How Mold Affects Your Brain and Body

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Takeaways:

  • Mold is everywhere. Some molds produce toxins, called mycotoxins, that could cause health problems.
  • People with asthma and lung diseases are at a higher risk of having problems with mold exposure.
  • Recent reports show that mold exposure can affect the brain. These neurologic symptoms include vision changes, slow reaction times, and neural inflammation.
  • Taking proactive steps to prevent, identify, and address mold-related issues is an integral aspect of safeguarding your health and well-being.

Introducing Mold and Mycotoxins

Our world is full of pollution, toxins, and environmental health risks. And the amount of these keeps growing.

You might feel safe indoors, but there is one environmental health risk that could be lurking in your home or office.

It’s mold. Mold can be found in dark, damp places of buildings. It often hides in places you don’t realize you need to check.

Mold can grow virtually anywhere, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The Center for Disease Control states that mold can grow in or on:

  • Roofs
  • Windows
  • Pipes
  • Walls
  • Carpet
  • Paint

Because it can grow anywhere, you are exposed to mold almost every day.

Mold releases spores into the air that can get in your eyes, your lungs, and on your skin. Depending on your sensitivity to it, it could cause adverse health effects. You are more likely to experience health issues due to mold exposure if you have:

  • Allergies
  • Compromised Immune System Function
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD)
  • Asthma
  • Other Lung Diseases

Even if you are healthy, chronic mold exposure could lead to health problems. The CDC reports that some of us are more at risk of developing mold-related health problems than others.

Being aware of symptoms of mold exposure is important. Especially because some molds produce toxic chemicals, which are called “mycotoxins.” These can cause significant health problems.

So, what do mycotoxins and mold exposure do to your body and brain?

Physical Symptoms of Mold Exposure

Physical Symptoms of Mold Exposure

Because mold is so common, you are frequently breathing in the mold spores without realizing it. In most of us, we do not experience any negative health consequences.

However, chronic toxic mold exposure could lead to physical symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, if you are having a reaction to mold exposure you can expect:

  • Sneezing
  • Congestion
  • Itchiness of the eyes, nose, and throat
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest Tightness

These reactions can be especially common in people with asthma or other lung diseases.

When the spores enter the body, the body detects them and works to fight them off. This means that your immune system is activated more frequently. The high level of immune activation can lead to high levels of inflammation, according to one review.

If inflammation is chronic, it can increase your risk for chronic inflammatory diseases like:

But how does mold cause this to happen?

How Mold Can Cause Health Problems

The toxic spores that mold releases, mycotoxins, have been found to interact with specific areas of your body.

One study reports that the spores have specific parts called “Beta -1,3 glucans.” These parts are recognized by your immune system. Then your immune system responds by increasing inflammatory response. This helps clear the spores and mycotoxins.

Mycotoxins can also affect the lining of your lungs, intestines, and other epithelial cells. The lining does not function as well when mycotoxins are present.

Further, mycotoxins have been reported to cause problems in your gut microbiome. This can further increase inflammation and the risk for inflammatory diseases.

It has even been reported that mycotoxins could affect the blood brain barrier. So, are there neurological symptoms that can be caused by mold exposure?

Neurological Symptoms of Mold Exposure

Whether mold affects the brain is a hotly debated topic. However, there is mounting evidence that suggests that the toxins from certain molds affect your brain function. One study found that adults that are exposed to toxic molds at home could experience:

  • Long Reaction Times
  • Poor Balance
  • Vision Changes
  • Peripheral Neuropathy
  • Decreased Grip Strength

A 2023 review implies that the chronic inflammation due to chronic mold exposure could lead to mental health conditions like depression.

Despite reports that mold exposure causes neurological symptoms, it is still debated. One key reason was that no specific mechanism relating mold to neurological symptoms was identified.

Thankfully, a recent report was able to find a potential mechanism.

How Mold Causes Neurologic Symptoms

A recent study detailed how mold may cause neurologic and behavioral problems.

Toxic spores released from mold were found to increase immune activation and inflammatory cells in the brain. The toxic spores were also found to decrease the number of neurons in the hippocampus.

Higher levels of immune activation and number of inflammatory cells correlated with poor cognitive function and fewer neurons created. This is similar to how bacteria and viruses can affect the brain.

That study found that nontoxic spores may also cause neurological and behavioral symptoms. These were like the symptoms caused by toxic spores, although milder. These symptoms include:

  • Increases in Anxiety
  • Problems with Memory
  • Increased Inflammation

So, how can you avoid these issues with mold?

