You Can’t Detox Mold Toxins Without a Solid Exit Strategy
When it comes to detoxing mold toxins from the body, slow and steady wins the race. Removing mold toxins after a big exposure or during treatment should not be a single event or a major overhaul like social media or wellness gurus would have you believe. When it comes to mold, pushing the body to the limits to cleanse as much toxicity as possible in as little time as possible is not the goal. As a matter of fact, accepting the current detox mantra that advocates feeling worse before you feel better could actually set you back, exacerbate symptoms, and put excessive and sometimes dangerous stress on your already depleted body. And, while chemical binders, both pharmaceutical and natural are necessary and wonderful tools for detox, you cannot expect that they will be able to do all of the clean-up, especially when mycotoxins are your main concern.
(Note: Binders are substances that “bind” to toxins to help move them out of the body. They work by attaching to toxins, which helps to transport them out of the body. In order to leave the body, mold toxins travel through the liver, where they then travel to the small intestine in the bile. If the toxins are not bound to anything, most of them will get reabsorbed in the gut or recirculated into the bloodstream. Commonly used binders for mold patients include Cholestyramine, Welchol, activated charcoal, bentonite clay, chitosan, chlorella, and zeolite.)
Binders Alone Are Not Sufficient Detox
While many mold-related websites would have you believe that a good binder, like Cholestyramine, Welchol or activated charcoal is all that is needed to clear the body of mold toxins and reunite you with good health and better days, I think many mold-illness sufferers who have been through it, myself included, would beg to differ. (Note: First and foremost, binders cannot undo the negative effects of bad air. Nothing takes the place of breathing clean, mold-free air when it comes to detoxing your body.)
Binders when taken too aggressively and in the absence of anything done to support and encourage the body’s detoxification system and pathways, can cause adverse reactions, like bloating, abdominal pain, reflux and constipation. Additionally, they can inhibit the absorption of other medications, and reduce the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. This is because most pharmaceutical binders were developed for the treatment of high cholesterol. They are designed to attach to excess cholesterol molecules and to help the body excrete them, rather than absorb them. But, since these binders cannot distinguish between a cholesterol molecule, and a mold toxin, they attach indiscriminately to both, making them excellent treatment options for any fat-soluble substance that doesn’t need to stick around.
And, while those before-stated reactions to binders are definitely not favorable, sometimes, the worst side effect of all is that many mold patients don’t feel significantly better or notice a real improvement in symptoms after taking them. You see, binders can collect toxins once they arrive in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT), so that they can be excreted and not reabsorbed. To do this, the toxins must be present in the GIT and the binder must be able to adhere to them. The problem with a mold-toxic body is that the natural detox pathways are blocked, confused, and extremely comprised. Many times, the liver (the body’s main detox organ) is already very overburdened, bile is not flowing, and toxins are not being pushed to the GIT for collection. Further complicating the picture are the GI issues, dysbiosis, and leaky gut symptoms that plague most mold sufferers. All of these GI issues position the small intestine for the reabsorption of toxins, rather than their transport out of the body. Thus, attempts to force toxins out with binders are obviously not going to work well, because the drainage pathways are clogged or broken. This is not to say that binders are not beneficial or do not work, because they do and you should use them, if prescribed. Rather, what I am saying is that other detoxification preparations and strategies should be used first and in conjunction with binders to maximize detox and make it more effective.
Think of the problem in your mind’s eye in more simplistic terms: If you have a clogged drain, are you going to fix it by just turning the faucet on, so that the water is coming out harder and faster? Is that going to wash the clog away or push it out? Probably not. If you do that, the sink will likely overflow. The best solution is to first dissolve or remove the clog, and THEN turn the water on to carry the rest of the debris away, right? The same solution can be transferred to the body when detoxification pathways are compromised: remove the burden, turn on the flow, and continue to get additional blocks out of the way as they arise, so that they don’t lead to future problems.
(Note: A great article about the role of bile as the lubricant that ensures the flow of detoxification can be found HERE on www.sinusitiswellness.com.)
To solve this problem and to “hack” the whole mold detox conundrum, so that you can feel better faster, and employ ongoing detox strategies to lessen “mold-hit relapses,” it makes sense to examine the following:
1.) How detoxification is supposed to work in a healthy body;
2.) Why mold toxins, in particular, disrupt detoxification;
3.) And, what you can do to get the mold out of the way, so that you can detoxify properly again.
