No, this is not a painting from Jackson Pollock on a day when he was tired. This is a work of art by Mother Nature's Mold species on a wall in someone's home!
The February 2021 winter storm of Texas made a big impact on thousands of homeowners who experienced water damage within their homes from burst water pipes. My husband and I were among this group. This brought the impact of mold on human health acutely to my attention. I would like to share some highlights of what I have learned in the hope that it will benefit the reader.
What are molds? Molds are members of the kingdom Fungi, and they are some of the primary decomposers of natural materials within the natural world. They are an essential component of the biological balance within our natural environment. Some molds are useful to mankind, such as a strain of Penicillium mold from which the antibiotic Penicillin is derived. Another Penicillium mold creates Stilton, or Blue cheese (1).
Of the more than 100,000 species of mold, there are only about two dozen that create health challenges to humans and other animals (Campbell, personal communication, April 6, 2021). These are the ones that we have to be concerned about when there is water damage to a home, school, or other building that people spend their time in (Nathan, personal communication, April 5, 2021).
Since Biblical times, people have been aware that having mold grow within the living space is not healthy. They would try to eliminate the mold, which often meant tearing down the dwelling and building an entirely new one (Hope, personal communication, April 5, 2021).
In modern times, it is estimated that over 50% of building structures (homes, schools, etc.) in the U.S. have experienced water damage for more than 24-48 hours which then can readily lead to mold growth. There are many causes for this, including the fact that the primary wall building material used over the past few decades is dry wall (gypsum and paper), which, once it becomes wet, is quite slow to dry out, creating an ideal environment for mold growth (Campbell, personal communication, April 6, 2021).
Other causes for mold growth include the way buildings are constructed in the modern era, such as with crawl spaces, basements that retain moisture, and homes that are too tightly constructed without adequate ventilation. AC systems can harbor mold, as can such things as antiques, old books, and old furniture (Hope, personal communication, April 5, 2021). Mold can also be present on the underside of carpets and wallpaper, in ventilation ducts, and attics (Campbell, personal communication, April 6, 2021). Certain occupations increase the likelihood of developing a mold health challenge. These include plumbers, librarians, dental professionals, HVAC technicians, and hairdressers! (Rapaport, personal communication, April 5, 2021).
Mold can also be found in many food substances, such as grains, nuts, beans (coffee, for example), spices and herbs, cheeses, dairy, beef jerky, and even eggs. Unfortunately, mold is not destroyed by normal cooking temperatures (Rapaport, personal communication, April 5, 2021).
Mold spores travel inside our homes very easily as they are often floating in the air. They are on our vegetables and fruits because the soil is full of mold organisms. Mold can live in mattresses, cars, clothing, furniture, etc. (Rapaport, personal communication, April 5, 2021). Mold can be living in the soil of your potted house plants as well (Campbell, personal communication, April 6, 2021).
Once inside your home, mold grows by using all of these items as food and thus decomposes the items it has colonized (Rapaport, personal communication, April 5, 2021). This is the first big problem with mold in a building structure– they eat what they are living on!
The second reason that mold growing in your home (or school or place of employment) is potentially a serious cause for concern is that certain people are very sensitive to molds (Nathan, personal communication, December, 2020). Some individuals are allergic to mold and may develop either an acute or a delayed hypersensitivity reaction to them (Ingels, personal communication, April 6, 2021).
In addition, molds produce many types of metabolic byproducts that are deleterious to health (Hope, personal communication, April 5, 2021). One type of compound that the dangerous molds that may be living in our homes produce are mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are compounds made by molds to help them survive by stopping competing organisms from taking over their ‘territory’ (Rapaport, personal communication, April 5, 2021). If molds are present, you can assume their mycotoxins are present as well (Campbell, personal communication, April 6, 2021).
You may be wondering how big a mold or a mycotoxin is. A strand of human hair is 100 microns thick. A mold spore is 1 – 20 microns thick and a mycotoxin is 0.1 microns (Campbell, personal communication, April 5, 2021). So, these are tiny, tiny entities, yet they can have a very big impact on your health!
