Research shows that Americans spend a shocking 90 percent of their time indoors. (1) Due to fatigue and mobility constraints, individuals with chronic Lyme disease may spend even more time indoors. Unfortunately, indoor environments are not always a safe haven for Lyme disease recovery. In fact, some indoor spaces may be downright dangerous due to water damage and contamination with mold and mycotoxins.
Exposure to toxic indoor molds and mycotoxins can harm the immune system and hinder recovery from Lyme disease; in my professional and personal experience, mold toxicity and Lyme disease often go hand-in-hand. Read on to learn about the crucial connection between mold toxicity and Lyme disease and why addressing mold toxicity is vital for Lyme disease recovery.
In This Article:
Indoor Mold: It’s Not Just a Cosmetic Problem!
Most people consider indoor mold to primarily be a cosmetic problem; after all, having splotches of mold growing around your leaky window frames or in the shower is pretty unsightly. Of course, the odor of indoor mold growth is also off-putting. However, indoor mold growth is more than just a malodorous cosmetic problem – it can seriously harm your health!
According to the World Health Organization, a shocking fifty percent of the buildings in North America are water damaged and potential sources of exposure to toxic molds. (2)
Molds such as Aspergillus and Stachybotrys chartarum love growing in damp environments filled with porous materials, including wood, particleboard, and drywall. Constant high humidity, such as is found in most bathrooms or basements, is all it takes to create an environment hospitable to indoor toxic mold growth. Once these molds take up residence indoors, they can secrete mycotoxins, toxic substances that can harm our health.
The unpleasant musty smell and the unsightly appearance of indoor mold growth portend potentially serious health problems, particularly if your health is already compromised by a chronic infection like Lyme disease. Next, let’s discuss how mold and mycotoxins can disrupt the immune system, exacerbate inflammation, and potentially worsen Lyme disease symptoms.
Is There a Connection Between Lyme and Mold Illness?
Mold toxicity may worsen Lyme disease symptoms and hinder Lyme disease recovery through several mechanisms. For one, mold and mycotoxin exposure may set the stage for chronic infections by suppressing the immune system or exacerbating existing infections by ramping up inflammation. A growing body of research indicates that mycotoxins suppress the normal functioning of the immune system. (3) Exposure to toxic indoor mold and mycotoxins may make your body more hospitable to chronic infections and make it harder for your body to fight existing infections.
Mold and mycotoxin exposure also provokes a significant inflammatory response that may exacerbate inflammation from chronic Lyme disease or other chronic infections. (4) The one-two punch triggered by mold toxicity and Lyme disease can significantly worsen chronic inflammatory symptoms such as brain fog, chronic fatigue, joint pain, and gastrointestinal issues.
The Difference and Similarities Between Mold Toxicity and Lyme Disease
Mold toxicity is a chronic inflammatory condition related to toxic exposure – indoor mold – whereas Lyme disease is a chronic infection. Both of these conditions trigger chronic inflammation, which is why suffering from both conditions simultaneously can be so damaging to the body. Typically, functional medicine practitioners prefer to address mold toxicity before targeting Lyme disease. Because toxic mold suppresses the immune system, it is imperative to get an affected individual out of their moldy environment and detoxify mold and mycotoxins from their body first so the immune system can adequately deal with Lyme disease next.
However, mold toxicity and chronic Lyme disease also share some similarities, as far as symptoms go, since both conditions induce chronic inflammation inside the body. Symptoms shared by both conditions include:
- Brain fog
- Mood swings
- Food sensitivities
- Chemical sensitivities
- Undesired weight loss or weight gain
- Chronic fatigue
- Respiratory issues
- Chronic sinusitis
Where to Start If You’re Dealing with Both Mold Toxicity and Lyme Disease
Clearing the body of immune system-suppressing mold and mycotoxins will allow your immune system to come back “online” and better target chronic infections. Clearing mold and mycotoxins first can also improve gut health; your gut contains 70-80 percent of your immune system, so having a healthy gut is also an important prerequisite for Lyme disease recovery.
Testing for Mold Toxicity
When mold toxicity is suspected, it is critical to test one’s living environment and body to ascertain whether mold and mycotoxin exposures are an issue. For environmental testing, I prefer the EMMA (Environmental Mold and Mycotoxin Assessment) test from Real Time Labs (I have no affiliation with the lab). The EMMA test provides more data than the ERMI test because it tests for mycotoxins and mold species; however, it’s also not as expensive as a specialist-administered home test. The results of the EMMA test can give you direction as to whether or not it’s worth paying someone to inspect your home.
It’s also important to test your body for mycotoxins to determine which types of harmful mycotoxins you’re dealing with. I prefer the Vibrant Mycotoxins Test from Vibrant America.
How to Treat Mold Toxicity
The first step in treating mold toxicity is to get out of the moldy environment. This can undoubtedly be a difficult step, but it is imperative because if you continue to expose your body to harmful mold and mycotoxins, treatment for mold toxicity (and Lyme disease, for that matter) will tend to be very difficult to tolerate. Once you’re out of the moldy environment, optimizing nutrition and detoxification will help your body recover from mold toxicity.
On the nutrition front, eating a low-mold diet can facilitate recovery. It is important to avoid foods that either contain mold or support mold growth inside your body if your body has been colonized by mold. Foods to avoid include:
- Dried fruit
- Fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, vinegar, and soy sauce
- Aged cheeses
- Salami and cured meats
- Peanuts and peanut butter
Depending on their level of sensitivity, some individuals may also need to avoid all grains, legumes, and dairy products and strictly limit their intake of fruits due to the sugar content of fruits (mold loves sugar!).
Foods that will support healing from mold toxicity include organic and grass-fed meats, poultry, and eggs, wild-caught seafood, colorful vegetables, herbs, and spices.
Food-based binders, substances that can bind onto mycotoxins in the gastrointestinal tract and usher them out of the body via the stool, such as flaxseed and basil seeds, can also be helpful. I regularly create personalized meal plans for clients who are recovering from mold toxicity.
A comprehensive detoxification plan is also vital for mold toxicity recovery. Glutathione support, bitter herbs that facilitate bile flow and mycotoxin elimination, and binders such as activated charcoal and bentonite clay to “catch” mycotoxin-filled bile and eliminate it via stool are essential components of a mold detox protocol. I always recommend working with a qualified healthcare provider to determine the proper mold/mycotoxin detoxification protocol for your needs. The detox process can be tricky; it’s best not to DIY it.
Finally, repairing mold and mycotoxin-induced chronic inflammation and gut damage, replenishing depleted nutrients, and balancing systems adversely impacted by mold, such as hormones and brain function, are also crucial for recovery.