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Amongst the plethora of toxic substances in our world today, toxic molds are probably the most insidious. The dozens of molds that exist in our food, in the air, and especially in home and office environments truly are “silent killers.” Here’s what to watch for when it comes to the toxic molds that may be lurking in the environments you inhabit every day as well as what you can do once you discover them.
Why is Mold Bad for Our Health?
A little mold in our environment is not really a bad thing. In fact, molds have been around for millions of years. They are responsible for breaking down other materials in the natural world. Without them, vegetation cannot grow.
The threats around mold have mostly to do with industry-mismanagement more than anything else. Unhealthy agriculture practices and outdated building practices in homes are big ones. When it comes to mold exposure in the home, our increasingly sedentary, indoors lifestyles absolutely play a part as well.
That being said, there are dozens of different kinds of molds that can be harmful to human health. Most are hidden either in the food we eat or in the homes we live in.
Toxic Mold Exposure and Cancer
Mold is a living organism in that it eats, reproduces, and excretes waste. The actual danger to human health from mold growth comes in the form of the mycotoxins, or waste products, they produce. Here are just a few “heavy hitter” mycotoxins to watch out for:
1 | Fumonisin. Fumonisin overexposure is connected to immune system decline and respiratory issues. It is also linked to tumor production in the digestive system, liver, and the kidneys in both men and women. It is found in corn and in corn-based animal feeds.
2 | Ochratoxin A (OTA). Among the hundreds of mycotoxins found in food, I bring up Ochratoxin A because it is often found in a source that not too many people know about… coffee beans! A 2016 meta-analysis conducted at the University of Pittsburgh found a possible correlation between high levels of OTA and urinary tract tumors.
3 | Aflatoxin. Aflatoxin is a mycotoxin found mostly in mass-produced tree nuts as well as in corn. It is a highly toxic mold that the National Cancer Institute has connected with a raised risk of liver cancer. Aspergillus is a somewhat common household mold that can sometimes produce aflatoxin as well. There are over 150 different kinds of Aspergillus molds and they come in a variety of colors.
4 | Acremonium. Acremoniun is a toxic mold that is common inside homes, office buildings and cars. It is often found in humidifiers and cooling units and around window sealants. Acremonium buildup has been linked to diseases of the bone marrow. Overexposure can lead to respiratory infection and neurological issues as well.
5 | Stachybotrys, i.e. “Black Mold.” According to some experts, a whopping 40% of all school buildings and a quarter of all homes have come kind of Stachybotrys overgrowth. We have all heard of “black mold,” but is all black mold toxic? Stachybotrys is by far the most common kind of mold and, unfortunately, is also one of the most dangerous. Black mold has been shown to be immunosuppressive and prolonged exposure can lead to organ damage, cancer, and infertility.
Other mold toxins that can be found in indoor environments include:
- Aureobasidium, often found behind wallpaper
- Chaetomium, a common growth in water-damaged homes
- Mucor, often seen in white patches around air conditioning units
- Penicillin, recognized by its characteristic blue hue
- Trichoderma, normally green in color
- Ulocladium, sometimes confused for black mold because of its dark color
As you can see, the connections between mold and cancer risk are very real. Even mainstream institutions such as Harvard University now acknowledge the link between certain kinds of cancers, such as lung cancer, and mycotoxin exposure. Mold exposure in general has also been found to raise the risk for autoimmune thyroid disease and thyroid cancer.
Toxic Mold Symptoms
The real risk of mold exposure is what it can do to the body over time. Besides cancer, serious conditions such as fibromyalgia, GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease), autoimmune disease, depression/anxiety, and even Alzheimer’s can all potentially be linked to long-term mold exposure.
A 2018 Duke University study took a look at 24 of the most common environmental pollutants, including mycotoxins, and their link to disease. They found a significantly high link between exposure to the most common household molds and neurological as well as nervous system decline. In most cases, the link was caused by autoimmune reactions. According to the Mayo Clinic and others, some common initial signs that you may be affected by mold toxicity include:
- running nose
- itchiness in the eyes, throat or nose
- dry skin
- watery eyes
- “brain fog”
- muscle aches
- memory loss
Even if you don’t see mold in your home or office, it is important that you not rule out mold exposure, especially if you are experiencing symptoms. Mold can be tricky to spot, since it often grows in hidden places. It is especially important to consider mold as a “culprit” for your ill health if you notice that the initial symptoms mentioned above decrease (or even go away) when you leave the home or building in question only to return shortly after you arrive again.
