As a green-living advocate, you’re constantly looking for ways to remove toxins from your children’s life. Unfortunately, synthetic chemicals aren’t the only source of toxins. One of Mother Nature’s most insidious forces is the wide variety of molds, many of which have harmful effects on our health.
Our modern lifestyles include closed houses and HVAC systems that give mold a chance to thrive. Once mold spores come in, they can nest in your carpets, tile, air ducts, and even your drywall.
The more we learn about mold, the more we see that chronic exposure causes a host of health problems to you and your children. So, if anyone in your family is experiencing fatigue, headaches, or respiratory distress and you don’t think household products are to blame, it’s time to look for fungus.
The Many Health Effects of Mold
Many people associate mold with allergy symptoms, and it can certainly cause that. However, mold has been linked to a variety of ailments.
In many workplaces, “sick building syndrome” causes lethargy, migraines, upset stomachs, and anxiety. Multiple studies have linked SBS to mold. It’s not just the massive air ducts spreading spores around; it’s also that mold’s mycotoxins can *aerosolize*. It’s all too easy to breathe in toxins that alter your nervous system.
Mycotoxins are among the world’s most potent poisons. As you likely know, certain species of mushrooms are immediately fatal when consumed. For mold, though, mycotoxins are often more insidious. The spores linger on food, in soil, or within buildings. Food-borne mycotoxins can cause liver damage, cancer, and immune deficiency. These are typically aflatoxins or fumonisins, which only affect you upon ingestion.
The famously toxic molds such as Stachybotrys (black mold) release trichothecenes that impair nerve signals, immunity, and cell regeneration. Symptoms of black mold exposure include numb or tingling limbs, fatigue, brain fog and memory issues, anxiety and depression, and even seizures.
However, almost any species can cause toxicity. The molds that grow in residential and commercial buildings typically affect the respiratory and nervous systems. But as these systems affect all the others, it’s normal to experience digestive, hormonal, and even mental illness in response.
Mold: The Invisible and Chronic Pathogen
For many people, getting away from the mold helps relieve any symptoms. Indeed, about 70% of all American homes have mold. Yet you don’t hear about mold toxicity all the time. Why?
First, not everyone knows how mold can affect them. Second, about 25-25% of people have the HLA-DR gene, which increases their sensitivity to mold. Their immune system doesn’t recognize mycotoxins as a threat, so the toxins linger, sometimes for years.
In studies, HLA-DR carriers will experience the symptoms of mold exposure before others do — and long after the others stop feeling ill. That lingering presence disrupts the body’s hormonal and neurological balance, contributing to digestive, psychological, and respiratory issues.
Indeed, mold exposure has been linked to an alarming range of ailments, including:
- Memory problems
- Vision problems
- Gum disease
- Acid reflux
- Insulin resistance
- Thyroid issues
Notice a trend? All these are symptoms of commonly diagnosed chronic disorders, especially those in the autoimmune category. Whether mold could cause these diseases or simply exacerbates them is unclear. Some research suggests that mold exposure can kick-start asthma in children who are genetically susceptible.
In any case, it seems quite likely that many adults as well as children are misdiagnosed with conditions that could be remedied — or at least ameliorated — by solving a mold problem. On the flip side, people who have had mysterious symptoms that doctors can’t (or won’t) explain could be experiencing mold toxicity.
Given the high incidence rate for mold, either one is a strong possibility. Unfortunately, mold is often hard to see — and therefore many Americans live in blissful ignorance of the mold that grows throughout their homes.
In truth, the black spots on your shower curtain or the blue fuzz on your bread are just the tip of the iceberg.
Eliminating Mold from Your Home
Mold loves humidity, although some species only thrive in high-moisture environments. In general, though, you’ll want to keep your house as dry as possible. Anything that accumulates moisture, such as your bathroom or certain appliances such as your coffee maker, is a haven for mold.
You should consider any sort of leak or flooding to be a high risk factor for mold infestation. Get those situations fixed as quickly as possible.
Once the spores take hold, they can proliferate in just 24-48 hours. Some species, such as Aureobasidium and Chaetomium, nest in wallpaper and caulk, making them harder to eliminate. The top offenders include:
Cladosporium grows in fabric or wood, such as old carpets, drapes, or floorboards. It makes allergies, asthma, and respiratory diseases worse.
Fusarium also loves carpets, rugs, and drapes, especially in cooler temperatures. It has been linked to respiratory distress.
Stachybotrys chartarum is the black mold that releases potent neurological toxins, including dizziness, memory loss, depression, and migraines.
Trichoderma longibrachiatum is the hardest to eradicate. It grows anywhere that stays moist and can disrupt our nerves, muscles, and endocrine organs.
In sum, mold can grow anywhere, from your ducts to your walls to under the sink and even inside your appliances. Some, such as Stachybotrys, tend to stay hidden, which means you may not be aware you’re living with it. Your only sign will be the neurological symptoms that you or another member of your household will experience.
As you’re probably avoiding toxic cleaning products, you’ll be happy to learn that vinegar can kill some species of mold. For others, it makes the surfaces uninhabitable for the spores. Tea tree oil is also a powerful natural fungicide.
For many species, especially Trichoderma longibrachiatum, prevention is the best cure. In general, you can ward off mold and its negative health effects with these practices:
- Keep things dry by mopping up spilled liquids and ventilating your bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room.
- Bring in natural light whenever possible.
- If you live in a humid climate, consider using a dehumidifier. Simply opening the windows to promote air circulation can help, too.
- Regularly drapes, upholstery, wallpaper, floorboards, and wooden furniture for signs of mold.
- Maintain your HVAC system to avoid leaks or moisture build-up.
Even though mold is common, you don’t need to feel hopelessly stuck with it. Often the situation can be remedied, and once you reduce your and your children’s exposure, you should start feeling better. In some cases, chronic mold toxicity may lead to other chronic diseases. It can be a long battle to get healthy again.
But when armed with this knowledge, you can advocate for your children’s wellness and take charge of your life. Mold is much more than a minor inconvenience or eyesore. It has real health effects that deserve greater awareness. As we continue to research mold’s behavior and how to treat toxicity, we will hopefully all start to breathe better soon.
This article is inspired by an interview with Heidi Kuimjian, a Certified Holistic Health and Nutrition Coach.