Brain Fog and Other Frustrating Cognitive Symptoms of Mold Illness

By Dr. Susan Tanner, MD

A complaint that almost every mold patient has experienced is “brain fog”. The term is fairly self-explanatory, but we are going to dig a little deeper to explain why, if you are suffering from mold illness or toxicity, you may feel as if your thoughts and emotions may be blunted, stunted, or simply “off”.

When I was made ill by mold, along with the physical issues that came with the illness, my ability to think and process information was dramatically reduced. Forgetting words, remembering even simple names or routines, and my ability to follow the flow of conversation became increasingly impaired. These cognitive impairments were one of the scariest parts of the illness; the physical was troubling and life altering, but the very idea of losing my ability to think was hope shattering.

Brain Fog Explained

Why do we get brain fog? First, we need to understand the structure of the brain. The brain itself is largely composed of phospholipids. Phospholipids are a special type of fat cell, containing phosphorus, that help to hold cell structure but remain fluid enough, so that substances can pass in and out of the cell. For cellular nourishment, this is a good thing, because vitamins and minerals must be transported across the cell membrane. Unfortunately, though, many toxins can and do cross this membrane as well.   These cells may be protected by a dense conglomeration of capillaries that can selectively allow substances to flow from the bloodstream to the brain. This is known as the blood-brain barrier.

In cases of mold and mycotoxin exposure, damage may occur at the blood brain barrier, allowing the passage of these chemicals into the cell membrane of the brain cells. Once this happens, these toxins tend to hang around in the brain cells, as they are “lipophilic” meaning that they are electrically drawn to and held by these fat cells. Picture a magnet and metal shavings to give a visual to this.

Total Body Load and Brain Fog

Remember our discussion of the total body load? This is an important concept in discussing brain fog. As the body load increases, the blood-brain barrier is compromised more and more, and mycotoxins are able to cause their problems! This explains, in part, why some patients may succumb to the effects of mold exposure so much more quickly than others; there were, or are likely, other factors including genetics and previous illnesses/exposures that already started damage in their blood-barrier. In other words, they are already primed for the mold toxins to easily be absorbed, rather than detoxed from the body. Thus, when exposed to mold and mycotoxins, the cognitive symptoms occur quickly and alarmingly. The brain fog was just waiting to happen! Unfortunately, the longer this exposure goes on, the brain cells become “stiff”, rather than fluid-like, and the membrane is unable to do its normal job of transporting needed nutrients and neurochemicals to the brain cells.

Mycotoxins and the Brain

Mycotoxins are the chemicals that are secreted by mold as a byproduct of the organism’s metabolic process. These are very potent chemicals, for example, Agent Orange is derived from mycotoxins. Some mycotoxins can even penetrate steel. The mycotoxins from household molds are no less problematic, but are arguably more insidious in their impact, because people living or working in moldy environments are exposed continuously, over long amounts of time. These mycotoxins become stored in the fat cells and can even continue to secrete additional mycotoxins while in the body. This is commonly the case if fungus is present in the sinus, or if yeast such as Candida is present in the GI tract, those are also continually producing their own mycotoxins that are absorbed into the bloodstream and passing to the brain. Thus, a mold-toxic person can become increasing toxic and poisoned by their environment unless proper environmental action is taken, like leaving or remediation, and proper detox is employed to rid the body of the mold. In addition, once a person is made ill by mold, and the body load is increased, then even small exposures to mold may upset the delicate balance and cause symptoms. I find this to be true for myself even today. I can sense immediately when I have been exposed, because I will suddenly have trouble finding a word, or remembering someone’s name.

Inflammation and Cognitive Symptoms

Along with the toxicity element of the exposure, there is also an inflammatory response in the cells. Tissues become swollen, and function is impaired. This ties in with the immune response as well. The immune system becomes activated to mount a defense against a foreign substance (mycotoxins) and in trying to protect, actually adds to the problem by adding to inflammation. If the mycotoxins continue to barrage the immune system, like if a person is living in a moldy home, the inflammation continues to mount and to cause more and more problems. And, when the body is inflamed, the brain is also inflamed, because it is in constant vigilance mode or “fight or flight.” It is a turned-on, wired brain, that does not rest and repair, but that is anxious, sleepless, and chronically fatigued. It is no wonder that thinking gets foggy!

You can see how the problem becomes quite complex. In addition to all of this discussion, hormonal systems become secondarily impacted, which we will discuss in future articles.

So now that we know more about WHY brain fog is part of mold illness, what do we do about it?

Solutions for Brain Fog

Here I will briefly outline some practical and actionable treatment options for addressing cognitive symptoms related to mold exposure:

  • You cannot get better if you are still living in a moldy environment! This must be addressed or none of the treatments will get you very far in your recovery. Continue to monitor your environment with mold plates. Use the Microbalance products to clean your belongings and surroundings. CitriDrops Dietary Supplement in a nasal rinse are a long-term treatment to address mold at the nasal entry point and should be used daily to keep fungi from entering and colonizing in the sinuses.
  • Your diet must be low enough in sugars and simple carbohydrates such that you starve the Candida in your system. Prescription antifungals may be recommended; Oil of Oregano by Allergy Research Group is quite safe and helpful for long term use, as is the broader spectrum Biocidin by Bio-botanical Research. Probiotics, such as Klaire Therabiotic, are well-tolerated and help restore good bacterial balance to the GI tract, making it less susceptible to the effects of Candida. These are recommended for ongoing use.
  • Restoring good function to the brain cells by gently removing toxins and helping to restore fluidity to the brain cell membrane improves memory and thought processes dramatically. Phosphatidylcholine, made by Nutrasal, or Body Bio PC (liquid) and liposomal Glutathione by Pure Encapsulations are excellent products for this. If you have access to the IV formulations of these, then the positive results may be even faster.   (Note: All of these oral preparations may be found on Wellevate portal.)
  • The use of home oxygen to “push oxygen through” the inflamed capillary beds of the blood-brain barrier helps get needed oxygen into the brain cells. This may be a shorter (one month) or long term (many months) treatment. Your doctor may be willing to prescribe an oxygen generator for home use. This must be used with a mask, at 8 Liters per minute for 2 hours a day.

I hope this helps to explain some of the cognitive symptoms you may be struggling with. It can be scary to lose your ability to think straight, but your body is doing all it can to protect you from the toxins. Thus, the first and best step to getting better is the get out of the exposure, so that you can heal and repair.

Comments? Questions? Something you would like to see us write about? Please let us know below or email us at