I’m probably jumping the gun but the weather seems to be getting better. This is Scotland so the sun that’s in the sky today could easily be replaced by snow tomorrow. However, after so many months it’s time to start spending more time outdoors.
With many of us being at home recently more than ever and with the focus being on only one way to be ill, viral infection, it’s maybe worth remembering there can be many different ways our health can be challenged and we suffer symptoms.
I hear from clients with symptoms of persistent cold-like symptoms and of course everyone’s thoughts are that it could be coronavirus or flu. I like looking for the different causes of your symptoms. Sometimes the obvious sends you off in the wrong direction.
Over the winter months and specifically from spending time indoors it’s more common than you think for mould or dust mites to challenge our immune systems. As we move (hopefully) towards spring the next challenge for many is likely to be hay fever and pollen counts.
Focusing on the robustness of your hormones to cope with the challenge of life and supporting digestion, detoxification and the immune system should be ongoing. However when we don’t do that our individual lifestyles can clash with our individual weaknesses. So for example if you have a series of genes that indicate you need more detoxification and immune support and you live in a home with mould toxins then we find ourselves as we have in the last year due to Covid restrictions staying at home more than ever before, then that can be perfect to challenge and overload your specific weaknesses. The quality of the air we breathe can be seen as a potential allergen just like we more commonly view our food.
For some people runny noses, sinus congestion, rashes as well as headaches are the norm.
Factors that can imbalance and reduce effectiveness of the immune system, with mould toxicity and definitely regards indoor living being a top stressor:
- Lack of sleep
- Poor blood sugar control
- Food intolerances
- Traumatic brain injury
- Poor vagus nerve/parasympathetic tone
- Nutrient imbalances
- Sex hormone imbalances
- Hypoxia (low oxygen from heart attack, strokes, asthma, hyperventilation)
Moulds can be absorbed into the body from inhaling, eating or touch. You can find mould growing in different areas of the home where moisture is high and where water condenses. The shower curtain and under the sink are the obvious places but anywhere with moisture, damp or pipes carrying water such as the kitchen, bathrooms windows, fireplaces, attics or basements are the mosts likely candidates.
Some people are more susceptible than others to become ill from mould exposure. If you already have allergies, asthma, respiratory illnesses and generally have or at risk of immune system suppression. Can cause flu-like symptoms even pneumonia and also skin infections.
Those with mould toxicity seem to suffer worse if they also have something called, MARCoNS (Multiple Antibiotic Resistant Coagulase Negative Staphylococci) is an antibiotic resistant staph infection that resides deep in the nose of 80% of people with low MSH (Melanocyte-Stimulating Hormone).
Common mould symptoms:
- Muscle Cramps
- Unusual Pain
- Ice Pick Pain
- Light Sensitivity
- Red Eyes
- Blurred Vision
- Sinus Problems
- Shortness of Breath
- Abdominal Pain
- Joint Pain
- Morning Stiffness
- Memory Issues
- Focus/Concentration Issues
- Word Recollection Issues
- Decreased Learning of New Knowledge
- Confusion Disorientation
- Skin Sensitivity
- Mood Swings
- Appetite Swings
- Sweats (especially night sweats)
- Temperature Regulation/Dysregulation
- Static Shocks
- Excessive Thirst
- Increased Urination Numbness
- Metallic Taste
Mould toxins are referred to as inflammogens that keep the body in an inflammatory state. This inflammatory state involves an acute and chronic, systemic inflammatory response referred to as, Chronic Inflammatory Syndrome (CIRS) it does seem to be a growing problem I deal with and some people refer to it as Biotoxin illness. These inflammogens, inflammatory molecules are intended to protect your body from mould, but, if left unchecked, can cause damage to your DNA, brain, gut, and liver. When this inflammation attacks the nervous system, known as neuroinflammation, you may experience; brain fog, depression, and mental/brain dysfunction. That’s why for some people mould can be a serious health challenge and its also one of those factors in identifying what is causing your symptoms isn’t always thought of first or in some cases seen as the problem it really is.
Additional effects include suppression of the immune system. At the moment we are all focussed in one way or other on the health of our immune system so the more challenges it has to face the less powerful it is. If you knew you had digestive infections, food sensitivities, hay fever, mould toxicity and other environmental toxins challenging your immune systems robustness then the more you do once you have identified them to tackle them and reduce their impact the better. There is some cool research coming out that has been looking at the role iron levels in the blood and diet alongside digestive infections play in activating dormant infections which further overload the immune system. Everyone wants their health and in the time of Covid, their immune health to be simple; just take vitamin D and/or take a jab – experimental vaccine. However we are so fascinatingly complex as human beings it’s not that simple. There are simple steps to take once you know what your body is dealing with, mould is one of the sneaky ones not everyone is aware or knows what to do about it beyond moving house, which is a huge help if not always practical.
Mould increases the body’s toxic burden
The term “toxic burden” refers to the load of harmful compounds, both natural and man-made, that have accumulated in your body at a given point in time. Mould and mycotoxins are perfect examples of natural compounds that add to your toxic burden. While your body has systems in place for eliminating these compounds, chronic mould exposure can quickly overwhelm your detoxification pathways, increasing your toxic burden. Mould like all environmental toxins if the body cant breakdown and safely eliminate them get stored in fat tissue. The body’s master antioxidant, glutathione, levels have to be well maintained in order to cope with the additional toxic burden from mould.
