We’ve reached a critical point in the field of natural medicine where it’s not enough to simply eat better and manage stress.
Obviously those lifestyle changes are powerful and important, but sometimes there are much deeper disturbances that have yet to be uncovered.
Most of us can control the types of foods we eat, how much sleep we get and how often we exercise. But what about the factors that are largely out of our control – like our environment?
Some practitioners hone in with laser-like focus on a person’s individual habits, but fail to consider the external factors that could be THE cause of a person’s illness.
[bctt tweet=”We can no longer ignore the powerful influence of environmental exposures on our health.” via=”yes”]
In addition to the toxic pesticides, solvents, plastics and industrial pollutants, we’re facing an epidemic of mold-related illnesses from water-damaged buildings.
But mold has always been around us, so why is all of this happening now?
Well, one of the things that’s changed since the 1970s is the widespread use of fungicides in house paints. The problem with putting fungicides in paint is that it breeds the growth of very hearty and highly toxic molds. All it takes is a shoddy construction job like an improperly installed door, window or ventilation system for water to get into nooks and crannies and set the stage for mold to flourish.
How Does Mold Make Us Sick?
A quick note: While mold and microbes found in water-damaged buildings are the focus of this article, it’s important to know that other microbes like Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus and tick-borne Borrelia are other common causes of biotoxin illness. But today I’m going to focus on mold and water-damaged buildings because I don’t think enough people are aware of this issue.
Microbes like bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi can infect us and release toxins. When a person is sick from these toxins, it is called biotoxicity since the toxins come from living organisms. Biotoxicity is different from environmental toxicities such as heavy metals or chemicals.
We can be exposed to biotoxins just by breathing inside of a water-damaged building. These buildings can harbor mold, bacterial toxins, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter that permeate throughout the air and get inhaled.
These biotoxins are very small, so they can move in and out of our cells and throughout various body systems.
Biotoxins can build up in our bodies because they’re not easy for the body to excrete or destroy. However, the body will do its best and concentrate these toxins in the liver. Once they’re in the liver, they bind to bile so we can poop them out (yep, that’s a technical medical term 😉 ).
But there’s a catch! The body, in its infinite wisdom, wants to be resourceful and recycle our bile. This recycling system is called the enterohepatic circulation. So once the bile reaches the first part of the small intestine, the toxin – still attached to bile – gets recirculated back to the liver. It never leaves the intestinal system, so it accumulates in the body.
Now, normally this recirculation would not be a problem. In most people, the immune system can recognize these toxins and mount an immune response to destroy them.
But roughly 25% of the population has a genetic susceptibility, and their immune system cannot recognize the biotoxins and remove them. That’s a lot of people!
When the toxins can’t be recognized, destroyed and removed, they continue circulating in the body, causing inflammation and complex symptoms. The group of symptoms and lab findings related to biotoxin exposure is known as Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS). This syndrome was first discovered and named by Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker, a pioneer in the field of biotoxin illness.
How Do You Know if You Have Mold Toxicity or CIRS?
The first step is to just CONSIDER that it could be a possibility. If you’re not aware that this condition even exists, there’s no way you’ll seek answers and treatment for it.
Mold is a “sensitizer,” meaning it overexcites the nervous and immune systems, and it makes any other existing health issues worse. CIRS affects multiple body systems and creates a bizarre set of symptoms.
The symptoms of mold illness can vary widely, but here are some of the most common. Please note that the symptoms with a (*) are quite characteristic of mold-related illness:
- Extreme seasonal allergy symptoms or sinus congestion
- Frequent urination
- Unquenchable thirst
- Hives, acne, rashes, itching, strange skin lesions or bumps
- Mood swings
- Night sweats
- Heavy menstrual bleeding or painful periods
- Diarrhea, abdominal pain
- Impotence and low sex drive
- Static charges/shocks on the skin
- Dry skin
- Body temperature dysregulation (feeling too hot or too cold)
- Appetite swings
- Sudden or rapid weight gain, no matter what you eat or how much you exercise (because biotoxicity causes leptin and insulin resistance)
- Unusual vibratory sensations, especially in the spine
- *Unusual pains (“icepick” or “lightening bolt” sensations)
- *Cognition problems like poor focus, difficulty learning, or struggling to find words
- *Chronic fatigue
- Sensitivity to bright light
- Watery eyes
In addition to the symptoms listed above, many people with mold illness are misdiagnosed with:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Testing Your Home and Yourself for Mold
A healthcare practitioner will make the diagnosis based on a person’s symptoms, exposure history and lab tests. There are several basic lab tests that help to make the diagnosis of CIRS. Here is a partial list:
- MMP-9 (elevated in CIRS)
- VEGF (low in CIRS)
- MSH (low in CIRS)
- C4a (elevated in CIRS)
- VIP (may be low in CIRS)
- TGF-B-1 (elevated)
Great Plains Laboratory provides a urine mycotoxin test, which tests for toxins from 40 different species of mold.
