In the isolation and helplessness someone suffering with an environmental illness sometimes experiences, Matthew Hogg has managed to create an uplifting, information-rich online environment that brings hope and illumination to some of life’s most misunderstood and devastating chronic health conditions. To start, I’d like to rattle off some of the health conditions discussed in-depth in the forums, blogs and articles posted to Matt’s website, Environmental Illness Resource or EIR for short: Lyme disease, Candida and gut dysbiosis, Fibromyalgia, Gulf War Illness, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Leaky Gut Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorders, mental and emotional problems, and now, Mold-related Illnesses. The list may look overwhelming, and to some, due to a lack of understanding, like a long list of made-up illnesses with made-up symptoms. But, I personally assure you and the 55,000 + users and viewers of Matt’s website would also assure you, that these illnesses are VERY real, and most are incredibly debilitating and difficult to live with.
So how and why did Matt come to create this site in the first place? Well, for starters, he has his own story of environmentally-triggered illness to tell. It starts in his childhood home.
What follows is Matt telling his personal history, in his own words, of being diagnosed with ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome/) at age eleven:
(Note: Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome is a formally acknowledged disease characterized by extreme and unrelenting fatigue that is made worse by exertion, but does not improve with sleep or rest. Notably, myalgic encephalomyelitis has been recognized as a neurological disorder by the World Health Organization (WHO) since 1969. The encephalitic or brain inflammation features of the disorder can involve the central nervous system, immune system, energy metabolism and stress system. Most suffers have at least four of the following eight symptoms: memory and concentration impairment, sore throat, tender lymph nodes, muscle pain, joint pain, headaches, unrefreshing sleep, and post-exertion malaise. The disease cannot be cured, but in some cases, can be successfully managed. For more information on symptoms, diagnoses, treatment and studies, visit The National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD).)
Matt: I was unlucky enough to be struck down with a chronic illness as severe and life-changing as chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) at the age of just 11 years old. But, was it really just “bad luck” or did environmental factors–specifically toxic mold exposure – play a role? This is something I’ve been considering carefully lately and wish to share with you.
Being just a child at the time, I obviously wasn’t concerned with the “how’s and whys” of what caused this annoying and frustrating illness, or the ramifications it would ultimately have for me and my family. All I wanted was my family doctor to give me some medicine to cure whatever was wrong. He had of course done so many times before for the recurrent ear, nose and throat infections I’d experienced growing up (mold-related themselves perhaps?).
Hindsight suggests to me, at least, that this point in my life has been significant in my life-long battle with chronic illness. I also feel that mold did, without doubt, play a central role. I know now, for example, that my immune system is susceptible to fungal infections—I have suffered from all kinds of such infections, from the common and easily diagnosed (athlete’s foot, jock itch), to the more complex and controversial, e.g. fungal-type gut dysbiosis, commonly referred to as Candida. It has to be said, however, that I have had even the latter tested for and diagnosed by several medical doctors (MDs), who’ve taken a special interest in Environmental Medicine. Both blood and urine tests have shown me to have abnormally high levels of ethanol (drinking alcohol) and sugars, such as arabinose (only produced by Candida and other yeast), which in the absence of drinking (I’m tee total!) could only have come from an overgrowth of yeast/fungus in my gut.
When we talk about yeast and fungus of course, we are essentially talking about mold – that’s right, I have a moldy gut – and no, the symptoms are not pleasant! Imagine suffering a constant hangover without having the fun beforehand, and throw in IBS-type abdominal and stress-related symptoms and you’re getting somewhere close. For those interested, or perhaps who feel they have similar issues, the current gold standard test for GI yeast/fungal overgrowth is a urine test such as the Organix Dysbiosis Profile (Urine) provided by Genova Diagnostics.
Anyway, back to those childhood days! Surely I’d be back riding my BMX bike on the street and playing on the school football team with my friends in no time? Right?
Ah, the innocent naivety of youth! Unfortunately, for my young self, things didn’t quite pan out that way! Despite pushing myself to go to school and take part in classes, physical education and sports team practices- as I loved them all – this simply wasn’t sustainable. Ultimately, despite excelling academically until I was 16 years old, my grades started to drop. I was too tired and sick to play on any sports teams or to hang out with friends. Although I managed to secure a place at a top University in the UK, I would have to drop out after just two semesters of the first year, completely exhausted. To crush my self-esteem even further, nobody would employ me after finding I left University on medical grounds, and my social life, which was once so vibrant, virtually disappeared. I ended up spending the next three years essentially bed bound at my family’s home. I have never to this day had regular employment … in time, I had to create my own job (The Environmental Illness Resource)!
Of course, there is the flip-side to this seemingly negative spiral, which is what I try to bring out in my writing on my website, particularly in the blog, in which, at times, I am very personal and open about my experiences. I feel my illness has actually been the making of me and really feel, on a deep level, that helping others manage and overcome ME/CFS, mold-related illness, and so many other ‘Invisible Illnesses’ is my true calling in life. I now have a degree in Nutritional Medicine, (among other “helping” qualifications) and the EiR website has been 10+ years in the making and stands as a beacon of help and hope to many thousands of people every month. My writing for the site has even been cited in multiple published books, and I’ve been featured personally in newspapers, online media, and even TV and radio internationally!