Detoxification 101 (VERY 101 and VERY Simplified)
Toxins in the environment (exotoxins: like mold, chemicals, smoke, etc.) and that our bodies produce (endotoxins) can disrupt biological processes, causing short-term adverse health effects and chronic illness, especially if exposure is repeated and at high levels. Thus, detoxification is essential for ridding the body of fat-soluble toxins and preventing their absorption and “health robbing” effects. Although all cells have the ability to detoxify, the most important organ for detoxification is the liver, but, as you will see, the intestine plays quite a large role as well.
Obviously, the real first step to detoxification is a physical science step: AVOIDANCE of toxins. This requires a conscious effort to get away from things and substances that do our bodies harm. In this case, we are mainly talking about mold toxins. Thus, getting to a place where there is no mold or mold toxins should be the first priority.
There are three “official” phases of detoxification:
Phase I (Transformation/Activation) – In the first step, the toxin is metabolized by detoxifying enzymes resulting in an intermediary metabolite. In other words, 1) toxins are made more water-soluble and more easily excreted, and 2) toxins are converted into a molecule usually less toxic and, therefore, less reactive towards our DNA, proteins, etc. The result is a more water-soluble, less toxic molecule easily transported into the blood, through our kidneys, and out into the urine, sweat or feces for elimination. Interestingly, though, sometimes this Phase I reaction converts a less toxic molecule into a more toxic molecule, which is where phase II detoxification steps in.
Phase II (Conjugation) – After undergoing phase I, many toxins are then subject to phase II detoxification. At its most basic level, phase II enzymes place a water-soluble molecule onto the toxin. One of the most important phase II detoxifying enzymes is known as glutathione (GSH) transferase. As the name implies, the GSH transferases transfer a GSH molecule onto the toxin. Like phase I detoxification, this step also serves to make the toxin water-soluble and less toxic to the body, so that it can be safely eliminated. In other words, the toxin is getting linked to another molecule that makes it transportable, and able to be recognized by a system of transporters that goes from the cell and out of the body.
Besides GSH, the body uses several other molecules to bind to the toxin and increase its solubility, including sulfates, amino acids, and glucuronic acid. However, if we’re exposed to excessive amounts of toxins, our GSH levels become depleted, resulting in too little GSH to do what it does best, which is to protect against free radicals and detoxify toxins. Interestingly, and what puts a cog in the system for many mold patients, is that GSH production is severely depleted or stopped by mold toxins. Without GSH, phase II detox can grind to a halt. HERE is my post all about glutathione, if you would like to know more.
Phase III (Transport) – This is when the toxins are moved out of the body. In this step, the products of phase I and II reactions are transported out of cells and into the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) for elimination.
So, effective detox equals
1) mobilizing toxins,
2) moving toxins out of the cells and into the liver,
3) then into the gastrointestinal tract (GIT),
4) catching the toxins in the GIT, so that they don’t reabsorb,
5) and effectively excreting the toxins.
Detoxification is a perfectly orchestrated system of events and cannot occur without the cells opening up to throw the toxins out. And, when excretion is working properly, cells can handle toxins, because the pathways to get them out are clear and open.
But, what happens when mold enters the picture?
Mold: The Principal Detox Disruptor
Some toxins, like mold toxins (mycotoxins) in particular, create blocks in detox pathways. I actually once heard a well-respected environmental illness doctor refer to mold as the “mother of all toxins,” simply because mold disrupts the body on so many different levels. Mycotoxins are also fat soluble, which means that they have an easier time entering our cells before our bodies can remove them. By the time symptoms become chronic or autoimmunity arises, studies show that the body’s natural bile acid production has usually already decreased by 75%. This is significant, because bile is our body’s natural sequestrant of toxins, especially those that are fat soluble. Without adequate bile production and flow, those toxins will remain in the body.
When mold toxins enter the body via inhalation, ingestion, or touch, they sound the immune system alarm, and turn on a cascade of inflammation that often does not cease until all exposure is removed. This inflammatory response blocks the route of toxins from the liver to the small intestine for excretion, because the nervous system senses danger and is sympathetically dominant or in “fight or flight mode.” The body does not efficiently detox our cells in this mode.
When toxins and inflammatory compounds build up in the liver, the body opens another door (MRP3) to escort the toxins through, so that the liver doesn’t just give up and die. While the liver is temporarily saved from harm, toxins are pushed back into circulation, and not excreted. This creates increased toxicity in the rest of the body (tissues and organs are absorbing more and more as recirculation continues).
