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What you need to know about mold and your health

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Mold is linked to a vast array of health problems, and even cancer, says Dr Leigh Erin Connealy. Here’s how to get rid of it and heal from mold-related symptoms

Mold, mold, it’s everywhere! Anywhere dampness or moisture is present can be a breeding ground for these prevalent and invasive fungi. Mold can live on almost any surface,1 from wood, paper products, cardboard and ceiling tiles to drywall, insulation, paint, wallpaper, fabric, carpet and upholstery. Mold can even grow in dust!

Outdoor spores sneak into our homes via open doors and windows, HVAC systems and vents. They can attach to our clothing, shoes and pets, allowing them to take up residence inside. And unfortunately these pervasive microorganisms are wreaking havoc on our health.

Mold and your health

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, mold consistently ranks among the top indoor pollutants.2 Leading toxin experts, including Dr Lee Cowden, have stated, “The mycotoxins produced by mold are more toxic and harmful to the body than any other manmade toxin except for some radioactive elements.”

Here are some of the most common health conditions linked to mold.

Allergies. Mold-related allergies can present in several ways and include the following symptoms:3

  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Cough and postnasal drip
  • Itchy eyes, nose and throat
  • Watery eyes
  • Dry, scaly skin

These symptoms can range in severity, vary from person to person, and be more prevalent during certain times of the year.

Asthma. Mold exposure can also trigger asthmatic symptoms and, in serious cases, asthmatic attacks. Again, symptoms may vary in individual cases, but these are some common indicators:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness

Nonspecific health problems. Exposure to mold can also trigger health concerns that are much harder to pinpoint, such as chronic fatigue, headaches, brain fog, sleep disorders, profuse sweating, irritable bowel, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), fungal infections, restless leg syndrome, rashes, muscle weakness and pain, arthritis, yeast and Candida infections, vertigo, and hearing loss.

No system in the body is immune to the effects of mold exposure and toxicity. There’s even a condition known as chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS) that affects several systems and causes multiple symptoms after exposure to mold and other biotoxins.

Mold exposure, especially over the long term, causes the immune system to go haywire. While the resulting symptoms will not likely cause irreparable harm if addressed promptly, these toxic fungi can spur more severe illnesses.

The mold–cancer connection

Though mold exposure may not immediately and directly cause cancer, Jack’s story (see below) touches on an important point: an immune system under constant attack weakens and allows pathogens and malignancies to take hold. Exposure to mycotoxins—particularly over a long period—sets the stage for cancer and other chronic illnesses.

Mold testing and remediation

If you suspect you have mold in your home or office, it’s often best to leave the testing—and cleanup—to the professionals. Reputable companies are trained to collect and test multiple indoor/outdoor air samples along with dust and surface samples to determine the type and severity of the mold problem.

If mold is detected, proper safety measures, such as plastic barriers, must be implemented to avoid spewing mold spores throughout unaffected areas during the remediation process. Simple rule: if mold is present, the affected area must be cut out/removed.

If the company is eliminating areas of moldy drywall, such as in paneling, wood or tiles, they should ensure clean margins by cutting at least 2 feet away from any visible mold. Once remediation is complete, test again—preferably using a different, unrelated company—to ensure the mold is gone.

Look for reputable testing and remediation companies online, and check ratings and reviews to find quality businesses.

Treating mold toxicity

Naturopathic doctor Natalie Greenberg, part of our integrative medicine team at my clinics, has firsthand experience with mold toxicity. After long-term exposure in a moldy dorm room in college, Dr Greenberg was bludgeoned with a laundry list of symptoms that left her physically and emotionally drained and practically bedridden for close to a year.

When conventional medicine offered her no solutions, she sought answers on her own. This journey ultimately spurred her interest in integrative medicine and led her to become a naturopathic doctor. The modalities, therapies and techniques she used to heal herself are now part of the protocol she uses to heal her patients.

Here’s her multipronged, multi-system approach. We recommend several of these strategies to our patients.

Eliminate the source. The obvious first step is removing yourself from the building that is making you sick and exploring options for remediation if the goal is to return to that home or workspace. Once that has been addressed, treatment and detox can begin.

