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Mold Toxicity & The Brain
10 Ways Mold Toxins Lead to Brain Symptoms
Mold toxicity is a surprisingly common and important player when it comes to brain related symptoms. You won’t find it mentioned in the research on the above psychiatric conditions, but those of us who treat mold toxicity will tell you it is a very common cause of:
It’s not the only cause, but it tends to cause and interact with other causes. It is often the root of the roots.
“Seemingly 25% of people are unable to make antibodies to mold toxins. Add to that the 50%* of buildings that have water damage, and you have a lot of people who are unknowingly becoming toxic while spending time in affected homes, schools, workplaces, cars, dorms, and nurseries.” (from my 2019 blog post)
*We (mold literate doctors) now realize it’s closer to 75% of buildings having water damage. Even that may be conservative. Many inspectors will say closer to 100%.
Mold toxins impact the brain in many ways and often dramatically. Because it is so common and because we usually see significant improvements in symptoms with treatment, I recommend testing in most (not all) of the people I treat.
Now onto the…
10 Ways Mold Toxins Can Cause Brain Symptoms:
LIMBIC SYSTEM DYSFUNCTION - The limbic system is the part of the brain involved in our behavioral and emotional responses that relate to our survival. When there is a threat, in this case mold toxins, our limbic system lets our autonomic nervous system (up next) know there’s a problem. Our brain tries to make sense of this - tries to identify a danger, usually outside of us. What we perceive as dangerous may have some meaning from a past experience. This can lead to excessive thoughts or obsessions followed by attempts to remove a perceived threat. For example, it could be contamination fears followed by excessive cleaning, consistent with an OCD diagnosis. It could be extreme perfectionism or intrusive thoughts. I think of it as an attempt to control the environment (or our body) in an attempt to feel safe.
AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM (ANS) DYSFUNCTION - The ANS is sometimes referred to as the brain in the body. It operates outside of conscious awareness and reacts automatically and is influenced in part by the limbic system. The ANS has two main parts. When there is a threat or perceived threat, the sympathetic part puts us into fight or flight or shut down. When we're not in this state, the parasympathetic part (think vagus nerve) has us in rest and digest and engage. Mold toxicity can put us into fight (irritable, agitated), flight (“get me out of here”) or shutdown (checking out, derealization, depersonalization). It can become difficult to rest, digest and feel comfortable around people.
INFLAMMATION - The immune system is intimately intertwined with the central nervous system. Inflammation from mold toxins can look like a lot of things. Inflammation can impact any system in the body. But inflammation can also impact many systems intermittently and all at once, largely due to mast cells - the first responders of the immune system. Mold toxicity can put mast cells on high alert just as it does the limbic system and autonomic nervous system. In this state, it doesn’t take much for mast cells to destabilize and release histamine and other inflammatory messengers. The result can be a lot of random symptoms to a lot of random triggers (certain foods, supplements, medication, chemicals, stress, even electromagnetic fields, etc). “I feel like I’m reacting to everything!” Though not in the brain, mast cells communicate with inflammatory cells - microglial cells - that are. Inflammation in the brain interferes with communication between nerves, causing a range of symptoms like brain fog, fatigue, anxiety, panic, a feeling of doom, etc. Together mast cells and microglial cells can cause flares of a mix of physical and brain symptoms, not unlike having the flu. Chronic inflammation leads to neuro-degeneration (death of neurons) which over time can lead to dementia.
GUT MICROBIOME ISSUES - There are many ways our gut impacts our brain. Aside from causing an exaggerated immune response, as described above, mold toxicity can also cause an ineffective immune response that results in the overgrowth of problematic microbes. These gut microbial imbalances can lead to Leaky Gut (permeability of the lining of the gut that allows food particles to get through and be reacted to), SIBO/Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth and other microbial imbalances including candida overgrowth. Each of these add to inflammation and often further toxicity.
FOOD SENSITIVITIES - Because mold toxins can contribute to a dysregulated immune system, gut permeability and gut microbial imbalances, there can be a wide range of food related issues. Reacting to specific foods or food families, adds to the inflammation. Someone with mold toxicity may find themselves reacting to foods high in oxalates (mold and candida make oxalate), histamine, sulfur and/or salicylates. Though many people may find themselves gravitating to carbohydrates, mold (like candida), will thrive on sugar and carbohydrates. Whether it’s reactivity to a food family or a specific food, brain symptoms are fairly common.
INFECTION OR COLONIZATION - Mold itself can colonize the sinuses or gastrointestinal tract, making a source of mold toxins in addition to outside water damage mold sources. Because of the way mold toxins interfere with the immune system, Candida or yeast can be more likely to overgrow or be treatment resistant if we have mold toxicity. Candida is also fungal, though a normal gut microbe. Problems with Lyme and it’s coinfections (e.g. Bartonella and Babesia), viruses, parasites and others microbes can also be more likely. Each of these, with their own biotoxins, can add to the inflammatory and toxic load.
OXIDATIVE STRESS - Like other toxins, mold toxins can cause a depletion/using up of our protective antioxidants. At some point that protection can become overwhelmed resulting in a lot of downstream issues. This could mean a depletion of glutathione, arguably the most important antioxidant. It can also mean a depletion of zinc, which is important in gut health, the immune system and the functioning of brain chemicals (zinc is a biggie). Low zinc can cause high copper, …which causes low dopamine (poor attention) and high adrenaline (hyperactivity, anxiety, insomnia). High pyroles is another sign of oxidative stress. As pyroles leave the body through the urine, they take some zinc and B6. B6 is needed to make serotonin, dopamine and GABA.
EXPRESSION OF GENETIC VARIANTS - How toxic we are, (or rather how much oxidative stress we have) impacts the expression of our genes. Of our unique 1000 plus genetic variants, some have to do with neurotransmitter functioning. Some have to do with how easily we become toxic. Some have to do with how easily we clear histamine, which impacts on the brain. Some have to do with methylation and how much neurotransmitter activity we have. Many of these variants/snps we may never hear from, but for having mold toxicity.
HORMONAL IMBALANCES - Just as with the immune system, things can become dysregulated here. There is not a set pattern. How our endocrine system reacts depends on our unique genetic vulnerabilities, our age, how toxic we are and for how long. For example, one person may have high cortisol (fitting with high stress) and someone else may be fully into adrenal fatigue, both with very different brain impacts and brain symptoms. I would say the same for the sex hormones, estrogen, testosterone and progesterone.
AUTOIMMUNITY - Basically this is when our immune system, which should be targeting things like problematic microbes, gets confused and starts an immune response targeting specific areas of the brain that can cause obsessions, compulsions and/or psychosis. Mold toxicity is often causing the confusion. The most well known example of autoimmunity in the brain is PANDAS/Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcal Infections, which can look like a dramatic onset of OCD after having had strep infection. PANS/Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome, is similar, but from other microbes besides strep. Autoimmune Psychosis can result in a relatively abrupt onset of hallucinations and delusions. Again, I think of autoimmunity as being a root, but with a deeper root - usually mold toxicity.
Though I’m listing these 10 issues separately, I hope it’s evident that many of them are interconnected.
You may we wondering if mold toxins and mold get into the brain. Emerging research suggests they can.
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Until next week,
P.S. Paid subscribers - Look out for an upcoming post on some of the research into the presence of mold and toxins in the brain and other organs.
This newsletter is for educational purposes and not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment for either yourself or others, including but not limited to patients that you are treating (if you are a practitioner). Consult your own physician for any medical issues that you may be having.