Mould can wreak havoc throughout the digestion and the liver and can damage the levels of our good bacteria, probiotics. This altered probiotic level can encourage the growth of opportunistic and potential the damaging, pathogenic bad bugs ultimately stressing out the immune system and leading to disease. As well as considering probiotics, glutathione and if you run a stool test, eliminating digestive infections an extra help in managing the load on your body of mould toxins is adding fibre to your diet. Prebiotics and fibrous vegetables such as legumes, beans, peas, artichoke, celery, avocado, fermented foods to name a few will help your digestive and detoxification system cope better with the presence of moulds.
Moulds have weird and wonderful names although the most common most of us have heard of is penicillium, 5 of the most common are;
- Alternaria, commonly found in your nose, mouth, and upper respiratory tract; can cause allergic responses
- Aspergillus, usually found in warm, extremely damp climates, and a common occupant of house dust; produces mycotoxins; can cause lung infections
- Cladosporium, outdoor fungus can also be found indoors growing on textiles, wood, and other damp, porous materials; triggers hay fever and asthma symptoms
- Penicillium, found on wallpaper, decaying fabrics, carpet, and fibreglass duct insulation; known for causing allergies and asthma; some species produce mycotoxins, one being the common antibiotic penicillin
- Stachybotrys, extremely toxic “black mould” that produces mycotoxins can cause serious breathing difficulties and bleeding of the lungs, among other health problems. Less common in homes than the other four, but not rare; found on wood or paper (cellulose products)
Foods to avoid if you suspect mould toxicity
Foods high in mould
In essence an anti inflammatory diet is a big step towards managing symptoms with mould toxicity and that will mean you are eating less foods high in mould or mycotoxins.
Some of these are mould contaminated in part because of how they are grown or in the case of animals how they have been fed, if fed with mould contaminated grain then that continues the press of mycotoxins.
The most important foods to avoid include:
- Meat and milk from grain-fed animals including cheese and cured meats
- Dried fruits
- Conventional coffee
- Wine and beer
I think it goes without saying that avoiding processed, refined foods; refined sugars, refined oils would be a huge help to any attempt to optimise your health and of course thats also the case if you suspect mould as your primary health challenge.
Some people have issues with gluten serious enough it eventually becomes diagnosed as coeliac disease and for others their issues are classified as non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, still very serious, and in these people gluten in your bread and pizza leads to significant chronic inflammatory response. In many situations whether it be viral load, toxic load or body burden largely similar terms, it’s about how much each person can cope with and if you add in mould sensitivity and gluten sensitivity the effects can be greater and typically of a inflammatory nature.
Rice and corn flours are used in gluten free products and these can be sources of mycotoxins so it pays to read labels and be selective.
In many cases a poor diet involves not just processed food but an over reliance of the same foods. Foods we typically consume each day are high in gluten and also dairy. Dairy is one of the top 5 food intolerances. If dairy is an issue for you your symptoms may be as a result of an increase in histamine which causes more inflammation. This histamine response can be additional to the histamine release triggered by mould exposure. Again its a case of overloading the body with a variety of challenges that add up to a bigger problem. So as much as its a real pain to moderate diet by removing processed foods that are there for convenience they are high in potential triggers for your mould sensitivity as these foods are typically high in gluten and dairy proteins. The other issue with processed is we eat them daily, across the day and since they have next zero nutritional value and tend to lead to an increased need for nutrition, we over consume them. This adds up to the effect if adding fuel to the fire.
Vegetable or seed oils:
- Vegetable oil
- Rapessed oil
- Corn oil
- Canola oil
- Soybean oil
- Peanut oil
- Sunflower oil
- Safflower oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Grape seed oil
- Margarine or butter substitutes
The additional issue with processed foods is the level of poly unsaturated fats or PUFAs, these are easily heat damaged and turn to rancid oils that are also inflammatory, and have too high a balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids being the more healthful, anti inflammatory fats found in fish and flax seed.
Foods that can be a problem but you can find mould-free versions;
- Nuts (better is almonds/walnuts, tree nuts) and seeds
- Spices (although many are also anti fungal)
One of the health worlds most famous brands Bulletproof, founder Dave Asprey, are well known for their recommendation to add fat to your morning coffee (aka Bulletproof Coffee) but they sell an upgraded or mould free coffee.
As with many aspects to self care you may need to do some self-experimentation to find which of the foods that still have mould levels but lower you can tolerate. I love my coffee and raw chocolate so I certainly haven’t eliminated them from my diet but moderated their intake and constantly shopping around and looking for different brands and testing if I notice a difference in symptoms. I started this a long time ago when I became more aware of my genetic and gut issues with over producing histamine which is related so that helped me get on the concept of lowering body burden to toxins for which mould can certainly be one and one less thought of but conversely difficult to deal with until you see how it affects you, the sources and what you can do to help yourself cope better, which doesn’t always mean but can mean drastic action and moving house!
Removing yourself from a source of prior exposure, this means no more working, school, or living in a mouldy environment especially if you know the property was previously water damaged.
You can use a preliminary test to point you in the right direction when you start to investigate the likelihood mould toxins are causing your symptoms by following this link.
Completing the mould toxicity questionnaire will also help further confirm this finding. Lab tests looking at the metabolites or breakdown products of mould toxins released in your urine can also be used to identify with precision specific toxins, the levels and then used as a baseline for a nutrition and lifestyle program to reverse the loss of function.