Environmental Mold: Confronting This Fuzzy Fungi Before It Gets the Best of You

AVFCA mold

EDITOR’S SUMMARY: You may know mold when you see and smell it—black and green splattered colorings of who knows what—and its musty scent that permeates from hidden corners straight into your nostrils. If it’s in your home, panicking is an understandable initial response. But what about “out of sight, out of mind?” When mold isn’t apparent, its toxicity can be hard to accept as the cause of your ill health symptoms, and therefore easy to bypass when searching for the instigator. Prevention, and proactive steps for remediation are called for when dealing with this vicious substance.


Written by Jennifer Wolff-Gillispie HWP, LC
Edited by Nicki Steinberger, Ph.D.


Molds live everywhere in your environment. Most of the time you live in harmony with these spores, and they can actually be beneficial in certain situations. Sometimes, however, your nose detects a mildew, damp odor that sets off your inner alarms. This may coincide with a marked change for the worse in your physical and/or mental health, and begs the question—do I have toxic mold in my house?


Mold Toxicity: True Life Stories

Raquel, Victor, Ariella, and Zia: Raquel Donate and Victor Talha lived in Florida, a state that is notorious for high humidity and water damage from natural disasters. Unbeknownst to them when they moved into their apartment, their lives would take a turn for the worse. 


Their first born daughter, Ariella, was irreversibly injured, having sustained brain damage and paralysis in July 2014, at four months old. Needing to be placed on a ventilator and a feeding tube, the young couple were caring for their fragile daughter around the clock. In August 2016, they welcomed a second daughter, Zia, but soon realized something was terribly wrong.


Victor began feeling ill, and was soon hospitalized and treated for kidney failure via dialysis. Both of their girls’ health were rapidly declining. In and out of the hospital, baby Zia was eventually placed on a ventilator, received blood transfusions, and went into kidney failure. Raquel was not feeling well, but was spared severe symptoms, and poured herself into finding out what the heck was going on with her family—the hospitals and staff doctors had no idea. 


The family suspected mold, due to a previous tenant revealing that the landlord had a history of not correcting the problem. He would simply clean the surfaces and rent to the next tenant. Terrified, they brought in a specialist  to examine the home, and toxic, deadly mold strains of Penicillium, Curvularia, Cladosporium, and Chaetomium were found


With her husband and daughters in and out of the hospital, and needing to care for them herself, Raquel appealed to their landlord to fix the problem, and was soon evicted. While Victor was in the hospital, an outside medical doctor came in to consult with the family, and was able to conclude that toxic mold had made them sick. 


Victor and Raquel eventually found a safe home, and did everything in their power to detoxify. But with Ariella’s weakened state, Zia in and out of the hospital, and Victor in kidney failure on dialysis, the damage from the mold was already done. Older sister, Ariella, passed away on August 24, 2016. Baby Zia passed away August 12, 2018, and daddy, Victor, passed away on August  27, 2021.


Gina Lopez: Lurking in the crevices, toxic mold in your home or work place can be easily missed. You may not see it or smell it—invisible. In many instances, as was the case for Gina Lopez, a woman living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, your doctor may not be well-versed in the suffering it can cause you. 


Don’t be afraid to educate your doctor on the connection between toxic molds and illness; raising the issue is enough to get the conversation started, and begin investigating in this direction.


Similar to Victor and Raquel’s children, Gina’s kids became ill too. While Gina suffered from “chronic headaches, mood swings, severe depression, red eyes, severe abdominal pain, many allergies, sinus issues, and  asthma, her children developed asthma, rashes, and severe reactions to mosquito bites.”


During a 2013 interview, Gina had this to say about mold finally being identified as the cause of her and her children’s poor health:


“April 25, 2013…nearly six years later [after initial symptoms] identified mold as the cause of sickness.


The only reason I began investigating this further was that my friends told me to look into this as the cause because they witnessed my condition getting worse and worse. My friends watched me transform from an able-bodied woman with a good job, to not being able to work at all, to barely being able to function.


I am 41 years old and should not be this sick. Yet, not one Doctor even considered that the air quality or toxic mold could be making me sick. Literally, my brain was shutting down because of a lack of oxygen, I had bad tremors, could not walk, was stuttering, and lost most of the strength in my right hand because part of my brain is now damaged.”


Gina ordered a self-test kit and the results were not good. Upon request, her landlord provided a professional mold inspection. “The tests were positive for high levels of Toxigenic molds, including Stachybotrys (black moldAspergillus, and Penicillium.” 


