Mold And Mycotoxins

Photo of Dr. Sharol with a big smile in oval photo frame
Photo of mold growing in petri dishes.

What is Mold

Molds are a type of fungi. They are multicellular and grow in filamentous hyphae (long thread-like branches). Networks of these hyphae form a mycelium which is considered a single organism. They produce airborne spores and some produce toxins called mycotoxins. They break down organic waste and are therefore an important part of natures recycling system. They cannot photosynthesize and just like humans they rely on organic matter for nutrition. All fungus lives by decomposing and absorbing the organic matter on which it grows. Molds, mushrooms, yeasts, smuts, rusts and mildew are all fungi.

How Mold Grows

Mold can grow on virtually any organic material as long as moisture and oxygen are present. Each type of mold has a specific range of temperature it grows in also. There are molds that grow on wood, paper, carpet, food, and insulation. There are even molds that grown on plastic and metal. Because mold eats or digests what it is growing on, it can damage a building and its furnishings. If left unchecked, mold eventually can cause structural damage to building materials. In 2018 a strain of Aspergillus tubingensis, was discovered and it was found breaking down the plastic called polyurethane in just weeks instead of the decades it usually takes to break polyurethane down. Apparently, according to researchers, fungi feed on plastics because most plasticizers are esters of fatty acids, and therefore are fungi food.

Some molds are even known to grow in or on human beings. Aspergillous is one of these molds.

How Does Mold Reproduce

They reproduce using both sexual and asexual methods. Molds may produce mycotoxins which can be harmful to our health as well as our animal's health.

Mycotoxins Made By Mold

When under the right conditions, as molds grow, some molds may produce potentially toxic byproducts and these are called mycotoxins. They tend to make more of these mycotoxins when they are under stress such as competing with other molds or bacteria. Molds that produce mycotoxins are often referred to as toxigenic fungi.

Health Effects Of Mycotoxins

Mycotoxins have a lot of negative health effects that can affect humans and animals, but overall they down regulate cellular function and decrease energy production by the cells. This effects a person in a myriad of negative ways. Some of the toxins molds produce are volatile and released into the air, where we breathe them in, or they get on our skin, or we come in contact with the toxins on other items in the environment.

Mycotoxins have been shown to cause damage in animals and humans from ingestion,  skin contact and inhalation. Some people are more susceptible to mycotoxins than others due to genetic variation. They can be tested for this genetic variation. Some mycotoxins are more dangerous than other mycotoxins. There is a lot of variability here.

 

Yeast Is Not Mold

Yeast is also a type of fungi but it is not a mold. They are single celled microscopic fungi with an oval shape. They reproduce by mitosis (budding). There are different types of yeast such as Saccharomyces in wine and beer, or Candida albicans (can bud and also grow via hyphae as well as make chlamydospores) which creates opportunitic infections in humans and animals. Candida and other yeasts, similar to molds may produce toxins which can be harmful to humans and animals.

Mold Related Illness Has Not Had The Attention It Deserves And Has Left Many Untreated

It has been known for some time that fungi, and the toxins they create can cause health problems. However, we have focused mainly on mold allergies, yeast infections, and mold colonization in humans. We were aware of the internal exposure to fungi such as Candida overgrowth in our intestines, or athlete's foot, as well as the infectious growth of various unusual, and more serious molds seen mainly in  immunocompromised individuals. There are also chronic rhinosinusitis problems caused by fungi such as Aspergillus, Chaetomium, Fusarium, Penicillium, and Trichoderma. Although there were some environmental medical doctors, and naturopathic doctors treating patients for mold related illness due to water-damaged buildings, it was Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker that brought our attention to the mold toxicity in our environment, which has been causing illness, especially in genetically susceptible individuals. This illness has been overlooked for many years by most practioners simply due to our ignorance of it. It is my opinion that much of what we call "Chronic Fatigue", "Fibrolyalgia" is really "Mold Illness", or more specifically, illness due to water-damaged buildings. I also have no doubt that mycotoxin susceptibility is associated with many other inflammatory diseases.

Mold related Illness

"Mold related Illness" is a biotoxin illness caused by exposure to a water-damaged building. Mycotoxins are a subset of biotoxins. There are other biotoxins besides mycotoxins that can cause a similar disease symptomology as mycotoxins do.

