Patients with mold-related illnesses face unique challenges while navigating our healthcare system. Many end up feeling frustrated and unheard, confused about why it’s been so difficult for them to access any kind of care.
So why does it seem like no one knows how to adequately treat mold toxicity, and why is it so hard to get doctors to believe you?
A huge gap exists between what practitioners understand and what has been published regarding mold toxicity and its management. While it’s clear that mold can cause illness in humans, there still aren’t many research studies or clinical trials on how to diagnose, treat, and manage these illnesses.
Mold Toxicity Basics
Mold grows and thrives in damp environments, which is why it often appears in buildings with high humidity and water damage. Practitioners who treat chronic illnesses often have patients who tell them, “I was healthy until I moved into this building” or “I feel better when I leave for work or a vacation, but worse when I come home.” If any of this sounds familiar, you should check your house and other buildings you spend significant time in for water damage, leaks, humidity, and mold growth.
But first, you should be aware of the difference between mold and mildew. Mold is typically green or black. Keep in mind that not all species of mold produce the mycotoxins that can significantly impact human health. Mildew is green or white. It has a very distinctive smell that you have probably encountered in many old buildings but is not necessarily toxic.
Black mold is the most concerning, as well as other similar species known to cause more severe reactions such as aspergillus and stachybotrys.
Reactions to Mold Determine Mold Toxicity
Mold releases compounds called mycotoxins (or more specifically, aflatoxins), which trigger inflammatory responses in the body. But not everyone has the same reaction to mycotoxins, and severity can vary drastically from person to person.
Part of it is related to your immune tolerance – how to fit your immune system is to either react or not react to environmental pathogens. The integrity of the lung barrier and genetic factors also play a role. The key idea is that everyone’s going to respond to mold differently and have different reactions – which also means certain people are uniquely susceptible.
Mold Allergy / Mold Toxicity Sensitization
An important phenomenon to understand is the difference between routine immune reactions to mold and the development of a mold sensitization or mold allergy.
Exposure to mold leads to the production of antibodies called IgG. These antibodies can be measured from blood samples, which lets physicians know that the immune system is being exposed and reacting to these toxic mold species. An IgG immune reaction is a delayed reaction.
It’s possible for people to shift from an IgG response to an IgE allergic reaction, where the person becomes primed and experiences immediate symptoms whenever they enter a building contaminated with mold spores.
Anyone exposed over a long enough period of time will eventually experience an immunological shift from IgG immune sensitivity to IgE allergic reaction.
How Mold Toxicity Can Cause Lung Barrier Breakdown
Repeated mold exposure can cause the lung barriers to break down, often referred to as “leaky lung syndrome.”
While not a technical term, it’s a simple description as it’s similar to leaky gut syndrome.
The pulmonary epithelium barrier in the lungs has:
• Zonulin proteins that keep the epithelium tight together.
• Occludin proteins that keep the intestinal epithelium junction in the lungs together.
People with regular mold exposure experience constant inflammation which breaks down their pulmonary tight junctions. They become extremely sensitive to pathogens and irritants in the air which can eventually lead to chronic inflammatory conditions or autoimmune diseases.
Some of the most common symptoms of lung barrier breakdown are difficulty breathing, coughing, irritation, and a hard time recovering after strenuous physical activity.
What To Do About Mold Toxicity
The first thing you can do is reach out to your doctor about testing for mold exposure. A blood test screens for mold antibodies and a urine test can measure mycotoxins in your system.
One test I use is the Cyrex Labs Array 12 Pathogen screen, which tests for antibodies to common mold species and other pathogens.
Ultimately, the most important factor in mold toxicity is the environment. If you don’t remove your exposure to the mold, you can’t beat it. No supplement is going to be able to counteract constant exposure.
However, sometimes people are unable to leave or reduce their exposure for a number of different reasons. In these situations, it’s important to improve your immune tolerance and maintain the integrity of your pulmonary barrier.
Vitamin A, antioxidants like acai and pomegranate extract, and glutathione or supplements that raise glutathione are all key parts of protecting yourself from barrier breakdown.
Some things you can do to reduce immune reactions if you’ve already developed mold sensitivity are to improve your ventilation, use an air purifier with a HEPA filter, and purchase a hygrometer and dehumidifier. This helps to monitor indoor humidity, which you should aim to keep under 50 percent.
While for the most part anecdotal, some patients have experienced success with certain natural compounds. However, you should know that these approaches haven’t been vetted through clinical trials or tests.
Natural compounds with antifungal properties include tea tree oil, retinol, cloves, and thyme. Biofilm disruptors and binders are other options.
You could also explore mold desensitization therapy, where small amounts of different mold compounds are injected into the body to coax the immune system into responding to it.