Mold Exposure & Autoimmune Disease
Did you know there was a 400% increase in autoimmune disease in occupants of water-damaged buildings exposed to mold?
A Finnish study looked at 2 cohorts either working or living in mold-infested buildings and tracked their medical records, comparing them with the general population in those areas.
36.6% of people chronically exposure to toxic mold experienced different types of autoimmune conditions, including extremely rare syndromes like body myositis and neurosarcoidosis. The average incidence of these diseases being 1:1,000,000 and 1:500,000.
Other noted autoimmune disease in the cohorts include psoriasis, fibromyalgia, crohn’s, and sjogren’s.
It is worth noting that studies examining the gut microbiota in autoimmune disease, especially IBD, in comparison to healthy individuals reveals a prominence fungal dysbiosis in those with autoimmune disease.
Hypothyroidism or goiter was diagnosed in 20% of the occupants of these mold-damaged buildings, suggesting an increased prevalence of 340%.
As we dive deeper into the study, we see a myriad of other conditions and symptoms associated with mold exposure. These include eye irritation, asthma, chronic sinusitis, allergic rhinitis, skin irritations, chronic fatigue, sleep apnea, migraines, and cognitive symptoms such as difficulties concentrating, memory problems, depression, etc.
Perhaps even more concerning is the apparent link to malignancies. In the studied cohorts, there was a noted 600% increase in the incidence of breast cancer as well as notable increases in incidence of lymphoma and lung cancer in non-smokers.
In these buildings, several mold species were discovered, including Paecilomyces, Exophiala, Penicillium, Aspergillus peniccilliodes/ restrictus, Aspergillus fumigated, Tritirachium and Paecilomces species, all above the acceptable cutoff values of 96-194 cfu/g).
The data suggests that occupying an infested building for even 2-3 years (either a home, work or school) can seriously impair the well-being of potentially healthy individuals, even to the extent of loss of life. One student at the infested school died from pneumonia, two died from lymphoma, one teacher died of lung cancer and one young, previously healthy instructor succumbed to sepsis.
The specific pathology of these health concerns as it relates to exposure to mold toxins is inconclusive and requires more research. However, at this point, studies suggest that mold toxins may impair the immune system or other organs in many ways. They can either overwhelm the immune system, causing autoimmunity, or they can create immunodeficiency, leading to an inability to combat clones of malignant cells and making the individual liable to suffer infections that may be fatal, as in the referred to incidence of sepsis in one cohort.
It has been proven that mold toxins and structural components of bacteria and fungi present in moisture-damaged buildings can exert synergic pro-inflammatory interactions. Some peptide toxins may trigger immunotoxicity and exert growth inhibitory effects in mammalian cells.
The anti-immune strategies mounted by pathogenic fungi have been well documented. Fungi have developed many complex mechanisms for evading attack by the host’s immune system. For example, some components of the molds and bacteria can activate a structure called inflammasome, creating inflammation in the cells, while other components may hamper immunize cell activation or even destroy immune competent cells, such as NK or T-lymphocytes. The Aspergillus species, present in both water-damaged buildings presented in this study, can inhibit the function of dendritic cells; these are crucial cells in immune defence as they first recognize and then present foreign molecules to the host’s secondary immune defence system.
Mycotoxins, some of which are so potent that they are used in biological ware fare, are the secondary metabolites generated by micro fungi that can elicit disease and death in humans and other mammals. These include the following:
These are cytotoxic compounds that can disrupt mitochondrial enzymatic functions, depriving tissues of energy. This may be the mechanism behind the increased prevalence of chronic fatigue. This mitochondrial dysfunction may also be leading to impaired thyroid function, seeing as the thyroid, pancreas and heart are all organs that require high energy production in order to function properly.
The cytotoxic and modulatory effects of mycotoxins on human breast cells have also been recently documented and may be associated with the increased incidence of breast cancer in these cohorts.
Unfortunately, moisture-damaged buildings are not the only exposure that we get to these toxic molds. Exposure can occur via dietary, respiratory and dermal routes. For example, grains, legumes, corn, nuts and coffee frequently contain high levels of mycotoxins due to poor regulation of acceptable levels. I would recommend limiting those foods and/or sourcing them carefully if you think that you have developed mold sensitivity.
Some signs that mycotoxins may be present include:
Construction materials with high cellulose content like gypsum board, ceiling tiles, wood fibre boards and even air conditioning vents are most susceptible to growing mold.
Energy efficient “tight buildings” are also implicated due to inadequate ventilation.
Unfortunately, the main-stream medical community has yet to accept mold toxicity as a potential root cause for theses symptoms and syndromes. However, many naturopathic doctors are now testing for and treating mold toxicity, at least in Canada.
If you are concerned that this may be affecting you or someone you love, I recommend you reach out to a naturopath for testing and work closely with both a naturopath and nutritionist to try to combat the effects and restore your immune system & mitochondrial function.
I would love to hear in the comments below if you or a loved one have any personal experience with mold toxicity and what that journey has been like for you. I think the more we talk about these things and raise awareness the more seriously these concerns need to be taken by the greater medical community and by the general public!
Your story has power!
Kisses & kombucha,
Bennett, J W, and M Klich. “Mycotoxins.” Clinical Microbiology Reviews, American Society for Microbiology, July 2003, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC164220/.
Douwes, Jeroen. “Building Dampness and Its Effect on Indoor Exposure to Biological and Non-Biological Pollutants.” WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Dampness and Mould., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Jan. 1970, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK143945/.
Liguori, Giuseppina, et al. “Fungal Dysbiosis in Mucosa-Associated Microbiota of Crohn's Disease Patients.” Journal of Crohn's & Colitis, Oxford University Press, Mar. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26574491.
Tuuminen, Tamara, and Kyösti Sakari Rinne. “Severe Sequelae to Mold-Related Illness as Demonstrated in Two Finnish Cohorts.” Frontiers in Immunology, Frontiers Media S.A., 3 Apr. 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5377931/.