Let me start by saying that if you are struggling with depression and feelings of hopelessness as symptoms of your mold illness, you are not alone. You are not crazy. Depression, anger, fear, feeling trapped, desperate, and helpless are all very real and very well-documented (now) symptoms of mold-related illness.
One of the first and most difficult symptoms of being exposed to mold for me was the sudden onset of anxiety and depression. My anxiety levels soared and my ability to deal with life’s ups and downs plummeted. I went from being a smooth-sailing, up-for-anything, laid-back woman, to an unstable, nervous, neurotic, worried wreck. I would literally worry myself into physical exhaustion, almost feeling haunted by my fears that something was going on in my body that I just didn’t understand and no one could figure out or help me with. It was humiliating to not be able to physically prevail in athletics anymore or depend on my body and depressing to always be or feel sick. I also felt out-of-control and like I was failing as a Mom, because my son was struggling with sensory processing issues and frequent ear infections, and caring for my daughter, a sweet baby girl at the time, left me totally depleted and completely exhausted. I was not in a good place physically or psychologically. And, as many of us do when things seem to be “all in our heads,” we blame ourselves, which makes the problem worse.
What I did not know then that I know now, and that makes all of this easier to write about today is the fact that the mold in my living environment was, indeed, affecting my brain. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of looking at the the total-body inflammatory response that living in a moldy environment can ignite, and the hormonal fallout that can result as equal contributors to the alterations in psychology, brain function and mood. Just as my physical health diminished, my cognitive abilities also diminished. This fact is extremely important to understand, because mold can influence the mind, and as it does so, can thwart the powerful and essential mental piece of believing that you will heal and get well. When you are healing from mold, you cannot afford to mentally give up. Your body may seem like it is failing you, but you can get out of the mold, even if it means leaving everything behind.
I also realize that for many people dealing with mold issues in their homes, the prospect of leaving the home, abandoning possessions and starting over is cause for fear, anxiety, and depression. None of it is easy. But, if I can empower you in your plight with evidence that shows, from a scientific perspective, a little bit more about what is going on neurologically when someone is being chronically exposed to mold, then I want to do that.
I’ll start with the science on mycotoxins, although, I think mycotoxins, inflammation and hormonal damage should get equal billing on what causes the psychological shifts in mold patients:
Not only do we have scientific evidence to prove that mycotoxins penetrate the blood/brain barrier, (Ex. The mold fungus Penicillium crustosum occurs relatively frequently in food and animal fodder stored in temperate conditions. This mold produces powerful neurotoxins, for example penitrem A, which causes symptoms that are difficult to distinguish from those of other neurological diseases. Penitrem A is capable of penetrating the blood-brain barrier and new research has unveiled the mechanisms behind the neurological effects of the toxin ~ Science Daily), but we also now have psychological-specific testing and analysis that illustrates just how severely mold mycotoxins impact the brain’s function, chemical balance, and ability to process information and stimuli. The information gleaned from this testing is so significant and so concrete that it has been allowed in a Federal court case as evidence.
A brief synopsis of the court case I am referring to concerns the commercially available software products NeuroQuant® and NeuroGage® which are able to measure and track brain volume abnormalities in patients with mold-related illness and many other brain disorders. The software provides important objective data which vindicates patients’ subjective reports of many neuropsychiatric symptoms that cause suffering and impair function. In this particular case in April 2016, David E. Ross, M.D., neuropsychiatrist, testified on the neuropsychiatric aspects of mold-related illness which had affected the Federicos, a family in Norfolk, VA, who were alleging that they were made sick by mold in military housing. Dr. Ross included the NeuroQuant® and NeuroGage™ MRI brain volume measurements in his testimony. The results showed a combined pattern of brain enlargement/atrophy similar to that found in two pioneering studies published by Ritchie Shoemaker, M.D. and colleagues. The jury found in favor of the plaintiffs.
It is good news for patients that these software tools may be now recognized as evidence by our court systems. It is also good news that a Federal judge allowed this evidence, because state courts tend to follow the precedent and rulings set by Federal courts. This case is groundbreaking for mold victims, because it proves that mold exposure can cause brain injury. (The NeuroQuant® and NeuroGage® software products had previously only been used in traumatic brain injury-specific litigation for things like concussions, auto accident injuries, etc.)
