I truly believe we don’t talk enough about how damaging mold toxins (also known as mycotoxins) can be. In fact, many patients in my telehealth functional medicine clinic have struggled with chronic health problems that didn’t start to truly get better until they addressed ongoing mold exposure in their life.
With that said, not everyone is going to be affected by mold the same way, or to the same degree, as someone else. There should be a grace and lightness to wellness and a respect for individuality. But it is helpful to educate ourselves about what to be aware of and what to do if mold is affecting how we feel.
In functional medicine, we aim to put the power back in the patient’s hands, and the first step is education. While we can’t avoid mold exposure altogether, we can bring attention to this often-overlooked trigger to health problems and apply it in whatever way is most applicable to our personal health journey.
So without further ado, let’s dive into all things mold.
What to know about mycotoxins.
Derived from the Greek word mukos for “fungus” and the Latin word, toxicum, which means “poison,” mycotoxins are toxic byproducts of certain types of mold. Mold is very common, but not all types of mold produce mycotoxins. Some of the most common varieties include:
- Aflatoxins: Often found in areas with high humidity and temperatures, this mycotoxin has immunosuppressive effects.
- Ochratoxins: Can be found in beans, dried fruit, and coffee and has immunosuppressive and genotoxic effects.
- Fumonisins: Found in corn and can have immunosuppressive effects.
- Zearalenone: Can be found in rice and peanuts and has been linked to hormonal imbalance.
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Chances are you have been exposed to mycotoxins in one way or another. But the problem happens when your exposure becomes too much to handle for your individual threshold. Mycotoxins are a toxin, after all. And this is where we run into trouble.
In the short term, airborne mycotoxins can contribute to respiratory, allergy-like symptoms but in the long term can mimic symptoms related to other health problems. This can be one reason some people struggle for years without any real answers.
- Mood Swings
- Chronic pain
Some research suggests that effects may even trigger long-term health problems including autoimmune conditions.
While anyone can be susceptible to the effects of mycotoxins—especially those who already have an underlying health condition—certain individuals actually have an HLA-DR genetic mutation, which hinders the body from eliminating mycotoxins, causing them to build up over time.
Uncovering mycotoxins in your life.
Unfortunately, there is no single definitive test to determine mold toxicity. One way I test for mycotoxins in my clinic is with a urine test that will show if there are certain mycotoxins present in your body. I’ve found a urine test is the most effective form of testing since mycotoxins are not easily detectable in blood. I also run conventional inflammatory immune markers, which can give further evidence of mycotoxins driving inflammation.
This is why we like to look at the whole picture in functional medicine, not just a single lab. A deep dive into your entire health history can help us to determine if mycotoxins are even a potential factor, by considering things that could contribute, like your home environment and diet. We can also look at genetic tests to determine if you have gene variations or mutations that can make mycotoxins a greater burden.
If you have determined that mycotoxins could be a factor in your health case, the good news is that it is possible to cleanse your home and help your body clear the effects of mycotoxins.
1. Support your body’s natural detoxification systems.
Sweating is your body’s way of naturally eliminating toxins. Work up a sweat and de-stress at the same time by relaxing in an infrared sauna. Epsom salt baths are another easy way to amp up your detoxification efforts.
Certain foods are known for their intensive detoxifying support. Cilantro and chlorophyll are two powerful green machines to try.
Mold thrives in humid environments. Keep humidity to a minimum (ideally less than 40%) with a dehumidifier.
Mold spores can circulate in the air, so keep the air you are breathing on a daily basis as clean as possible. One way is by investing in an air purifier with a HEPA filter.
4. Go organic whenever possible.
Choosing organic food—especially grains and coffee—whenever possible will help mitigate your exposure to mycotoxins. Bonus points if the coffee company also tests for mold beforehand as part of their buying and roasting process.
Again, not everyone is going to be affected by mycotoxins the same way or to the same extent. If you suspect mycotoxins are contributing to your health problems, talk with your doctor about running labs and doing a comprehensive health history to determine the best course of action for you and your health journey.