It has now been scientifically proven that mycotoxins can negatively impact human health and animal health, such as a dog or cat who lives inside the house with you (Campbell, personal communication, April 6, 2021). It is well known in agriculture and animal husbandry operations that mycotoxins can create a wide variety of health challenges. Therefore, potential sources of contamination are tightly regulated in the U.S. (2).
When you see water damage (stains on walls or ceilings), smell musty odors in a room, or see visible mold growth on a wall or ceiling, you can easily diagnose a mold problem within a building structure (Hope, personal communication, April 5, 2021). Many people will not feel well when in such buildings, and they often feel better when they leave the mold-contaminated structure (Campbell, personal communication, April 6, 2021). Often a person will notice that when they were inside a certain home, they felt worse and then felt noticeably better outside; or that they felt worse while at school, but felt better when on summer break from school. When that happens, you can bet that there is a problem with that building structure which might be due to mold growth (Rapaport, personal communication, April 5, 2021).
Sometimes water leaks and subsequent mold growth are not readily apparent within a building because they are occurring within a wall space. The wall can look completely normal when viewed from inside a room, but at the same time, mold can be destroying that same wall from the interior wall space. While the mold is hidden from view, it is weakening the integrity of the wall and often releasing mycotoxins and other compounds which challenge our health (Hope, personal communication, April 5, 2021). The EPA estimates that 50% of mold growth is actually hidden from view (Campbell, personal communication, April 5, 2021).
“We are exposed to hundreds of mold species out-of-doors, which can affect allergy. It is usually when indoor molds grow without competition from their natural environment that we get into trouble. This is called Sick Building Syndrome” (Nathan, personal communication, April 5, 2021).
Who is at risk for mold-related health challenges? Many people are, such as those with allergies, immune suppression, and underlying lung disease (Rapaport, personal communication, April 5, 2021). Fungi, such as molds, can cause infection, allergic reactions, irritant effects, and toxic reactions (Campbell, personal communication, April 6, 2021).
Mold and mold toxins can be absorbed through our skin, we can inhale them, and we can ingest them (Campbell, personal communication, April 6, 2021). They can disrupt the normal barriers present within our gastrointestinal tract, our lungs, and the protective blood-brain-barrier which surrounds our brain, creating inflammation within our body, including our brain. They can disrupt many aspects of our Immune System, such as decreasing helpful immune cells and increasing inflammatory messenger molecules, called cytokines. Some mycotoxins impact hormonal balance, potentially creating havoc with male and female health (Rapaport, personal communication, April 5, 2021).
Dr. Hope reminds us that “symptoms and illness due to mold exposure result from varying mechanisms including infection, toxicity, allergy, irritant effects, and systemic inflammation…individual responses to exposure vary depending on genetic makeup, severity and duration of exposure, and underlying nutritional status….it is important to understand that the health consequences of exposure to water-damaged environments likely result from a combination of factors acting synergistically.” (Nathan, personal communication, April 5, 2021).
Dr. Nathan notes that there is a diversity of symptoms a person can experience due to mold-related toxicity, including fatigue, weakness, muscle aches, cramps, unusual pain (ice-pick or “lightning bolt”), headache, sensitivity to bright light, tearing, blurred vision, chronic sinus congestion, cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, abdominal pain (IBS), often secretory diarrhea, joint pain, tendonitis, morning stiffness, cognitive impairment (difficulties with recent memory, assimilation of new information, word finding, handling numbers, confusion, sustaining concentration, disorientation, “brain fog”), skin sensitivity to light touch, mood swings, appetite swings, sweats (often at night), difficulty with temperature regulation, numbness, tingling, vertigo, metallic taste in the mouth, excessive thirst, frequent urination, sensitivity to static shocks (doorknobs, light switches, car handles, kisses), impotence, menorrhagia, nausea, and vomiting (Nathan, personal communication, April 5, 2021).
