Chances are, you’ve come across some sort of mold in your life. However, what most people don’t realize is that mold can become an insidious health problem that can wreak havoc on a person’s health for years undetected.
Because it lives in dark, damp places and we often don’t realize its effects until it is too late. Between this and the fact that I don’t believe mainstream medicine often gives mold the weight it deserves, many people are left suffering for years with no real answers.
After starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, I made it my mission to go the extra mile and uncover every possible piece of your health puzzle, including potential exposures like mold. Wondering if this is a problem for you? Let’s break down exactly what we know about mold, the symptoms you need to look out for, and how we can overcome mold once and for all.
Identifying mold exposure.
The initial problem with mold exposure is the fact that it doesn’t correlate with one specific health problem. In fact, experts have coined the condition Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS for short) that includes a variety of health problems caused by a toxin exposure.
Since everyone’s biochemistry is unique, the symptoms from mold exposure can be vastly different between individuals. Plus, there are multiple types of mold a person can be exposed to.
However, one thing is the same across the board for anyone struggling with CIRS: they all have high levels of the following markers:
- C4a: At healthy levels this protein can help with a strong immune defense. But when it is high it can lead to tissue damage and is often correlated with high inflammation levels. This is one of the major indicators of a current mold exposure.
- Transforming Growth Factor Beta1: While important to the health of your cells, when high, this cytokine can have pro-inflammatory effects and indicate a potential mold exposure.
- MMP-9: This enzyme works to stimulate the immune response but when high can contribute to out-of-control inflammation and is correlated with mold exposure.
- ACTH/Cortisol: Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) controls the release of your body’s stress hormone, cortisol which can be high in cases of mold exposure.
- SOCS3: This acronym stands for “suppressor of cytokine signaling 3”, which can be elevated directly from mold exposure or from other imbalances caused by mold, leading to a variety of symptoms.
People can also have low levels of these markers:
- MSH: This hormone is also an anti-fungal and anti-microbial that when low, can indicate mold toxicity.
- VIP: This anti-inflammatory hormone can be low in people with mold toxicity.
- Mycotoxin labs: There are labs that can measure mycotoxins in the urine as well as antibody production against mycotoxins in the blood. We also can assess for other biotoxins released from bacteria or viruses which can mimic mold toxicity.
- Genetic testing: Certain genetic variants within the HLA and MTHFR genes may influence our risk of developing mold toxicity symptoms as they tend to be more sensitive to biotoxins.
While the research surrounding the implications of mold exposure is continuing to grow, we are beginning to better understand the mechanisms by which mold affects our health and contributes to specific symptoms.
If you are struggling with a combination of these symptoms, talk to your doctor about running labs to look at the above biomarkers to determine whether or not mold is a factor in your health.
Cortisol is meant to be high in the morning but slowly taper off throughout the day to help you fall asleep. However, in the cases of chronic fatigue (also known as HPA-axis dysfunction) there’s a miscommunication between your brain’s communication with your adrenals. This can lead to consistently high levels of cortisol and lead to chronic fatigue.
Studies have continued to look at this correlation with one study in particular showing that 93% of individuals with chronic fatigue had at least one mycotoxin present in their urine.
Research has shown that elevated levels of SOCS3 are linked to both insulin and leptin resistance, where your body stops recognizing your hormone leptin. Since leptin is responsible for directing your body to convert fat to energy, your body ends up storing the fat unnecessarily leading to weight loss resistance.
Studies have also looked at the relationship between elevated cortisol and weight, showing that unhealthy visceral fat is significantly higher in those with high cortisol levels. Plus, when one hormone is imbalanced it can lead to a domino effect in other weight management hormones including insulin and leptin.
3. Mental health problems
If you are struggling with brain fog, anxiety, depression, or mood swings, mold may be to blame. Although researchers haven’t been able to study the effect of controlled mold exposure on the brain, they do believe it has to do with the inflammatory nature of mycotoxin exposure causing an autoimmune-inflammatory reaction in the hippocampus of the brain.
If you remember anything from your high school level science class, it’s that mitochondria are the powerhouse of your cells. Responsible for energy production and overall cellular health, mitochondria damage can contribute to a variety of symptoms including chronic fatigue, muscle weakness, neurological symptoms like brain fog, autoimmune conditions, and general poor health.
Multiple studies have shown that mycotoxins can induce oxidative stress that over time leads to mitochondrial dysfunction. And while we are still learning about the mechanisms of mold exposure, mycotoxins are also believed to decrease levels of your important NAD+ coenzyme which can lead to increased oxidative stress, reduced mitochondrial function and inhibit the production of ATP molecules and healthy mitochondria.
Ultimately, working with a qualified practitioner is going to be the first step in determining mold’s place in your health journey. Once they are able to run labs and identify if you have any of these biomarkers present as well as any specific mycotoxins, they will be able to help you come up with a plan to change your environment and detox them from your body.
Here are a few of my favorite tools you can start doing today if you think mold is playing a role in your health:
1. Try intermittent fasting.
In addition to helping lower inflammation, fasting has also been shown to increase NAD+ levels and mitochondria function. Listen to your body, start out with shorter fasting windows, and check out my book Intuitive Fasting to learn more about this wellness tool.
2. Spend time in the sun.
Sunshine is good for your health in more ways than one. Not only can it help lower MSH, it can play a role in improving mitochondrial function.
3. Alleviate stress + lower cortisol levels.
Anything you can do to mitigate your body’s stress response is going to help bring down cortisol levels. Breathwork, meditation, and other mindfulness practices can be incorporated throughout your day to bring a sense of calm wherever you are. I also love adaptogens like ashwagandha and rhodiola to help balance cortisol levels.
4. Up your anti-inflammatory diet.
It’s one thing to cut out junk food and switch to a clean, whole foods diet. But when you are dealing with chronic mold toxicity, it’s time to take it to another level. An elimination diet can help you pinpoint the exact foods that are triggering inflammation in your body and what food medicines to eat more of while you are working on lowering inflammation.
5. Consider going clean keto for a time.
This high-fat, low-carb diet is for more than losing weight. In fact, it can have powerful effects on the health of your mitochondria.
Knowledge is power when it comes to your health, and the more we continue to learn about mold the more we can be empowered to heal. Once healing is underway, I tend to recommend a more flexible, cyclical ketogenic diet for many people struggling with biotoxin issues like mold.
6. Consider working with a functional medicine doctor