“Research has increasingly shown that toxic mold is much more dangerous than was previously recognized.”
A recent University of Texas study on 10,000 participants provided the following quote: “…I just moved into a new house and feel no joy in life…” As practitioners, we don’t usually think of mold – a billion-year-old life form – triggering these frustrations or symptoms. But when questioned further, the patient also complained of insomnia, headache, memory loss, and fatigue. It’s at this point that the probability of mold toxicity contributing to this patient’s depression becomes highly likely.
Scientists have discovered more than 300,000 strains of mold on the planet. The field of medicine was revolutionized some 200 years ago when antibiotics were accidentally discovered by a Scottish scientist growing mold in his bacterial laden petri dish. As modern medicine has since learned, the basis of many antibiotics, including penicillin, is mold.
But what happens when a friendly bacteria or fungi becomes foe?
Mold Exposure: The Who, What, Where, and How
The toxic compounds produced by molds are called mycotoxins, which can easily become airborne, and then inhaled, ingested, or touched. If exposure is prolonged, then a gradual but insidious array of symptoms can occur. Biotoxins, which are related to mycotoxins, are not naturally produced in the human body. They are exogenous (originating outside the body), but generated by molds under certain conditions.
Mold thrives in warm and moist environments. Water-damaged buildings may harbor mycotoxins behind walls, windowsills and in basements. All structures are susceptible to mold: homes, offices, schools and the local gym. Even cars can be contaminated with unclean air conditioner systems.
Scientists studying mold theorize that one quarter of the population does not detox mold properly due to specific genes that impact a body’s immune response. For example, an entire family could be living in the same house with mold growth, but only one family member will become ill – the one with the genetic vulnerability.
Recognizing Mold-Related Mental Illness
Health changes due to mold exposure can present a variety of symptoms with progressing severity. Patients may see multiple specialists, yet find few answers, and even family members may dismiss their complaints. Patients can continue to suffer and many fall into despair with inadequate treatments and misdiagnoses. Worse yet, standard tests do not reveal mold illness, so most psychiatrists are oblivious to this increasingly common contributor to mental illness.
With the functional medicine training we provide at Psychiatry Redefined, practitioners are trained in how to recognize the psychiatric and neurological symptoms of toxic mycotoxin illness. Functional testing, such as the organic acid test, can indicate mycotoxin illness, as well as testing for common markers of immune reactivity. With laboratories creating new, and more precise and affordable tests and testing methods, like mycotoxin urinary tests, more accurate results are destined to revolutionize patient diagnoses.
Mechanisms of Interaction
It’s crucial to understand how mycotoxins impair the central nervous system and disrupt the blood brain barrier. Mycotoxins can trigger an inflammatory response and interfere with the normal functioning of neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that transmit signals between nerve cells all over the body. These toxins and their related inflammation can cause a biological reaction in the central nervous system, called oxidative stress, leading to cell and neuron damage.
Mycotoxin illness can be exacerbated by infections that suppress the immune system, and thus contribute to an even greater intolerance and allergic response to other environmental chemicals. Symptoms of mycotoxin illness can include fatigue, persistent headaches, weakness, rash, mood changes, musculoskeletal pain, gastrointestinal and respiratory problems, as well as difficulties with attention and concentration often described by patients as “brain fog.” Severe neurological illness can also manifest, with tremors and seizure-like activity, acute disassociated episodes, even psychosis.
Without knowledge of mycotoxins and various chemical exposures, all these symptoms are often lumped together into “medically unexplained symptoms” by specialists and primary care providers who don’t test for or can’t pinpoint root causes.
Treating Mold-Related Mental Illness
Training in integrative psychiatry can help practitioners gain the skills and protocols necessary for examining all possible root causes of mental illness. By blending integrative care with complementary therapies, such as using micronutrients to rebalance the nervous system, patients can detox from mycotoxins successfully.
Although remediation of toxic mold from homes is often the first course of action, studies show that this is only about 30% effective. Most often, residents are forced to relocate to a new, mold-free home–and throw away any personal items that might be contaminated with mold. The emotional toll of this endeavor is enormous, and awareness and education on mold toxicity is necessary for residents, patients, and practitioners.
The Future of Mold, Mental Health, and Psychiatry
Given the current stats on climate change, risk of floods and severe storms resulting in water damage is growing and nearly certain. Currently in the United States some 15 million homes are in flood risk zones, although this is a gross underestimation, as it captures only those homeowners with flood insurance.
Likewise, the likelihood of mold mycotoxin illness resulting in and/or triggering psychiatric symptoms is similarly underestimated. While we don’t have accurate reports on the number of patients with mold toxicity disorders, the clinical evidence suggests it is more common than previously recognized. The aforementioned study at the University of Texas found that nearly 30% of their participants had chemical sensitivity related to mold.
This is one of the primary reasons we believe in functional, personalized medicine training at Psychiatry Redefined. Traditional psychiatry has been slow to adopt precision medicine and functional testing models, yet educating mental health providers on environmental toxins, infections, and inflammation is an absolutely essential part of effective mental health care. We believe a transformation in the field of psychiatry begins with providing the latest data, testing methodologies, and functional strategies to help our trainees formulate precise, personalized treatment for mental illness.
If you’re ready to join this movement, we encourage you to enroll in our flagship training, the Fellowship in Functional & Integrative Psychiatry. This popular training includes over 300+ hours of research-backed curriculum on how to treat the root causes of mental illness. It’s the best value for busy clinicians who want to enhance their practice with science-backed protocols to deliver real patient wellness, particularly for drug-resistant patients. Our goal is to provide comprehensive training to as many clinicians as possible – and positively transform as many patient lives as possible with whole-person care. Learn more about the Fellowship and save $500 when you enroll at the early bird rate today!