An Often Overlooked and Misunderstood Structure in the Brain: The Limbic System

I recently read an article distributed to me by Apple News on September 28th from The Cut, (a website for New Yorker Magazine digital distribution) entitled “Me, Lady Gaga and the Medical Establishment that Failed Us” by Leigh Vincent.  The article provided a provocative link to the debilitating path experienced by patients suffering from fibromyalgia, chronic illness and the link to mycotoxins and the limbic system in the brain. While she tells the story from her perspective (a lay person who is not a Health Care Professional),  she describes the difficult path she endured seeing doctor after doctor looking  for answer for her pain.

She also identifies with Lady Gaga’s announcement via on twitter that she is battling fibromyalgia.

In my opinion, the critical element from Leigh’s story comes from Leigh’s recognition that mycotoxins were the underlying cause of Leigh’s illness. This mycotoxin-limbic system connection warrants a deeper look at the limbic system and the effects of mycotoxins on this system that it inspires.


 The Limbic System Explored

The human brain is the most complex and least understood of all organs. The limbic system is a complex set of sections in the mid brain that includes the hypothalamus, hippocampus, amygdala, and the cingulate cortex.  It has been described as the “feeling and reacting area of the brain.” It is responsible for formations of memory and is constantly determining our level of safety.  It also assigns emotional significance to all that we see, hear, feel, and taste. The limbic system is responsible for our social and emotional intelligence, anxiety, and is closely integrated with our immune system, endocrine system, and autonomic nervous system. 

The limbic system is also responsible for stress reactions sometimes called the “Fight or Flight” response.  Our bodies are designed to trigger these stress reactions when we are scared or alarmed.  There are numerous types of stress that affect all of our bodily functions.  Our bodies are designed to react to stress; however, they are NOT equipped for constant stress.   

Stress is the body’s unconscious answer to potential threats or danger.  The Amygdala draws on implicit emotions to the threat. It signals the hippocampus, the structures of explicit memory that link our unconscious limbic system with our conscious cortex. A stress response can occur immediately; not necessarily to a particular event, but to the meaning or perceived meaning it assigns to the event.  Cortisol, the stress hormone, is released and can derail our functioning cortex.  This is why feelings can be triggered at times when we don’t know exactly why they are there.  For example, loud noises can trigger PTSD for a war veteran, certain smells can trigger panic and anxiety from a personal trauma, or immediate braking while driving can trigger experiences from a serious car accident. Traumatic memories can appear out of the blue, disassociated with current events. 

Mycotoxins in the Brain 

Sinuses proximity to the brain

In the article “Unexplained Neurological Symptoms can be Caused by Mold,” I described the path airborne toxins take into our very sensitive olfactory nerve system to gain direct access to the brain.  When mycotoxins penetrate to the brain, the limbic system reacts, affecting numerous stress systems in the body.  The physiological stress on this part of the brain can trigger emotional stress, which can then initiate a limbic system trauma response.  When mycotoxins initiate neurological symptoms, brain fog and significant mood alterations, patients can experience a sense of anxiety, emotionality, excessive fear or worry, depression, sense of despair, panic attacks, and often insomnia.   

Going back to the news article, the author came across a study that found that women who suffered from severe trauma (in her case, rape), suffered from fibromyalgia at rates three times those of women who did not have this trauma.  She also related to Lady Gaga’s similar plight with fibromyalgia after reading a message on Twitter, where the music artist that suffers from fibromyalgia, explained her “disappointment to see people online suggest I’m (Lady Gaga) being dramatic, making this up, or playing the victim.”  

The author of the article was led to tie together her rape trauma and fibromyalgia, despite not being a health care professional or expert on the brain.  She specifically recalled the physical pain she had felt at times during her life when her personal trauma was re-triggered. She stated that “my doctors examined my body and my therapists examined my mind, no one seemed equipped to look at the links between the two.”   

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is characterized by failing to fully recover after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. Anxiety and flashbacks can occur when triggered by a similar, less traumatic event. 

 While continuing her research and investigation, she also identified toxic black mold in her apartment.  She personally hypothesized that her brain’s limbic system (which regulates memory and emotion) was in fact altered by traumatic experiences.  She believed that her trauma (rape) became trapped in a cycle of overreaction to her life.  This was her conclusion. The core medical issue, however, is that the limbic system of the brain was triggered by toxic mold, bringing her physical pain and trauma to the forefront. 

 The limbic system can be injured by any number of toxic insultstoxin exposure, chronic infections, psychological trauma, and physical trauma. Toxic mold was the root cause in this case. 

Treatment for Mycotoxins 

When a patient presents with a “mysterious illness” manifested in physical symptoms with no clear explanation, damage to the limbic system is sometimes considered by knowledgeable and thorough physicians and specialists.  Mold mycotoxins are the most elusive causes.  This is because toxic mold is microscopic and requires a significant focused effort of a homeowner to have the mold investigated. Identification of mold that produces mycotoxins and/or mycotoxin testing is challenging.  There exists diagnostics used by physicians who treat environmental illness that are not entirely conclusive in identifying mycotoxins in urine.  In addition, testing for mycotoxins in the environment are only performed by a few labs. 

The initial step is to identify the toxins in the environment and to stop further exposure. Next, it is necessary for physicians to capitalize on the body’s natural means of toxic elimination (liver, kidney, sweat glands, bowel elimination, and immune system.)  This should be managed by a physician or naturopathic doctor that treats environmental illness as specific medicinal, chemical binders, nutritional supplements, and other treatment modalities that are often required.  In severe cases, sinus surgery with a thorough rinsing of the sinuses with a potent antifungal and physical removal of the mold is required.  The article, Systemic Mycotoxicosis: A Layman’s (Plain English) Discussion and Review of Dr. Thrasher’s Final Publication with Dr. Don Dennis MD, ENT, FACS describes the procedure and findings in more detail. 

I am unable to speak to the author’s approach to treatment or endorse creating your own treatment plan; however, I do empathize with the challenge mold sufferers have in convincing their physicians that their symptoms are real.  I can also empathize with the frustration of being diagnosed with a chronic disease with no cure and the impact of being treated for physical symptoms with psychiatric and neurological/pain medicines (anti-epileptics and antidepressants) that may help, but can cause side effects that might contribute to her suffering. 

Mycotoxin Poisoning and Trauma 

I also cannot try to relate to the devastation of the personal trauma the author experienced.  But I am interested in how physicians and integrative doctors are approaching mycotoxins and the potential for severe emotional and mood responses to mold.  There are new approaches being pursued that focus on “re-training the limbic system.” These approaches have resulted in the resolution of symptoms and improvement in brain function for many mold sufferers.   

 In the case of the author of the story, she arrived at her own conclusions regarding her personal trauma and the link to mycotoxin exposure and her fibromyalgia diagnosis and developed her own treatment plan. (This is not recommended by any health care professional.) While her story has a happy ending and she has experienced relief from symptoms, the significance of the link to mycotoxin poisoning and her physical/emotional symptoms is the defining moment that led to her recovery, in my opinion.  Similar experiences, however, are experienced by millions of mycotoxin sufferers as they struggle to find physicians that believe their unexplained symptoms and fully understand the many manifestations mycotoxin poisoning. 

There is hope that modern medicine is making advances in tying emotional and mood disturbances with mold and chemical toxins.  Recent history, although tragic, has provided physicians significant experience treating these toxins.  Catastrophic events like Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy and Andrew combines with recent events are providing patient numbers that have obvious exposure to toxins that were only anomalies to physician practices in the past.