Anxiety and Other Hidden Neurological Symptoms Linked with Mold Toxicity

Toxicity vs. allergy Mold toxicity and mold allergies are often used interchangeably, but they actually do not refer to the same illness. Mold allergies usually occur when you inhale or ingest mold spores. Mold spores are common in both indoor and outdoor environments. A mold allergy causes mainly respiratory symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, wheezing, and watery eyes. Mold toxicity (or toxic mold syndrome) is a chronic inflammatory response brought on by the numerous and volatile toxins produced by mold growth. Sensitive individuals are at increased risk of developing severe symptoms. Prolonged exposure to mold can make it difficult for the body to get rid of toxic compounds produced by mold spores. Mold-related illnesses are frequently misdiagnosed because they often mimic other health problems. Toxic mold can cause severe immune-related and inflammatory conditions such as multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis, and IBD (4). Patient symptoms following mold exposure are nearly indistinguishable from those caused by innate immune activation following bacterial or viral exposure. Those suffering neurological symptoms from mold exposure may experience some of the following characteristics associated with their illness or during treatment. Read more: Always Congested? Your Microbiome Holds the Secret to Better Breathing ‘Normal’ lab tests Even though symptoms caused by toxic mold exposure may look similar to other conditions, surely lab tests will identify the true culprit… Not so, according to mold specialists. There are currently no FDA-approved laboratory tests for mycotoxins, and research examining mycotoxin testing is very limited (5).  Blood tests for inflammatory markers, like CRP, are likely to be normal for those with mold reaction. Routine labs, such as a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP), and kidney/liver enzymes may also be normal, despite mold exposure. Because labs come back normal, many people are deemed to have a psychiatric illness, especially when they experience another symptom of mold exposure, like irritability, depression, or other changes in mood. Urine mycotoxin testing can sometimes detect levels of metabolites from various mycotoxins, such as ochratoxin a, citrinin, aflatoxin b1, fumonisin, and zearalenone (6).  Related: Functional Lab Testing Confusion or cognitive impairment Mold and mycotoxin exposure have been found to reduce memory capacity, attention, and intellectual capacity, as assessed by IQ tests (7). Some patients report feeling disorganized and struggling to maintain coherent thoughts. Some people report feeling rage and anger, accompanied by cognitive deficits (8). Disruption in sleep-wake cycles People who are sensitive to mold exposure also report difficulty sleeping, insomnia, or excessive daytime sleepiness. This is likely a result of inflammation in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that governs memory, learning, and the sleep-wake cycle. Mold toxicity also reduces melatonin production as a result of its effects on the pituitary gland, which can further disrupt sleep (1). Read: Tune Your Circadian Rhythm for Better Health & Longevity Decreased neurogenesis, or the formation of new brain cells. In several studies, neurologists couldn’t tell the difference between people with repeated exposure to mold, and people with mild to moderate traumatic brain injury. They had similar neurological and cognitive deficits, such as (9):  Visuospatial skills needed for movement, depth and distance perception, and spatial navigationVerbal learningPsychomotor speed, such as driving, catching a ball or playing an instrument Related: Does Alzheimer’s Begin in the Gut? Impaired memory In one study, there was a 55% increase in memory problems in those exposed to mold, versus those who were not. Patients may have trouble organizing their thoughts or remembering why they walked into a room. Research also suggests that mycotoxins play a role in the development of a subtype of Alzheimer’s disease, referred to as “inhalational Alzheimer’s disease.” (10) Read more: Protect Your Brain from Early-Onset Dementia Increased sensitivity to pain Mold restricts access to the pituitary, which controls the body’s pain response. In this case, it reduces endorphin production, which can lead to chronic, and sometimes unusual, pain (1). Increased anxiety and depression A large study involving over 5,000 adults found significantly higher rates of depression in those living in water-damaged buildings with mold compared to controls living in mold-free environments (11).  Some mycotoxins are neurotoxins, which means they’re especially harmful to the brain and nervous system. They’re capable of causing lesions in the area of the brain known as the frontal co

Anxiety and Other Hidden Neurological Symptoms Linked with Mold Toxicity

Toxicity vs. allergy

Mold toxicity and mold allergies are often used interchangeably, but they actually do not refer to the same illness.

Mold allergies usually occur when you inhale or ingest mold spores. Mold spores are common in both indoor and outdoor environments. A mold allergy causes mainly respiratory symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, wheezing, and watery eyes.

Mold toxicity (or toxic mold syndrome) is a chronic inflammatory response brought on by the numerous and volatile toxins produced by mold growth. Sensitive individuals are at increased risk of developing severe symptoms. Prolonged exposure to mold can make it difficult for the body to get rid of toxic compounds produced by mold spores.

Mold-related illnesses are frequently misdiagnosed because they often mimic other health problems. Toxic mold can cause severe immune-related and inflammatory conditions such as multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis, and IBD (4).

Patient symptoms following mold exposure are nearly indistinguishable from those caused by innate immune activation following bacterial or viral exposure. Those suffering neurological symptoms from mold exposure may experience some of the following characteristics associated with their illness or during treatment.