Toxic Mold Can Grow in Any Environment
In addition, mold can grow and produce mycotoxins in all kinds of environments and in all kinds of climates. The connection between mold growth and hot, humid climates is pretty obvious to most people. What you may not know, however, is that some molds can grow in cold climates as well.
For example, both Cladosporium and Fusarium are capable of growing in both hot and cold climates. In addition, dry climates can harbor mold too since many dry climates also tend to be very windy. Wind and breezes carry spores long distances. If you are especially sensitive to mold, you may be affected by wind-carried mycotoxins which can settle and spread in your home.
Believe it or not, many experts say that the worst place to live for anyone concerned about mold is in a densely populated urban environment.
What about humidity? An interesting meta-analysis published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives stated that “[e]xperimental studies on airborne-transmitted infectious bacteria and viruses have shown that the survival or infectivity of these organisms is minimized by exposure to relative humidities between 40 and 70%.”
What to Do If You Suspect Toxic Mold in Your Home
If you can see mold growing in your home, remember that you must take two very important actions to get rid of it. First, you need to clean up the mold that you see (using precautions that we will cover in the following tips). Secondly, you must get rid of the dampness that is causing the mold in the first place. Whether you live in the cold or the hot, in a humid environment or a dry, windy one, remember that mold cannot grow unless some moisture, as well as darkness, is present.
Here are 9 specific actions to consider if you think mold is an issue in your home:
1 | Use a dehumidifier to reduce humidity in your home, especially if you live in a very damp region – 60% or below is a good number to strive for in each room. You can get an inexpensive instrument called a hygrometer at your local hardware store that can monitor the humidity level.
2 | Keep the house warm (not hot) in the cooler months. This is especially important if you live in an area where it is very cold for long stretches of time. As the temperature goes down, air is less able to hold on to moisture. The result is condensation, usually in nooks and crannies where mold loves to grow.
3 | Keep air flowing throughout your home. This means avoid keeping doors between rooms closed for long periods of time. Pull furniture away from walls and use fans in all areas of your home or office to encourage circulation and to dry spots of potential dampness.
4 | Keep an eye on the obvious spots where mold could grow. This includes heating and cooling units, refrigerator drip pans, under sinks where there may be drains, plumbing tubing, and around toilet bowls as well as window frames. Use waterproofing material wherever it is possible. Fix any leaks, including slow leaks, right away and be sure that seepage areas are completely dry within 48 hours after fixing.
5 | If you need to clean up a mold mess, be sure to call in a professional that you trust. Especially if you are severely sensitive to mold or you are already sick because of it, the last thing you want to do is expose yourself to an onslaught of mold spores! Don’t underestimate the value of professional help, especially if you can find a mold specialist in your local area that is dedicated to using the most natural means possible. A good resource is the National Association of Mold Professionals (NAMP) directory.
6 | Consider getting a home inspection, especially if you or a loved one is experiencing mold-related symptoms but no mold is immediately present. You can find one in your region locally or, again, the NAMP has a directory of inspectors on their website.
7 | If you must clean mold up yourself, take precautions and go natural. First of all, take care of yourself first. Wear a high-filtration mask and nitrile gloves any time you are in contact with mold spores. Next, most conventional sources will tout the benefits of using bleach to get rid of mold. Often, however, small areas of growth can be cleaned up just as effectively using more natural means. Some substances you may consider include hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, apple cider vinegar, or tea tree oil.
8 | Consider a move. If you are dealing with a situation where mold has taken over your home, you are severely allergic to it, or you live in an area of the world that is hot and humid in general, then it may be time to consider a move. Get the input of one or two mold professionals and consider the pros and cons of all your options. In the long run, remember that no living or working situation is worth staying in if doing so is going to negatively affect your health.
9 |Heal naturally from mold toxicity. There are TONS of things you can do to get your life back once you are on the “healing end” of mold exposure. A good place to start is to introduce natural substances into your daily routine that can boost immunity and detoxify your system. Some examples include spirulina, vitamin C, beta glucans, and matcha green tea.
Get Rid of Mold and Regain Your Health
As we have just seen, mold overgrowth affects you over time, the consequences can be dire, and many people don’t even know they are being exposed to it. Act by educating yourself about this issue. Then take measures to get rid of it in your home, office and diet. Finally, make the all-important lifestyle changes necessary to boost immunity and heal if you have been exposed.
Our bodies are truly miracles of creation. They have the ability to heal if given the right environment and circumstances in which to do so!
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