While Lyme disease has been the primary health issue I have needed to treat over the course of the past few years, mold-induced illness has also been a big deal. It was actually the problem that took the longest to be diagnosed. However, my treatment protocol for mold illness has actually been very straightforward, and has yielded great results quite quickly.
You might be wondering, what is mold illness, and how does one acquire it?
Mold illness is the more commonly used name for a condition termed “Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS).” CIRS is both an acute and chronic, systemic inflammatory condition that is acquired upon exposure to the interior environment of a building that has been damaged by water and contains organisms such as fungi, bacteria, actinomycetes (a family of gram-positive bacteria), mycobacteria (bacteria with waxy cells resistant to digestion), and possibly volatile organic compounds as well. All of the organisms produce biotoxins that have detrimental effects on the human body, provoking a chronic inflammatory response.1
So in large part, it is the biotoxins produced by mold that makes people sick, rather than an actual fungal organism inside a person. Fungal biotoxins can be consumed in food and inhaled, so if you are living in a moldy building, there are plenty of opportunities for biotoxins to enter the body and affect the immune system.
For people who are interested in the biochemical aspects of how biotoxins affect the immune system (like I am!), I inserted a great diagram below that illustrates the biochemistry of CIRS. Additional, technical information on biotoxins as they pertain to immune system activation can be found via this link: http://www.survivingmold.com/diagnosis/the-biotoxin-pathway.
Symptoms of Mold Illness:
There are many potential symptoms of mold illness. Here is a list of some of the primary symptoms that may present in a person with toxic mold exposure:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Light sensitivity
- Poor memory
- Difficulty remembering words
- Morning stiffness
- Tingling and sensations of numbness in skin
- Shortness of breath
- Chronic sinus congestion
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Appetite changes
Personally, I experienced all of these symptoms. The worst ones were the poor memory and difficulty remembering words, as I have always been sharp and felt like I was losing everything when my brain started to feel like it was short-circuiting.
My story as it pertains to mold:
While I was still undiagnosed with Lyme disease, I moved out to Seattle to complete my undergraduate degree at a great school that unfortunately ended up having a severe mold problem within the campus buildings. Over the course of my time there, I gradually became very ill, and had no idea why. I ended up having to withdraw from the school and move back to Illinois, due to the illness. It was over three years later that I was told by a respected doctor and graduate of the school that the buildings on the school campus indeed had a terrible mold problem, which was likely why I became so ill. This is also the reason why I won't be attempting to return to that school to complete my graduate education in nutrition.
After having experienced toxic mold exposure at the school, my second mold exposure occurred while staying at a friend’s house for a week a couple years ago. His house apparently had a black mold problem, which he knew about but had not remediated. I had a bad relapse after spending time there.
Finally, last year, I moved into an apartment that gradually developed a mold problem because the AC unithad a leak in the drainage tube that went unrecognized by maintenance staff for months, despite my asking them to come figure out why my apartment smelled so musty. So overall, I have had quite a few toxic mold exposures.
So why can some people be exposure to toxic mold and not become seriously ill? It has to do with the current status of one’s immune system at the time of exposure. In my case, I already had a weakened immune system due to being infected with Lyme disease (and still undiagnosed), so when I was exposed to seriously moldy environments, my body could not handle the additional onslaught of toxic substances produced by the mold and other organisms, and I thus became very ill. Treating mold illness has been a critical component of my recovery from Lyme disease, since both were impacting my immune system.
After much trial and error, I have found a protocol of supplements and lifestyle modifications that are helping me overcome the problems I developed as a result of mold exposure.
Here are my favorite treatments (both supplements and otherwise) that I have found to be very effective for resolving mold illness:
- Sunlight/Tanning Bed - Getting lots of sunlight and UVB light via a tanning bed has been one of the most important parts of my mold protocol. I love sunlight (hence the feature image) and guess what, mold hates UVR (ultraviolet rays)! Light therapy with ultraviolet radiation has demonstrated an ability to combat fungal infections by preventing the reproductive process in certain types of fungi.3 The effectiveness of tanning beds for treating dermatological conditions, including ones of fungal origin, has been validated in the scientific literature.4Tanning bed use may also be helpful for those with vitiligo. Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease where patches of skin become depigmented due to the immune system launching an attack against it's own pigment-producing cells, melanocytes. Interestingly, one of the symptoms of toxic mold exposure is skin depigmentation (though in this case, it is not given the name vitiligo). Could it be that vitiligo is not simply some autoimmune condition of unknown origin, but rather a disease caused by exposure to toxic fungal agents, which in turn causes the immune system to turn against melanocytes? I definitely think it is a possibility.