Read more: Always Congested? Your Microbiome Holds the Secret to Better Breathing

‘Normal’ lab tests

Even though symptoms caused by toxic mold exposure may look similar to other conditions, surely lab tests will identify the true culprit…

Not so, according to mold specialists. There are currently no FDA-approved laboratory tests for mycotoxins, and research examining mycotoxin testing is very limited (5). 

Blood tests for inflammatory markers, like CRP, are likely to be normal for those with mold reaction. Routine labs, such as a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP), and kidney/liver enzymes may also be normal, despite mold exposure. Because labs come back normal, many people are deemed to have a psychiatric illness, especially when they experience another symptom of mold exposure, like irritability, depression, or other changes in mood.

Urine mycotoxin testing can sometimes detect levels of metabolites from various mycotoxins, such as ochratoxin a, citrinin, aflatoxin b1, fumonisin, and zearalenone (6). 

Related: Functional Lab Testing

Confusion or cognitive impairment

Mold and mycotoxin exposure have been found to reduce memory capacity, attention, and intellectual capacity, as assessed by IQ tests (7).

Some patients report feeling disorganized and struggling to maintain coherent thoughts. Some people report feeling rage and anger, accompanied by cognitive deficits (8).

Disruption in sleep-wake cycles

People who are sensitive to mold exposure also report difficulty sleeping, insomnia, or excessive daytime sleepiness. This is likely a result of inflammation in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that governs memory, learning, and the sleep-wake cycle.

Mold toxicity also reduces melatonin production as a result of its effects on the pituitary gland, which can further disrupt sleep (1).

Read: Tune Your Circadian Rhythm for Better Health & Longevity

Decreased neurogenesis, or the formation of new brain cells.

In several studies, neurologists couldn’t tell the difference between people with repeated exposure to mold, and people with mild to moderate traumatic brain injury. They had similar neurological and cognitive deficits, such as (9): 

  • Visuospatial skills needed for movement, depth and distance perception, and spatial navigation
  • Verbal learning
  • Psychomotor speed, such as driving, catching a ball or playing an instrument

Related: Does Alzheimer’s Begin in the Gut?

Impaired memory

In one study, there was a 55% increase in memory problems in those exposed to mold, versus those who were not. Patients may have trouble organizing their thoughts or remembering why they walked into a room.

Research also suggests that mycotoxins play a role in the development of a subtype of Alzheimer’s disease, referred to as “inhalational Alzheimer’s disease.” (10)

Read more: Protect Your Brain from Early-Onset Dementia

Increased sensitivity to pain

Mold restricts access to the pituitary, which controls the body’s pain response. In this case, it reduces endorphin production, which can lead to chronic, and sometimes unusual, pain (1).

Increased anxiety and depression

A large study involving over 5,000 adults found significantly higher rates of depression in those living in water-damaged buildings with mold compared to controls living in mold-free environments (11). 

Some mycotoxins are neurotoxins, which means they’re especially harmful to the brain and nervous system. They’re capable of causing lesions in the area of the brain known as the frontal cortex. This causes dysfunction with dopamine, leading to anxiety or depression (12). 

Mold exposure can also cause an immune reaction, activating microglia that release cytokines in the central nervous system. This causes changes in behavior including malaise, pain, fatigue, and social withdrawal.

Learn more about conditions we treat: Anxiety

Other hidden signs of mold exposure

Autoimmunity

People who are genetically predisposed to mold sensitivity may develop other dysregulated immune responses, including the formation of antibodies that lead to a gluten sensitivity, IBD, or nervous system disorders. Inflammatory pathways are again continually activated, which increases immune-related reactions in the body.

Fatigue & shortness of breath

Mycotoxins restrict vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which normally stimulates the formation of blood vessels (13). Reduced VEGF can result in fatigue, shortness of breath, and sometimes numbness in the legs and feet.

Increased static shock

Mold illness also reduces a hormone produced by the pituitary gland that controls water balance, called antidiuretic hormone (ADH). When ADH is low, this leads to thirst, frequent urination, low blood pressure, low blood volume (10). It also results in increased salt on the skin, which enhances susceptibility to static shock.

Healing from Toxic Mold

Exposure to mold is a serious health problem that can be detrimental for patients with a weakened immune system. Structural components of bacteria and prolonged exposure to mold toxins can trigger neurologic symptoms that may affect your nervous system. Although there have been contradictory pieces of evidence on the effects of mold and how it can cause neurological problems, it is necessary to seek medical help if you experience symptoms related to mold toxicity.

If you’re experiencing neurological symptoms or respiratory symptoms of mold toxicity, it’s very important to work with an integrative team experienced in treating mold illness.

Resources

  1. https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0889159119303010
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2093791119306419
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4982651/ 
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8619365/
  5. https://www.clinicaltherapeutics.com/article/S0149-2918(18)30189-9/fulltext
  6. https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Biochemical-Markers-in-the-Urine-Associated-with-in-Shaw-Pratt-Hyatt/b204c42a105746855b487eea2a2f4b2b923d381c
  7. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031938411003453?via%3Dihub 
  8. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/holistic-psychiatry/201708/mold-toxicity-common-cause-psychiatric-symptoms 
  9. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/10902932_Neuropsychological_Performance_of_Patients_Following_Mold_Exposure 
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4789584/  
  11. https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/10.2105/AJPH.2006.093773
  12. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3200/AEOH.58.8.452-463
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3073245/