The Hidden Menace: Mold and Mycotoxins

The Hidden Menace Mold and Mycotoxins

By Mark Filidei, DO
Director of Integrative/Functional Medicine at Amen Clinics

When Sarah, a 53-year-old accountant, came in for an appointment, she complained that she was “getting sick all the time.” In the past year, she had endured multiple infections—4 respiratory infections, 3 bacterial infections, a urinary tract infection with pseudomonas, and 3 “tailbone infections.” In addition, she had knee surgery, but the bone failed to heal. On top of that, she felt like she had brain fog, was constantly fatigued, and woke up in pain every day.

What was causing all these seemingly disparate issues?

Looking for the Root Cause

Sarah had a brain SPECT scan that showed a pattern we call scalloping, which is a sign of overall decreased cerebral perfusion. Scalloping is associated with toxicity (drugs and alcohol), environmental toxins (such as mold), chemotherapy, carbon dioxide poisoning, oxygen deprivation, infection, hypothyroidism, severe anemia, or medications.

When we see this troublesome pattern on brain scans, it prompts us to ask more questions of our patients to help narrow the possibilities. After seeing Sarah’s scan, I asked her a long list of questions, including:

“Have you ever had a water leak in your home?”

She responded by saying, “Oh yes, whenever I take a shower, some water seeps out at the bottom of the stairs” and “the floors are squishy.”

With this and other information in her history, I focused on the possibility that mold and mycotoxins might be contributing to her symptoms.

Mold, Mycotoxins, and Mystery Illnesses

Mold exposure can negatively impact physical health, the central nervous system, and mental wellbeing. The primary physiological effects of mold exposure include inflammatory or allergic responses and toxicity. Common reactions to mold include chills, nasal stuffiness, cough, eye irritation, wheezing, and skin irritation. Among the many central nervous system responses are headaches, confusion, fatigue, irritability, and sleep disorders. Mental health problems can include anxiety, depression, memory loss, subjective cognitive impairment (SCI), and depersonalization or derealization.

The severity of these issues depends on multiple factors, such as the dose and duration of the exposure. In addition, a person’s age and genetics, health and nutritional status, and other toxic burdens (such as exposure to glyphosate, metals, xenoestrogens, and pesticides) play a role.

Mycotoxins, which are toxic secondary metabolites produced by some fungi, can make symptoms worse.

These harmful substances have a direct effect on neurotransmitters, and a growing body of evidence shows that some patients with Alzheimer’s disease are infected with fungi. Other research suggests that type 3 Alzheimer’s disease is the result of exposure to certain toxins.

Mold and mycotoxins can have other serious consequences, including harmful effects on children’s cognitive development, negative changes in the gut’s microbiota composition, endocrine disruption, and immunosuppressive effects.

Get to the Source

The two primary sources of mold exposure are water-damaged buildings and food. In homes and office buildings, toxic mold isn’t always visible to the naked eye, but it can lurk behind wallpaper and baseboards. Sarah hired a mold inspector, who found high levels of toxic mold in several areas of her home.

I also gave Sarah a brief primer on the prevalence of mold and mycotoxins in our food supply. Due to the widespread use of pesticides and unhealthy factory farming practices, the U.S. has some of the highest levels of mycotoxins in the world.

Some of the most harmful mycotoxins that have been found in our food supply include the following:

  • Aflatoxins, which come from Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus, may occur in food as a result of mold growth and are often found in peanuts and corn. Aflatoxins are known carcinogens.
  • Patulin is a toxic substance produced by Penicillium, Aspergillus, and Byssochyamys molds that grow on apples and may be present if rotten, moldy, or damaged apples are used to make apple juice.
  • Deoxynivalenol (DON), commonly known as vomitoxin, is a natural toxin produced by several molds that are common contaminants of grains, including wheat, corn, barley, and rye.
  • Ochratoxin A (OTA) is a naturally occurring nephrotoxic fungal metabolite produced by various molds and is a contaminant of cereals, including corn, barley, wheat, and oats.
  • Fumonisins are natural toxins produced by molds that are common contaminants of corn. Fumonisins have been found in cornmeal and breakfast cereals.

Other foods in which mold and mycotoxins have been found include processed meats (sausage, salami, hot dogs, etc.), berries, cheese, bread, coffee beans, and alcohol (beer, wine, etc.).

A Path to Healing

To overcome her symptoms, Sarah started by moving temporarily while her home underwent a thorough toxic mold removal process. She also adopted a low-mold diet—eliminating her typical afternoon snack of peanuts, skipping the wine she usually had with dinner, avoiding her favorite blue cheese, and other changes. In addition, her treatment plan included antifungal medications, supplements to aid in detoxification, hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), and more. In time, her brain fog cleared, she managed to avoid getting infections, and she began waking up feeling refreshed and energetic.


About the Author: Mark Filidei, DO, Amen Clinics Orange County, CA

Dr. Mark Filidei is an Internal Medicine physician and is the Director of Integrative/Functional Medicine for Amen Clinics. Functional Medicine incorporates the latest developments in systems biology, genetics, and a deep understanding of human physiology to address complex medical and mental health issues. Dr. Filidei’s approach is to find the root cause of a person’s health problems including metabolic, genetic, and environmental factors, and to treat those problems in as natural a way as possible by using targeted nutritional supplements, correcting hormone and metabolic imbalances, improving lifestyle and diet, and detecting and treating toxin exposure and infections like mold and Lyme disease.

2 Comments

  1. Is there a way to check for mold toxicity without a SPECT scan?

    Comment by Adaina — July 24, 2020 @ 4:13 PM

  2. Hello Adaina, thank you for reaching out. Yes, both blood and urine tests can help determine mold exposure. For more information on our integrative/functional medicine program at Amen Clinics, visit https://www.amenclinics.com/services/integrative-medicine/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — July 28, 2020 @ 3:29 PM

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