Other symptoms common to mold problems are balance issues, difficulty sleeping (often with early morning wakening), urinary disturbances such as frequency and discomfort, hair loss, rashes, frequent and recurrent infections (Hope, personal communication, April 5, 2021).
Dr. Nathan also states that many people are often misdiagnosed as having the following conditions, when in reality what they really have is mold-related toxicity: Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, “Atypical” Multiple Sclerosis or Rheumatoid Arthritis, Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Asthma, Chronic Sinusitis, Anxiety, Depression, Mood Swings, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (Nathan, personal communication, April 5, 2021). Other mistaken diagnoses are Interstitial Cystitis, GERD, Allergic Rhinitis, Allergic Sinusitis (Hope, personal communication, April 5, 2021), Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, food allergies and sensitivities (Rapaport, personal communication April 5, 2021), Dysautonomia, POTS, SIBO, endocrine dysfunction, palpitations and arrythmias, and nutritional deficiency (McCann, personal communication, April 5, 2021).
Some cases of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and CIDP (chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy) have been shown to be related to mycotoxins. Dr. Bredesen has demonstrated that Alzheimer’s Disease can be due to mold-related illness. Finland has the highest dementia mortality in the world and it has been shown to be related to water-damaged buildings producing mycotoxins which harm the brain. Multiple Sclerosis is another serious demyelinating disease of the nervous system in which certain mycotoxins have been implicated. Mycotoxins are also now known to be triggers for the third most common major disease process in the U.S., which is autoimmune disease. Thyroid gland function as well as sex steroid hormone production (testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone) may be adversely impacted by mycotoxins (Campbell, personal communication, April 6, 2021).
The reality is that people can have a wide variety of signs and symptoms that are actually due to mold exposure. Because these signs and symptoms can often be explained by other, more common diagnoses, oftentimes mainstream medicine may not recognize mold as a potential fundamental cause of their patient’s suffering (Campbell, personal communication, April 6, 2021).
Interestingly, there are some very commonly held misconceptions surrounding mold illness:
“You can’t be sick from mold if you’re not allergic.”
“You can’t be sick from mold if no one else in the house is sick.”
“You can’t be sick if all the labs were normal and you “look good”.
“You can’t be sick from mold because you didn’t get better after moving.”
“Whenever there are symptoms in multiple organs, it is not a “real” medical problem.”
These statements are all false! (Hope, personal communication, April 5 2021).
What can a person do when they suspect they (or a loved one) are being adversely affected by mold? The first rule of toxicology is to identify the source of mold exposure and remove the person from the source. No one can truly recover from a mold-related illness if they continue to live in an environment which harbors the mold. There is no mask that you can breathe through that will prevent mold microbial fragments from being inhaled (Campbell, personal communication, April 6, 2021).
Proper remediation of the water-damaged areas of the home or other building are what is needed to make the living space healthy once again. Once remediated, routinely monitor all areas for potential water damage (water leaks, for example) on a very regular basis and do regular home maintenance of such items as HVAC systems, if present (Campbell, personal communication, April 6, 2021).
Seek help from an environmentally-trained health care professional, such as those trained through the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), to help you properly diagnose and treat mold-related illnesses.
I have recently taken the AAEM Spring 2021 Mold & Mycotoxin Conference. I will be studying to take the AAEM examinations for Certification of Proficiency in Mold & Mycotoxins. I feel very grateful to have had this training as now I know much more about mold and mycotoxins than I did previously. I know how important it is to discover if mold may be a causative agent in a wide variety of health challenges, many of which can seriously impact a person’s health status. I know that often people are misdiagnosed as having another illness because mold-related illness is not often on the diagnostic radar of mainstream medicine. And I know that once mold is found to be a causative role in a person’s physical and/or mental suffering, hope is found!
Living spaces can be remediated into healthy environments to enjoy healthy lives in once again, and people can heal from mold-related illness and reset their life course onto a much healthier trajectory! Mold is a vitally important part of the natural world and we can experience life just fine by staying smart and keeping mold where it belongs… outdoors! (except for the Blue Cheese! 😊).
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