Mold Toxicity Issues Are On the Rise — Here’s Why

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This year more than any other year, I’ve seen a rise in mold-related health problems among my patients. I’ve seen person after person suffering from newfound fatigue, brain fog, or chronic allergic symptoms like a runny nose or wheezing. And after careful testing and evaluation, for many of them, mold ended up being the culprit. 

But why now? What’s to blame for all these mold issues I’m seeing? Interestingly, the explanation doesn’t lie with the mold itself. Instead, it’s the amount of time we’re spending near it. 

What do I mean by that? We’ve all been at home! This year most of us have spent more time indoors in our houses and apartments than ever before in our lives. We set up at-home gyms, at-home offices, and at-home schools and daycares. We spent our days in the same room and if those rooms had mold, it became the perfect storm for mold problems. 

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What are mold-related health issues? 

Mold is a type of fungus that’s earned a scary reputation over the years. It’s found in the air, in our environment, and it’s often hiding behind our walls, under our floors, or in the ceiling. Basically, anywhere there’s high moisture, there's mold. Mold can seem like something to avoid at all costs and banish from our ecosystem, but the reality is that it’s all around us and the vast majority of the time, it causes no issues. 

Sometimes, however, we develop a mold sensitivity issue, which can trigger a chronic inflammatory response called “chronic inflammatory response syndrome,” or CIRS. This typically happens when something is out of balance with our body — leading to our immune system getting confused and reacting to mold toxins — or when we are exposed to too much mold for too long, which has been the case for many of us this year. 

What are the signs of a mold issue? 

Mold issues often go undiscovered for months or even years. Why? Because CIRS can cause a range of vague health issues that can be hard to describe. As a result, many people get diagnosed with allergies, depression, chronic fatigue, or another condition that has overlapping symptoms. So what are the symptoms? They can be any combination of the below: 

  • Brain fog 
  • Worsening asthma and/or allergies 
  • New or worsening anxiety, depression, mood swings 
  • Poor memory
  • Unexplained weight gain or weight loss 
  • Vertigo or dizziness 
  • Ringing in the ears 
  • Extreme fatigue 
  • Unexplained muscle pain 

As you can guess, the average person might experience any of the above and not think much of it. That’s why it’s important to work with a qualified health expert that is trained to not shrug these symptoms off but instead look for the underlying cause. That’s exactly what I’m trained to do in my functional medicine clinic. 

How do you treat mold issues? 

If you think mold might be at the root cause of your symptoms, there are a few steps you can take next. Each case is different, and I focus on creating a personalized mold treatment plan in my office, but here’s where to start. 

1. Get an inspection 

If you think you have a mold issue in your home, you might think that the first step is to go to a doctor. But actually, a doctor will likely need you to get your home inspected in order to make a diagnosis! As we saw earlier, the symptoms of mold exposure can vary greatly and could be caused by other factors — it helps if you are able to point to the exact source of exposure. To find someone to do the inspection, check out this online directory from the National Organization of Remediators and Mold Inspectors. Depending on the extent of the damage, the cost could be very minimal or, in severe cases, up to a few thousand dollars.

2. Get a diagnosis 

Getting a diagnosis sounds simple, but not all doctors are trained to spot mold issues or diagnose them even if they are suspected. I recommend three types of tests — mycotoxin tests, blood tests, and visual contrast sensitivity tests — which you can read about here.  

3. Eliminate your exposure as much as possible 

If you’ve gotten a diagnosis and found the source of the mold, it’s pretty obvious that you’d want to quickly eliminate any exposure to that mold. But environmental exposure isn’t the only source of mold that we regularly encounter! It can also be found in certain foods, like grains, wine and beer, coffee and tea, and nuts and dried fruits. I recommend eliminating high-mold foods during your recovery process to make sure all sources of mold are avoided. This will speed your recovery. 

4. Supplement with key nutrients 

There’s no cut and dry treatment for the inflammation caused by mold, so I start out by recommending nutrients that can help support the body’s ability to recover from mold exposure. The best next step is to support your body’s ability to recover from mold exposure. This can vary person to person depending on what symptoms the mold is causing, but here are three that I often recommend. 

  • Glutathione: Known as the “master antioxidant,” glutathione helps your body increase its production of other antioxidants that fend off cellular damage and disease. Studies have shown that mold can dampen your glutathione levels, so taking it in supplement-form can help you boost your body’s natural defenses. (1
  • Nicotinamide riboside (NR): You may have heard of NAD+, a coenzyme that is present in every cell in your body and helps bolster hundreds of bodily functions, including many that are involved in recovering from mold. Many people take a form of B3, called NR, to boost NAD+ to fend off the signs of aging, keep their energy levels up, and maintain good cognition. 
  • Binders: There is a group of nutrients called binders that help “bind” to toxins and eliminate them from your body. Two good examples are activated charcoal and clay. To learn more about charcoal, read my article all about it

5.  Invest in high quality air filters 

Did you know that indoor air pollution can be worse than outdoor air pollutants? It’s true! The EPA says that the level of pollutants indoors are on average 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor levels, and in some cases these levels can exceed 100 times that of outdoor levels of the same pollutants! Mold is one reason for this, so it’s a great idea to invest in a high quality HEPA air filter for your home. You can either add it to your HVAC system or get standing units for the rooms you spend the most time in. This is especially true if you spend a lot of time at home and indoors. Click here to save $280 on my favorite air filter, AirDoctor

The past year has brought a long list of unique and unexpected challenges, and a rise in mold-related health issues is just one of them! The good news is that the more you know, the easier they are to spot and the quicker you can get back to 100%. 

As one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe. 

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References:

  1. Guilford FT, Hope J. Deficient glutathione in the pathophysiology of mycotoxin-related illness. Toxins (Basel). 2014;6(2):608-623. Published 2014 Feb 10. doi:10.3390/toxins6020608

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BY DR. WILL COLE

Evidence-based reviewed article

Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.