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Prevention of a particular illness is often learned after a person has become a bona fide, card-carrying member of the disease’s survivors club. Lesser-known conditions, the ones without hefty public awareness campaigns, take people by surprise. This is all too often the case with illness caused by mold and the related chemical exposures. Not only are many people unaware that exposure to mold in a confined indoor environment can hurt them or that many structural molds are toxigenic (toxin producing), but oftentimes people don’t even realize they are being exposed to elevated levels of mold and mold toxins until the signs of illness are already in full swing. A public awareness campaign heralding the health dangers of mold exposure is desperately needed to address not only the health effects, but also to alert people of the signs of structural water damage and structural mold growth.
What is Mold?
We could get into all sorts of scientific Latin names of various molds and get hung up on mycology terms, but we’ll keep that to a minimum and get into what is most important—how to avoid health risks from mold exposure, how to strengthen an immune system already weakened from past or current toxic mold exposures, and how to improve the “health” of the structures in which we live, work, or go to school. Mold is everywhere, both indoors and outdoors. It is a living organism of the fungi kingdom that can be both our friend and our foe. For example, mold breaks down debris in nature and hastens the decay process of society’s trash relegated to garbage dumps. However, when mold and its byproducts become condensed and elevated in an indoor environment, it can become an adversary to the health of the occupants.
We can visually see mold when colonies of it grow on a substrate, such as on a piece of wet building material or a piece of cheese, but we can’t see mold spores that become buoyant and float through the air on dust particles. It is the microscopic nature of mold that enables it to be such a sneaky rival. According to Andrew Puccetti, PhD, a certified industrial hygienist (CIH) who specializes in structural microbial investigations, “You also have to understand that the mold is not just in areas where you can see it; it’s also in areas that got wet and are hidden from view, like wall cavities, ceiling plenums, and other areas of the building that aren’t directly observable by doing a walk-through of the occupied space of the building.”
As a part of the mold growth process, spores are released. These spores travel to various parts of the structure. Concentration of spores in a structure will depend on the location of the mold growth and the airflow pattern. For example, airborne mold testing of a structure with mold in the subfloor may reveal that more spores travel and concentrate in the master bedroom but not in the kitchen and living room.
What are Mycotoxins?
Some molds are relatively harmless, while others produce toxins called mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are toxic secondary metabolites produced by fungus. Essentially, they are fungal poisons. According to David Straus, PhD, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, “Spores don’t release mycotoxins into the air. The mycotoxins are in the spores and are only released from the spores when they become solubilized in water.” Therefore, when occupants inhale air contaminated with elevated levels of toxigenic mold spores, the mycotoxins solubilize in body fluids. Doris Rapp, MD, explains that “the mold itself can grow in and on human tissues and cavities, such as the lungs, and the mycotoxins they produce can cause chronic systemic poisoning.”
Other Wet-Building Organisms and Toxic Compounds
Molds and mycotoxins aren’t the only organisms and toxic compounds building occupants are exposed to. In addition to toxigenic molds producing toxins, other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released into the indoor air as the mold metabolizes the substrate on which it grows. The mold doesn’t actually “eat” the material on which it is living, but if we look at the process in that type of simplified manner, we could say that while the mold is “digesting” the wood or whatever other material it grows on, organic chemical gasses are released into the air.
Other harmful organisms including gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria often grow alongside mold. These organisms also produce toxins and cause VOC emissions. According to Jack Thrasher, PhD, an immunotoxicologist who specializes in toxic chemicals and molds, “Many of the gram-negative bacteria produce endotoxins, and the gram-positives can produce what we call bacterial cell wall toxins. These bacteria and their toxic compounds also get into the air and act synergistically with the mycotoxins, which can cause various toxicologic effects.” In other words, it’s not just the exposure to mold toxins that negatively affects the health of occupants, but rather the entire toxic mix of biological compounds to which they are exposed.
Common Causes of Structural Mold
Structural mold can form anytime humidity rises above 60 percent. This means that humidity control is essential to preventing structural mold growth, especially in crawlspaces. “It takes only about 24 to 72 hours for mold growth to occur if building materials get wet enough,” reports Dr. Puccetti. “You have to address the cause of the water damage before you can even hope to permanently get rid of the mold.”
Sometimes sources of water intrusion are obvious such as floods; hurricanes; major roof or plumbing leaks; sewer backups; or sink, bath, or shower overflows. Other times, causes of water intrusion are less noticeable, such as minor roof or plumbing leaks, improper site grading resulting in water drainage into basements or foundation walls, sprinkler systems, condensation, or humidifiers. Heavy mold growth can result when leaks go undetected.
