Mold and Mold-Borne Illness

Mold and Mold-Borne Illness

I often speak with my patients about the fundamentals of health: nutrition; sleep; exercise; stress management; and a sense of meaning, purpose, and connection in life. While these are controllable factors that have a huge effect on our health, there is also another important factor: toxic exposure.

Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to many of us, we may be exposed to a group of toxins which can cause major symptom burden. The worst part, is that these symptoms can be so non-specific that their cause can be hard to identify! The toxins I speak of come from molds. They’re a diverse group known as MYCOTOXINS (cue the scary music!).

Illness caused by mycotoxins rests on two factors:

  • Exposure: how much and what types of molds and related mycotoxins you’re exposed to
  • Your unique capacity to handle the assault: this will depend on genetic factors (for example, a specific genetic subtypes make some people more susceptible to chronic mold illness), and your current state of health (for example, if you’re deficient in a number of nutrients, it will be more difficult for your body to detoxify and eliminate the mold toxins).Nearly all of us will become ill when exposed to sufficient amounts of these mycotoxins but many will recover once the exposure is removed. Some people (estimates are as high as 25%) will go on to suffer chronic symptoms associated with these toxins (a condition known as chronic inflammatory response syndrome; CIRS). Mycotoxin illness is one of the “Great Imitators”. Symptoms are so wide-ranging. They include fatigue and weakness, difficulty concentrating, headaches, lightheadedness, pains, cough or shortness of breath, nasal congestion, and even muscle and joint aches. I did say “Great Imitator”! In addition, testing for mold-associated illness can be complicated and expensive.

Mold spores exist everywhere. They lie dormant waiting for contact with water. Any water damage can lead to mold growth, and, according to the EPA, molds will begin to grow within 24 to 48 hours of contact of mold spores with water.

Best advice: if you have ANY water damage in your home, take care of it as soon as possible. Whether it be a leaky roof, pipes, windows, or flooding from a leaking washer, dishwasher, ice maker, etc. take care of it:

  • Dry everything out as quickly as possible (we’ve sawed through our dry wall and used two fans and a dehumidifier 24 x 7 for a few days to take care of a leak in our basement).
  • Clean all surfaces thoroughly. In lab testing, tea tree oil is one of the most effective anti-fungal agents (especially in comparison with alcohol and vinegar). Note that cloth and porous items will be difficult to clean.
  • Ventilate, ventilate, ventilate! For example, use a fan or open the bathroom window after you shower. Leave your washer open after you’ve run a load of laundry.
  • Keep indoor humidity levels relatively low (between 30 and 50 percent) to prevent mold growth. Use a dehumidifier and/ or air conditioner in humid rooms.
  • Consider a high quality air filter (such as IQAir).
  • Whether in the home or in the workplace, if you’re suspicious of mold growth, order an ERMI mold growth test kit (and follow collection instructions closely). I recommend testing through a lab called Mycometrix as a first step.
  • If you know you have a significant mold issue, consider a mold-remediation expert.
    Don’t ignore water damage or mold growth. If you do experience some of the above symptoms, get your home and yourself tested!
Dr. Leat Kuzniar ND
Dr. Leat Kuzniar ND

Dr. Kuzniar is a board member of the New Jersey Association of Naturopathic Physicians and is also a member of the Gastroenterology Association of Naturopathic Physicians. She currently holds a State of Vermont Naturopathic Physician license (as New Jersey does not yet offer licensing for Naturopathic doctors).