Today I’m going to deal with a common question, “Do I have toxic mold poisoning?” Another common question that is similar is “Is mold really that serious, isn’t mold everywhere?” I will try and answer both of these questions. Most people are aware of mold because we see it every day.
There are literally thousands of species of mold, however, not every species produces toxic compounds. However, water damage is becoming more and more common, which is leading to more mold and mycotoxin production in homes, offices, and schools. However, even if the mold isn’t producing toxins you might be reacting to the spores themselves.
Let’s briefly talk about the two items you might be reacting to, what symptoms you might expect, and how to test to see if this is what is causing your problems.
The most serious problems caused by mold are caused by small molecules call mycotoxins, which are produced by mold when they feel threatened. Think of this like the ink an octopus produces or when a skunk sprays someone. For some mycotoxins, low levels are not problematic for most individuals.
These mycotoxins (Ochratoxin, Aflatoxin, Mycophenolic acid) are found in low amounts in food. However, other mycotoxins such as the Trichothecenes are toxic in much smaller quantities, but only in water-damaged buildings, and they are much more toxic. Trichothecenes are produced by Stachybotrys, otherwise known as black mold(1).
There are multiple different health effects that are caused by mycotoxins, and these symptoms are influenced by genetics, sex, age of the patient. The number of mycotoxins patient’s absorbed and the type of mycotoxin also play a role in symptoms (2). However, common symptoms are chronic fatigue, ADHD, rashes, COPD, and depression. Less common symptoms include dementia, Parkinson’s, and cancer. Mycotoxins also weaken the immune system, which leads to other secondary infections to occur (3, 4).
Common Signs of Toxic Mold Poisoning
Symptoms and signs of mycotoxins poisoning are very different depending on many factors. How this poisoning presents itself depends on:
- Type of mycotoxin
- Amount of mycotoxin
- Duration of poisoning
- Age of individual
- Prior health status
- Other toxins present
- Dietary status
- Genetic structure
- And others
This means there can be a major difference in symptoms between individuals in the population exposed to it. To some extent it is clear that mycotoxicosis can increase susceptibility to infections, worsen the effect of other toxins present and advance other health conditions.
Although acute poisoning is more obvious and sometimes has grave effects, chronic exposure is much more present in the population in general. Finally, mycotoxins can cause changes in immune, nervous system, behavior, mood and even development problems like stunting.
The other way that molds can affect your health is through allergy and IgE-mediated pathways. Mold can introduce multiple different types of antigens to your system. One of the main antigens involved is mold spores. Mold can lead to asthma, hypersensitivity reactions, and pulmonary inflammatory disease.
There are many different variants that could cause a patient to have one reaction compared to another. One of these factors is the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) patterns. Another likely significant factor is the glutathione transferase genes. One study found that polymorphism in GSTP1 influenced illness and treatment after exposure to water-damaged buildings(5).
Lastly, what could we do to test if we have been poisoned by mold? The best tests to utilize are our urine mycotoxin test and our home environment test the EMMA. These tests will give you a comprehensive mold and mycotoxin look into your body and home. For more information on these tests, I recommend reading about finding mold in your home and about mold growth.
1 A. Bertero, A. Moretti, L. J. Spicer, F. Caloni, Fusarium Molds and Mycotoxins: Potential Species-Specific Effects. Toxins (Basel) 10, (2018).
2 J. Hope, A review of the mechanism of injury and treatment approaches for illness resulting from exposure to water-damaged buildings, mold, and mycotoxins. ScientificWorldJournal 2013, 767482 (2013).
3 D. A. Creasia et al., Acute inhalation toxicity of T-2 mycotoxin in mice. Fundam Appl Toxicol 8, 230-235 (1987).
4 W. P. Liew, S. Mohd-Redzwan, Mycotoxin: Its Impact on Gut Health and Microbiota. Front Cell Infect Microbiol 8, 60 (2018).
5 A. England et al., Variants in the genes encoding TNF-alpha, IL-10, and GSTP1 influence the effect of alpha-tocopherol on inflammatory cell responses in healthy men. Am J Clin Nutr 95, 1461-1467 (2012).