Who is at High Risk from Mold Exposure?
The CDC states the following groups “may be affected to a greater extent than most healthy adults:”
• Infants and children
• Elderly people
• Pregnant women
• People with respiratory conditions (such as asthma) or allergies
• People with weakened immune systems
Symptoms of Mold-Related Illnesses and Diseases
The symptoms of mold-related illnesses and toxic mold poisoning are so varied that the cause of the condition(s) can elude doctors for years. This diagnosis challenge is compounded by the lack of training in medical schools regarding mold- and mycotoxin-related illnesses. Primary physicians are not well versed in the field of environmental medicine and thus do not ask the appropriate questions to uncover the possible exposure(s) responsible for creating a myriad of symptoms. Furthermore, primary care doctors don’t necessarily stay up-to-date on and abreast of the latest scientific and medical research pertaining to the countless number of conditions they may treat. By the time a person bounces from doctor to doctor searching for an answer to his/her health dilemma, valuable time has passed—sometimes even years. This is why patient self-education and self- advocacy is critical.
A prime example of this “busy-doctor” phenomenon is the general lack of awareness of a widely publicized 1999 study by the Mayo Clinic that proves fungus—not bacteria—is paramount in causing sinus infections. Ninety-six percent of the patients in the Mayo Clinic study showed evidence of a fungal-induced infection rather than one caused by bacteria. Yet the majority of doctors still treat sinus infections with antibiotics and nasal steroids, which only act to fuel the fire of fungal growth in nasal tissues.
Studies of over 1600 clinical profiles of patients heavily exposed to indoor molds revealed multisystem adverse effects from airborne mold. Patients reported the following multiple symptoms:
• muscle and/or joint pain
• neurocognitive dysfunction
• gastrointestinal problems
• shortness of breath
• anxiety/depression/ irritability
• vision problems
• chest tightness
• skin rashes
• heart palpitations
• memory loss and other neuropsychiatry problems
• respiratory problems
• irritable bowel syndrome
Steps to Restore Health from a Mold-Related Illness
>> Step 1: The first step in any mold treatment plan is for the person to remove themselves from the source of mold exposure. This can be done by either having the moldy structure successfully remediated or moving to a non-mold infested structure. Don’t forget to clean (if possible) or discard mold-contaminated personal property. To locate a qualified mold inspector or remediator in your area, contact one of the following professional organizations:
• The National Organization of Remediators and Mold Inspectors (NORMI) at normi.org or normipro.com.
• The Institution of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) at iicrc.org or certifiedcleaners.org.
• The American Industrial Hygiene Association at aiha.org.
>> Step 2: Create a clean sleeping room using a HEPA air cleaner. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Current evidence suggests that air cleaning may have a useful role when used in conjunction with source control and ventilation with clean outdoor air.” In other words, don’t forget to open the windows and air the house out periodically. The EPA also states “effective allergen control requires routine cleaning and dust control, including the weekly washing of bed sheets, frequent vacuuming of carpets and furniture, and regular dusting and cleaning of hard surfaces.” By reducing exposure levels to common irritants/allergens while sleeping, your body can more optimally function and use the otherwise spent energy to repair the body.
>> Step 3: Boost the immune system by making a few simple changes to the diet. First, remove all sources of mold from the diet. Some forms of edible fungus are obvious, such as mushrooms, but don’t forget yeast, which is added to most baked goods, is a fungus. Second, remove all sources of sugar from the diet as sugar fuels mold growth in the body. Third, replace fungal-fueling sources of sugar with fungal-fighting vegetables that contain natural sources of sugar, such as carrots. This will help satisfy your sweet tooth and reduce sugar withdrawal. These diet changes can initially seem daunting, but the health benefits far outweigh the sacrifices. Persevere and your initial sugar cravings will soon disappear.
>> Step 4: Increase vitamin and nutrient bioavailability by drinking an antifungal combination of liquid vitamins made from freshly juiced organic vegetables, herbs, and spices. Avoid fruits, as they are full of sugar that will only fuel the mold growth. Instead, throw in some organic carrots, which contain naturally occurring antifungals, with a clove of garlic and a slice of fresh ginger. Garlic and ginger both contain antifungal and antibacterial compounds.
