With the recent floods here in Auckland we thought it pertinent to talk about the health effects of the aftermath – exposure to mould and the resulting mycotoxin illness.
Most will already know that mould is not a good thing, and can trigger a host of respiratory related symptoms.However, the story is a little more complicated than that.
First of all – mould will grow rapidly in water damaged homes and in moist environments, and may not always be visible. The telling sign is the classic musty odour – what you’re smelling here are the gaseous substances they release during growth and reproduction known as volatile organic compounds. A musty smell is a sign that remedial action is needed.
Moulds also produce secondary metabolites that have detrimental effects on health, primarily to keep other moulds out of their ecological niche (1).
Tip – any building exposed to water infiltration or extreme condensation for 48 hours or longer is considered water damaged.
Mould toxicity is far more common than currently recognised and not something the medical profession widely accepts as a diagnosis. Due to the potential for severe health outcomes, it is important to have awareness of the issue, particularly if you happen to lack the genetic capacity to produce antibodies against mould (which, is approximately 25% of the population).
What is mould illness?
Mould illness is a chronic inflammatory response triggered by exposure to mycotoxins and other microbial toxins in water damaged buildings. Mycotoxins enter the body via inhalation. The key mycotoxins that negatively affect health are ochratoxins, aflatoxins, trichothecenes and gliotoxins. Each have slightly different effects.
Respiratory symptoms related to mould exposure you may already be aware of include asthma, chronic sinus congestion, coughing and shortness of breath.
Systemic symptoms are varied and include -
Fatigue, weakness, muscles aches and cramps, headaches, sensitivity to bright lights and light touch, unusual pains, abdominal pain/nausea/diarrhea, numbness and tingling, frequent electrical shocks, metallic taste in the mouth, excessive thirst, frequent urination heavy menstrual bleeding, dizziness, changes in mood, and more (1).
Mould illness greatly mimics chronic fatigue syndrome. One study found that 93% of chronic fatigue patients tested positive for at least one mycotoxin (2).
What to do if you have been exposed and relate to some of the symptoms above? The first port of call is a screening test done online, called the Visual Contrast Sensitivity Test. The retina in the eye is vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of mould, so a vision test can help identify inflammation due to mould exposure. This test has a 92% accuracy, and if positive, a urine test for mycotoxins may be the next step (this depends on your health history, exposure).
Treatment for mould illness involves supporting the liver’s ability to detoxify (we use oral glutathione), then taking certain types of fibre and specific binders to escort the mycotoxins out of the body. Sometimes an anti-fungal nasal spray is also required. Because mould is toxic to the mitochondria, mitochondrial support may be necessary in some cases.
Some of the fibres and binders used include apple pectin, glucomannan, activated charcoal, bentonite clay, chlorella and saccharomyces boulardii (this one is actually a type of probiotic). Many of these are combined and available in capsule form. In addition to the above, mould avoidance is key.
Testing your home for mould
Testing a water damaged building for mould isn’t an exact science. A building biologist however is trained extensively in this and can help you find the source/s of moisture, identify the extent of damage, and the extent of spread to adjacent areas. Their tools may include air and surface sampling amongst others.
Visible signs of water damage that may prompt you to seek a building biologist include peeling paint, bowed floorboards/skirting boards, staining, lichen, moss, and delamination of particle board and carpets, with visible mould on walls/curtains/furniture and a musty odour.
If you have a humidity reader, anything over 70% supports microbial growth. An Air Oasis air filter is a good idea to help purify the air – they are reportedly 99% effective at removing circulating mould.
Next steps + resources
If you are concerned about the effects on mould on your health, come in for a chat in store or book a complimentary online consultation.
Article written by Lauren Glucina, Naturopath at Urban Herbalist
Nathan, N. (2018). Toxic: Heal your body from mold toxicity, lyme disease, multiple chronic chemical sensitivities and chronic environmental illness. Victory Belt Publishing Inc.
Brewer et al., 2013. Detection of Mycotoxins in Patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Toxins, Apr; 5(4): 605–617. Doi: 10.3390/toxins5040605