Toxins not being excreted, but recirculated in the body becomes an even larger problem when the primary toxin you are being exposed to is mold. Mold toxins disrupt proper detoxification function for many reasons. Some major ones are as follows:
1.) Most mold exposures are constant and continuous. The person is either living or working in the indoor environment with the mold toxins. If they ever get a reprieve, it is often not long enough to give their body the time it needs to properly clear and excrete the toxin. This is also why AVOIDANCE is the most important piece of treatment. Detoxification CANNOT be successful with continued exposure;
2.) Water-damaged homes and buildings are hosts to much more than just mold. It is now known that a “sick” indoor environment contains a host of potential disease- and illness-causing contaminants and pollutants including chemicals, VOCs, bacteria, viruses, molds/fungi, and electromagnetic radiation. All of these things are toxic to the body and add to a person’s total “toxic load or burden.” Thus, when a person becomes symptomatic from indoor mold exposure, their bodies are extremely overburdened and toxic and not detoxing optimally;
3.) Mold toxins are fat soluble. They are easily recirculated and absorbed back into the blood and tissues when detox is impaired. If they are not de-activated and made less toxic in phases I and II, they are transported to your tissues, joints, and organs. The brain is a principal storage spot for mold toxins, because it is primarily made of fat;
4.) Mold toxins disrupt the microbiome and create leaky gut. All of our bodies house some Candida, but a healthy gut and a healthy immune system keep them in check and at levels that do not affect digestion or health. When you live in a moldy environment, or eat yeast-loving foods, like sugars and carbohydrates, you encourage that Candida to flourish, to kill off the beneficial gut bacteria and to disrupt the happy ecology or microbiome of your gastrointestinal tract. Candida can also become invasive, creating holes in the lining of the gut and small intestine. These holes allow foods and toxins to recirculate in the bloodstream, rather than be contained and eliminated by excretion;
5.) Mold toxins create chronic inflammation. The HLA DR gene helps the immune system respond to environmental threats. It is estimated that 20-30% of people do not respond well to toxic exposures of mold from “water damage” and excessive mycotoxins found in food. So, what does this mean? It means that the release of inflammatory cytokines caused by exposure to mold mycotoxins blocks detox pathways not just at the excretion phase, but before that, at the transformation phase. The mycotoxins are never being made “less toxic” and water soluble, and are not being transported out of the body. They are being continuously recirculated and reabsorbed by the blood and tissues—and crossing the blood-brain barrier. Thus, the inflammation, illness, and toxicity continue and symptoms get worse and more debilitating. Neuroinflammation also increases as does sympathetic nervous system dominance (fight or flight response). The body will not effectively detox in fight or flight, so the vicious cycle continues for some, even when they are out of the mold;
6.) Mold toxins decrease bile production. Digestion and bile secretion are impaired when the body is in “fight or flight” mode. All of your cellular energy is going towards protection. In the absence of digestive enzymes and bile secretions, more toxins are able to enter the bloodstream and migrate to your tissues and organs;
7.) Many people genetically predisposed to mold illness also have genetic predispositions to be poor detoxifiers. For those who have these genetic polymorphisms, the ability to deactivate and remove many toxins is impaired. In other words, the body doesn’t recognize the presence of some toxins as something to be eliminated. As a result, toxins become trapped, which can result in the further manifestation of mold exposure symptoms;
8.) Mold toxins are hormone disruptors. After mold toxins have entered the brain, they begin to destroy neurons and hormone production by affecting hypothalamus and pituitary function. Estrogen production is stimulated by mold toxins, and thyroid and growth hormone production are slowed and/or halted. Stress hormones continuously increase until the adrenals are totally tapped out. All of these occurrences further clog detoxification, because the body’s primary focus is survival;
9.) Mold toxins suppress the immune system. When the body is inflamed, the immune system cannot sense, attack, and fight off bacteria, viruses, yeasts, and infections. Inflammation is a protective mechanism, but only in the short term. When the body is inflamed, all exits “out” slam closed. The idea is not to allow anything other threats in until the “bad guys” already inside are handled and cleared. If the internal fighting goes on and on, without end, the immune system becomes depleted, exhausted and ineffective against other things. This is why mold sufferers often find out that they have other viruses, like herpes, or infections, like Lyme, after they become sick. These “sleepers,” that have never before caused sickness or problems are suddenly ignited and active.
Is there a solution?
