By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
In my studies about cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease, I have come across a wealth of information about the health impacts of indoor mold exposure. It’s an interesting toxin, in that not everyone reacts the same way: approximately 25% of people have a genetic susceptibility to develop an inflammatory response related to water-damaged buildings as they have poor clearance of the inhaled toxins and inflammatory particles produced by molds and bacteria growing there. To be more precise, this is not a classic inflammatory response where we see elevated marker such as ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate) and CRP (C-reactive protein), but instead an abnormal innate immune response that is triggered. (1,2)
What are the symptoms of mold illness?
“Exposure to high levels of indoor mold can cause injury to and dysfunction of multiple organs and systems, including respiratory, hematological, immunological, and neurological, in immunocompetent humans.” (1)
The symptoms are extremely varied, and often look like chronic fatigue syndrome. Here are some of the more common ones:
- Brain fog, poor memory and poor recall (which is why this is relevant in a cognitive decline assessment).
- Respiratory problems such as shortness of breath, recurrent upper respiratory infections, sinus infections or coughing.
- Exercise intolerance, and poor heart-rate recovery from exercise.
- Body pains and frequent headaches.
- Excessive fatigue, that worsens from exertion.
- May feel worse on rainy days.
- Elevated heart-rate, especially when standing up from lying down or sitting.
- May also cause dizziness, bladder symptoms, digestive health, eye irritation, skin tingling and temperature dysregulation, however these signs are less common.
The reason so many systems are impacted, is that the over-activated immune response triggers inflammatory damage to the body’s membranes – creating intestinal permeability, blood-brain-barrier permeability, affecting cell membranes and also mitochondria.
How to know if there may be a mold problem:
- Have you had any water-damage, leaks, floods in your home or workplace?
- Do you experience a lot of condensation around the windows or a humidity problem?
- Did you start to feel unwell after you moved to a new home, got a new job?
- Is there a musty odor at home or at work?
- Is there discoloration on the vents or ceiling tiles?
- Have you had any leaking pipes?
Testing and confirming the presence of mold:
There are many services available that can inspect your home or workplace for evidence of mold, and mold-spores in the air. You can also order test-kits that check for mold in dust samples from your home (called an ERMI test – Environmental Relative Moldiness Index). It is important to find the source of your exposure.
Confirming that your symptoms are related to mold exposure:
Even if your symptoms suggest that you may be experiencing mold-related illness, and you have identified a possible mold issue in your home or workplace, it is important to have more evidence to confirm that this is what is going on. As you see above, the symptoms are quite vague and could indicate other issues too. We also want to have a strong confirmation, because big decisions around home remediation, moving or changing workplaces may come up. It is extremely difficult and maybe impossible to heal with ongoing exposure.
The starting point is an inexpensive test called the “VCS” (Visual Contrast Screen), which is a fairly sensitive test of biotoxin exposure. It simply measures your ability to detect contrast on a screen. This can help determine whether we do more extensive testing next. If the VCS test is positive, the next step may be to test some of the blood markers that confirm the immune system over-activation associated with mold illness.
How is mold exposure illness treated?
If you are clearly having health impacts from mold, there are several important steps to take to recover. The most important is to get out of the moldy environment – if you have symptoms, and especially neurological symptoms, you will not recover until you get out.
Additional steps that may be taken:
- The use of ‘binders’ to internally bind to toxins to reduce inflammation (this may be medication, or natural binders such as charcoal or chlorella).
- High quality air purifiers at home and at work: once this reaction is activated, it is common to be extremely sensitive.
- Support detoxification pathways to clear toxins.
- Support mitochondria function to improve energy, memory and cognition.
- Repair gut lining integrity and tight junctions at the blood-brain-barrier.
- Reduce immune system reactivity and inflammation.
Although this condition can be slow to heal, in many cases the diagnosis is key. Patients I have worked with who we later find to have mold-related illness, have been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, mild cognitive decline, asthma, POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome), and more,… without ever knowing that there was an environmental cause of their symptoms. Once we understand the underlying cause and mechanism of illness however, we can systematically work towards full recovery.
If you’re now wondering if mold-illness may be a missing piece in your health and symptoms, please book an appointment to assess directly. Remember that not everybody exposed to mold has a complex health reaction to it, so a little mold in your bathroom or a leak in the basement may not be a big problem. It is best to deal with mold right away when you notice however, because it is a potential risk to your or your family down the road.
- Curtis L, Lieberman A, Stark M. Adverse Health Effects of Indoor Molds. Journal of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine. 2004;14(3):261-274. doi:10.1080/13590840400010318.
- MendellMJ, Mirer AG, Cheung K, et al. Health effects associated with dampness and mould. In: WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Dampness and Mould. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009. 4.
Please note that content on this website is intended for informational purposes only, and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional, not is it meant to diagnose or treat a health problem, symptom or disease. Always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional supplement, or using any treatment for a health problem. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider promptly. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read on this website. Information provided on this website DOES NOT create a doctor-patient relationship between you and any doctor affiliated with our website.