Regulate your nervous system. When the body is burdened with copious amounts of chronic stress—whether from infections, extreme emotional or physical stress, injuries and trauma, or exposure to toxins like chemicals and mold—the limbic system misfires. Simply put, the brain and body remain in constant fight-or-flight mode, even if the perceived threat is no longer there.

This elevated and constant stress triggers a multitude of symptoms, including sleep disruption, chronic inflammation, memory fog, fatigue and gut issues. Healing and detoxification are impossible in this state, which is why it’s vital to get the nervous system back in balance as quickly as possible.

Fortunately, the brain is incredibly flexible—neuroplastic, if we’re being technical—and able to “rewire” itself to form new, healthy pathways that support repair, growth and healing. Multiple therapies can help initiate those brain changes and regulate your nervous system. Here’s a handful we recommend:

  • Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS, retrainingthebrain.com) is a program that teaches you therapeutic and behavioral techniques to rewire the limbic system and change the structure and function of your brain so that it responds to stimuli in a healthier way.
  • EVOX therapy is an incredible tool that “remaps” the brain and combats stress and anxiety using perception reframing.4 When a person speaks, the energy in their voice corresponds to their feelings about specific topics. The EVOX evaluates that energy and transmits response frequencies to the patient as they listen to relaxing music and concentrate on the topic at hand.
  • Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) balances the body’s energy system by tapping on specific meridian points (the same ones used in acupuncture).
  • Reiki is another energy healing technique performed by a master who has undergone formal training. It can reduce stress and anxiety.

Reduce exposure to EMFs. Adequate sleep and stress reduction are required for any type of healing. The body uses rest to rebuild and repair, and we all know that chronic stress and good health don’t mix. But many people don’t realize the negative health impacts of exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs).

EMF exposure—from cell phones, Wi-Fi, power lines, computers, smart meters and multiple other sources—is plaguing our health. In addition to causing cellular mutations that may lead to cancer, the constant electromagnetic cloud surrounding us, particularly during sleep, can increase our bodies’ toxic burden, spur mold growth and initiate the release of mycotoxins.

Remove cell phones and computers from your bedroom at night and use a hardwired internet connection whenever possible. Turn off all electrical appliances in your room at bedtime—better still, turn off the circuit breakers in your home.

Practice grounding (walking barefoot in the grass or sand) daily and consider grounding sheets or mats (widely available online) for the times when you can’t be outside.

Support cells with good nutrition. Healing from mold exposure and toxicity starts at the cellular level. Initiating the repair and healing of the cells begins with nutrient support.

Include healthy fats in your diet, such as avocados, eggs, fatty fish, nuts and animal protein. Supplement with the phospholipids (a class of fatty compounds) phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylserine for extra cellular support.

Suggested dosages

Phosphatidylserine: 100 mg three times daily

Phosphatidylcholine: 2,700 mg daily

Supplement with minerals and B vitamins. Balancing mineral levels and electrolytes is an important part of the healing process. We regularly prescribe Quinton Hypertonic seawater (available from perfectlyhealthy.com in the US and proactivehealthcare.co.uk in the UK) to patients who have depleted levels due to mold exposure and other toxic bodily burdens.

We also recommend methylated B vitamins (B vitamins in their active forms) to offer more cellular support and boost mitochondrial function.

Suggested dosages: Quinton Hypertonic seawater: one ampule daily on an empty stomach, or follow label instructions; B vitamins: follow label instructions

Eat a low-histamine diet. It’s important to regulate the histamine response in patients with mold exposure. This often requires time on a low-histamine diet, which eliminates foods such as cured meats, fermented dairy and vegetables, pickled vegetables, alcohol, fermented soy products, tomatoes, eggplant, spinach and kombucha.

You can also take supplements that act as natural antihistamines, such as the ones below. These supplements are readily available in health food stores and online. Remember to check for drug interactions and other contraindications.

Suggested dosages

Vitamin C: 2,000 mg daily

Stinging nettle: 500 mg dried root two or three times daily

Bromelain: 500 g two or three times daily

Quercetin: 250–500 mg daily

Curcumin: 400–500 mg daily

Resveratrol: 250 mg twice daily, preferably from the Polygonum cuspidatum plant

Restore the gut. Rebalancing and restoring the gut microbiome is a must for all aspects of healing. A high-quality probiotic supplement is an excellent place to start, and it’s also wise to eliminate inflammatory foods, including (but not limited to) grains, corn, coffee, dried fruits and moldy cheeses.