Repair Detoxification Pathways, and Open the Exit Doors
The first and most important part of mold detox is to eliminate the ongoing insult. That requires AVOIDANCE of the toxin. You must get to a safe-mold free environment, or properly remediate your current environment, so that it is clear and safe for your recovery. No treatment, no detox, no doctor can help you recover otherwise. I have TONS of helpful posts on my blog about testing, remediation, finding and building a healthy home, fixing leaks, mold avoidance, etc. Please use them as resources and guides to helping you with this crucial step. Without the mold insult, and with a little “encouragement,” the natural detoxification process will resume in your body and make all of my next advice more efficacious.
Then, realize that detoxification, just like mold avoidance, especially now that your body has been comprised, should be a continuous and ongoing practice. You should constantly be encouraging detox and employing some of the tactics I will outline below to keep things moving and to keep your body actively removing toxins that will make you sick. Gentle nudges, once you are out of the mold, go a long way.
A Mold Detoxification Lifestyle
Employing the tactics below will encourage better detoxification, remove toxic insults, and help your body to recover and heal on a level that just instituting binders cannot. The list is not meant to overwhelm you, but to empower you to make changes that will create positive, noticeable, and lasting results.
Detoxification Strategies for Mold Sufferers:
- Remove environmental exposures in your home, or work, and remove yourself from toxic environments.
- Use MERV 11 or higher (I prefer MERV 13) air filters in your air handler and/or furnace.
- Minimize mold exposure in your home by cleaning and laundering with mold-eliminating, non-toxic products, like EC3 Mold Spray, and EC3 Laundry Additive.
- Use air purifiers, like an IQ Air or Blue Air, to clean your indoor air and to minimize dust.
- Use water filters for your drinking water (at the very least), and for your bath and shower heads. Eliminate unfiltered tap water and replace it with bottled spring water and/or filtered water. This change will go a long way to filter out unwanted additives, pollutants and gut-microbiome harming chemicals from your body.
- Use only Hepa-filtered vacuums in your home. This ensures that dust, debris, mold spores, etc. are not being sucked up and then recirculated back out into your environment.
- Remove or modulate any out of control organisms in your body. It is best to address this with your doctor. These include Bacterial, Parasitic, Viral, and Fungal invaders. Immune insults make it difficult for the body to detox. Sometimes these need to be addressed to restore proper immune and detoxification function.
- Support organs of elimination as needed. This includes ingesting necessary nutrients and fiber, drinking clean water (staying sufficiently hydrated), breathing clean air, and eating organic food, including organic meat.
- Provide increased nutrients that function as cofactors, or are required in the enzymatic steps of the detox pathways. This includes taking supplements that increase glutathione production within the body. N-acetyl cysteine is also an excellent choice, as it has been shown to replenish intracellular glutathione. Among its many benefits, glutathione is known to decrease oxidative stress, and help overcome autoimmune diseases. Research has found that low levels of glutathione can be an underlying cause of oxidative stress.
- Focus on vegetables high in minerals and healthy polyphenols. Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli and cauliflower also promote bile production and phase II detox.
- Get adequate sun, rest/sleep and use meditation/prayer daily. These actions help the body switch to the parasympathetic mode (rest and digest), which promotes detox.
- Be aware of toxic exposures elsewhere in your life. This includes household cleaners, garden chemicals, personal care products, cooking pots, food storage containers, do not use dryer sheets. Stay away from car exhaust and cigarette smoke. Minimize electromagnetic radiation from radios, T.V.s, phones, computers etc. Decrease ionizing radiation from medical tests such as x-rays. Reduce heavy metal exposure from larger predatory fish, water, lead paint, mercury fillings in teeth, thimerosal-containing products. Minimize electromagnetic radiation from radios, T.V.s, phones, computers etc. All of these things induce additional toxic insults on the body and make it more toxically clogged and vulnerable.
- Consider ongoing use of infrared saunas, or steam saunas, bile sequestrants, and antioxidants, to reduce the toxic load.
- Use natural liver protectors, like milk thistle, artichoke and dandelion root.
- Build your bile with aromatic bitters and bitter foods. The use of bile salts and/or ox bile may also be indicated for some people.
- Use mold-free digestive enzymes to aid in nutrient absorption and motility.
- Examine genetic polymorphisms that may make you more susceptible to environmental toxins. A single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) can change an amino acid in the protein coding sequence, and thereby alter an enzyme binding site and/or the substrate binding site, which may affect the overall function. Genetic polymorphisms for detox may play a significant role in the pathophysiology of certain diseases.