Mold (mould) is a class of multi-cellular fungus that grow and propagate via filaments called hyphae (whereas yeasts are single-celled fungal organisms). Some species are known to grow in environments of high humidity and moisture, while other species can be introduced into the food chain via grains and animal products.
Conditions that promote environmental mold growth include the following:
- Water-damaged structures (i.e. leaky basements, flood-damaged areas, etc.)
- Poorly-ventilated areas that accumulate moisture such as bathrooms and window sills
- Stacks of old newspapers and books
- Houseplants with damp soil
- Outdoor soil, plants and fallen leaves
- Air conditioners, humidifiers and front-loading laundry machines
Molds produce various mycotoxins, with each individual species having the capability of producing several types of mycotoxins, which have been shown to have detrimental effects on humans and animals. Mycotoxins can be absorbed via the skin, the respiratory tract and the gastrointestinal tract, and have been found to cause various health issues.
Food levels of mycotoxins are tightly monitored due to the food safety risks. Products that are found to contain mycotoxins beyond acceptable limits are destroyed before they can be accessed by consumers (typically grains, nuts, seeds, meat, dairy and eggs).
Those who are particularly susceptible and/or sensitive to mycotoxins, or who are being treated for mold-related illness are recommended to avoid foods that are most likely to contain mycotoxins and/or take additional precautions to avoid further exposure, even if it may be minimal (i.e. washing and drying raw nuts, avoiding peanuts and certain cheeses or all dairy, etc.).
Water damage and mold was initially associated with respiratory illnesses such as asthma, coughs, bronchitis and allergy. With further study, it was shown that symptoms of mold exposure went beyond the respiratory issues and included the musculoskeletal system (i.e. muscle cramps, weakness, tics, etc.), issues with cognitive function (i.e. deficits in memory, concentration and learning, “brain fog”, etc.), neurological function (i.e. poorer balance, increased reaction time, etc.), mood (i.e. increased incidence of anxiety and depression) and immunological issues (i.e. increased inflammatory markers, activation of mast cells).
In children, prolonged exposure to indoor mold has been associated with learning difficulties, decreased intelligence scores and possible association with autism spectrum disorder. In adults who have experienced traumatic brain injury, mold exposure was associated with “significantly more symptoms”.
Not everyone is susceptible to mold toxicity, but mold exposure can have a significant effect on health outcomes, especially if the following factors are involved:
- Prolonged mold exposure
- Genetic susceptibility (i.e. issues with detoxification enzymes)
- Autoimmune disease
- Concurrent toxin exposure (i.e. heavy metals, organophosphate pesticides, etc.)
- High levels of stress
- Chronic infectious disease
Speaking with a knowledgeable clinician can help to determine if mold toxicity is at the root of your illness, or if it is an obstacle to healing. This will get you started on the right path with assessment tools, lab tests and a home or workplace assessment, along with an effective treatment plan.