Shortly after publishing my most recent blog post, “Why I am Using Sunlight to Heal from Mold Illness,” I started to get a lot of questions asking about the other components of my protocol I am using to heal from mold illness. Many people have specifically shown interest in the gut-healing strategies I am using, since mold illness can have a significant impact on gut health. In this post, I’ve outlined the strategies I am using to heal my gut while recovering from mold illness.
What is Mold Illness?
If you are reading this article, it is likely that you have already heard of mold illness; however, for those who may not be familiar with this condition, here is a bit of background information.
Mold illness is provoked by exposure to toxic molds, typically in water-damaged indoor environments. This type of environment is very hospitable to mold spores. Upon taking up residence and propagating in water-damaged areas, molds begin to produce insidious byproducts called mycotoxins and noxious gases called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Susceptible people living in water-damaged, moldy environments are at risk for developing serious illness due to the inhalation and ingestion of mold spores, as well as exposure to the byproducts of mold metabolism, mycotoxins and VOCs. Exposure to mold, mycotoxins, and fungal VOCs is a grossly misunderstood and overlooked cause of chronic illness. These toxic exposures can cause immune dysfunction, chronic inflammation, allergies and asthma, gastrointestinal disorders, cognitive issues, and neurological symptoms.
Gastrointestinal issues triggered by mold illness, my focus in this article, can be difficult to resolve. The severity of GI issues that often accompany mold illness can be attributed to several factors. Mycotoxins circulate in bile, which is cycled through the GI tract numerous times every day; this chronically exposes the gut to inflammatory mycotoxins. In addition, fungi can propagate in the gut, crowding out beneficial bacteria that are necessary for maintaining GI health. Both of these factors compromise gut health and may lead to gut-related disorders such as food sensitivities, yeast overgrowth, mast cell activation, chronic bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. The strategies I have developed to heal my gut seek to address the root cause of these issues by removing moldy foods from the diet, eradicating fungal microorganisms from the gut, restoring a healthy microbiome, binding mycotoxins circulating in bile, and repairing the intestinal barrier. While I have tried hundreds of products over the years for gut health, I have ultimately come to abide by a fairly simple food and nature-based approach.
Eat a Low-Mold Diet
To give yourself the best chance of recovering from mold illness, it is essential to reduce your exposure to mold and mycotoxins as much as possible. This includes removing yourself from environments that contain mold, as well as reducing your intake of mold and mycotoxins via food. This may sound surprising, but certain foods can harbor significant quantities of mold and mycotoxins. In the United States, the legal limits for mycotoxins in foods are higher than in many other countries. Some of the foods that are most likely to harbor mold and mycotoxins include grains (corn, wheat, oats), soy, sugar cane and sugar beets, alcoholic beverages, and peanuts. One example of a common mycotoxins found in foods is zearalenone (ZEA). ZEA is an endocrine-disrupting mycotoxin produced by the fungus Fusarium graminearum. ZEA is extremely prevalent in grains and grain-derived products. It may also accumulate higher-up in the food chain, such as in meat and dairy products, when moldy grain is fed to cattle. The human intestinal flora is unable to degrade ZEA, and this has adverse effects on human physiology. Some of the effects of ZEA on the body include premature puberty in girls and weight gain. (1)
In my experience, avoidance of moldy foods is very important for recovering from mold illness – continuing to feed your body mycotoxins may make it hard for you to come out ahead. Based on my years of experience with mold illness, as well as a great deal of research, I have developed a low-mold diet template. My template includes plentiful non-starchy vegetables, moderate amounts of starchy vegetables such as cassava and sweet potatoes, organic meat and poultry, wild-caught fish, low-sugar fruits such as apples and berries, healthy fats like olive oil and ghee, small amounts of gluten-free grains, if tolerated. I also recommend eating plenty of antifungal foods and herbs, such as garlic, onions, coconut oil, olive oil, thyme, and rosemary, just to name a few.
To see the full template for my Low-Mold Diet, check out my previous post: “The Low-Mold, Low-Salicylate Diet for Mold Illness.”
Are you recovering from mold-induced illness or chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS) and unsure about what foods you should eat and what to avoid? My low-mold diet guidelines can help! This helpful handout can easily be printed and taken to the grocery store, making shopping for healthful foods a whole lot easier!
