Navigating Mold Illness
Updated: Jun 24
I remember watching a home makeover show 20 years or so ago that was renovating a family’s home infiltrated by mold. Their account of the devastating affects of mold, notably cancer, was one that never quite left my memory.
Nowadays, however, mold toxicity is generally downplayed. Perhaps it’s because most remediation efforts are subpar, or new homes are built with moldy wood, or because home insurance companies generally don’t cover mold damage. Mycotoxin illness can be a highly expensive problem to remediate both in your home and in your health.
I’ve watched mold remediation specialists tear through drywall and flooring suspected of mold contamination without wearing proper protective equipment, like respirators, to prevent inhaling the toxins, or clothing coverings to minimize the spread of toxic mold spores as they leave the building. It boggles me that these companies are not ensuring their employees are protected from a toxin that can be highly hazardous to their health. Again, mold is downplayed.
After years of dealing with mysterious symptoms myself that weren’t fully responding to what I know should work, I discovered the symptoms of mycotoxin illness. Mycotoxins are the chemical emitted by mold and the substance that actually affects human health. With so many of these symptoms present, it was a relief to finally make some sense of symptoms that made no sense, considering how I eat and support my health both physically and emotionally. While the symptoms weren’t debilitating and were mostly quite mild, I suspect that without attention toward managing stress through inner work, neuroplasticity practice and meditation, clean eating, and a broad base in various plant medicine knowledge, I would have had a much more severe experience. Upon leaving my house and developing an herb, vitamin and mineral supplementation plan with mold in mind, my symptoms started to shift. More than a year after 2020 stay-at-home orders blew up my symptoms, I’m still working with a few modalities/practitioners, homeopathics and supplements. I hope the following information inspires you to feel hope in the face of “I’ve tried everything” for chronic symptoms.
Mold illness can manifest many symptoms that span body systems, making it very difficult to get to the underlying issue or for conventional medicine to diagnose. Nearly a quarter of the population has a genetic susceptibility to mycotoxicity or chronic mold illness. Here are some symptoms that might be present:
● Joint pain
● Word recall problems
● Memory recall problems
● Concentration and focus problems
● Confusion, disorientation
● Chemical sensitivity
● Food reactivity / Food sensitivity
● Sensitivity to light, sound, smell
● Skin sensitivity
● Electromagnetic frequency (EMF) sensitivity
● Sensation of bugs crawling on skin
● Red eyes
● Persistent nerve pain
● Sore throat
● Breathlessness or shortness of breath
● Lung tension, asthmatic breathing
● Mood swings
● Extreme irritability
● Rage (atypical of personality; sudden, irrational)
● Unexplained sudden onset of anxiety
● Chronic depression unaffected by various treatment
● Tingling or burning sensation
● Ice pick-like pain
● Muscle weakness
● Unusual body pain
● Muscle cramping
● Temperature regulation / dysregulation
● Sinus infections
● Morning stiffness
● Appetite swings
● Scalp imbalances, like dandruff, dry crusting or oozing
● Sweats, particularly night sweats
● Increased urination
● Excessive thirst
● Abdominal pain
● Metallic taste
● Appetite swings
● Static shocks
● Unusual internal vibration sensation
● Decreased immune system function
As you can see, mold-induced illness from mycotoxins or biotoxins can affect just about every system of our bodies. One won’t necessarily have all these symptoms, and experiencing some of these symptoms doesn’t mean you have a mycotoxin illness. Many of these symptoms might be diagnosed as:
● Chronic fatigue syndrome
● Irritable Bowel Syndrome
● Lyme disease
● Autoimmune disease
● Rheumatoid arthritis
● Candida overgrowth
● Mast cell activation syndrome
● Cancer (especially lung, breast, lymphoma)
These symptoms are also similar to a Lyme disease co-infection caused by bartonella, a parasitic bacteria spread by fleas, lice and ticks. If treated for either Lyme or bartonella without improvement in symptoms, investigating mold toxicity is a smart next step.
