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The toxic effects of hidden mould

The toxic effects of hidden mould

The toxic effects of hidden mould

Some people get sick from exposure to mould. Others have no symptoms and don’t experience ill effects of any kind. Let’s look at the potential dangers of mould exposure, symptoms of mould illness and how you can treat it, as well as how you can reduce your exposure to mould. 

What is mould exactly?

Mould is a type of fungus. It is present almost everywhere, including the air. It can flourish both indoors and outside and there are millions of mould species.

Mould needs organic matter to feed upon and moisture in order to grow. When growing conditions are right, mould releases spores and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air, which may make some people feel sick. 

Mould is important for the planet’s ecosystem, because it helps break down waste products and organic matter, such as leaves, dead trees, and garbage. (1)

Mould spores may be breathed in or absorbed through skin. Mould can also grow on food and may be hazardous if ingested.

Mould exposure outdoors

When you’re outside, you may come into contact with mouldy surfaces in forests, beaches, backyards, playgrounds and pavements. Piles of wet leaves, damp wood, and rotted tree bark are all sources of mould. So are standing, stagnant water sources, such as wading pools and puddles.

Mould exposure indoors

Mould spores enter the home, school and workplace through a wide range of channels. They may attach themselves to clothing, shoes or your pet. Spores can float in through open doors and windows and through air conditioning or heating vents.

Some of the most common varieties of indoor mould are: 

  • Aspergillus
  • Cladosporium
  • Stachybotrys atra (also known as black mould)

Mould needs moisture to grow. Damp, humid environments are particularly prone to mould growth. Poorly ventilated areas also pose a mould risk.

Indoor areas that commonly become mouldy include:

  • damp bathrooms or kitchens that have drippy faucets or leaking pipes
  • damp basements
  • damp carpet
  • wet paper
  • fireplace wood
  • damp ceiling tiles or drywall
  • potted plants
  • condensation on window sills
  • washing machines and dishwashers

Personal items, such as sponges, lunchboxes, thermoses and sippy cups, can also harbor mould.

Mould on food

The carcinogenic effects of food-borne mould contamination are well documented. Certain mould species thrive on foodstuffs such as cereal, bread, nuts and dried fruits. Some of these may contain toxic substances called mycotoxins (more about that later).

Dangers of mould exposure

In general, normal amounts of mould in the environment do not pose a substantial health risk to healthy people with regular immune system function.

Some people may be more sensitive to mould spores than others, and they may develop respiratory symptoms after inhaling even a small number of spores. In large quantities, mould spores can cause ill health in almost anyone.

If you have a mould allergy, you may experience significant respiratory distress when you come in contact with mould.

Toxic mould

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mycotoxins can cause severe, adverse health effects, such as:

  • acute poisoning
  • immune deficiencies
  • cancer 

Some moulds produce toxins, mycotoxins, that are absorbed through the skin or GI tract or enter the body through breathing. Stachybotrys chartarum is a famous toxic mould, also referred to as “toxic black mould.” But mould doesn’t have to be black to be toxic; it can be any color, which is why testing is key for mould identification. 

Mould toxicity can also be caused by other toxin-producing organisms besides just mould. These include fungi, actinomycetes, mycobacteria, and bacteria. The toxins they make can be classified into mycotoxins, endotoxins, inflammagens, beta-glucans and mVOCs (mould volatile organic compounds). (2)


Symptoms of Mould Illness

 “Mould illness symptoms include:

  • Fatigue and weakness – one hallmark symptom of mould illness is fatigue. Your body exhausts itself when your immune system sends out system-wide inflammation to combat the infection or illness. This drains your body, and you become fatigued and experience generalised weakness as a result.
  • Mental status changes – continued exposure to mould can cause mental status changes. It’s common for people to experience trouble concentrating, trouble learning new things, difficulty remembering people or events, generalised confusion and disorientation.
  • Body temperature regulation issues – the system-wide inflammation can often come with increased body temperature or difficulty regulating your temperature. It’s common to experience chills and night sweats.
  • Excessive thirst and increased urination – you could find yourself being excessively thirsty even if you drink constantly. As you drink more, you’ll have increased urination because your body tries to flush the excess water out of your system.
  • Tremors – certain strains of mould are neurotoxic. This means that they can kill neurons in your brain, and this can result in impaired mobility or tremors in your extremities. It can get worse as the mould illness progresses.
  • Metallic taste – Many people report a distinct metallic taste in their mouths, and this is due to the mould disrupting and damaging the nerve cells that have links to your taste buds. The metallic taste can linger in the back of your throat for days or weeks.
  • Headache and light sensitivity– The system-wide inflammation can cause your blood pressure to spike, and this can cause headaches or migraines. As this progresses, you could have light sensitivity that can make your migraines or headaches worse.
  • Gastrointestinal issues – Many people have abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhoea, appetite changes and other gastrointestinal issues. These issues tend to resolve as they treat the mould illness and eliminate the exposure.” (3)

Mould illness

Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS) is a multi-system, multi-symptom illness caused by inhaling biotoxins and inflammagens produced by micro-organisms such as mould, bacteria, and actinomycetes found in water-damaged buildings. CIRS, when caused by a water-damaged building, is more commonly known as mould illness, mould toxicity or mould illness. (4)

After a water leak or damage to a building with manufactured materials, mould begins to grow. But it’s not just mould that grows, it’s also “bacterial growth, microbial volatile organic compounds, and particulates from fungi” (5)  that are all released into the surrounding environment. 

