Scientists believe that both genetics and epigenetics play a role in autoimmune disease. When searching for the root cause of autoimmune disease, we often look at environmental influences. Is there a connection between toxic mold and autoimmune disease? Does toxic mold cause autoimmune disease?
How Do Autoimmune Diseases Develop?
According to researchers at Johns Hopkins, three factors are at play in the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases. They are genes, immune system, and the environment where the patient lives.
As scientists at Johns Hopkins explain it, genes predispose a person to having a disease or condition; immune system dysregulation creates pathological damage; and the environment (everything from diet and lifestyle, to trauma and stress, to viruses and infections, to pollutants and toxins) delivers the trigger that makes autoimmune diseases apparent.
While we cannot control our genes or immune system response, we can manage our environment. Controlling stressors is vital to mitigating symptoms and avoiding flare ups. Just ask anyone with Hashimoto’s, Psoriatic Arthritis, or Multiple Sclerosis.
Some environmental elements, however, are out of our control … like mold.
What is Mold?
Mold, part of the Fungi kingdom, is a natural part of the environment. Molds reproduce by releasing tiny spores into the air that colonize when settled on moist surfaces. Because mold spores are airborne, they are everywhere.
Outdoors, mold plays a vital role in our ecosystem by breaking down dead organic matter, such as fallen leaves. Indoors, however, mold can damage building materials and cause health problems. This is particularly true for those who are allergic to mold spores or have respiratory ailments, such as asthma.
But not everyone responds to mold in the same way. Our individual genetic makeup determines if mold exposure will cause an inflammatory response.
Mold Allergy v. Mold Toxicity
A mold allergy is an immune system response to an exposure to mold spores, usually affecting the sinuses and lungs.
Mold toxicity is an illness caused by exposure to mold biotoxins called mycotoxins.
What are Mycotoxins?
Not all mold is toxic. Molds that produce poisonous substances are called mycotoxins.
According to the World Health Organization, there are several hundred types of mycotoxins. Two of the most poisonous are Aflatoxin and Ochratoxin A — produced by species of Aspergillus and Penicillium, respectively. Both are commonly found on dry foods (like cereal grains, oilseeds, spices, and tree nuts) and in moisture-damaged homes.
Stachybotrys is another dangerous mycotoxin. Called “black mold,” Stachybotrys is actually a greenish-black mold, commonly found growing where there is water damage, water leaks, condensation, or flooding.
Some mycotoxins are visible to the human eye and can even smell musty; others grow undetected for years behind walls and floorboards, wreaking havoc on homes and human/animal health.
How Do Mycotoxins Affect the Body?
For some people, exposure to toxic mold can cause an inflammatory response within the body. Allergy symptoms, such as sinus infections, congestions, wheezing, and headaches, are common. For others, mold-induced inflammation can compromise gut permeability and break the blood-brain barrier. This may manifest as digestive issues, gut dysbiosis, headaches, brain fog, memory loss, sleep disruption, vision impairment, rashes, and mood swings.
In women, mycotoxins can act as endocrine disruptors. They can create hormone imbalances and block thyroid function, leading to unexplained weight gain, breakthrough bleeding, mood swings, body temperature dysregulation, fatigue, and hypothyroidism.
Is There a Connection Between Toxic Mold Exposure and Autoimmune Disease?
Inflammation is a common thread among all autoimmune diseases. Mycotoxins can cause inflammation. As such, there seems to be a connection between toxic mold exposure and autoimmune disease, as supported by many well-known functional medicine doctors.
In 2015, David Asprey released a documentary entitled Moldy. The film explored the hidden health dangers associated with toxic mold, including vitamin and mineral depletion.
A scientific study was later published showing the link between mycotoxins triggering Hashimoto’s Disease in those who were predisposed to the condition. This study has been cited in many articles, including ones published by experts Dr. Anshul Gupta and Dr. Isabella Wentz.
More recently, functional doctor and researcher Michael Ruscio wrote about the connection between toxic mold exposure and chronic illness. However, he cautions about the complexity of the illness and making the leap from correlation to causation.
Test, Don’t Guess
The connection between toxic mold and autoimmune disease and/or chronic illness remains somewhat controversial. Testing technology and treatment protocols are still quite limited. That said, if you suspect toxic mold exposure is negatively impacting your health, take action.
Work with an indoor air quality professional to test the air quality of your home and/or work place. Hire a certified mold clean up specialist to remediate. No amount of detoxing will resolve the problem if you continue to live in a toxic environment.
Work with your healthcare provider to test the presence of toxic mold in your body. Some common tests include:
- Visual Contrast Sensitivity Test (VCS) to measure changes in your ability to discern contrast between black, white, and gray lines
- Urine mycotoxin test to uncover mycotoxin metabolites
- Allergy and antibodies blood tests to look for inflammatory markers
- Genetic testing to uncover mutations some believe influence mold sensitivities and allergies
Eliminating the source of the mold is the first step in recovery. Step two is supporting your gut health and opening up your detoxification pathways. And step three involves a protocol to bind and excrete mycotoxins from the body. What your protocol will look like depends on your individual situation. Be patient. Recovery takes time.
Is There a Connection Between Toxic Mold and Autoimmune Disease? Does Toxic Mold Cause Autoimmune Disease?
The connection between toxic mold exposure and autoimmune disease is real for many. Toxic mold exposure can increase inflammation in the body. It can aggravate, exacerbate, perpetuate, and trigger autoimmune disease, as well as interrupt medication efficiency — something I can personally attest to.
We can make the case for correlation, but we cannot make the case for causation just yet. Currently, there is not enough scientific evidence to support toxic mold exposure as a cause of autoimmunity; we need further research to make that jump.