Ellen Lovelace: Toxicity from mold exposure is often the last stone turned. “Not me; not my house,” people echo. Symptoms may start with nausea or brain fog, like they did for Ellen, a Holistic Nutritionist living in California. An obvious first step when feeling so poorly is to explore your diet. Unfortunately, nutritional changes, seeing multiple doctors, and taking test after test can lead to a big, fat nothing. Infuriating. Frightening.


This is what Ellen voiced about her disbelief in mold being the culprit in “My Mold Story”:


“When my doctor suggested mold testing, I thought she had to be wrong. I have lived in the same home for 20 years, in a hot sunny part of California. My husband, an electrician, had crawled all over our house/attic/basement and definitively said there was no mold or water damage. And, in 2017, I had run an ERMI mold test of my home that showed no high levels and was considered “normal.”


Yet, my urinary mycotoxin test came back with high levels of a few different mycotoxins, the poisons that molds emit. Very specific blood panels (for markers I had never even heard of!) showed extreme inflammation and immune activation that occurs as a result from mold exposure.


Specific genetic testing showed that I have a genetic makeup that only a very small percentage of people have, that renders them highly susceptible to mold toxins. I was diagnosed with CIRS–Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome–as a result of exposure to mold toxins. Having an answer, as anyone who has had a mysterious chronic illness knows, was an enormous relief. Finally, there was an explanation for how I felt! Not to mention, there was something to DO.”


AVFCA Black mold

Toxic black mold under wallpaper

Molds: How They Work

If you’ve ever had a damaged, leaking roof, burst pipe, or flooding from a natural disaster, it may be obvious to you that mold damage can be a problem. On the other hand, pin-hole leaks in the pipes in your walls, and underground or small undetected water intrusions around windows and doors, as well as growths underneath wallpaper, may be less clear-cut and pose a risk.


From “Moulds “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”:


“Moulds (molds) are part of a larger family of organisms known as fungi. Some fungi are multi-cellular, and some are uni-cellular, the single cellular varieties are known as yeasts. By contrast, due to their size and method of reproduction, moulds are classified as microbes, despite the fact that they are in fact multicellular filamentous organisms. These filaments known as ‘hyphae’ and grow into a colony which is a network of branching filaments called a ‘mycelium’ and when such a colony grows large enough, it becomes visible to the human eye.


Like all fungi, moulds require sufficient moisture to grow and they do not derive their energy and sustenance for life by photosynthesis but instead by digesting the organic materials upon which they live. They accomplish this by secreting enzymes which can dissolve organic materials into simpler substances that can then be readily absorbed into the mycelium for digestion. Therefore, fungi, moulds and yeasts play a pivotal role in the decomposition and the recycling of organic nutrients throughout our ecosystem.


All moulds reproduce by creating large numbers of spores which can easily be transmitted by air currents or from the surface to surface by cross-contamination. Once a spore lands on a surface that has sufficient moisture and organic material for its needs, it will germinate and grow prolifically and rapidly reaching maturity and creating millions of more spores to spread further.”


Within 48 hours of water reaching a surface that is a food source for mold, spores that were dormant on the surface or were carried inside, will begin feeding on the damp materials. These materials include cellulose (from wood and wood products), drywall, wallpaper, fabric, and soil. Mold can also colonize non-organic surfaces like metal, concrete, or paint if a layer of organic material is present. When certain molds colonize, they produce toxic, chemical substances called mycotoxins.


Mycotoxins are believed to be related to how mold prepares the surface (food source) for digestion, but have also been found to be an act of defense (against other molds), or produced because they were under environmental pressure. Listed below are some of the most dangerous molds (and the mycotoxins they produce): 


  • Aspergillus (strains: flavus, fumigatus, veriscolor) 
  • Chaetomium globosum 
  • Penicillium (strains: brevicompactum, chysogenum, citrinum, corylophilum, cyclopium, expansum, fellutanum, spinulosum, viridicatum) 
  • Stachybotrys chartarum (black mold)
  • Cladosporium 
  • Fusarium  
  • Trichoderma viride 


You’ve likely heard of toxic “black mold” which is the strain, Stachybotrys chartarum. Although it does present greenish-black in most cases, it can also look white or pink. Other toxic mold species can be blue, green, yellow, orange, brown, black, or gray, making them hard to distinguish from non-toxic varieties by the naked eye alone. To know for sure what you are dealing with, a proper mold test can be done in your home. 


Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), “Chapter 1: An introduction to mycotoxins: What are mycotoxins?” published this:


“…”Wailing and writhing men collapsed in the street: others fell over and foamed in epileptic fits whilst some vomited and showed signs of insanity. Many of them shouted “Fire! I’m burning”. It was an invisible fire that separated the flesh from the bones and consumed it. Men, women and children died in unbearable agonising pain.”…


These are the words used by a tenth century chronicler to describe a disease which affected many parts of Europe in 943 AD. The disease became known as ‘St Anthony’s fire’ because of the burning sensation experienced by the victims, many of whom visited the shrine of St Anthony in France in the hope of being cured. 


We now know that St Anthony’s Fire (ergotism) was caused by the consumption of rye contaminated with the ‘ergot alkaloids,’ produced by the mould Claviceps purpurea (Bove, 1970; Beardall and Miller, 1994), and that it reached epidemic proportions in many parts of Europe in the tenth century. Toxic secondary metabolites, such as the ergot alkaloids, which are produced by certain moulds are described as ‘mycotoxins’, and the diseases they cause are called ‘mycotoxicoses’.”


It has been well-documented that many people experience mild to severe symptoms associated with mold/mycotoxin infection. Depending on your unique set of preexisting medical conditions and genetic composition, if you experience mold toxicity, the symptoms will be highly individual to you. People with certain genetic variants (Ex: TNF-alpha) will have high inflammatory/cytokine responses to toxins resulting in adverse symptoms.


From the article, “The HLA Gene and How It’s Affecting 25% of Us”:


 “Up until now, it’s been set up that generally 25% of the population is a carrier (and sufferer) of the HLA-DR gene. That is more than 80 million individuals in the United States. Hereditary investigations on specific populations currently propose that the genuine number could be anywhere in the range of 40% and 60% around the world!


Carriers of the HLA-DR (human leukocyte antigen) gene are prone to develop chronic health issues involving systemic inflammation, whether the cause is mold, Lyme disease, other tick borne illnesses, gluten, or countless other catalysts. HLA-DR makes a person helpless against biotoxin sickness, it additionally makes detoxification very difficult.”


Keep in mind that your genetics are only one piece of the puzzle. Your lifestyle choices may be just as influential on your health, if not more. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has this to say about your personal influence over your health:


“Your genes play an important role in your health, but so do your behaviors and environment, such as what you eat and how physically active you are. Epigenetics is the study of how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work. Unlike genetic changes, epigenetic changes are reversible and do not change your DNA sequence, but they can change how your body reads a DNA sequence.”


Below is a non-exhaustive list of some of the most common symptoms and illnesses connected to mold exposure:


  • Brain fog 
  • Fatigue 
  • Memory loss 
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain 
  • Insulin resistance 
  • Mood disorders 
  • Problems sleeping 
  • Joint pain 
  • Tingling or numbness in extremities 
  • Food sensitivities 
  • Eczema/psoriasis 
  • Asthma 
  • Migraines/headaches 
  • Allergy-like symptoms  
  • Irregular periods 


In addition, if you are immunocompromised or ill, and fall victim to toxic mold exposure, it is possible to experience autoimmune disorders, hypertension, cardiac arrhythmia, COPD, ADHD, vomiting, jaundice, convulsions, organ damage, and death.


A study by Professor Nadya Markova from the Institute of Microbiology at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences concluded


“There appears to be actual mold, not just their toxins, in the blood of individuals with autism (and to be honest, many, many other conditions most likely as well). No wonder we see cytokine elevations, oxidative stress, neuro-inflammation, auto-immune (PANS) conditions, immunosuppression and gut problems in many individuals affected with autism.”


AVFCA mycotoxins

Toxic black mold on ceiling

The Decision To Be Proactive

If you have a pre-existing condition, or carry a genetic mutation that makes you susceptible to acquiring any of the above conditions through mold exposure, hope is not lost. The most powerful thing you can do is arm yourself with accurate information, and take the steps you need to guard your health. 


