Mold-related illness was first described almost 50 years ago when it was labeled sick building syndrome. It was met with incredible hostility from the medical profession (because there were no positive test results to verify any diagnosis) and from employers and building owners (who thought affected people were seeking financial gain or special favors).
What made it especially challenging was trying to figure out why only about 25% of the people in an affected building had symptoms while the remaining employees felt fine. As late as 1991, organizations like the American Medical Association maintained that this and other chemical sensitivities were unproven, psychosomatic, and could even be evidence of mass hysteria. (Empathy has never been a strong suit of the AMA.)
Today, things are a little better, but not much.
First, mold spores are everywhere, and mold thrives where there is moisture. Second, and fortunately, most people and animals live in peace and harmony with mold, having no symptoms.
You can be allergic to mold spores, however. Inhale them and you’ll have the same type of reactions you’d get from tree, grass, and weed pollen, dust, cat dander, and the like. Unlike hay fever, a summertime event, mold allergy is year-round, and any allergist can diagnose it with a scratch test and treat you with allergy shots and/or antihistamines. No controversy there.
Mold-related illness is a distinct condition
Today we’re not talking about mold allergy, but rather mold-related illness, one of the root causes of chronic fatigue. The following is undeniably a bit complicated, so let’s walk through it.
Mold-related illness is systemic, meaning it occurs throughout your entire body, unlike allergies, which are largely confined to your nasal passages and eyes.
Mold-related illness is systemic because certain species of mold release a biological toxin–literal poisons called biotoxins or mycotoxins–that trigger a constant low level of inflammation everywhere in your body.
The full name of what’s happening is chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS).
CIRS, which we now know was occurring all those years ago among the victims of sick building syndrome, affects just 15 to 25% of people exposed to mycotoxins, but those 25% can be miserable.
Why just a quarter of us? Because only 25% of the population has the genetic make-up that renders them susceptible to mycotoxins because they can’t rid themselves of the toxins and thus their levels steadily increase.
Our bodies are designed to excrete all toxins through the liver and into the intestines, from where they’re flushed down the toilet. The livers of CIRS patients excrete the toxins, but the intestines absorb them back into the bloodstream. This process is called enterohepatic recirculation (entero=intestine, hepatic=liver) and as the levels of biotoxins increase, they trigger more and more inflammation.
Symptoms of CIRS/mold-related illness
As you’ll note, the range of potential symptoms is diverse:
- Fatigue and weakness.
- Headache, light sensitivity.
- Poor memory, difficulty finding words.
- Problems concentrating.
- Morning stiffness, joint pain.
- Unusual skin sensations, tingling, and numbness.
- Shortness of breath, sinus congestion, or chronic cough.
- Appetite swings.
- Problems regulating body temperature.
- Increased urinary frequency or increased thirst.
- Red eyes, blurred vision, sweats, mood swings, sharp pains.
- Abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating.
- Eyes tearing, disorientation, metallic taste in the mouth.
- Static shocks.
- Vertigo, feeling lightheaded.
The trigger is coming from inside the house
Now let’s say that, unbeknownst to you, the sick building is your own home.
You’ve been seeing doctors because you feel chronically fatigued with many of the symptoms listed above, but nobody can find anything wrong with you. People living in the same space with you may feel fine (and/or you might have a chronically ill pet). Some rooms in your home smell a little moldy, but since you’re the only one who feels ill you don’t make a connection.
Whether it’s called mold-related illness, toxic mold disease, biotoxin illness, sick building syndrome, or CIRS makes no difference. They’re all caused by the same culprit: mycotoxins.
Diagnosing CIRS/mold-related illness
First, on your own, determine if there’s mold in your home or workplace. Does the space you spend time in have a history of water damage? Do you see black mold anywhere? Do certain rooms have a moldy smell? Do you feel better in some rooms and not so well in others? Do you feel better when you leave your home and worsen you return?
Second, also on your own, test for the presence of mold, either with a home test kit from Lowe’s or Home Depot or a professional inspection service. Here’s a link to a few of the kits available online.
Third, and also on your own, decide if your symptoms are allergic (sneezing, congestion) or systemic. If they’re allergic, try an antihistamine like Zyrtec or OrthoMolecular Natural D-Hist.
If your symptoms are systemic, call and schedule an in-person or telemedicine appointment with any of our WholeHealth Chicago practitioners. We keep in mind that insurance is highly unpredictable when it comes to covering tests related to controversial diagnoses, but the basics include these:
Melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) This a hormone that controls inflammation and there are low levels in 95% of CIRS patients.
C4a is a marker for inflammation. High levels can be very helpful in determining if CIRS is present.
Great Plains Laboratory MycoTox Profile or Vibrant Wellness Mycotoxin Exposure.
Lyme Western Blot and co-infection if you have a possible history of tick exposure.
If you believe CIRS is a strong diagnostic possibility for your symptoms and you know there’s a mold issue in your living space, you can begin self-treatment as follows:
- Contact a mold remediation professional in your area. Get a couple of estimates. Angie’s List/Angi is helpful in this regard.
- Start two detoxifiers: Push Catch Liver Detox (by Quicksilver) and Liposomal Glutathione (by Researched Nutritionals), both available in our Apothecary.
- Schedule weekly or biweekly IV infusions of ozone for rapid detox.
Clearly this is one of the more complex root causes of chronic fatigue, but not the last. We’ll continue this series in 2022.
Be well and here’s to a happy new year!
David Edelberg, MD