I realize I am not alone in bringing this topic to light. Even in the beginning of mold illness research and treatment protocols, Dr. Shoemaker talked about research literature showing that trichothecene mold toxins can trigger cytokine responses associated with both depression and ME/CFS. In addition, Dave Asprey talked about his “mold rage” and his inability to have healthy relationships when fungus had control of his body. In Asprey’s movie Moldy (HERE is my post on Asprey and his movie), Dr. Daniel Amen discussed his findings on mold’s effect on the brain and the emotional symptoms that result.
Dr. Amen’s spec scans of a normal brain next to a brain of a person exposed to mold are shocking. The brain of the mold-exposed individual has many holes near the edges and scalloping of the edges. “These holes represent lack of blood flow to those areas of the brain. A similar picture can be seen in those with brain damage from carbon monoxide, alcohol, illegal drugs, Lyme Disease, and heavy metals.”
According to Dr. Amen, “the lack of blood flow can explain a variety of symptoms that many with mold toxicity experience such as depression, anxiety, panic, brain fog, insomnia, fatigue, poor concentration and memory, and bipolar disorder.
Dr. Dennis also found and wrote about in his research and paper that I featured on the blog (read that post HERE) that his patients who were not responding to maximum body therapy and removal of mold from their indoor environments still had mold inside their bodies. This mold, when cultured post surgery was emitting a neurotoxin. Not until the mold was removed surgically, and the patients continued with maximum therapy and mold avoidance, could they fully recover. In other words, the neurotoxin was still “running things” as long as it was still in the body.
But, this is not even really scratching the surface of the multitude of studies, polls and surveys that abound on this subject. More and more doctors, scientists, toxicologists, mental health professionals and naturopathic doctors are grasping the importance of treating and supporting the emotional healing of their mold patients as a crucial part of their recovery. One of my favorite reads on this subject and well worth your time is by psychiatrist Dr. Mary Ackerley. Her article is entitled Brain on Fire: The Role of Toxic Mold in Triggering Psychiatric Symptoms. In it, she discusses her path to treating mold patients in the first place and to helping them heal. I love her frank and open way of stating that many mold patients ended up in her office, because they had been to many other medical doctors about their symptoms and were told that it was all in their heads. Thus, they eventually conceded and ended up in the office of a psychiatrist for help. Here is one excerpt on feelings of hopelessness that really resonated with me, because it helps to put what you are experiencing psychologically as a result of the mold in the same treatment “bucket” as any of the things you are doing to heal your body:
“Everyone can find reasons why their life is worth living. Knowing that something in the brain is causing that problem sometimes really helps people to shrug it off and say, ‘Here come those silly thoughts again. Let me try to figure out what’s going on. Maybe I’m being exposed to mold. Maybe I’m not doing my mold treatments the way that I should be.’”
Dr. Ackerely expounds upon the undeniable link between inflammation in the body and personality shifts, brain fog, depression, psychosis, and psychological disorders. When studied, the brains of patients experiencing some of the most extreme cases of psychiatric symptoms were totally inflamed, because of disease, secondary infections or toxic exposures. She also expresses her concern that more doctors aren’t looking to treat the source or cause of the inflammation that is creating the problem. Mainstream medicine still seems to linger behind, teaching doctors to treat and medicate the symptom instead. This doesn’t work for these patients, because when inflamed, the body and brain balance are so disrupted that it makes the patients treatment resistant and furthers their feelings of hopelessness, rather than alleviates any of the problem.
In her article and another important topic in and of itself is hormone imbalance and mold’s influence on cortisol levels in the body. The mold pathway actually inhibits cortisol. Since we all know how hormones work in unison with brain function, it comes as no surprise that those with mold illness have impaired pituitary function as well. Hormones influence behavior and mood—just observe a teenager, if you need confirmation. Mold messes with hormones and hormone receptors. It blocks things up, mutes things, and makes hormonal levels go haywire. That is why it is important as part of your treatment to have pituitary, thyroid and hormonal support to help re-regulate and stabilize things.
While I could go on forever on the topic, and would love to cover it again, if it interests you (please let me know), the most important things I want to offer in this post are my understanding and compassion for what you are going through, the scientifically proven validation I have mentioned that your psychological symptoms are real and can be treated, and some advice from my own experience about some products and therapies that helped me.