In addition to the basic labs and urine test, the Visual Contrast Sensitivity (VCS) Test has been shown to be a reliable screening indicator of biotoxin illness. Biotoxins cause inflammation of the optic nerve, and this inflammation can manifest as changes in visual perception. The VCS test involves looking at different patterns of wavy lines. You can take the VCS test online for free. If you pay a $10 donation, they will provide you with a compete report of your results. As biotoxicity improves, the VCS test score also improves.
In addition to testing yourself, it’s important to test your home environments (and possibly your workplace and cars, too.) It’s likely that most of our public buildings in the U.S.A. have some degree of water damage, so if you work in a school or courthouse for example, you have a higher risk of mold exposure. Not every mold is toxic, but some molds are highly toxic even in tiny amounts.
RealTime Laboratories also provides the Environmental Mold and Mycotoxin Assessment (EMMA) test, which assesses the presence and abundance of mold spores in an environment. If you can smell mold in your home or car, there is mold. Again, not all types of mold are toxic, but the musty smell is still an important clue.
If you’re renting your home or apartment, you may want to speak with an attorney before selecting a mold test for your home, because your landlord may be legally liable for any medical or property damages. The same applies with your work environment because you may be legally entitled to compensation for special and medical damages.
How is Mold Toxicity/CIRS Treated?
Treating mold toxicity/CIRS can be complicated, but the basic elements involve:
- Evaluating your environments and removing yourself from any mold exposure at home, work, school or in the car. (Any continued exposure will perpetuate the toxicity and prevent healing! This could mean moving out of your home altogether, or at least until the mold has been thoroughly remediated.
- The use of binding agents (bentonite clay, activated charcoal, cholestyramine, chlorella, etc.) to escort the toxins out of the body through stool
- Supporting detoxification
- Appropriate treatment for any hormonal imbalances related to the biotoxicity
- Treatment of MARCoNS, which is a type of antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus bacteria. It frequently colonizes the nasal passages and sinuses of people with mold illness.
- A very low-carbohydrate diet
Of all of the treatment steps outlined above, #1 is the most important. You MUST get out of the affected building and eliminate the exposure. Sadly, many people who feel sick and tired stay home more often, not realizing that their home is the source of their illness. So they become sicker the more they stay home, and it’s a vicious cycle.
While the home or workplace is being remediated, you cannot be in that space. Also, any belongings form a moldy building can make you sick (and keep you sick). Books, papers, furniture and other household items can all be sources of re-exposure and will likely have to be thrown out. Remember, material possessions can be replaced; people cannot!
Mold remediation must be done professionally by a reputable company. Whatever you do, do NOT throw bleach on the mold. All that will do is break up the mold and make it airborne. The mold will also release more toxins when it feels threatened.
A high-quality air purifier that filters toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a very important adjunct to professional mold remediation. We personally love the air purifiers from EnviroKlenz because they neutralize VOCs and other airborne toxins. Not many other air purifiers on the market can make that claim.
Don’t skip this step; indoor air quality can have a more profound impact on your health than your genes or eating an organic diet.
Another very important piece of the puzzle is to eliminate or drastically reduce your exposure to wifi and other sources of electromagnetic radiation (cell phones, etc.). Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt has some preliminary evidence that molds and yeasts produce up to 600 times more biotoxins when they’re exposed to wifi and other types of electromagnetic radiation.
We actually advise all of our patients – regardless of their health status – to unplug their wifi routers before bed, and to never sleep with wireless or electronic devices in the bedroom (yes, that means no TV!). If you’re able to turn off the circuit breaker switch to your bedroom, that’s even better. Aim to make your bedroom an “electronics-free zone.”
Well-known blogger and cookbook author Elena Amsterdam has openly shared her story about electromagnetic radiation exacerbating her health problems. Also, our patients with mold illness have noticeable improvements in their symptoms when they start disconnecting from wifi and wireless devices.
My Take-Home Points for You
Mold toxicity is very real, and it is not to be taken lightly. Some people don’t want to think about the possibility of mold sickness because it sounds too silly or extreme, or because they can’t fathom the thought of having to leave their home or possessions behind. Remember that nothing is more valuable than your health.
If you’re still not convinced after reading this post, I suggest watching the free online movie “MOLDY” to hear stories of real people who have lived through mold illness.
I leave you with this:
If you’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, it could be mold.
If you have GI infections or IBS that won’t go away, it could be mold.
If you have unexplained or extreme fatigue, it could be mold.
If you have chronic sinus infections, terrible allergies or nasal congestion, it could be mold.
If you have multiple chemical sensitivities, it is probably mold.
If you’re gaining weight that you can’t lose no matter how hard you exercise or how healthy you’re eating, it could be mold.
If you’ve “tried everything” and still can’t get better, it could be mold.
Consider the possibility. Consider testing your home and yourself.Seek a provider who understands the nuances of treating biotoxin and mold illness.The exposure may have happened months or even years ago, but the toxins can persist in the body and make you sicker over time.
Tell me your thoughts: Has your home or office ever been flooded? Do you suspect mold could be an issue for you?
Wishing you the best of health always,
The naturopathic doctors (NDs) at Attune Functional Medicine proudly serve the Denver metro area including Broomfield, Boulder, Arvada, Louisville, Thornton, Lafayette, Westminster, and Erie. Telehealth is also available for long-distance care.
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