Now, at age 37, and somewhat wiser and more knowledgeable(!), I can look back at the time in my childhood where this story began with the aim of identifying factors that contributed to the ill-health that shaped my entire adolescence and now adult life.
As is typical with ME/CFS my chronic struggle with it began following a stubborn viral infection, hence it alternatively being dubbed “post-viral fatigue syndrome.”
What has become clear, as I look back with hindsight, though, is that another disease-causing, toxic and insidious organism was very likely to have played a role by weakening my immune system and making me susceptible to the viral infection in the first place; of course… you’ve got it – I’m talking about mold!
Now, in case you’re thinking, “Where’s he plucked that idea from?” Or maybe, “This guy’s just jumping on the latest bandwagon!”- let me fill you in on some key information from my childhood and history that could link my onset of chronic fatigue syndrome to mold:
Firstly, I grew up in a house built in the 1930s on land that was previously marshland – not a good start. If you want to keep a house dry and free from dampness and mold growth, the last place you’d want to build it is on wetlands where birds such as cranes and herons go to fish!
It’s also reasonably safe to say 1930s houses would not have been designed and built with damp-proofing as a priority and there certainly wouldn’t have been any consideration of mold-proofing beyond cosmetic considerations. I’m pretty sure nobody laying the bricks was thinking about fungal spores and what they might do to a young boy’s health when he breathed them in fifty years later…
Where I grew up was cold and wet for half of the year. My bedroom window was metal-framed, and significantly, only single-glazed. Every morning I’d wake up and not be able to see outside for the condensation, not to mention there would be water pooled on the window sill. (It’s important to note here that the most common reason for condensation on the interior side of a window is a high level of humidity indoors. When the temperature outside drops, and there is warmth and high levels of humidity inside the house, condensation forms on the interior side of the widow. It is also important to note that if the condensation indoors on the windows is significant, there may also be moisture trapped inside the walls of the home. In terms of mold prevention, excess water anywhere indoors is bad news.) Our house was always kept clean by my parents, but we lived in a temperate climate, so indoor temperatures were always higher than those outdoors in winter – hence the condensation. I do remember seeing black mold around the windows in those years before I became sick. Just imagine the number of toxic mold spores I was potentially inhaling while I slept every night – enough to give you nightmares, right?
In hindsight, I could go on thinking of things about my childhood house, such as a leaking flat roof to part of the property, that made it a breeding ground for mold – but truthfully, it’s starting to make me feel bad for my parents, who obviously thought they were giving us the perfect family home!
Aside from the moisture issues, there remains something I’ve yet to tell you that has really forced me to reassess things and to consider mold as at least a significant contributor, if not a direct cause, of my developing chronic fatigue syndrome.
The fact is I was not the only one to develop ME/CFS in this story. Not the only one in my family. Not the only one on our street. Not the only one in neighboring streets. And not the only one in our ‘marshland neighborhood’ as a whole!
Aside from myself, both my mother and sister were diagnosed with ME/CFS shortly after I was, so was our neighbor next door, and so were at least half a dozen people who lived on adjoining streets and cul-de-sacs over the years (that we know of); undoubtedly, there are many more we don’t know of than we do.
Although some of us can pinpoint the “start” of our ME/CFS to viral infections, an equal number had no such infections. Based on what we know, the sole common denominator would appear to be our shared environment, rife with dampness and mold growth. For me, it may have been fun to play in the remaining areas of marsh, adventuring and going home with newts and tadpoles as a kid, but I’m convinced that although we lived in a nice neighborhood, the houses were plagued by mold – and, as a result, a large proportion of residents developed a mold-related illness: chronic fatigue syndrome.
Matt’s story is pretty powerful, and I’m sure, hits home for some of you, right? It definitely does for me. Knowing what I know now, when I look back on our time living in the mold-infested home, and I think about all of the health conditions I was experiencing, not to mention what my husband and son were going through, it is hard not to see that most, if not all of our ailments were being triggered by our harmful environment. Thank goodness we got the help and information we needed, before the damage done to our health was more permanent. Thank goodness, also, that Matt has been able to do the same and has turned his experience and knowledge into a place of hope and information on his Environmental Illness Resource site.
Since making the potential connection between the mold and persistent moisture in his childhood home with the onset of his chronic fatigue syndrome, Matt has been working to bring as much information about mold-related illness, its causes, symptoms, treatments and reader forums to his site as well. Our connection actually started, because of his curiosity about the efficacy of some of the body-focused products created by MicroBalance for the treatment of fungal-related illnesses. He is now a user and an advocate of the products, especially the CitriDrops Nasal Spray and the Sinus Defense sublingual spray to help aid in his symptom management.
I encourage you to check out Matt’s website, as so many environmentally-triggered illnesses are connected. It has been my experience that many times when a person acquires or is diagnosed with one, they also have symptoms and flare-ups of another. A good example of this is my son. First and foremost, his immune system was taken out by the mold, but at the same time, he was also exhibiting behavior and socialization issues similar to children diagnosed as on the Autism spectrum. Eliminating the mold, and then detoxing his body and diet brought him back to normal both physically and behaviorally. The connection was pretty undeniable, in my opinion. Thus, I hope that with learning about some of the other environmental illnesses, you may further understand any health issues you may already be battling due to mold.