What is toxic mold – the mycotoxin connection
Toxic mold syndrome has in recent years become a major health concern due to its potential implications in a number of life-altering (or ending) illnesses. Health challenges due to mold and mycotoxins have all the rumblings of a silent epidemic. Unfortunately, the topic of mold and mycotoxins is extremely complex, technical, and incomplete, leading to a delay in our ability to have a comprehensive understanding about mold and mycotoxins’ effects on our health.
There are certain mold species that are extremely detrimental to our health. These molds are called “toxigenic.” Toxigenic molds (can) produce mycotoxins, which are toxic substances that increase inflammatory processes such as asthma, gastro-intestinal issues, mental health problems such as depression, and a number of other diseases.
Two of the primary types of toxigenic molds are:
Both of these molds above strongly correlate to Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS), which is a blanket term for a combination of many symptoms that result from chronic, heightened immune response to mold illness. CIRS is a condition that should be taken extremely seriously due to its implications in a whole host of deadly diseases.
Stachybotrys chartarum (black mold)
Stachybotrys chartarum (black mold) is greenish-black in color. It is this mold that sparked the term “sick building syndrome” after making national headline news many times in the 1990’s. Stachybotrys produces a mycotoxin known as ‘trichothecenes’, which is one of the most potent mycotoxins. Of note, trichothecenes are more toxic when inhaled than ingested.
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Exposure to this black mold mycotoxin can cause anything from discomfort (such as malaise) to life threatening complications (such as cancer). Some of the symptoms of exposure to black mold are:
- Tiredness, fatigue, weakness
- Light sensitivity
- Dry eyes, red eyes, teary eyes, or blurry vision
- Sinus problems
- **Word recall issues
- **Memory problems
- **Trouble with focus/concentration and learning
- Abdominal pain
- Excessive thirst
- Metalic taste
(**Reasons why toxic mold illness is sometimes misdiagnosed as mental diseases such as Alzheimer's disease or dementia)
The list goes on, but this should give you an idea of the noxious “flavor” of S. chartarum’s mycotoxins. Poisoning from a black mold (i.e. toxic mold syndrome), is called stachybotrys toxicosis. Just a few complications from stachybotryotoxicosis are:
- Inhibited protein synthesis (creation) 
- Suppressed immune system, which may be responsible for the high toxicity of this mold 
- Lung dysfunction [3, 4]
- Acute bleeding of the lungs (pulmonary hemorrhage) which has a mortality rate of 30%-40% [5, 6, 7]
We are exposed to black mold primarily due to indoor infestations in our homes, schools, work offices, etc. Water damaged buildings (WDB) are especially vulnerable to black mold infections.
The evil Aspergillus mold family
The Aspergillus family of mold is blackish grey in color, and like its friendly cousin S. chartarum, exposure primarily occurs in indoor environments. Aspergillus has a tendency to invade people’s lungs, though it can also invade other areas of your body, such as your sinuses. The symptoms of toxic mold syndrome from Aspergillus are consistent with those of black mold.
Allergic aspergillosis can be an extremely serious health condition. Aspergillosis occurs when people inhale the microscopic spores of Aspergillus, which leads to an immune response in the body (i.e., high fever, asthma attacks, coughing up blood and mucus).
Like its cousin S. chartarum, its mycotoxins are potent too:
- Causes chronic rhinitis (sinus infection), which can spread to facial bones
- Can cause Sepsis (serious condition that leads to organ failure)
- Bleeding of the lungs (pulmonary hemorrhage) 
- Can form an Aspergilloma, which is a “fungus ball” that can grow in your lungs or sinuses 
Both types of toxic mold are so potent that when dealing with these molds, workers use certified gloves, masks, and suits [CDC].
Toxic mold syndrome fact list
Here is a brief overview of considerations for toxic mold illness and physical and mental illness:
- About 25% of people are genetically predisposed to be significantly affected by mold exposure
- Mold exposure is linked to any number of diseases, allergic reactions, and chronic health problems, which are considered under the blanket illness CIRS
- Symptoms of toxic mold syndrome will worsen over time from continued exposure, beginning as general flu like symptoms and becoming more serious over time
- Toxic mold illness can have significant psychological symptoms as well, and is sometimes misdiagnosed as mental disease (i.e., Alzheimer’s, dementia, anxiety disorder, etc.)