Not only are carrots full of vitamins, they also contain high levels of alkaline minerals such as calcium and magnesium that help tone and repair intestinal walls. A healthy intestinal is imperative for optimal health as it keeps toxins from re-circulating back into the blood stream. Garlic is like a whole medicine chest rolled into one little bulb. In addition to its antifungal and antibacterial properties, it stimulates the immune system, acts as an antiviral agent, detoxifies impurities, clears respiratory and sinus congestion, and kills parasites. Ginger also helps the respiratory and digestive tracts to dislodge congestion and is good for colds, chronic bronchitis, and coughs.
>> Step 5: Incorporate helpful health food supplements into your daily regimen, such as the following:
Probiotics: Don’t underestimate the importance of the digestive system. It is the frontline of defense, according to Dr. Rapp. Our intestines are teaming with good and bad microorganisms.
A daily probiotic supplement or foods rich in live cultures such as yogurt help to ensure that good bacteria are available in your gut to keep bad bacteria in check. Probiotics also prevent an overgrowth of bad microorganisms.
Goldenseal: Like other root herbs and vegetables, goldenseal contains powerful antifungal compounds such as berberine that acts against bacteria, protozoa, and fungi. Although goldenseal should not be used for extended periods of time, it can be used periodically for short durations to combat infections in the upper respiratory system, sinuses, and ears. It is also a powerful immune booster.
Cayenne: Truly a value herb, cayenne helps stretch your dollar in the health food store because it acts as a catalyst for other herbs and nutrients. In other words, if you take a capsule of cayenne with your garlic, ginger, and goldenseal, you heighten the healing properties of all three herbs plus get the added benefits of the cayenne itself. Cayenne helps ward off colds, sinus infections, and sore throats while acting as an antibacterial agent.
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC): The antioxidant glutathione is made up of three amino acids. It is powerful in eliminating free radicals because it optimizes the function of other antioxidants, thus earning the name of the “master antioxidant.” It would initially seem that a glutathione supplement would be the perfect answer for a fast track to health, but this is not the case. Stomach acids break it down, cautions David Eaton, PhD, professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington. He reports that one way to raise glutathione levels is to supplement with NAC because it contains the glutathione precursor cysteine, which helps your liver regenerate glutathione.
Joseph Mercola, DO, believes a better way to raise glutathione levels is to consume quality whey protein, which also contains high levels of the precursor cysteine. “It should be cold pressed, undenatured, derived from grass fed cows, free of hormones, chemicals, and sugar,” instructs Dr. Mercola.
Omega -3 fatty acids: The body does not produce omega-3 fatty acids, but they are essential to human health. Therefore, adequate amounts must be obtained from food sources or supplements. Ideally, it is best to consume omega-3 from both plant and animal sources. The omega-3 fatty acids provide numerous health benefits including aiding the body in removing oil-based toxins.
“There are many paths to healing. If one doesn’t work, try another, especially if it is safe and possibly effective,” states Dr. Rapp. There are other natural health supplements that contain antifungal properties such as oregano oil and artichoke leaf extract, so if you do not achieve the desired results from the aforementioned natural health supplements, check with your local health food store for additional options.
Kurt and Lee Ann Billings have authored two books: MOLD: The War Within and How to Find a Qualified Mold Professional. The Billings and their family became sick from mold and chemical exposures after Hurricane Katrina. Through their research with NDs, MDs, and PhDs, they identified natural health solutions that successfully restored their family’s health.
Boiled Down Facts of Mold
 Airborne mold is every where—indoors and outdoors.
 All a mold spore needs to grow is a source of moisture and an external food source, such as wood.
 Wet building materials provide an environment conducive to mold growth.
 Some molds are relatively harmless while others are toxigenic.
 Toxigenic molds produce toxins called mycotoxins.
 Exposure to these toxigenic molds and their byproducts can become harmful to the health of occupants when they become condensed and elevated in an indoor environment.
Seven simple steps to create a clean sleeping room:
 Remove all potentially mold-contaminated items, such as books, plants, old clothes, tightly packed clothes in closets and drawers, boxes of stored belongings, and window coverings.
 Install hard surface blinds that are easily cleaned with a damp cloth.
 Remove carpet and pad, if possible. Install a hard surface floor.
 Replace mattress and box springs, if moldy.
 Use multiple blankets that are easily washed and dried rather than a thick, bulky comforter, which could contain moldy batting or filling. Use a cover sheet.
 Use an appropriately sized air purifier according to the clean air delivery rate (cadr.org) with a True HEPA filter and a charcoal pre-filter, which removes 99.97 percent of microscopic allergens.
 Close the bedroom door to maximize the number of air exchanges through the HEPA air purifier.