If mold is the underlying cause of the presence of many of these symptoms, it might be diagnosed as chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS). CIRS is defined as:
An acute and chronic, systemic inflammatory response syndrome acquired following exposure to the interior environment of a water-damaged building with resident toxigenic organisms, including, but not limited to fungi, bacteria, actinomycetes and mycobacteria as well as inflammagens such as endotoxins, beta glucans, hemolysins, proteinases, mannans and possibly spirocyclic drimanes; as well as volatile organic compounds.
If you can smell mold in your home, car or workplace, mold is present. But even if you can’t smell it or see it, mold might be present.
Mold emits mycotoxins that are invisible to the naked eye. We can breathe in or eat these mycotoxins; our skin can even absorb them. Mold toxicity happens when the body is unable to efficiently detoxify mycotoxins we’ve absorbed. Our bodies are designed to filter out toxins, through urine, bowel movements, exhalation, sweat and menstruation, but in some cases, not everyone detoxifies mold efficiently, which may be result of a specific gene (HLA DR). However, chronic exposure to mold means the body never gets a break and our cells become overloaded with toxins.
This could lead to a cellular response, known as mast cell activation, which may contribute to myriad sensitivities and extreme reactions. For example, one might be extremely sensitive to sounds, or have major reactions to foods inconsistently, or extreme responses to chemicals. One client with mold toxicity had severe skin blisters and rashes in the presence of a disinfectant spray her grocery store is now using in accordance with pandemic business guidelines. Face masks have caused rapid onset of facial rashes for others who may be experiencing mast cell activation.
If mycotoxins have not been effectively eliminated and are stored in body fat, symptoms might flare when exposed to mold –– like visiting a friend’s home, staying in a hotel, or walking into a moldy office –– even if the person is no longer living in a moldy environment.
Managing mycotoxin illness
Navigating mycotoxin illness is a committed process that can take many months or years. The plan will vary from one person to another, but here are key components of healing from toxic mold.
● Remove yourself from the environment and properly remediate environment.
● Mindful eating. Load your body with nutrient-dense foods, from vegetables and fruits to pasture-raised or wild animals, legumes, beans and whole grains (like fresh-milled sorghum, buckwheat, einkorn, quinoa, etc) if your body can tolerate grains. Minimize or avoid processed foods with added ingredients and preservatives. Limit or avoid foods that tend to cause inflammatory responses, like gluten (wheat, barley, rye), pasteurized dairy, and processed sugar (opt for honey, maple syrup, dates or stevia instead). Notice your personal responses to these foods and how they affect your symptoms; not all will affect all. Be mindful of foods that tend to be contaminated with mold, like peanuts (I once opened a peanut shell that was filled with mold!), pistachios, coffee beans, chocolate and even some grains.
● Manage stress. This is key to rebalancing adrenals (the glands that secrete stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, norepinephrine, and sex hormone precursors to androgens and estrogens), managing mast cell activation and sensitivities. Because the body stores memory at a cellular level, using techniques that help to repattern these autopilot responses beneath the conscious mind are an essential piece of the puzzle. Furthermore, when our bodies are in a perpetual state of stress response (whether induced by the pathogen, worry over health, or otherwise), it cannot efficiently move into the parasympathetic nervous system, which is essential for cellular healing.
● Supplementation. Using various supplemental nutrients help the body create and assimilate nutrients that are impacted by mycotoxins. For instance, glutathione is depleted in mold illness, so N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC), a precursor to glutathione production, can be a helpful supplement for some. Quercetin can be helpful for managing the histamine response of mast cell activation. Supplements that help increase oxygenation can also be helpful. Ensuring proper electrolyte balance can be key for some; I like using Hyland’s homeopathic cell salts Kali Phos (potassium and phosphorous) and Nat Mur (sodium and chlorine) or ConcenTrace Trace Minerals Drops. Magnesium is also helpful for aiding in detoxification, calming nerves and muscles and many more physiological functions.
