The Chronic Inflammatory Response Caused by Mold and Mycotoxins

By Dr. Susan Tanner, MD

In this Part 3 of articles about inflammation, I would like to address mold exposure as a cause of inflammation, as well as what far-reaching impacts it can have on the mind and body. Bottom line… mold illness is more than an “allergy to mold.”

In previous discussions, we touched on the mechanics of inflammation, how certain substances, chemicals, even hormones, can set off a chain reaction in the body’s defense system. This results in the production of pro-inflammatory molecules, referred to as cytokines.   Mycotoxins, the chemicals produced by mold spores in their reproduction, are notorious for setting this defense reaction into motion when inhaled or ingested by humans and animals. While the degree of immune reactivity is governed by both genetics and the degree to which the body is already overloaded by toxins, inflammation from mycotoxin exposure happens to some extent in everyone; therefore, the need to keep indoor air as mold-free as possible is critically important to ensuring good health.

Mold Illness and Chronic Inflammation

When a patient is diagnosed with mold illness or mold toxicity, the term often used to describe their condition is “chronic inflammatory response syndrome,” or CIRS. Why the acronym CIRS? Here is a simplified explanation: Part of the immune system is made up of T-cells—these cells are necessary to guard and protect the immune system. In the case of mold exposure in susceptible individuals, these T-cells become sensitized and dysregulated, because they identify the mold as an immune system irritant. They start doing their job by releasing pro-inflammatory cytokines to attack the mold. But, because the body is both continuously in the exposure (think living in a moldy home or working in a moldy office building), the “high-alert” and inflammation never ceases. Additionally, detoxification is impeded and mold toxins begin to accumulate in tissues, making the person sicker and sicker. Multiple organ systems in the body are usually affected and symptoms morph and become compounded and more severe.

Another thing occurring in the body of mold patients is the inflammation of capillaries. Capillaries are the tiny arteries that deliver oxygen to tissues. When capillaries become inflamed, essentially tissues then become oxygen-deprived. This results in cognitive decline, headaches, muscle aches (myalgia), and overall fatigue. Because certain areas of the brain are affected, then the entire nervous system may become imbalanced, affecting regulation of heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory drive. Furthermore, the abnormal release of regulatory hormones affects sleep, mood, urinary frequency, metabolism, libido, and energy. A very far-reaching set of issues indeed! The kicker is that once this has begun happening, the amount of mold spores necessary to create activation of T-cells is quite small. So, not only are mold patients often becoming sicker and sicker, but they are also becoming more and more sensitive to mold. In my opinion, this is why many folks have to completely leave the moldy environment and take nothing with them in the beginning in order to fully recover. This is also why, even after recovering, mold-sensitized patients must be diligent about mold hygiene and maintenance of their indoor environments to stay well.

Diagnosing Mold-Induced Inflammation

Some of the lab tests that we use to determine this, as there is always the burden of proof for diagnosis, are these inflammatory cytokines. One of these is Human Transforming Growth Factor beta-1 (TGF b-1). (Note: TGF b-1 is a peptide found in blood-forming tissue that plays an important role in tissue regeneration and healing, cell differentiation, embryonic development, and regulation of the immune system.) When TGF b-1 is elevated (over 2500), we typically see a very pro-inflammatory state, and this can manifest as autoimmunity (arthritis, autoimmune thyroiditis, Lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, for example). It is interesting to see, with treatment, these levels come down and correlate with overall improvement in symptoms.

Another measurable cytokine is Complement C4a. (Note: C4 is a part of the “complement” group of activation proteins, which means that they are able to kill bacteria and aid in immune defenses. When activated, C4 activates other complement proteins to also increase in level. If C4a remains elevated, tissue damage and allergic reactions can occur.) High levels of C4a may also be associated with cognitive impairment. It is quite the norm to find both TGF b-1 and C4a elevated in mold-toxic patients.

Due to the lack of oxygen flow to the pituitary gland, we commonly will see low levels of Melanocyte Stimulating hormone (MSH) as well, which can impact sleep and overall immunity. This also impacts the secretion of growth hormone from the pituitary. Although we have stopped growing as adults, we still need adequate amounts of this hormone to regulate all the “downstream hormones” which include thyroid, adrenal, and sex hormone production.

Treatment for Mold Illness

Once determined that mold inflammation is, indeed, present, then proceeding to treatment as soon as possible is necessary.   The first order of business, ALWAYS, is to–

1.) Get out of the mold. No matter what the treatment plan is, it will not work if the body is continually being bombarded by pro-inflammatory cytokines from mycotoxin stimulation.

2.) Remove residual mold spores from the nasal passages, sinuses, and airways. This is most often through nasal irrigation using a safe, non-toxic antifungal substance, such as CitriDrops Dietary Supplement.

3.) Therapeutic oxygen use is one of the most valuable treatments to help deliver oxygen through the inflamed capillary beds to the tissues. Use of relatively high-dose oxygen (8 liters per minute with a mask delivery) for 2 hours daily can make a huge difference in fatigue, brain function, and the resetting of the nervous system to regulate the heart, blood pressure and respiratory processes. This should be continued until the measured cytokines (TGF b-1 and C4a) return to normal levels. Procuring oxygen for this purpose can be difficult as many oxygen companies do not understand the use of oxygen for anything other than a specific lung or heart condition. Purchasing an oxygen generator may be the best route to take.

4.) Binding mycotoxins from the system using either the medication cholestyramine or the natural product, charcoal, helps to get the excess toxins out of the body and prevent recirculation into the bloodstream. Both products can cause constipation and must be used with care under the monitoring of a physician knowledgeable about mold/mycotoxin treatment.

5.) Use of CellTropin can help in re-regulating pituitary function. Homeopathic hormone stimulation and immune support helps overall hormonal balance and the body’s ability to fight off fungal invaders.

6.) Overall body detox with proper diet, supplementation, and sauna are all helpful and part of the individualized protocols that are set up depending on the patient’s presentation and needs.

In Conclusion

There is not a single “one-size-fits-all” treatment plan, but it is hoped that by explaining how the body reacts to mold that some of the treatment methods will begin to make sense!

In essence, inflammation must be controlled to spare increasing dysfunction of the body systems. If chronic inflammation occurs, then disease states follow. The longer inflammation is allowed to go on unchecked, the harder it is to turn the body around. Testing and intervening at the first sign of symptoms is always best.

Treat your environment (clean air, clean clothes, clean belongings). Then, get treatment for yourself (clean nose, detox, clean food, clean water, supplements, and medications as needed). It is worth the effort, because you deserve good health!