How Toxic Mould Affects Your Brain
How Toxic Mould Affects Your Brain
It is widely acknowledged that exposure to toxic mould increases our risk of developing respiratory disorders but what about the link to cognitive function? How does it affect our brain?
People who live, work, or go to school in buildings that have toxic mould present in them often complain of fatigue, increased anxiety and depression and memory loss.
Why is this so, and how can we reduce our risk of exposure to toxic mould?
What do we do to clear these toxins from the body once it has been contaminated?
Are you genetically susceptible to mould toxicity?
What is toxic mould?
Mould is a type of fungus that thrives in warm, moist environments. It grows indoors as well as outdoors. If you live in a humid climate or use a humidifier indoors, you may be at more risk of exposure to mould.
Mould travels through the air as tiny spores. It is invisible as it travels into your home and can be carried by pests, clothes, bags and shoes. Once inside your home, it will find where the moisture is and begin to grow there.
There are some places in the house you will find mould more than others – rooms such as bathrooms, toilets and kitchens, and specifically ceilings, tiles, walls, carpeting and cellulose products exposed to moisture or water damage. The most common of these are paper, wood, and fibreboard that have been exposed to dampness. Toxic mould can hide behind paint or linoleum, under carpet, behind sheetrock, linger in the air conditioner, vents or in rooms with humidifiers. 
It can be helpful to know some signs of water damage that could indicate mould growth:
- A musty, earthy smell
- Staining on ceiling
- Bubbling paint
- Peeling wallpaper
- Soft walls
- History of leaks or flooding
The most common moulds can be classified into three categories: allergenic, pathogenic, and toxic.
- Allergenic moulds can require removal by a professional, but most allergenic moulds can be removed with home disinfecting products.
- Pathogenic moulds can be controlled with disinfectants, but large colonies require professional removal.
- Toxic moulds are the most harmful and require a professional to kill the mould and dispose of any affected materials. 
This last category, toxic moulds, produce toxic substances called mycotoxins. The adverse health effects of mycotoxins are compounded by the presence of other biotoxins in damp buildings, including bacterial endotoxin, fungal and bacterial cell wall fragments, and microbial volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
There are four different types of mycotoxins that have been shown to induce neurotoxicity in rodents. These include:
- T-2 toxin – Known for inducing neuronal cell death in both foetal and adult brains
- Macrocyclic trichothecenes – Causes neuronal cell death and inflammation in the olfactory system
- Fumonisin B1 (FB1) – Causes neuronal degeneration in the cerebral cortex and disrupts ceramide synthesis (an important lipid in the brain).
- Ochratochin A (OTA) – Induces acute depletion of striatal dopamine, which has shown to cause cell death in the hippocampus, substantia nigra, and striatum (different parts of the brain). 
Although there are different species of mould, we often hear about “black mould” or “toxic black mould”. This is the stachybotrys chartarum species but not all toxic mould is stachybotrys. There are several others that make us unwell.
Symptoms of mould-related illness
Symptoms can be physical, emotional and cognitive and can show up as multiple symptoms in multiple systems of the body. Symptoms may include:
- Changes in memory, concentration and word-finding
- Metallic taste
- Increased thirst and urination
- Sensitivity to light
- Joint pain and muscle cramps
- Tingling and numbness in hands and feet
- Anxiety, depression or rage
- Appetite swings and sudden weight gain
- Changes in thyroid and adrenal hormones 
In what ways does toxic mould affect your brain?
The effects of mould illness on the brain have gone largely dismissed by conventional health care but a study from 2021 demonstrated that mould illness affects your brain, with mycotoxins the primary trigger in mould illness.
In the study, researchers observed that mice infected with mould spores showed increased inflammation in the hippocampus, causing notable losses of memory, increased pain, and more anxious behaviour compared to mice inoculated with saline. 
Due to the inflammatory response mould triggers, symptoms are similar to those from bacterial or viral infections. Mould spores act as irritants, which can trigger the body to create an immune response, interfere with your metabolism and cause inflammation throughout the whole body.
Toxic mould affects the brain in several different ways, including:
- Inducing oxidative stress
- Inducing mitochondrial dysfunction
- Interacting with the neuroimmune axis, a network of cells and signalling molecules that links the immune system with the central nervous system. Mycotoxins activate mast cells along this axis, triggering the release of inflammatory cytokines that cause neuroinflammation and cognitive dysfunction.
