The Seasonal Health Impacts of Mold and Mycotoxins

by Dr. Susan Tanner, MD

The cooling of outdoor temperatures and the shifting of seasons has been readily apparent in the last week or so, especially here in the south where I live.  The fall weather brings with it a respite from our summer heat and humidity, and, at first glance, would appear to be a much better time for mold-injured patients.  In many ways, this is true, less moisture in the air and warm temperatures that are conducive to mold growth, but there are a few caveats of which to be aware: more time spent outdoors, the changing of our HVAC settings from air conditioning to heating, and the shifts in daylight time.

Outdoor Mold Mitigation

Let’s start with outdoor activities and the “mold hurdles” that they can sometimes bring. For example, outdoor gardening and leaf clean-up are invigorating and bring much pleasure to many of us, but outdoor mold counts can get fairly high, especially when there has been quite a bit of rain. Rotting leaves and brush also bring higher levels of mold spores to our outdoor environments.  In general, we have fewer concerns about outdoor mold than we do about the exposure that may occur due to elevated mold counts in our indoor air. This is mostly due to the fact that when we are outside, our exposure is lower, because we are not a contained space, and the continued air movement from wind and such may dilute the mycotoxin impact.  However, close-up encounters with these molds, like when gardening or camping, can induce symptoms just as indoor mold does with both allergic and inflammatory responses.  If mold spores are held in the sinus and nasal tissues and have the opportunity to colonize, then ongoing symptoms may continue and even get worse.

To prevent the onset or worsening of mold illness symptoms during the fall, you just need to be mindful and prevent exposure as much as possible.  Wearing a mask, especially while gardening or raking leaves, helps avoid inhaling spores.  Spore sizes are larger than viruses, so any mask that provides a physical barrier would surely be helpful here; even simple fabric masks will help prevent inhalation of spores.  What is also very important is to remember to take off spore-laden clothing before entering your home so as not to drag these into your indoor environment. Additionally, irrigate your nasal passages! This prevents mold spores from colonizing or having the time to find a way into your sinuses to cause inflammation and infection.  I recommend using a Nasopure irrigation kit using distilled water in the squeeze bottle with the premixed salt packets that come with it and about 4 drops of CitriDrops Dietary Supplement per bottle.  You can also follow this up with CitriDrops Nasal Spray as added protection. The nasal spray contains homeopathic dilutions of some of the most prevalent environmental allergens, including mold, to help your body become more resilient and less reactive to them over time. It also contains a very small amount of xylitol to break up biofilms and to aid in allowing the spray to reach the sinus mucosa.

Other actions you can take to prevent any of the outdoor molds from taking up residence inside your home include washing your work clothing and your bedding with EC3 Laundry Additive. This will rid spores from your clothing and will also safeguard your sleeping space (where you are most up-close and personal with the materials). Honestly washing every load with the laundry additive is helpful for preventing further contamination of your other clothing. I also advise showering and washing your hair to remove any mold spores from your person.  Incidentally, these same measures work for other pollens which may be allergens, such as ragweed. An additional tool in your tool belt should be Histamine Relief. It contains Quercetin, Vitamin C, Stinging Nettle, NAC, and Bromelain to help decrease inflammation and allergies and to help break up mucous. Histamine Relief can help for temporary allergies without causing drowsiness or weight gain common with pharmaceutical products.

Mold and Your Mechanical Systems

Now onto the issues inherent with mechanical heating and cooling in our homes. As outdoor temperatures drop and indoor air conditioning may not be needed, the tendency is to shut down the HVAC system completely.  This is generally not recommended, as air movement is still needed to circulate indoor air effectively.  The suggestion from most HVAC and mold remediation companies is to keep the air handler fan running even if the air conditioning is not on. Outdoor humidity is not as high but condensation within the unit can still be problematic; try to maintain indoor humidity no higher than 45%.  If your indoor humidity is consistently higher than this, the use of a dehumidifier may be necessary.  These can be free-standing dehumidifiers that drain to the outside or central units connected to the main HVAC.  In my opinion, dehumidification equipment is money well spent when keeping indoor environments mold-free–remember, mold CANNOT grow without a moisture source.  Additionally, as seasons change, it is a good time to have your system inspected and serviced.  Filters should be changed and coils inspected.  Coil inspection is not always done but is very important.  Removing the cover from your system to examine the plenum and coils for any mold build-up can identify a problem before it becomes a health threat. It is also wise to be on a service plan where your systems are being routinely checked and cared for, so that, if you do use heat when it is switched on, you are not having an issue with it blowing up dust or anything else into your home. If you are so inclined, it may also be time to have your ducts professionally cleaned. The National Duct Cleaners Association is the best resource for a qualified person or company in your area to properly do this work.

Shorter Days, Sleep, and Hormones

The change in daylight hours can greatly, and often negatively impact sleep and energy.  For some, especially for those who mold and mycotoxins have been disruptive to the hormonal system or for those with adrenal issues, alterations in the sleep cycle can be a catalyst for not doing so well.  Because the effects are subtle at times, a decrease in health and vigor may not be readily attributed to the shorter days. During seasonal changes, sleep regulation becomes even more important.  For any in-depth recommendations and advice on improving sleep or stabilizing hormones, we will refer you to some previous newsletters which go into the details of sleep and hormonal balance.  In short, though, the use of certain sleep aids which assist the circadian rhythm may be of great benefit.  Examples of sleep aids are melatonin, available in many strengths, L Theanine, phosphatidylserine, and of course, magnesium.   Recent studies have also shown that the use of Lithium orotate, a natural salt (and this is quite different than the prescription lithium carbonate) is extremely useful and needed by most due to the deficiencies which prevail, for both sleep quality and mood in general. Adrenal gland function may be altered by the changes in sleep and activity as well; keeping those adrenals well supported during and through this seasonal transition prompts other hormonal functions to behave more normally.  Adrenal Boost, by Micro Balance, is a great product for this, as is CellTropin for cellular healing and pituitary support.

Speaking of daylight and sleep, I would like to also encourage as much outdoor time in the sunshine as possible.  It is easy to stay inside more as the weather gets colder, but this can severely disrupt your circadian rhythms and your adrenal function if you are not careful. In addition to some extra vitamin D absorbed through the skin which is good for immunity and bones, the stimulation of sensors in the eyes by sunlight has tremendous benefit to mood and health in ways that are not fully understood. This also may be the time to embark on an exercise program if you are not already doing so. Even brisk, outdoor walking is good for grounding us, for bone and muscle integrity, and for cardiovascular benefit. Movement is the key; it doesn’t have to be a grueling exercise routine to give your body many benefits.

As seasons change and autumn begins, you don’t have to think of the cooler days as quiescence or of nature becoming more still and dormant. I think we can view it a bit differently; as a time of gentle shifting of systems, of preparation, of revitalization.  Autumn can be the ideal time to take health to another level by addressing the subtle changes that can become big, positive changes down the road!