If you are suffering from chronic symptoms such as asthma, fatigue, or brain fog, and you’ve struggled to find a proper diagnosis or relief, it might be time to examine your environment more closely.
Toxic mold illness and its effect on the immune system, called chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS) is a perfect example of the power of our environment to impact our health in a dramatic fashion.
Many toxic molds are formed in buildings that have suffered water damage through flooding, condensation or high humidity. It is estimated that as many as 50 percent of homes have poor indoor air quality with water damage and the resultant mold biotoxins and associated inflammatory particles being one of the major contributors. With indoor air pollution accounting for up to 50 percent of all illnesses in the United States, this is a very serious contributor to patients' suffering, and deserves to be raised as a major factor when enquiring into patients' health history and timeline of symptom presentation.
Globally, air pollution is an epidemic, killing an estimated seven million people and is responsible for one in eight global deaths each year. This is a staggering number, and the fact that mold illness is one of the contributors to this epidemic, is still relatively undiscussed and unknown in traditional medical clinics, needs to change. Let’s shed some light on this invisible illness.
The Invisible Illness
Mold is quite literally an invisible killer because often you cannot see it. Caused by multiple different types of fungi, mold reproduces by forming tiny spores, which float away and are unseen by the naked eye.
Not only are mold spores invisible, but they produce even smaller secondary mycotoxins which are able to sneak through the body while wreaking havoc and remaining undetected by the immune system. These mycotoxins are extremely small, fat soluble molecules.
These molecules are particularly dangerous because they are capable of passing through your cell membranes without being carried through the bloodstream – making them extremely difficult for your immune system to identify.
Without identifying and helping your immune system recover from a buildup of toxin exposure, you could unnecessarily suffer from long term negative health consequences. Helping the public understand and become aware of CIRS is one of the best ways we can rectify unnecessary suffering.
Let’s examine the 13 symptoms of mold illness or CIRS, 4 common misconceptions, and 11 steps you can take towards effective treatment.
13 Symptoms of Toxic Mold Illness
The problem with toxic mold illness is it can feel like a phantom illness. The symptoms seem unrelated and can cause doctors to look in all the wrong places for a diagnosis.
Many sufferers of mold illness or CIRS first endure years of misdiagnosis or are even dismissed as having an illness that’s psychosomatic (in the mind). If you are suffering from a myriad of seemingly unrelated symptoms, it’s time to consider your home and work environments.
Here are the 13 most common symptoms of toxic mold illness (Dr. Shoemaker has identified 37 symptoms in total). It’s time to see your doctor if you suffer from any of the following:
- Cognitive issues such as headaches, brain fog, memory problems, difficulty concentrating, and mood swings
- General fatigue and weakness
- Muscle aches, joint pain, and morning stiffness
- Numbness and tingling of the skin
- Light sensitivity, blurred vision or red eyes
- Asthma, persistent coughing, sinus issues or shortness of breath
- Skin tingling or numbness
- Vertigo and tremors
- Metallic taste
- Temperature fluctuations or night sweats
- Increased urination and excessive thirst
- Changes in appetite
- Abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, and bloating
As you can see, the symptoms of mold illness are varied and may even appear unrelated. It’s the nature of these broad reaching symptoms that keeps the cloud of mystery over CIRS.
Only through drawing more public attention and dispelling common myths around CIRS can we get closer to achieving better diagnoses and treatments. Let’s start that process by taking a closer look at the four common misconceptions surrounding mold illness.
4 Common Misconceptions of Mold Illness
Toxic mold illness is gaining traction in the media but with that come some misconceptions. Let’s clear up some of these fallacies regarding mold illness right now.
1. Mold Illness Isn’t That Common
Even though mold illness isn’t widely discussed, it is very prevalent and the public needs more information on CIRS. Approximately one in four have the potential for developing CIRS if they are exposed to sufficient biotoxins and inflammagens (other toxic compounds released by water-damaged buildings).
And unfortunately, these biotoxins are estimated to impact as many as half the homes in the United States, making CIRS an illness of major concern. It’s important to spread awareness of mold toxicity and prevalence so that people can take the right steps to keep their family safe in their homes and places of work.
2. Mold Illness is Caused by Mold
Even though “mold” is in the description, mold illness is actually a complex health condition that fits more appropriately under the title of chronic inflammatory response syndrome or CIRS.
Originally described by Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker in the late 90s, there are now over 1700 scientific articles on CIRS to date.
The causes of CIRS are collectively known as biotoxins and are frequently associated with water-damaged buildings, though they can occur without water damage.
- Fungi with mycotoxins
- Bacteria with secondary endotoxins (including Borrelia and Babesia - organisms associated with tick-borne illness)
- Beta Glucans
- Hemolysins (toxins produced by bacteria, often residing in deep nasal passages).
- Microbial Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
- Cell wall fragments
- Building material VOCs
Not everyone will become sick if they are exposed to sufficient levels of any of these toxins. They are fortunate to be part of the 75 percent of the population whose immune system recognizes these toxins and is able to neutralize them.