- Impairing neuronal plasticity by binding to proteins involved in synapse activity. Reduced neuronal plasticity is a contributing factor in cognitive dysfunction, depression, and anxiety, among other mental health issues.
- Compromising the integrity of the blood–brain barrier, crossing into the brain and exerting neurotoxic effects on neurons. 
- Brain inflammation in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that governs memory, learning, and the sleep-wake cycle. Inflammation in the brain can impair cognitive function, and in the case of chronic inflammation, this can lead to long-lasting cognitive impairment.
- Decreased neurogenesis, or the formation of new brain cells
- Altering your brain activity through disrupting or killing neurons
- Increased sensitivity to pain 
People who experience inflammation and delirium following mould exposure appear to be at the highest risk for long-lasting cognitive impairment. 
What you can do about toxic mould
Test for mould
A variety of in-home tests can show whether the building has high levels of mould and which kinds of moulds are present in the building. Laboratory tests can also show if you the levels of mycotoxin and what types of mould are present so you can decide on the best path to recovery. We offer some excellent testing for mould mycotoxins and also genetic susceptibility testing, VCS, inflammatory markers and other related blood and urine markers.
Remove the mould
Regardless of colour, all moulds should be removed from buildings and homes, or you may need to move yourself away from the mould.
Take steps to heal
There are several steps to heal from mould-related illness, including:
- A mould detox diet and eliminate sugar, gluten, dairy, industrial seed oils and alcohol and avoid eating food that shows visible signs of mould growth
- Ensure you are hydrated with clean, filtered water
- Ensure the air you breathe is clean
- Test for underlying conditions
- Use binders to remove toxins from the body which are used to bind up mycotoxins in the body. Binders are naturally occurring minerals that bind to mycotoxins in your system and help your body remove them. Cholestyramine, a prescription binder, may be used as well as natural binders such as charcoal and other natural binder blends.
- Use infusion therapy
- Use an infrared sauna to sweat out the toxins
- Try dry brushing to help detoxify
- Use glutathione (and nutrients to help support glutathione production in the body including N-acetylcysteine and glycine), our body’s most potent detoxifier, to help flush these toxins from the system.  You can buy glutathione in supplement-from but you can also eat sulphur-rich foods, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts to help increase glutathione production in the body.
- Address candida overgrowth – These could be yeast infections, thrush and digestive issues. Most mould patients have underlying gut problems as well as imbalances with their biochemistry.
- Try Synapsin – a prescription nasal spray made of Rg3, a component of ginseng that supports glial cells, special cells in your brain that clean up toxins and protect your neurons from damage. Synapsin also contains nicotinamide riboside, which further protects your brain from toxins and stress.
- Try Phosphatidylcholine, an essential component of mitochondrial membranes; it helps your mitochondria build up their defences and get back to functioning properly after serious damage. It is also excellent for brain health and neuroprotective. 
- Eat raw garlic or take garlic supplements. It has antifungal properties and ideal for someone who has been exposed to mycotoxins.
- Get some sunshine – sun exposure raises MSH levels. This is the hormone that is sometimes low when you are suffering from mould toxicity.
- Bolster nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) – NAD+ is a coenzyme that lives in every cell of your body. Its main job is repairing damaged DNA and supporting general cellular health. You can supplement with a specific type of B3, called nicotinamide riboside, to support NAD+ levels and your cells’ ability to detox from mould. 
How we can help
Evidence points to toxic mould, or mycotoxins, causing neurotoxicity, contributing to cognitive impairment, including brain fog, dementia, fatigue and a myriad of other health issues.
Treating mould-related illness is incredibly complex, as it can affect multiple systems and organs in the body. The effect of mycotoxins on your cognitive health must not be underestimated and if you think you have been, or are exposed, to mould, its time to start investigating.
At Advanced Functional Medicine, we have trained mould practitioners familiar with Shoemaker methods and the works of Dr Sandeep Gupta. You will work with a trained functional health practitioner who is an expert in mould-related illness to help you test for mould in your system as well as begin the journey to detoxify the body. Understand a Functional medicine approach to alleviate mould using diet, environmental and lifestyle changes and natural remedies.