Mycotoxins, the toxic compounds produced by mold, like to hang out in bile. As you may know, bile is produced in the liver, stored in the gallbladder, and released into the small intestine to emulsify dietary fats and assist with vitamin and mineral absorption. However, bile is also “recycled” during the digestive process; much of what is released into the intestine ends up being reabsorbed and used again. This route by which intestinal substances become reabsorbed by intestinal cells and recirculated back to the liver and bile is referred to as the enterohepatic circulation. For people with mold illness, this normal aspect of human physiology creates a vicious cycle in which mycotoxins continue recirculating throughout the gut, wreaking havoc on our health. This is where binders, also referred to as “sequestering agents,” come into play. Binders are nonabsorbable substances such as bentonite clay, charcoal, and chlorella that bind mycotoxins (and a wide variety of other environmental toxins) in the gastrointestinal tract and facilitate their elimination from the body, thus reducing enterohepatic recirculation and the body burden of toxins. These are my three favorite binders:
The consumption of clay is a practice deeply rooted in human history; human beings have intuitively known that consuming small amounts of clay could remedy various ills or accidental toxic exposures. Bentonite clay is quite useful for sequestering mycotoxins. (2) In fact, farmers have long been familiar with the practice of feeding clay to their animals should they accidentally receive mycotoxin exposure in their feed. (3) My preferred brand of bentonite clay is Yerba Prima Bentonite Clay; it comes in a liquid form that is easy to mix with water and drink. I take 1 tsp of this per day, and find that it significantly reduces inflammation, without causing uncomfortable side effects such as bloating.
Charcoal has been found effective for binding ochratoxin (produced by Aspergillus), aflatoxin, and Fusarium toxins, all different types of mycotoxins. (4) I feel that charcoal is a very powerful binder, and I personally can only take it a couple times a week, whereas I take the bentonite clay approximately 5 days a week. If you feel that you can’t handle a full capsule of charcoal, you can always open it up and just use half at a time. I use Bulletproof coconut charcoal.
This is a beneficial yeast that no only kills pathogenic fungi such as Candida albicans, but also binds mycotoxins! (5) This is both a binder and strong antifungal, so if you are in the throes of mold illness, I suggest starting very slow, with perhaps half a capsule per day.
Repair Leaky Gut with Colostrum
While improving one’s diet and removing mycotoxins can reduce irritation to the gut, which contributes to increased intestinal permeability (i.e. “leaky gut”), I found that I needed additional support to repair the damage sustained by my digestive tract due to mold illness. The product I have found to be most effective for healing my gut is bovine colostrum. I have written an entire blog post on the myriad health benefits of bovine colostrum, one of which is its ability to repair damaged cells in the intestinal wall. (6)(7) Colostrum also contains a substance called lactoferrin, which is a potent natural antifungal, and antimicrobial peptides that target pathogenic microorganisms. These natural antifungal/antimicrobial substances may be useful for eliminating Candida overgrowth and other gut infections. I have personally found colostrum extremely useful for clearing up intestinal Candida, when used in conjunction with a low-mold diet and binders. (8) For more information about the extensive health benefits of colostrum, check out my blog post “Colostrum: An Ancestral Superfood for Modern Times.”
I also take a broad-spectrum probiotic by Ultimate Flora, to replenish the beneficial bacteria in my gut. This has further improved my Candida situation. This brand of probiotic can be found in the refrigerated supplements section at most Whole Foods and other health food stores.
Get Some Sunlight
Blue light has been found to have antifungal properties, and the best source of blue light is the sun! If you read my previous post, “Why I am Using Sunlight to Heal from Mold Illness,” then you know that sunbathing has been one of my primary therapies for recovering from mold illness. Sunlight also stimulates the body’s production of vitamin D, which itself has antifungal and immune-boosting properties. Sufficient vitamin D is required for maintaining the integrity of the gut and supporting the gut mucosal immune system. If you want to heal your gut, sun exposure should be high on your priority list. If you live in an area where sunlight is sparse, I recommend using a vitamin D lamp, such as the Sperti Vitamin D Light Box, which is recognized by the FDA for its effectiveness as treating vitamin D deficiency. If the light box is not an option, I would recommend supplementing with oral vitamin D3, along with vitamin K2, since these two nutrients work synergistically.
Overall, you may notice that my protocol doesn’t contain a slew of antifungal herbs, the binder cholestyramine, or a bunch of detox products. I have tried all those products in the past with little success and a lot of discomfort. Essentially, I have found that a simpler food- and nature-based approach to healing my gut seems to work best for me.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to serve as medical advice. Please seek the counsel of your doctor or another healthcare professional before trying any of the interventions mentioned here. In addition, if you choose to buy any of the products mentioned in this article, note that I do receive a small commission from Amazon for each item purchased. This helps to support the extensive research, writing, and effort I put into the Ascent to Health website and blog!