your house upside down if they must, to get rid of every bit of mold and every source of ongoing growth.
Step Two: Test and Treat Your Body
Testing for mold toxicity is not absolutely straight forward, and there are a few different approaches you can take. You can test HLA type and methylation pathway defects, which are standard Labcorp tests. I also recommend a C3a and C4a, which are markers of neurotoxicity. The gold standard of testing for mycotoxins in a urine test by Real Time Lab, but it is very expensive (in the vicinity of $800 for 3 markers), so it’s not feasible for everyone. As a starting point, you can go to Ritchie Shoemaker’s website www.survivingmold.com, and take his Visual Contrast Sensitivity test – it’s an online test that can provide at least an initial screen for mold issues. That, together with an elevated C4a, is probably a pretty good sign that mold toxins are playing a role in your health issues. I have also done basic immune screening through a finger stick showing elevated IgG markers to mold (through www.usbiotek.com), but that shows more immune activation that full-blown neurotoxicity (not to say they’re not at all related, but some people can have allergies or sensitivities to mold without them impacting them neurologically).
Mold toxicity is not a piece of cake to treat either. As I said, the first step is to avoid any ongoing exposure. Binders play a big role – a prescription binder that is commonly used is cholestyramine. It’s actually a cholester0l-lowering medicine, but it can bind neurotoxins too. Natural binders include activated charcoal, bentonite clay and food-grade diatomaceous earth. There are also some nasal sprays that can help, including nystatin, or even more effective, BEG (Bactroban, EDTA and Gentamicin). Cholestyramine powder and BEG spray ideally would be compounded to get them in their purest form. Sometimes antifungals such as nystatin and fluconazole are used orally at the same time. One of the best adjunct therapies I have seen for detoxing mold in infrared sauna.
Mold issues can be severe and debilitating. The website I mentioned, www.survivingmold.com is a good starting point for information, and the VCS test can be accessed through that site. Ritchie Shoemaker, MD is one of the pioneers in the area of mold toxicity and has tons of good information, but treatment really should be navigated alongside an integrative doctor. There is a list of his approved doctors on his website too. His book Surviving Mold is available on Amazon and is a great (and very eye-opening) read.
Sometimes people just don’t stop and think about the impact of mold on their body’s and the role it could be playing in their health problems. I have seen mold toxicity do some really ugly things to people. The good news is, it is treatable, albeit slowly and surely. If you have chronic health issues, and you know your house has mold, and/ or you feel better when you’re away from your house and especially in dry climates, it might be worth looking into mold toxicity as a possible culprit.