Together, these biotoxins are what begins to activate a person’s innate immune system and cause systemic inflammation.

There are a range of toxins, inflammagens and microbes found in water-damaged buildings:

  • Mycotoxins
  • Bioaerosols
  • Cell Fragments
  • Cell wall components
  • Hyphal fragments
  • Conida
  • Beta Glucans
  • Mannans
  • Spirocyclic drimanes
  • Inorganic xenobiotics
  • Gram-negative bacteria
  • Gram-positive bacteria
  • Actinomycetes
  • Nocardia
  • Mycobacteria
  • Protozoa
  • Chlamydia
  • Mycoplasma
  • Endotoxins
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Hemolysins
  • Proteinases
  • Chitinases
  • Siderophores
  • Microbial VOCs
  • Building material VOCs
  • Coarse particulates
  • Fine particulates
  • Nano-sized particulates (6)

Treating mould toxicity can be complicated, but the basic elements involve:

  • Evaluating your environments and removing yourself from any mould exposure at home, work, school or in the car. 
  • The use of binding agents (bentonite clay, activated charcoal, cholestyramine, chlorella, etc.) to escort the toxins out of the body through stool
  • The use of antimicrobial herbs to fight the toxins
  • Supporting detoxification
  • Appropriate treatment for any hormonal imbalances related to the biotoxicity
  • Treatment of MARCoNS, which is a type of antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus bacteria. It frequently colonizes the nasal passages and sinuses of people with mould illness.
  • A very low-carbohydrate diet (7)

How do we detoxify from mould illness?

Once we remove the patient from an environment of mould exposure, we next need to support detoxification through a number of methods:

  • Bitters 

Bitters support detoxification and digestion by supporting support bile flow, a key aspect on optimal detoxification. Bile is anti-bacterial and protective against conditions such as small intestine bacterial overgrowth. Bitters also stimulate the production of digestive enzymes/juices.

  • Phosphatidylcholine

Phosphatidylcholine aids the detox of mycotoxins as it helps stimulate and thin bile. It also supports cellular health.

  • Sequestering Agent (Binders)
    Sequestering agents are the non-absorbable materials that bind toxins in the gastrointestinal tract, reducing recirculation and ultimately, the burden of toxins. These agents are not absorbed into systemic circulation. Side effects are typically limited to gastrointestinal symptoms and potential malabsorption of medications and nutrients, especially if the dose is poorly timed. Sequestering agents have a large surface area to volume ratio, giving large absorptive capacity.
  • Probiotics
    Mycotoxins have also been shown to cause leaky gut so probiotics may be helpful. Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus rhamnosus GAF01 degrade or bind aflatoxin M1. Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Lactobacillus casei have a significant hepatoprotective effect against aflatoxin B1.
  • Omega 3 Fats
    Omega 3 fats can dilute the toxins which build up in the fatty parts of our mitochondria, cells, organs and body. 
  • Liposmal Glutathione
    Glutathione is recommended to support detoxification of mycotoxins. Research has shown how we need an ‘on demand’ source of glutathione to help detoxification of mycotoxins.
  • Anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants
    Other anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidant compounds such as resveratrol, curcumin, NAC and alpha-lipoic acid can be used with great effect.
  • Sweating
    Human sweat has been found to contain mycotoxins so sauna therapy, hot baths or/and exercise are all effective methods by which to sweat out the toxins in your body. (8)


How we can help

If you present with symptoms in line with the above listed, potential mould exposure should be considered. It’s important to remember, first step in recovering from mould illness is to remove yourself from the mouldy environment.

With the solid advances in technology for both medical and environmental testing during the last 10 years, we can begin to link medical symptoms with indoor mould exposure.  (9) 

There are tests we can conduct that will detect mycotoxins in the patient and in the environment. Genetic testing can help us to understand if you are susceptible to mold toxins and other environmental toxins.

Once we have established that mould is the likely cause of your illness, we can work to set up a treatment plan to start the process of detoxification and eliminate the symptoms you are experiencing. 

The above information is intended to be general, educational advice only, on topics which are of interest to us. It is not intended to represent specific or individual health or medical advice and is not specific to your situation. The below information is educative and is not intended to advertise any service.

Before making any decisions in relation to your health, you should always discuss your individual situation with your own health practitioners to ensure that any advice you have read is right for you.

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper - ND is the founder of Advanced Functional Medicine Australia. He is a Naturopathic Doctor with extensive functional medicine training from leading practitioners in the USA and worldwide.

He is leading the way with advancements of functional medicine, clinically implementing worldwide best practices in Functional Medicine throughout Australia.

Jarrod consults in person from Perth, Western Australia and also online via Telehealth throughout Australia and worldwide.

If you are looking for personalised treatment, we highly recommend contacting Jarrod Cooper’s Advanced Functional Medicine clinic in Australia.

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