However, those with specific human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes have an immune system that isn’t able to identify these toxins. If your body can’t identify these biotoxins, then it is unable to eliminate them from the body. These biotoxins initiate a significant inflammatory response called CIRS.
3. CIRS Looks the Same for Everyone
Actually, it appears that everyone has differing levels of mold sensitivity. Genetic predisposition seems to play a role in how likely you are to develop CIRS.
About 25 percent of the population is genetically susceptible to developing CIRS, while two percent are highly sensitive and more likely to experience disabling symptoms when exposed to biotoxins.
The varying levels of sensitivity to biotoxins makes CIRS a difficult illness to diagnose. Furthermore, those suffering from mold illness are often misdiagnosed or their condition is overlooked altogether.
Only through additional studies, examination, and public awareness can we begin to improve diagnosis rates for CIRS.
4. Removing Environmental Exposure Cures the Symptoms
It seems obvious that the first step of tackling your CIRS would be removing exposure to biotoxins. But that isn’t always enough.
Sure, removing the source of toxins is great in theory, but even professionals have a hard time fully eliminating all the mold and spores. If it’s at all possible, a complete move from the contaminated area is best. Unfortunately, many cannot afford to completely remove themselves from the toxic environment.
Luckily, there are other steps you can take to help your body repair some of the damage caused by harmful biotoxins or improve your health if you are not able to completely remove yourself from the environment.
Take Action – 10 Treatments of Toxic Mold Illness
If you’ve been diagnosed with CIRS there are steps you can take to help alleviate your symptoms.
The steps of the Shoemaker Protocol outlines a detailed treatment plan on the impacts of toxic mold. 10 treatments I recommend include:
- First and foremost, remove yourself from the environment to the best of your ability. Begin the process of remediation of your water-damaged environment. It is best to consult an expert in the field who has been trained in the Shoemaker method of mold remediation.
- Invest in a high-quality indoor HEPA air filter capable of removing particles less than 0.1 microns. Most commonly purchased HEPA filters only filter particles to 0.3 microns and above.
- Test for and treat any nasal bacterial growth, such as MARCONS .
- Use cholestyramine, Welchol (known as Lodalis in Canada) to aid your body in removing the toxins by binding to them. Be sure to avoid constipation while using binders. Add magnesium oxide or citrate powders to prevent constipation during your detoxification process.
- Eliminate gluten and remove mycotoxin-rich foods, including wheat, barley, rice, oats, rye, peanuts, and brazil nuts.
- Eliminate amylose rich food, sugar and alcohol.
- Correct androgens such as DHEA and testosterone.
- Correct your cortisol and ACTH levels.
- There are several other biomarkers that can be examined and corrected with the guidance of your doctor such as ADH/osmolality, MMP9, VEGF, C3a, C4a, TGF beta-1, and VIP. Be sure to discuss these factors with your doctor.
It’s really a wonderful thing to finally see a comprehensive look at human health begin to hit the mainstream. And while it’s an approach you’ve been following for some time now, it’s important that it continues to spread far and wide.
Through the 7 Stages of Health and Transformation we can examine health impacts such as toxic burden through a lens that’s more complete and acknowledges the complexity of human health.
Mold illness is a perfect example of how toxins found in the 1st stage – the Extended Body – can lead to an array of seemingly confusing symptoms. If you are suffering from chronic illness – especially any of the symptoms listed above – be sure to consider mold and its resultant toxic effects, as a possible contributor.
Do your symptoms improve when you’ve been on vacation? Have you been looking for solutions to an illness with little to no success? Mold toxicity is not usually a factor many practitioners look at first. Mold illness is quite literally “out of sight, out of mind” but it could be the solution to your mysterious health woes.
As we mentioned earlier, CIRS is still a relatively unknown illness and spreading the word is vital to helping those that suffer. Share this article to help spread awareness and aid in calling attention to a debilitating and misunderstood illness.
Also, if you’re interested in digging deeper and learning more about CIRS and finding a complete description of both the diagnosis and treatment, you can find out more by clicking here.
Dr. Bruce Hoffman, MSc, MBChB, FAARM, IFMCP is a Calgary-based Integrative and Functional medicine practitioner. He is the medical director at the Hoffman Centre for Integrative Medicine and The Brain Centre of Alberta specializing in complex medical conditions. He was born in South Africa and obtained his medical degree from the University of Cape Town. He is a certified Functional Medicine Practitioner (IFM), is board certified with a fellowship in anti-aging (hormones) and regenerative medicine (A4M), a certified Shoemaker Mold Treatment Protocol Practitioner (CIRS) and ILADS trained in the treatment of Lyme disease and co-infections. He is the co-author of a recent paper published by Dr. Afrin’s group: Diagnosis of mast cell activation syndrome: a global “consensus-2”. Read more about Dr. Bruce Hoffman.