Flush out the mold. Because molds tend to colonize the sinuses, it’s essential to flush them out using nasal rinses or sprays. We often recommend CitriDrops Nasal Spray by Micro Balance Health Products and Xlear Xylitol and Saline Nasal Spray, both widely available online, but any over-the-counter saline rinse will do the job.

Detox. After you’ve taken the steps above, it’s time to detox. Many detoxification treatments can be done in the comfort of your own home, such as nightly Epsom salt baths, dry brushing, daily exercise and rebounding. If you want to call in the big guns—and I suggest you do when it comes to treating mold exposure—consider infrared sauna.

The skin is the body’s largest detoxification organ, and it plays a vital role in eliminating toxins—including mycotoxins—from your system. Releasing these substances through sweating eliminates harmful toxins while conferring additional benefits, such as increased circulation and improved oxygen and nutrient delivery to the cells. It’s a win-win, with multiple studies singing its praises for various health conditions. 

Getting rid of mold for good

The methods above can often rid the body of mycotoxins and fungal infections caused by mold. Sometimes stubborn fungal infections like Candida need to be treated using a no-sugar diet, natural herbs and supplements.

If those approaches fail, a doctor may need to prescribe antifungal medications. Your best bet is to work closely with an integrative medicine practitioner skilled in addressing whole-body health.

We welcome patients from all over the world at the Center for New Medicine and the Cancer Center for Healing in Southern California, or you can find a knowledgeable physician near you via the American College for Advancement in Medicine (acam.org) or the Institute for Functional Medicine (ifm.org).

You may have mold if . . .

Several factors make your home or workspace more susceptible to mold infestations. You may have mold if any of the following apply to you:

  • You live or work in a coastal or lakeside community.
  • Your home or office is damp, or you live in a humid climate.
  • You notice a “musty” smell indoors.
  • You know of a past leak that wasn’t properly remediated.
  • You can see mold on walls and other surfaces.

Jack’s story

Several years ago, I had a slight irritation at the back of my throat. After much testing, I discovered it was squamous cell carcinoma. I don’t have empirical proof, but I strongly suspect that the cancer was triggered by mold toxicity.

My family and I lived in a house inundated with mold in the TV room and bedroom. We all have cancer cells in our body, but it was the mold in this house that, I believe, knocked down my immune system so the cancer could run wild and multiply. While living in that house, my entire family had constant coughing, respiratory illnesses and colds.

After my diagnosis, my wife and I began researching cancer treatment options, including chemotherapy and radiation. I saw integrative and traditional doctors, including a couple of physicians from a well-known university hospital.

I quickly realized that what these conventional doctors do mechanically—such as operating on the throat to remove a tumor—is terrific, as good as you can get. But when it comes to preventive care, they aren’t even in the ballpark.

I opted for the integrative medicine route, which addresses not only the tumor but also other factors like your diet and lifestyle and toxins like heavy metals and mold. I chose to do integrative treatments with Dr Connealy, who routinely does blood tests to check the status of my health and make sure that something dangerous isn’t developing in my body or hindering my recovery.

The doctors at the university did only one blood test on me, a pre-op blood test—and they didn’t discuss the importance of a healthy diet or things that people with cancer should avoid, such as sugar and excessive carbohydrates.

I’ve never been afraid of cancer. When I got the diagnosis, it wasn’t a death sentence to me, although other people I’d known with cancer had seen it as such.

But throughout my experience, I have never been afraid because I have always been in good shape and kept myself in good condition. I have found some great tools in integrative medicine that have been effective in fighting it. So, I never doubted that my body could take care of it, and today I’m doing well.5

 

 

References
  1. Centers for Disease Control, “Basic Facts about Mold and Dampness,” Nov 14, 2022, cdc.gov
  2. Environmental Protection Agency, “Indoor Air Quality,” July 14, 2023, epa.gov
  3. Mayo Clinic, “Mold Allergy,” June 21, 2021, mayoclinic.org
  4. Cancer Center for Healing, “Integrative Cancer Treatment – EVOX – Liliana Partida, CN,” Nov 30, 2019, youtube.com
  5. Adapted from The Cancer Revolution (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2018) by Leigh Erin Connealy
MAY24, 'Mold no more'
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