There’s been a growing understanding of mould illness in the past few years, known as Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS). More than one-third of homes have mould issues (Australia health authorities).
Moulds are fungi that exist in both indoor and outdoor environments. They need moisture to survive, and they reproduce by producing mould spores. Mould spores are microscopic cells that constantly float through the air. They can survive in dry and harsh environments. However, when spores land on a surface and encounter moisture, mould growth can occur-they can stay if there is moisture and oxygen.
What are mycotoxins?
Mycotoxins are the toxic chemicals on mould spores and fragments of mould and fungus. Mould releases mycotoxins into the air and enters the body through inhalation, skin, and digestion of mould-contaminated foods.
Common sources of mould can include:
Water leaks (roofs and windows), flooding, condensation on cold surfaces, poorly maintained drains, landscaping, or gutters that lead water into or under the building, and water vapor from unvented or poorly vented kitchens, showers, or steam pipes can also create conditions that promote mould growth.
Effect on Human Health
They can target all organ systems nervous system, cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, urinary, immune, endocrine, reproductive, and the integumentary system- hair, skin, and nails, through the enhancement of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
This inflammatory process can then become cyclical from repeated exposures to mould and/or because the mycotoxins are not cleared from the body in those with the HLA genotype. So, their immune system becomes dysregulated, creating:
- multiple chemical & food sensitivities
- hormonal disturbances – blood sugar regulation issues, altered thyroid patterns
- respiratory issues
- memory, cognitive decline
Why do certain people suffer more than others after mould exposure?
Most people can clear the toxins out of the body through detoxification pathways. In addition, the body flags the mould as an unfriendly antigen and creates antibodies to rid the body of it in subsequent exposures. For these people, the symptoms cease when they are removed from the source. However, about 25% of the population has the HLA-DR gene and is genetically susceptible to mould. For these people, the foreign substances, or antigens, have defences that are ineffective at clearing the mould. This causes widespread inflammation throughout the body. This constant fight and inflammatory response can lead to chronic illness.
For the 25% with the HLA-DR gene, the toxins remain in the body and trigger a chronic, systemic inflammatory response. These are the CIRS, or mold illness, patients. These patients often have several unexplained symptoms that significantly affect their quality of life, and we often see them at our clinics after they’ve unsuccessfully sought answers from other practitioners.
Diagnosing a Mould patient
Often patients present with so many abnormal symptoms that practitioners can miss mould illness diagnosis. In a study conducted in 2013 of 112 patients with suspected chronic fatigue syndrome, at least one mycotoxins were found in 104 (93%) of the patients, when compared to healthy control subjects, researchers found that the mycotoxin levels were significantly elevated in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Like patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, patients are often given various diagnoses that may be incorrect but continually improve once they are treated for mould.
These diagnoses include Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Multiple Sclerosis, Depression, Stress, Allergy, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and attention deficit disorder.
Recently, mould illness has been associated with more substantial evidence for neurological disturbances. In a 2014 study, 17 CIRS patients showed brain abnormalities compared to a control group. Some of these abnormalities included atrophy of the caudate nucleus and enlargement of the pallidum. They also had enlargement of the left amygdala and right forebrain. Research supports the inflammatory cytokine response that mould, and mycotoxins induce. Furthermore, these inflammatory cytokines are present in neurological conditions, such as major depression, which is more reason to test for mould as one of the root causes of neurological issues.