Patient Stories of Chronic Fatigue, Mold, and Heavy Metals
Last week, the discussion of chronic fatigue and its causes brought to mind several of my patients both past and present who have been challenged with this condition. For this article, I thought I might share a few of their stories and how they lived with chronic fatigue with the hope that this may provide additional insight and support if you are going through a similar situation.
Burning the Candle at Both Ends Awakens a “Sleeping” Virus
Eileen M. had been a successful investment banker. She worked 10-hour or more days for years and thoroughly enjoyed her job, long hours and all. When she was 42 years old, she acquired a flu-like illness, with aching, chills, and was so tired she could not get out of bed. After a day or two of missing work for the first time in years, she came in to see if an antibiotic might snap her back. Her office exam and bloodwork did not reveal any active bacterial infection, but there was the suggestion of a viral infection. Further testing revealed that she had mononucleosis!
Known as the “kissing disease”, as mono is diagnosed most commonly among teenagers, she was shocked. She had been with the same partner for many years, had not been around any known infected individuals, and simply could not figure out why or where this virus came from. Even more, what to do? Initial cases of mono are treated with rest and symptomatic care and, in most people, after a couple of weeks, they are back to normal. Unfortunately, Eileen did not follow this pattern of rest and recovery.
Eileen had truly been burning the candle at both ends for years; her immune defenses were down. She admitted that sleep had been problematic for at least 5 years prior to her becoming sick, so much so that she relied on both over-the-counter sleep aids at night and energy drinks during the day to keep her going. This lifestyle set the stage for adrenal fatigue, which not only added to the fatigue issues in general but did not allow for a healthy immune system to mount a proper response to illness, particularly viral illnesses. Whether she had encountered the Epstein Barr virus (Epstein Barr or EBV can cause infectious mononucleosis and other illnesses) earlier in life and had been an asymptomatic carrier for years or came in casual contact with the virus (spread by saliva droplets) more recently is unknown. In either event, the virus made its presence known in the form of mono and decided to stay around in the host. Talk about overstaying a welcome! What to do?
As there is no traditional medical treatment for Epstein Barr, it becomes a matter of making the host so healthy and resilient that the virus is unable to exhibit itself, and that is exactly what Eileen did. She began with a healthy diet of organic whole foods, avoiding the carbs and protein that she had relied on in the past. Luckily, her home was not mold-infested, but she did get an air filter for her bedroom to keep that air as clean as possible. She took supplements to build both gut immunity (probiotics and immune products) as well as antioxidants such as vitamin C and glutathione, and she began to recover. After 6 long months, she was about back to her old self, but actually a new and better self with better health, better habits, and a renewed appreciation for her good health. I might also mention that there were a few key lifestyle habits that were changed as well, including maintaining a better work/life balance. By losing her health, Eileen had learned the hard way that working herself to death could, quite literally, be the death of her if she continued on that path.
Eileen is a success story, but it would be unfair and untrue to say that this outcome always occurs. Sometimes healing has as many valleys as it does peaks, unfortunately. Chronic illness can be multilayered and incredibly complex for some patients. With that, I introduce another patient, Henry B.
Mold, Heavy Metals, and a Difficult Recovery
Henry worked at a government building in downtown Atlanta for many years. He handled many old documents for historical research and conducted his work in an old closet converted to an office in an 80-year old building. When Henry first came in for a consultation, I did not see how he could possibly still be working. He was unable to even fill out all the new patient paperwork; his train of thought was so distracted and incoherent. It took well over two hours to extract his patient history from him, but I could tell the information was in there, he simply could not get it out.
Mold testing of Henry and of his office revealed very high counts of mold spores and mycotoxins. There was a large fungal ball in his sinuses identified as aspergillus mold; this required surgical intervention to remove it and clean the mycotoxins out of the sinuses. He also underwent huge dietary changes, antifungal medications, and many nutritional supplements as indicated by organic acids testing. Henry did not return to work in the building once the problem was identified which began a workman’s comp lawsuit that went on for quite some time.
Henry began to get a little better but not as much as he or I hoped. There were no further identifiable mold sources, and he was careful about not going into places where mold might be present to the extent that he could. At this point in his treatment, further delving into other body burdens was necessary and several culprits were found. One was that Henry had very high levels of lead in his body. What I had missed in his initial assessment was that his hobby for years was making fishing lures and using lead as the weight for the sinkers–he handled a lot of it! Lead does absorb through the skin as well as through vaporization, and it is toxic. It also accumulates in the body and does not eliminate readily. To rid his body safely of the lead, Henry had to go through a process called chelation. Chelation involves the careful administration of either an oral or IV substance to bind with the lead ions and pull them out of the body so that they can be excreted through the urine and feces.
Treating Henry was and still is complex. The lead exposure had burdened his system substantially and gradually over time. Then, when the critical load of mycotoxins and mold was reached, he declined rapidly and noticeably. That is not to say that he would have been ok in that moldy work environment without the lead issue, but it did make detection of what his “main” trigger was and pinpointing the right treatment more difficult. Looking back, Henry definitely needed to be out of the moldy work environment prior to being treated for the lead, but if the lead had not burdened his system so drastically, he may have never been susceptible to the fungal infections and mold illness.
Henry is better. However, he is on disability as his cognitive function as well as his physical endurance just have not come back to his baseline normal. He remains diligent about keeping his environment clean, and his diet is very good, but there are days when he cannot leave the house due to fatigue and mental slowness. Henry still takes a series of supplements to maintain as healthy an immune system as possible and to restore the mitochondrial damage that was substantial from both mold and lead. The supplements he is most diligent about taking are glutathione, riboflavin, coenzyme Q10, and continual liver support to ensure that residual lead that comes forth from deep tissue and bone can be excreted without causing damage. He and I both keep hoping and looking for continued improvement, but I think it would be overly optimistic to say he will be completely well and function normally after this toxic hit to his system. The point here is that the added up effects of mold and mycotoxins with other toxins can be devastating, and the sooner they are identified and addressed, the better chance of recovery.
Long-Term Viral Symptoms
In recent times an issue I am facing are patients with “long COVID”. Most of these patients were not hospitalized, but have had very protracted and continual symptoms even after the acute virus seems to be gone. I won’t get into the entire COVID illness issues here, but the short of it is that the virus, like many others, stimulates inflammatory cytokines as part of the immune defense. In some patients, this “switched on” phenomenon continues for weeks or months, causing various manifestations which can range from extreme fatigue to neurologic symptoms. Identifying who may be at risk of this has been difficult, as we are still learning much about how this particular virus works. I believe, however, that like the patients mentioned above, the factors of lifestyle, nutrient status, and other toxicities may play a large role in determining who gets long COVID and who does not. There are also likely genetic factors that influence this. As for treatment, what we do know is like with any illness, keeping the rule of “clean air, clean food, clean water” is extremely important for both staying healthy and recovery if infection occurs. It has also been my experience that also using quercetin, Sinus Defense, and CDP choline can help sequester inflammatory cytokines and encourage neurologic healing which may go a long way toward recovery and avoiding long-term symptoms.
For those of you who have chronic fatigue, my concern and care go out to you. It is not an easy or straight road, but never stop looking for answers. I encourage you to dig deeper into your history and health. Do the things you know that you can do to lower the burden on your system. There is hope and healing by doing everything that you can!