J.J. Virgin, certified Holistic Nutritionist, interviewed air-quality expert, Michael Rubino, author of “The Mold Medic: An Expert’s Guide on Mold Removal.” During the discussion they brought up valuable points on what to do if you suspect a mold problem in your home


  • Leave your house for an extended period of time (or move), and assess if your symptoms get better or worse.
  • Check for obvious signs or water intrusion or high humidity.
  • Have your home tested for mold. Conventional mold “air-quality” testing only confirms mold within a 3 foot radius of where the test was conducted. ERMI testing (do-it-yourself PCR test that checks the DNA of mold spores from all around your home) is more accurate.
  • If mold is detected on surfaces, it is important to professionally remediate, and clean all affected areas that have potential contamination—toxins and mold bind to dust. Couches, carpets, and other belongings that can not be thoroughly cleaned or disinfected should be thrown away
  • Consult Dr. Jill’s “Mold Removal Guide.” Items conventionally used to disinfect an area with mold, such as bleach or vinegar, may kill the mold but the mycotoxins will remain. Additionally, these products do not remove the dead mold. Instead, use Borax which is alkaline and creates an “inhospitable” environment for mold. You can also use a product such as Concrobium or EC3 Mold Solution.


AVFCA Indoor Air


If you suspect your health is failing due to toxic mold/mycotoxin exposure, here are some things to consider:


  • Make sure your detox pathways are open and functioning properly. If you cannot pee, poop or sweat normally, you will have a difficult time detoxifying. Saunas are helpful to accelerate this process. 
  • If you cannot rid your body of these toxins, they will become stored in your fat cells. 
  • Support your liver for better detoxification: From Jannell Baez, MS, RDN, LD/N, Detoxification of the Body Through Nutrition”:

“The liver is where most chemicals are processed for them to be eliminated from the body. This process is comprised of 2 phases, Phase I and Phase II… Phase I is dependent on adequate B vitamins such as Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Niacin (Vitamin B3), Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6), Folic Acid, Vitamin B12 and branched-chain amino acids Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. After Phase I, the toxins are highly unstable and must undergo conjugation in Phase II.


Antioxidants help keep these molecules stable until they are conjugated in Phase II for elimination. Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E/tocopherols, selenium, copper, zinc, manganese, CoQ10 and other phytochemicals are necessary to stabilize the intermediate metabolite between phase I and II to continue the detoxification process. Once the metabolite enters Phase II (conjugation), sufficient protein is needed to continue the conjugation process. Amino acids such as glycine, taurine, glutamine, ornithine and arginine are attached to the toxin and made water-soluble for excretion.  It is important to make sure you have adequate protein, vitamin and mineral intake for the liver to efficiently detoxify the many toxins we are exposed to.”


  • Mold toxicity is just one component of the total “environmental load.” Reduce or eliminate all potential sources from your diet (grains, corn, peanuts, coffee, chocolate, wine, and cheese all have high mycotoxin potential). Foods heavily sprayed with herbicides, pesticides and other processed foods can be detrimental. Air fresheners, body care products and detergents/cleaners contain toxic chemicals unless you choose “natural,” organic versions. Even new furniture and building materials (paint, carpet, flooring) can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air
  • Test yourself for mold/mycotoxin exposure. Although the testing and associated data is limited, there are tests you can take to help determine the cause of your symptoms. Urine mycotoxin tests detect the levels of mold metabolites in your urine. Some urine tests also measure immune response. Serum (blood) mycotoxin tests measure anti-mold antibodies. Visual Contrast Sensitivity Testing (VCST) measures neurological function from exposure to mycotoxins and biotoxins. 


Help yourself to a visual resource by watching the film,Moldy Movie,” produced by Bulletproof Coffee founder Dave Asprey. He discovered he had toxic mold exposure as a young adult when he could not lose weight. He went on to start his coffee business after learning how mold and mycotoxins plagued the food supply, especially coffee.


A valuable takeaway from the movie is that if you have been sensitized to mold exposure in your home, you’re more likely to become sensitive to fungi, yeasts, and mycotoxins in your food. It is important to eliminate any item that could be triggering a problem for you. Also, dead mold is just as dangerous as live mold.


When mold dies, the cell walls desiccate and break apart. These parts contain the mycotoxins that can become airborne. You can’t kill them, and they will float around your home and land everywhere. Take special precaution when your home is being remediated.


Navigating the road to protecting your health if you suspect toxic mold exposure can be tricky. Taking the time to consult with an integrative practitioner that is trained and knowledgeable regarding this issue can mean the difference between getting the help you need, and running into a dead end.


A functional medicine doctor who treats people with “mold illness” may be the fastest way to determine if you are affected. Taking steps to mitigate the damage to your health is the first step.


 “We can’t heal when we are living inside the problem.” – Michael Rubino




Published on June 15, 2023


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