- Infrared Sauna - Raising body temperature by using an infrared sauna may help the body combat infections. Hyperthermia has been documented as effective in the treatment of deep fungal and bacterial infections in the scientific literature.5
- Propolis machine - This machine is a small diffuser that plugs into an outlet, and when the little burner inside heats up, it diffuses propolis into the air. Propolis is a substance produced by bees that has antifungal and antibacterial properties. Diffusing it into your living environment may help kill mold spores. Plus it smells great! The company that makes the diffuser (Bee Healthy Farms: http://beehealthyfarms.com/) also makes a diffuser with a face mask attachment that can be used as a nebulizer, to deliver the propolis directly into your respiratory system.
- Activated Charcoal: Activated charcoal can bind mycotoxins. I use Bulletproof Upgraded Charcoal. Taking a binder to bind mycotoxins is really important, because otherwise, the toxins will recirculate in bile. The drug Cholestyramine is used as a pharmaceutical mycotoxin binder in mold illness protocols.I am not against the use of drugs and tried cholestyramine myself. However, I had an allergic reaction to the drug, so that's why I take activated charcoal instead.
- Calcium-d-glucarate - This particular supplement may assist in the removal of tricothecene, a type of mycotoxin, from the body. I have found it helpful at a dose of 500 mg per day.
- Coconut Oil - Coconut oil is a potent antifungal substance that can be eaten as a food, so it is a convenient way to incorporate an antifungal treatment into your protocol.
- Probiotics - Probiotics help reestablish a balance of healthy flora in the intestine, which in turn can help crowd out pathogenic bacteria and fungi. I like the Ultimate Flora line of probiotics.
- Nasal Clear Nasal Spray - This nasal spray was introduced to me at the clinic in Seattle, and has been a huge help in clearing up my sinus congestion that resulted from mold exposure. It contains antifungal and antibacterial herb extracts as well as lysine.
- Low Mold Diet - I follow a low-mold diet (i.e. eating foods low in mold) in order to prevent agitating potential symptoms. I plan to write a more detailed post about this, but overall, the low-mold diet advocated avoidance of the following: High sugar fruits, such as tropical fruits; processed foods, which may contain ingredients that had some level of mold growing on them during storage; mold and yeast containing foods such as cheese, beer, and sour cream; processed meats; and dried fruit.
- Strict Avoidance of Moldy Environments - This last point is very important. Repeated exposures to moldy environments (i.e. buildings harboring toxic mold) will continue to make you sick and experience resurgences in symptoms. I know this both from research and my own personal experience.
I am a very curious person and am usually trying some type of new treatment or therapy just out of interest, so if I come across any additional supplement/therapy ideas that I think are helpful for mold illness, I will be sure to post an update on my blog. If you want new articles and updates sent directly to your email inbox, subscribe to my blog by clicking "Follow" on the bottom of the homepage!
- What is Mold Illness? Better yet, do people get sick after being exposed to water-damaged buildings? Survivingmold.com. Retrieved from http://www.survivingmold.com/diagnosis.
- Carnahan, J. (2015). Jillcarnahan.com. Is toxic mold exposure the cause of your symptoms? Retrieved from http://www.jillcarnahan.com/2015/02/08/toxic-mold-exposure-cause-symptoms/
- Light therapy may combat fungal infections, new evidence suggests. (2005). ScienceDaily. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/03/050323131309.htm.
- Radack, K. P., Farhangian, M. E., Anderson, K. L., & Feldman, S. R. (2015). A Review of the Use of Tanning Beds as a Dermatological Treatment. Dermatology and Therapy, 5(1), 37–51. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4374067/.
- Gao, X. & Chen, H. (2014). Hyperthermia on skin immune system and its application in the treatment of human papillomavirus-infected skin diseases. Frontiers of Medicine. 8(1): 1-5. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11684-014-0309-3.
- Forsgren, S., Nathan, N., & Anderson, W. (2014). Mold and mycotoxins: Often overlooked factors in chronic Lyme disease. The Townsend Letter. Retrieved from http://www.townsendletter.com/July2014/mold0714_2.html.