The Top 4 Signs Of Mold Exposure (+ Exactly What To Do About It)
Do you ever open the fridge to be greeted to mold growing on your unused veggies? Most of us are all too familiar with that. But there are way more types of mold that hide away from our sight, looming in the distance and contributing to people’s health problems.
Because mold lives in dark, damp places, we often don’t realize the insidious effects on our health until it is too late. Mold toxicity and mold-related diseases aren’t given the weight they deserve in conventional medicine leaving many suffering for years without any answers.
That’s why, I try to go the extra mile in my telehealth functional medicine clinic, to uncover if this is in fact a piece of your health puzzle. Want to know how to tell if this is a problem for you? Read on to learn more about mold, symptoms, and how you can say goodbye to mold problems for good.
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How do I know if I was exposed to mold?
The unfortunate thing about mold exposure and why it is so difficult to diagnose, is that it doesn’t correlate with one set of symptoms. Because of this, researchers have coined the term chronic inflammatory response syndrome - or CIRS for short - to encompass any sort of health problem triggered by mold exposure. The reason why mold exposure doesn’t have one set of symptoms boils down to the fact that everyone’s biochemistry is different and different types of mold can lead to different symptoms.
With that said, people with CIRS usually all have high levels of the following markers, making it easier to diagnose someone with this broad condition:
- C4a: Healthy levels of this protein can indicate a strong immune system. High levels on the other hand can lead to tissue damage and chronic inflammation. This is one of the most obvious 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. (1)
- 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. (2)
Low levels of these markers also indicate a potential exposure:
- MSH: This hormone acts as an antifungal and antimicrobial so when it’s low, mold toxicity is likely a factor.
- VIP: An anti-inflammatory hormone
- Mycotoxin labs: These labs look for the presence of mycotoxins in your urine and antibody production against mycotoxins in your blood. We can also look for the presence of other biotoxins that are released from bacteria or viruses that 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. (3)
Symptoms of mold exposure
The research around mold exposure is continuing to grow as well as our understanding of the mechanisms by which mold affects our health and how it can lead to specific symptoms.
If you are struggling with any of these symptoms, ask your doctor about running the above labs to better assess if mold is contributing to your health problems.
1. Weight gain
High levels of SOCS3 have been correlated with insulin and leptin resistance. (4) Leptin is responsible for telling your body to burn fat for energy, but in cases of leptin resistance your body stops recognizing leptin leading to unnecessary fat storage and trouble losing weight.
Plus, when one hormone is out of whack, it typically leads to a cascade of further hormone imbalances. Studies have also seen the link between high cortisol and weight gain, with unhealthy visceral fat being higher in those with high cortisol levels. (5)
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. (6)
3. Mitochondrial issues
What’s one thing you remember from your high school science class? Chances are, it’s that mitochondria are the powerhouse of your cells and are responsible for energy production. But when they are damaged, it leads to poor cellular health - and since your body is made up entirely of cells - can contribute to everything from chronic fatigue, brain fog, muscle weakness, autoimmune conditions, and overall poor health.
Studies have shown that mycotoxins can cause oxidative stress that leads to mitochondrial dysfunction over time. (7) 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. (8)
4. Mental health problems
Mold might be to blame if you are struggling with anxiety, depression, mood swings, or brain fog. While researchers haven’t been able to directly study the effect of mold exposure on the brain, they believe it has to do with mycotoxins causing an autoimmune-inflammatory response in the hippocampus of the brain.
How to heal from mold exposure
Working with a qualified practitioner who can identify where mold fits into your health case is the first step. Then, once they are able to identify possible mold exposure through lab work, they will be able to determine the best course of action for detoxing mycotoxins from your body.
Here are a few ways that you can start overcoming mold exposure today:
1. Spend time outside
Sunshine can help improve mitochondrial function and lower MSH levels.
2. Try intermittent fasting
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. Try going keto
This popular high-fat, low-carb diet has been shown to be a powerful tool for improving mitochondria health. Once healing is underway, I tend to recommend a more flexible, cyclical ketogenic diet for many people struggling with biotoxin issues like mold.
5. Follow an anti-inflammatory diet
A clean, whole foods diet can do wonders for your health. However, when you are needing to detox from mold toxicity, you might need to go the extra mile with the foods you eat. An elimination diet can help you find out exactly which foods are triggering inflammation in your body so that you can really make sure you are fighting inflammation full force. Also, adding in more foods that are known anti-inflammatories like turmeric can up your defenses even more.
Seeking help from a functional medicine expert
Ultimately, a functional medicine expert will be able to determine for sure whether or not mold is a part of your health case. By digging beneath the surface, we work to find the root cause of why you feel the way you do and put all the pieces of the puzzle together with targeted protocols for healing. As one of the first telehealth clinics in the world, we work with people all over the world to help them overcome these health problems they have had for years so that they can reclaim the health they deserve.
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- Clark, D A, and R Coker. “Transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta).” The international journal of biochemistry & cell biology vol. 30,3 (1998): 293-8. doi:10.1016/s1357-2725(97)00128-3
- Carow, Berit, and Martin E Rottenberg. “SOCS3, a Major Regulator of Infection and Inflammation.” Frontiers in immunology vol. 5 58. 19 Feb. 2014, doi:10.3389/fimmu.2014.00058
- Valtonen, Ville. “Clinical Diagnosis of the Dampness and Mold Hypersensitivity Syndrome: Review of the Literature and Suggested Diagnostic Criteria.” Frontiers in immunology vol. 8 951. 10 Aug. 2017, doi:10.3389/fimmu.2017.00951
- Yang, Zhenggang et al. “Regulation of insulin and leptin signaling by muscle suppressor of cytokine signaling 3 (SOCS3).” PloS one vol. 7,10 (2012): e47493. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047493
- Moyer, A E et al. “Stress-induced cortisol response and fat distribution in women.” Obesity research vol. 2,3 (1994): 255-62. doi:10.1002/j.1550-8528.1994.tb00055.x
- Brewer, Joseph H et al. “Detection of mycotoxins in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.” Toxins vol. 5,4 605-17. 11 Apr. 2013, doi:10.3390/toxins5040605
- Islam, M.T., Mishra, S.K., Tripathi, S., de Alencar, M.V.O.B., e Sousa, J.M.d.C., Rolim, H.M.L., de Medeiros, M.d.G.F., Ferreira, P.M.P., Rouf, R., Uddin, S.J., Mubarak, M.S. and Melo-Cavalcante, A.A.d.C. (2018), Mycotoxin-assisted mitochondrial dysfunction and cytotoxicity: Unexploited tools against proliferative disorders. IUBMB Life, 70: 1084-1092. https://doi.org/10.1002/iub.1932
- Poljsak, Borut, and Irina Milisav. “NAD+ as the Link Between Oxidative Stress, Inflammation, Caloric Restriction, Exercise, DNA Repair, Longevity, and Health Span.” Rejuvenation research vol. 19,5 (2016): 406-415. doi:10.1089/rej.2015.1767
- Hayashida, Satoru et al. “Fasting promotes the expression of SIRT1, an NAD+ -dependent protein deacetylase, via activation of PPARalpha in mice.” Molecular and cellular biochemistry vol. 339,1-2 (2010): 285-92. doi:10.1007/s11010-010-0391-z
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.