Mold illness results from exposure to mold primarily via water-damaged buildings (WDB) although some exposure does take place from foods. These sources of exposure can expose people to both mold spores and toxins produced by mold known as mycotoxins. While mold spores often lead to allergies, asthma and allergic-type reactions, mycotoxins are much smaller particles and readily pass into the blood via the lungs on inhalation and can affect virtually every organ system of the body. Mycotoxins cause significant oxidative stress and immune dysregulation and can therefore cause a wide range of symptoms and illnesses. Some individuals are more susceptible to mycotoxin illness than others. Normally, these mycotoxins are removed from the body via detoxification pathways. However, in these individuals, the mycotoxin is not recognized by the adaptive immune system and therefore is not removed from the body efficiently.
There is no single test to confirm a diagnosis of mold/mycotoxin illness. You may need a variety of medical tests to rule out other health problems that have similar symptoms. However, there are a number of biomarkers associated with mold illness that can be ordered via conventional labs and specialized lab testing that help in identifying this condition. Assessing for levels of mycotoxins excreted in the urine can be very helpful.
Mycotoxins may pass from cell to cell creating cell damage and causing immune system dysfunction which leads to systemic inflammation. This chronic inflammation affects multiple organ systems causing widespread symptoms, frequently leading to misdiagnoses and failed treatment.
Mold/mycotoxin illness is often confused with these conditions or can lead to the following diagnoses:
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Chronic pain
- MCAS (Mast Cell Activation Syndrome)
- HPA Axis Dysfunction
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Breast implant illness
- Sinus infections
Symptoms associated with mold/mycotoxin illness include:
- Muscle and joint pain
- Weight Gain (rapid)
- Light sensitivity
- Memory impairment
- Brain fog
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Poor vision
- Irregular heart rhythm
- Abdominal pain
- Sinus congestion
Conventional Treatment of Mold/Mycotoxin Illness
Since mycotoxin illness is not a recognized condition in conventional medicine, treatment is focused on treating the symptoms of this condition, which may include the following medications:
- Anxiety medications. Since many people who have CIRS have anxiety, these patients are often treated with anti-anxiety medications.
- Antidepressants. Since many people who have CIRS are also depressed, antidepressants are commonly used in these patients. Low doses of some antidepressants can also help improve sleep and relieve pain.
- Sleeping pills. Since many people with CIRS have sleeping problems, various prescription sleep aids are often used.
Functional Medicine Management of Mold/Mycotoxin Illness
A comprehensive approach to the management of mycotoxin illness must take into consideration many aspects of health, including gut barrier integrity and imbalances of gut flora, liver detoxification capacity, oxidative stress, chronic inflammation and toxic burden.
There are several areas of management of mycotoxin illness in the Functional Medicine approach:
- Dampening activation of the innate immune system and decreasing inflammation
- Restoring normal gut barrier integrity, digestion and gut microbial balance
- Supporting bile production and elimination of mycotoxins
- Decreasing oxidative stress with antioxidants and supporting antioxidant enzymes
- Supporting energy production by the mitochondria, the “power-houses” of the body’s cells
- Restoring healthy levels of nutrients in cases of nutritional deficiencies