● Herbs. Herbal medicine can help manage the symptoms while working to detoxify mold from the body. For instance, horsetail herb is high in silica, a mineral that supports the musculoskeletal system and can help with accompanying muscle weakness. Silica also helps to pull things out. Other herbs, like turmeric or marshmallow root, can help with inflammation that contributes to pain symptoms, like sore throats or joint pain. Herbs that support the lungs can be quite helpful when lower respiratory symptoms are present, like New England Aster and bee propolis, or manuka honey Neti pot rinses for upper respiratory issues.
● Detox. Getting mold out of the body is essential. Using binders, like activated charcoal, bentonite clay, Saccharomyces boulardii or chlorella target different molds and move them out through the channels of elimination. In some cases, you’ll need all, and in others just one or two. Some people can handle only tiny introductions of these binders at a time. Mold-ridden environments make it easier for other pathogens to take up space in the body, like parasites, candida or heavy metals, and often these will need to be detoxified using a specific approach, as well.
● Limit EMF exposure. Many people dealing with mold symptoms may notice their symptoms are aggravated with excess exposure to electromagnetic frequency radiation through cell phones, tablets, computers, bluetooth, airpods, Apple watches, FitBits, WiFi towers, TVs, etc. Limit your exposure to these devices. Turn your phone and other devices onto airplane mode at night, and do not sleep with it near your body. Better yet, turn your home WiFi off at night or when not in use. Invest in an EMF blocker for your cell phone. Avoid putting a laptop computer in your lap. Try to not sit near WiFi towers or electrical areas, and try to position your WiFi tower in a space that isn’t frequently used or is at least six feet away from where you commonly sit. I have orgonite and shungite in my home to help offset EMFs.
● Trauma release. PTSD is a very real thing for those who’ve suffered mold illness. An essential part of the healing process is to use modalities that help to retrain your brain from the physiological patterns your body learned from the mycotoxin exposure and the mental patterning in response to these reactions and even just the awareness of mold. A drop of water anywhere hurled my body into immediate tension for a while! There are a few programs that are touted in the mold community: Annie Hopper’s DNRS and the Gupta program. I use other modalities to help retrain the brain, including holistic counseling, EFT, somatic therapies, flower essences and homeopathy.
In working with clients, we use non-invasive assessment techniques to get a comprehensive understanding of what’s at the root. Aside from understanding your symptoms, muscle response testing (also known as applied kinesthiology) helps to hone in on affected body systems, pathogenic factors and root cause. Sclerology and iridology offer a view into internal body system imbalance. In some cases, a specific pattern shows up in the eye’s sclera to indicate mold. Tongue, skin and fingernail assessments also help to assess what’s out of balance.
You might opt for additional testing to pinpoint specific mycotoxins using a blood antibodies test (my preference) or a urine test, which can be ordered from some companies as an individual, and in some cases, covered by health insurance if prescribed by a physician. Great Plains, Real Time Labs and MyMycoLabs are labs that you can order your own tests in most cases. These are generally about $400. Other lab tests can be ordered to assess for mycotoxin indicators, as well. A visual contrast sensitivity test is another good place to start for $15. These additional tests are not required to work with me.
Once we know what we’re dealing with and what organs and glands are most impacted, we muscle test a plan that is tailored specifically to you. This helps to cut through the clutter of the many, many supplements, herbs and other natural remedies that can help in mycotoxin illness. Whether that’s breathwork or a supplement, neural repatterning, energy work or meditation, mineralization or cell salts or which binder to use, we work to formulate and adjust plans that will help you reclaim your health.
Kara McNabb is a naturopathic practitioner and somatic therapist. She works with clients of all ages to help them get to the root of mental, emotional and physical health problems using a holistic approach and natural medicine, ranging from herbalism, homeopathy, flower essences, nutrition, energy medicine, Vis Dialgogue holistic counseling and more. Kara guides her clients in an exploration of subconscious limitations affecting their life to help them find freedom, health and a presence practice.