So, what do I have to offer as help? I am not a doctor, naturopathic doctor or medical practitioner of any kind, so please take my advice as that of a friend and nothing more. I just want to share the things that have had a positive impact in my life and that were advised as part of my treatment by my trusted doctor. So, first, before I mention anything else, please do what you need to do to find your team of environmental illness practitioners—these are the professionals that use the techniques and products that I mention below—that listen to you, have experience successfully treating mold, and will stand by you through your recovery. This is a marathon, and you will need to put one foot in front of the other for quite some time to get your health back, but you can get it back.
Now for my recommendations:
- (Nothing else will work unless you do this): Get out of the mold. You cannot recover or treat your body if you are still living in the mold. Do whatever you need to do, and remediation can sometimes eventually happen and be successful, but you cannot stay living in the mold and get well. You can also use some of the techniques and EC3 products to help temporarily make mold-safe places for you. See the MicroBalance Health Products site for product info. I also feature their products and how I use them all over this blog.
- Get the mold out of your body. You will have to work with a naturopathic doctor or a medical doctor trained in environmental illness to do this safely and effectively. Sometimes this comes in the form of binders, like charcoal or Colestimine, or from a surgical procedure, like sinus surgery to remove the mold, or maybe it could be something as simple as an antifungal nose spray or supplement, but if significant concentrations or spores are in your body, they need to come out for you to properly heal.
- Hyperbaric oxygen treatment can be a game changer in this department. It will increase oxygen flow and delivery to all tissues and organs in the body. This is incredibly helpful when the brain is being affected by mold. It can help with mental processing and clarity.
- Magnesium supplements were also helpful to me. I use an effervescent powder called Calm. Many mold patients are magnesium deficient. This addition to my regimen helped my anxiety and sleep. I highly recommend it. It can also help the body from becoming constipated as a result of any binders you may be taking for detoxification purposes.
- Drinking lots of spring and/or purified water to prevent dehydration is helpful. Dehydration inhibits brain function. If you are dehydrated, you can become confused and disoriented. Sometimes drinking enough water is the last thing on the mind of someone suffering from mold illness. It is one simple, very doable act, though, that will make a tremendous impact in your overall health. Also, because the pituitary gland is impacted with mold exposure, your body may have a difficult time producing antiduretic hormone which prevents dehydration.
- Regular use of the CellTropin sublingual spray has also been helpful for me. It gives my body the endocrine and pituitary support I need. Without proper pituitary support you cannot recover proper thyroid and adrenal function. In addition the spray is designed to help normalize the hormone deficiencies seen in some mold patients. Argenine supports improved circulation and astragalus root promotes stabilization of the DNA telomeres, which act to decrease DNA damage with aging. Mold is a toxin, so it can shorten telomeres, thereby aging the body more quickly. DNA support is often overlooked, but can have tremendous benefits to the body’s ability to recover and to heal. That is why I continue using the CellTropin daily. I use the spray 2-3 times per day. One of the biggest indicators that it was helping was how regular use positively impacted my sleep patterns. I have said this before, but I will say it again, that when I was in the worst part of my sickness, I was only sleeping 2 hours at a time, waking up 4-5 times a night and never feeling rested in the morning, regardless of how many sleep hours I accumulated. The CellTropin helped me to get back to regular sleep patterns. I realize that may seem like a small thing, but when you are sleep deprived, any psychological issues you are having are magnified.
- Last, but not least, and some would argue most important is getting on top of my diet (a mostly Paleo diet works best for me, but everyone is different) and eliminating sugar to help reestablish a healthy gut microbiome. Sugar feeds any yeast in the body. As I understand it, Candida sugar receptors in the brain can react to sugar and fermented alcohols quickly causing memory and other cognitive disjunction. If you work with a skilled naturopathic doctor on this piece of your recovery, they can help you with supplements and strategies to limit cravings and sugar withdrawals to make this process easier. Once the yeast is starved from your gut and a healthy gut microbiome is recovered, your moods are quicker to lift, because the yeast is no longer running the show. You will also not experience as many blood sugar peaks and valleys. I had to add a high-potency probiotic to my regimen to fully recover, but some people are able to do this with diet alone. If you do need a probiotic, I highly recommend Visbiome.
Good luck and keep fighting to all of you going through similar situations. Please comment on the blog or write to me with anything you have to share. I would love to start featuring some of YOUR stories and experiences on the blog. We can all learn so much from each other!