- “Toxic molds” would be better referred to by their proper name, toxigenic mold, which means molds that release mycotoxins
- Mycotoxins are metabolites (chemical compounds) that cause anything from annoying health problems (allergies) to disease/death
- Most common reason for mold exposure is through mold infestations in home, work, school, and other regularly visited indoor buildings
- The most common types of toxigenic indoor mold are: Stachybotris, Aspergillus, Penicillium, Chaetomium, Wallemia, Cladosporium, and Alternaria, though there are others as well 
- One of the most common approaches for dealing with toxic mold illness is to remove yourself from the situation (i.e. infected area), and avoid continued exposure at all costs
How toxic mold enters your body
There are several ways that toxic molds enter your body:
- Inhalation – you breathe in spores
- Ingestion – you eat food that has spores or they enter in through a cut or other abrasion
- Absorption – your skin absorbs spores
- Passed in utero
In other words, “exposure” simply means being somewhere where toxic mold exists. In such environments, any of the above “contact points” for exposure are possible.
Where does toxic mold grow
Mold thrives in dark, moist environments. Hence why water damaged buildings (WDB) are so prone to mold. It commonly grows in the following areas:
- Behind wallpaper/sheetrock
- Corners of windowpane
- Under your carpet
- On your mattress
Other places that you are prone to mold exposure are:
- Antique shops
- Construction areas
- Flower shops
- Seasonal cottages
- Jarvis, B. B. 1991. Macrocyclic trichothecenes. Pages 361-421 in: Mycotoxins and Phytoalexins in Human and Animal Health. R. P. Sharma and D. K. Salunkhe, eds. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.
- Jarvis, B., Salemme, J., and Morais, A. 1995. Stachybotrys toxins. 1. Natural Toxins 3:10-16.
- Mason, C. D., Rand, T. G., Oulton, M., Macdonald, J., and Anthes, M. 2001. Effects of Stachybotrys chartarum on surfactant convertase activity in juvenile mice. Toxicol. Appl. Pharmacol. 172:21-28.
- McCrae, K. C., Rand, T., Shaw, R. A., Mason, C., Oulton, M. R., Hastings, C., Cherlet, T., Thliveris, J. A., Mantsch, H. H., MacDonald, J., and Scott, J. E. 2001. Analysis of pulmonary surfactant by Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy following exposure to Stachybotryschartarum (atra) spores. Chem Phys Lipids
- Vesper, S., Dearborn, D. G., Yike, I., Allan, T., Sobolewski, J., Hinkley, S. J., Jarvis, B. B., and Haugland, R. A. 2000. Evaluation of Stachybotrys chartarum in the house of an infant with pulmonary hemorrhage: quantitative assessment before, during and after remediation. J Urban Health: Bull NY Acad. Med 77:68-85.
- Vesper, S. J., Dearborn, D. G., Yike, I., Sorenson, W. G., and Haugland, R. A. 1999. Hemolysis, toxicity, and randomly amplified polymorphic analysis of Stachybotrys chartarum strains. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 65:3175-3181.
- Vesper, S. J., Magnuson, M. L., Dearborn, D. G., Yike, I., and Haugland, R. A. 2001. Initial characterization of the hemolysin Stachylysin from Stachybotrys chartarum. Infect. Immun. 69:912-916.
- Agarwal R, Chakrabarti A, Shah A, Gupta D, Meis JF, Guleria R, et al. Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis: review of literature and proposal of new diagnostic and classification criteria. Clin Exp Allergy. 2013 Aug;43(8):850-73.
- Lee SH, Lee BJ, Jung DY, Kim JH, Sohn DS, Shin JW, et al. Clinical manifestations and treatment outcomes of pulmonary aspergilloma. Korean J Intern Med. 2004 Mar;19(1):38-42
- Shoemaker, RC, Schaller J, Schmidt P. (2005) Mold Warriors: Fighting America’s Hidden Threat. Gateway Press: Baltimore.
Aspergillus photo by Yale Rosen
Where Does Toxic Mold Grow photo by SatemKemet
Mold quiz image by Rachel Souza
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