By Dr. Mercola
"Probably every doctor in the United States is treating mold illness — they just don't realize it."
Mold illness may be the most prominent health problem physicians are missing today — a "hidden" pandemic that's sweeping the nation.
Millions are suffering from mysterious illnesses for which they've received essentially no help from physicians. Some are referred to psychologists after being told their illness is "imagined," while others are accused of fabrication.
Because mold toxins are so unique and their effects are so broad, symptoms of mold toxicity are complex and varied, making it difficult for physicians to arrive at the correct diagnosis.
Unable to identify the cause of their illness, sick people become much sicker over time. Marriages are devastated, livelihoods are lost, and many reach such levels of despair that they end up committing suicide.
The featured documentary, "Moldy," explores the subject of mold toxicity through the stories of people who've battled this illness and won, as well as interviews with a number of top experts in the field.
The film sheds light on the symptoms of mold toxicity, why it's so dangerous, and most importantly, how you can recover your health.
Modern Industry Has Created Dangerous 'Super-Molds'
Mold spores are ever-present in the air. Under optimal conditions, these naturally occurring and very resilient spores can take root in your home or workplace, or in your food. Molds make toxins (mycotoxins) that can change how you feel, how you think, and even how long you live.
In my 2011 interview with Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker (embedded below), he stated that mold toxins are even more toxic than pesticides and heavy metals and affect a greater number of body systems.
Since the 1970s, the molds in our environment have become much more aggressive due to the widespread use of a fungicide called Benomyl,1,2 through a process similar to the creation of superbugs by overuse of antibiotics.
In the agriculture industry, Benomyl killed nearly all of the fungi on crops such as strawberries and wheat, but the few surviving fungi happened to be highly toxic molds — which are now flourishing in our environment.
In the 1970s, Benomyl was also added to paints to stop the growth of mold on damp walls, especially in public buildings such as offices and schools.
Just as with food crops, a few types of dangerous mold were selectively allowed to grow unchecked, so we're exposed to more of these dangerous fungi now than at any other time in history, as a direct result of these chemical fungicides.
In the US, 45 million people live and work in moldy buildings, and approximately half of all US buildings have water damage, which greatly increases the likelihood of hidden toxic mold.
NOT Wanted — Dead or Alive
Dead mold is just as bad as live mold. When mold dies, the cells' walls desiccate and break apart into little fragments. The fragments carry the toxins upon them, and when inhaled, they're absorbed into your body.
Many mistakenly believe that simply moving out of a contaminated building will solve the problem, but the toxins adhere to your belongings. If you move with everything you have, you can take the problem with you.
The toxins make their way into everything — books, clothing, bedding, furniture, you name it — and many times, personal belongings keep individuals ill.
If you have a mold-related illness, the optimal action is, unfortunately, to dispose of everything you own. Some experts say to leave and take nothing with you but your driver's license.
Mold Is Toxic to Every Organ in Your Body
Mold affects everyone, regardless of age, ethnicity, or overall health and fitness level. Surprisingly, you are as much at risk for mold in dry climates as wet climates. The mold growing in desert regions can be even more tenacious, since it's had to adapt to the drier air.
It turns out that 25 to 28 percent of people are genetic "canaries in the coal mine" for experiencing severe mold reactions — and in the US that amounts to about 75 million canaries.
Anyone can have problems from a water-damaged building, but if you're mold-sensitive, it's more likely that exposure can trigger a debilitating illness. Symptoms are wide ranging, from autoimmune and inflammatory issues to neurocognitive problems.
People have experienced fatigue, migraines, muscle cramps, numbness and tingling, cardiac arrhythmias, and insomnia. The list of symptoms is almost endless because the toxins can settle into so many parts of your body.
Weight gain is very common. A few experience "unexplained" weight loss, but most have rapid unexplained weight gain that doesn't stop until they receive proper treatment.
There are numerous mental and neurological effects associated with mold toxicity, including brain fog, cognitive dysfunction, and mood disturbances. It's not uncommon for people to have short-term and long-term memory loss, confusion, depression, and panic attacks. Children can experience drops in IQ.
Brain imaging reveals that mycotoxins can actually damage your brain — in particular, your amygdala. This can result in experiencing mood swings or rage for no apparent reason. Those with mold toxicity often describe their emotions as "out of control." According to mycotoxin expert Dr. Harriet Ammann, indoor molds can damage the systems of your body in the following ways:3
Vascular: blood vessel fragility, hemorrhage from tissues or lungs Digestive: diarrhea, vomiting, hemorrhage, liver damage, fibrosis, and necrosis Respiratory: trouble breathing, bleeding from lungs, and sinus infections Neurological: tremors, loss of coordination, headaches, depression and anxiety, and multiple sclerosis Skin: rashes, burning, sloughing, and photosensitivity Urinary: kidney toxicity Reproductive: infertility, changes in reproductive cycles Immune: Immunosuppression
Mold Illness Is Real
The good news is, once you realize you've been poisoned by toxic mold, with proper support your brain and body can recover. But in order to do so, it's important to find a "mold literate" physician to guide you in every aspect of your care. Recovering from mold-induced illness requires an integrative approach under the guidance of a knowledgeable healthcare practitioner. Most primary care practitioners aren't trained to treat mold poisoning and don't even take a mold history. Unexplained symptoms are usually dismissed or attributed to other problems, such as psychological issues.
