When Chronic and Mold-Triggered Illness Ignite PTSD Symptoms

By Dr. Susan Tanner, MD

Much has been written about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in war veterans, abuse survivors, and other major trauma situations. Unfortunately, less has been written or even acknowledged about PTSD symptoms in patients who have suffered from chronic medical issues, which includes those affected by mold and mycotoxins. As I write about this topic, I want to emphasize that I myself am a person who was made very sick by mold. Thus, I understand intimately the trauma it can cause. I am not putting all causes of PTSD on the same plane of comparison as to the nature of the trauma, though—I am certain that those who have not endured the horrors of war or abuse can fully understand the level of pain experienced and revisited by survivors. My point in writing this article is not to trivialize PTSD symptoms or to use the term as a catchphrase for all trauma-ignited nervous system reactions. Rather, it is to illuminate the fact that the multiple and sometimes more subtle, continual brain reactivities from chronic illness and toxins can also produce a biochemical and neurological response that is similar to that of other traumatic experience survivors.

Hormones and the Brain

There is a complex relationship between the body’s hormonal systems and the neurological wiring of the brain and central nervous system. While it is beyond the scope of this article to explain this in detail, an overview may help you to realize how and why the physical parts or symptoms of PTSD may happen.PTSD and the brain

One aspect of this is the adrenal gland system. Among many other functions, the adrenal gland produces hormones that aid in the “fight or flight” response. Whenever adrenaline is produced, or the energy and excitability hormones, cortisol is also released as the buffering agent to protect the body against both mental and physical stressors. A problem with chronic stress or illness is that these hormones may stay in a constant switched-on mode without reprieve. If this happens long enough, the normal cut-off mechanisms do not take place, and gradually the body becomes neurologically wired to continue this response even after the situation or illness is no longer present.

The release of cortisol and adrenaline hormones induces the body’s release of stored blood sugar, or glycogen, which, in turn, increases the release of insulin. Then, when insulin/blood sugar fluctuation is constant, myriad downstream effects occur including a lowering of immune function and resistance to illness and disease, increased insulin resistance and weight gain, and the hypoglycemic impacts on mood and energy levels.

Neurotransmitters and Dopamine

Neurologically, with PTSD sufferers, there is increased production and release of neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are part of what tell the brain to focus, to feel better, and to activate. The brain begins to learn that these dopamine and norepinephrine releases cause the body to “feel better” and can begin to crave the releases more and more. Sometimes the cravings to “feel better” can ignite addictive behaviors that can span from caffeine and nicotine to alcohol, drugs, and relationships—anything that brings short-term releases of more dopamine. Obsessional thinking patterns can also occur, such as those that are common in abuse cycles. Gradually the receptor sites in the brain for these neurotransmitters may become damaged or resistant to the momentary surges making the need for a continual supply of dopamine and norepinephrine necessary for proper function. Both physiologic and psychological aspects may assert themselves to keep this frantic process going and the need fulfilled.

The Cycle of PTSD

The manifestations of a brain and nervous system that have become wired for excitability and seeking the “feel good” hormones can take a huge toll both emotionally and physically on a person. Anxiety, rage, depression, and even violence often are the end results. The PTSD sufferer’s emotional outbursts and unpredictability lead to even more social isolation and despair. Then, as isolation and despair set in, the cycle continues.

PTSD, regardless of the cause, is a complicated and serious issue. I am only scratching the surface here with my discussion. My hope is to bring to light at least some of the mechanisms by which PTSD evolves to lessen the shame that some sufferers may feel because of the lack of understanding and their difficulty in controlling it.

PTSD Treatment Methods

While not complete by any means, the following are some thoughts on PTSD treatment modalities:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, has been found to be helpful in gradually rewiring the brain and neurological responses. The continual “loop thinking” which is part of PTSD can be interrupted and other thought patterns substituted. It takes time and a good therapist to do this, studies have shown positive outcomes.


  • EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprogramming) and EFT (emotional freedom technique) are some specific therapies that, for some patients, are helpful in rerouting the neuronal circuits. Some believe that these methods may enhance or speed up the positive outcomes of CBT.


  • Biochemically speaking, I go back to the same three basic, but crucial human needs of clean air, clean water, and clean food for optimal health. Anything you can do that decreases the biological load on the body, like avoiding dirty, mold-laden air, not eating junk foods or those causing rapid rise and fall of blood sugar and cortisol, and not drinking chlorinated, municipally sourced water goes a long way toward general stability. Clean air, food, and water also yield more stable hormones, emotions, and behaviors which, in turn, makes all other therapies and efforts go much further towards positive outcomes.


  • Providing the brain with much needed, and often depleted nutrients is critical for healing. Some supplemental nutrients I recommend are as follows:
  1. Fish oil from purified sources helps reduce inflammation.
  2. Liposomal glutathione can cross the blood brain barrier and replenish the levels of this essential antioxidant which becomes greatly reduced due to the stressors of PTSD.
  3. L tyrosine is an amino acid which can help improve the levels of dopamine/ norepinephrine neurotransmitters.
  4. Phosphatidylcholine, which makes up a huge percentage of the brain tissue itself, can help improve the anatomical abnormalities that occur after the constant bombardment of “faulty” chemistry due to PTSD.

Hope and Healing

The most important thing for you to know is that there is hope, and there is help for anyone suffering with PTSD. No one should feel ashamed or afraid to discuss this issue. Knowledge is power and sharing the need and desire for help opens the doors that give hope to the suffering. There are many resources both online and in person. Please have to courage to help others in need or to take a first step towards one of those resources if you need assistance with your healing.

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