What You Can Do About Mold?

Preventing mold is difficult. But there are some simple things you can do to lower the likelihood of mold exposure.

  • Always clean and dry areas after spills
  • Use air purifiers in your home
  • Replace windows that appear to sweat
  • Use dehumidifiers in your home
  • Frequently clean areas that get moist, like bathrooms, laundry rooms, or basements
  • Make sure you do not leave wet towels or clothes

These simple tasks may significantly lower the chance of mold growing in your home.

But what if there is already mold?

How To Get Rid of Mold

Mold can be easily cleaned out of your house. To clean mold from your home, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends:

  • Wear gloves and a mask
  • Scrub mold off covered surfaces with detergent and water
  • Be sure to dry the area completely
  • Do not paint or caulk over moldy areas

There are cases where you may not be able to clean the area by yourself. You should seek professional help if:

  • There is excess mold (more than 10 square feet)
  • The mold is difficult to reach
  • Your home has had a large amount of water damage
  • You have poor immune function or respiratory diseases

Mold Video Resources

Summary

Overall, mold exposure may cause some significant health problems like respiratory issues, chronic inflammation, and possibly neurological symptoms. The mycotoxins that can be found in some mold spores can directly impact your immune system and other parts of your body. Ensuring proactive measures to mitigate mold growth and exposure becomes crucial in light of these potential health risks. By taking proactive steps to prevent or eradicate mold infestations, you can actively reduce your susceptibility to the adverse effects associated with mold toxicity.

In essence, taking proactive steps to prevent, identify, and address mold-related issues is an integral aspect of safeguarding your health and well-being. By being vigilant about potential mold growth and promptly addressing any instances of exposure, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of mold-related health complications, including respiratory distress, chronic inflammation, and even neurological symptoms.

References

• National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (2018). “Mold.” National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Read it here.

• CDC. (2022). “CDC – Mold – General Information – Basic Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read it here.

• Mayo Clinic Staff. (2021). “Mold Allergy – Symptoms and Causes.” Mayo Clinic. Read it here.

• Kraft, S., Buchenauer, L., & Polte, T. (2021). Mold, Mycotoxins and a Dysregulated Immune System: A Combination of Concern? International journal of molecular sciences, 22(22), 12269. Read it here.

• Mintz-Cole, R. A., Brandt, E. B., Bass, S. A., Gibson, A. M., Reponen, T., & Khurana Hershey, G. K. (2013). Surface availability of beta-glucans is critical determinant of host immune response to Cladosporium cladosporioides. The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 132(1), 159–169. Read it here.

• Patel, R., Hossain, M. A., German, N., & Al-Ahmad, A. J. (2018). Gliotoxin penetrates and impairs the integrity of the human blood-brain barrier in vitro. Mycotoxin research, 34(4), 257–268. Read it here.

• Kilburn K. H. (2009). Neurobehavioral and pulmonary impairment in 105 adults with indoor exposure to molds compared to 100 exposed to chemicals. Toxicology and industrial health, 25(9-10), 681–692. Read it here.

• Bhui, K., Newbury, J. B., Latham, R. M., Ucci, M., Nasir, Z. A., Turner, B., O’Leary, C., Fisher, H. L., Marczylo, E., Douglas, P., Stansfeld, S., Jackson, S. K., Tyrrel, S., Rzhetsky, A., Kinnersley, R., Kumar, P., Duchaine, C., & Coulon, F. (2023). Air quality and mental health: evidence, challenges and future directions. BJPsych open, 9(4), e120. Read it here.

• Harding, C. F., Pytte, C. L., Page, K. G., Ryberg, K. J., Normand, E., Remigio, G. J., DeStefano, R. A., Morris, D. B., Voronina, J., Lopez, A., Stalbow, L. A., Williams, E. P., & Abreu, N. (2020). Mold inhalation causes innate immune activation, neural, cognitive and emotional dysfunction. Brain, behavior, and immunity, 87, 218–228. Read it here.

• US EPA, OAR. (2014). “Mold Cleanup in Your Home.” US EPA. Read it here.

Learn from 40+ Experts to discover how to identify and remove mold, detox your body, and improve your immune system at the mold, mycotoxin, and chronic illness summit.

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Daniel Chantigian
Daniel Chantigian, MS
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When it comes to complex scientific or medical topics, Daniel can successfully communicate with any audience via writing, social media, lecturing, and one-on-one discussions. Over the past decade, he developed these skills as a researcher at the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic, as a lecturer at the University...

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