Those who DO believe in mold toxicity typically limit their approach to the prescribing of steroids and dangerous antifungal medications, many of which are toxic to your liver. Recovering from mold toxicity requires removing the source or sources of exposure, then starving the fungi out of your body with an antifungal diet and avoiding foods that may be contaminated with mold. Make sure your vitamin D levels are optimized, as vitamin D has been shown to be effective against mold allergies.
Top 10 Foods to Avoid If You Have Mold Sensitivity
People with environmental mold sensitivities are typically sensitive to mold in food as well. Along with a menagerie of chemicals, pollutants, and pathogens, mold further adds to your body's toxic burden and can overwhelm your detoxification and immune systems. Even miniscule exposures can trigger major reactions once you're sensitized — as well as triggering a relapse once you've recovered.
So, it's important that you take steps to make your environment as mold-free as humanly possible, including your foods. Some foods are more susceptible to mold contamination than others. Below are the top 10 mycotoxic foods, as outlined in the book Mold: The War Within by Kurt and Lee Ann Billings. As you can see, many of top offenders are grains. For more on the Billings' recovery plan, refer to our prior article covering natural treatments for mold toxicity.
1. Alcoholic beverages: Alcohol is the mycotoxin of Saccharomyces yeast (brewer's yeast), and often contains other mycotoxins from mold-containing fruits and grains 2. Wheat and all wheat products 3. Rye 4. Peanuts: Often contaminated with dozens of mold types, one of which is cancer-causing aflatoxin 5. Cottonseed and cottonseed oil 6. Corn: Universally contaminated with a variety of fungal toxins 7. Barley 8. Sorghum: Used in a variety of grain products and alcoholic beverages 9. Sugar from sugar cane and sugar beets 10. Hard cheeses
What's Involved in Mold Remediation?
Whether you stay in a contaminated house or leave, remediation will be necessary, and I would suggest hiring a professional mold remediator. In the case of flooding, step number one is to pump out any standing water and remove all personal belongings, which also need to be carefully cleaned and dried if you're going to try to salvage them. As stated earlier, it's optimal to discard all personal belongings and start over, if possible. Standard mold remediation involves the following steps:
1. Setting up containments and sucking the air out with negative air pressure. (This is similar to turning on your bathroom vent fan.) 2. Next, they clear the air using a HEPA filtered air purifier or scrubber. The air must be cleaned because once they start working on the mold, the spores will begin to fly everywhere like light dust. 3. Wearing protective gear, such as HEPA filtered respirators, goggles, protective suits, and latex gloves, the remediator begins taking the affected area apart. Removed parts, such as drywall, are slowly and carefully placed into a bag. 4. Once the affected pieces are bagged, every inch of the area is carefully HEPA vacuumed again. 5. Once the source of the mold has been located, it's carefully removed using hot soapy water, scrub brush, HEPA filtered sanders, chisels, or any other tool that will remove the mold. 6. Professional remediators will typically treat the area with a disinfectant, as bacteria accompany mold growth. 7. Next, the area is force dried. Once thoroughly dry, repairs can be made.
How to Choose a Professional Remediator
Take great care in hiring a mold remediator and make sure he or she is certified. You will find contractor or professional listings on the following websites. Both the IICRC and NORMI are certifying organizations for mold remediation, but the IICRC certification may be the most widely used. Keep in mind that a mere certification may not be enough — also evaluate the remediator's qualifications and insurance (liability as well as workers' compensation). With the ACAC, there are a few different levels.
- IICRC (Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification)
- ACAC (American Council for Accredited Certification)—a certifying body that is third-party accredited.
- The IAQA (Indoor Air Quality Association)—a membership organization with no certification program (the ACAC handles this by agreement)
- RIA (Restoration Industry Association)
- NORMI (National Organization of Remediators and Mold Inspectors)
Improving Your Indoor Air Quality
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), poor indoor air quality is one of the top five greatest environmental risks to public health. Amazing as it sounds, indoor air can be five to 10 times more polluted than outdoor air. This is due to inadequate ventilation, so contaminants build up and stagnant air is re-circulated. Long-term exposure to air pollution particulates has been associated with faster cognitive decline in older adults.
One of the best things you can do to improve your air quality is add a high-quality air purifier. My recommendations for air purifiers have evolved over the years, along with changing technologies and newly emerging research. At present, after much careful review and study, I believe air purifiers using Photo Catalytic Oxidation (PCO) seem to offer the best technology available. For more tips on improving your air quality, please refer to our earlier article.
More from Leading Mold Experts...
I've interviewed several experts on mold-related illness over the past few years, and five of those are linked below. The most recent was natural health author and actress Suzanne Somers whose latest book, TOX-SICK: From Toxic to Not Sick, includes information about recovering from mold toxicity.
Suzanne and her husband both suffered from mycotoxin exposure. For Suzanne, toxic black mold settled in her intestines, which led to a misdiagnosis of cancer. For her husband, the mold caused symptoms akin to Parkinson's disease. Suzanne is a strong advocate for reducing your body's toxic load, advising her readers, "Stop counting your calories and start counting your chemicals!" Sound advice indeed!
- Suzanne Somers on healing from toxic overload
- Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker on strategies for identifying and healing from mold exposure
- Jack Thrasher on the "hidden" mold pandemic
- Dr. Doris Rapp on mold-related health risks and remediation
- Dr. Jim Pearson also about mold-related health risks and remediation