Water-damaged buildings harbor a variety of toxins and mycotoxins are a major part of the toxins. We talk about this illness as a "mold" illness but it really involves mold, bacteria, and chemicals from building materials that are all releaseing various types of toxins as the mold, and baceria grow, and the building materials decay. So, when we talk about mold related illness, know that it is really a mix of mold toxins, bacterial toxins and chemical toxins from the building.

What Is A Mycotoxin

Mycotoxins = Fungal Toxin

Mycotoxins are a type of biotoxin. Biotoxins are toxins made by biological or living organisms. Other biotoxins would include things such as wasp venom and snake venom. The spirochette called Borrelia burgdorferi also makes a biotoxin and chronic Lyme disease can look much like mold realted illness and has some similar treatments. This gives you an idea of how toxic mycotoxins can be.

Purpose Of Mycotoxins

Mycotoxins are toxic chemicals produced by fungi. They are secondary metabolites believed to be used by fungal organisms as a protective mechanism. The mycotoxins are not necessary for the fungus to live, but they do help give them an advantage in their environment. Mycotoxins appear to be a method that fungi use to protect their terriain, and allow them to thrive and proliferate. Mycotoxins can be hazardous to humans and animals. In fact, within a host fungi may use mycotoxins to weaken that hosts defences so they may grow and thrive.

More than 300 mycotoxins from common molds have been identified, and many more remain to be identified. The amount and types of mycotoxins produced by a particular mold depends on many environmental and genetic factors. No one can tell whether a mold is producing mycotoxins just by looking at it. Some mycotoxins are known to affect people, but for many mycotoxins there is little health information available. Research on mycotoxins is ongoing. Exposure to mycotoxins can occur from inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact. It is prudent to avoid unnecessary inhalation or other exposure to mold and their toxins.

Mycotoxins And Food

Mycotoxins are most known for their affect on animals and humans through the food supply. Mycotoxins may grow during growth of the food, havesting, drying, storage, processing and shipment. Contamination and concentration of mycotoxins can depend on temperature, humidity, pH, storage time, the physical condition of the food, insect damage, and microbial interaction with mold on the food.

Mold In Water-Damged Buildings

The Moldy Smell

Some of these molds are commonly found in moisture-damaged buildings. Some compounds produced in moldy buildings have strong, volatile smells and are quickly released into the air. These compounds are known as mold volatile organic compounds (mVOCs). Because mVOCs often have strong or unpleasant odors, they can be the source of the "moldy odor" or musty smell frequently associated with mold growth. A moldy odor in a building suggests that mold is growing in that building and should be investigated. The health effects of inhaling mVOCs are largely unknown, although exposure to mVOCs has been linked to common symptoms such as headaches, nasal irritation, dizziness, fatigue, and nausea as well as other symptoms. Various mycotoxins appear to have predilictions for specific tissues or organs of the body, but overall they seem to downregulate cellular function and decrease the mitochondrias ability to make ATP or cellular energy.

There are also smells associated with past moldy buildings where no active mold is growing, however these buildings also produces symptoms in people genetically susceptible people. It could be from fragments of spores, mycotoxins, endotoxins or other toxins still in the environment. Obviously some of them are volatile and noted by people who learn to stay out of buildings with that smell.

Molds Make Many Mycotoxins

Any one mold species can produce many different types of mycotoxins, and a mycotoxin can be produced by many different species of mold. I have listed various mycotoxins and the molds that produce them in "Types of Mycotoxins".

Mycotoxins Produced And Potency Can Change

The mycotoxins produced by a fungi and the severity of their toxicity depends on their surrounding environment as well as the type of fungus itself. What the fungi is growing on, the humidity and the temerpature are all factors at play. Other organisms in the environment of the fungi, other chemicals etc can also effect the type of mycotoxins and their toxicity. The more threatened a fungus is by its environment, the more mycotoxins it may produce to protect itself. A fungus that is threatened by another  near-by fungus or bacteria that is putting out toxins, will ramp up its own toxin manufacturing. Additionally, when we use fungicides on a mold, any mold left will grow immune to the fungicide and we can grow super fungus over time that can't be killed off easily and they will usually ramp up their mycotoxin production since they are under attack all the time.

How Mycotoxins Cause Damage

Mycotoxins can be hazardous to anyone, but to the genetically susceptible mycotoxins are particularly dangerous. Ongoing exposure to mycotoxins can make these people very ill.

Mycotoxins in the body may be the result of external exposure to molds or internal, colonizing fungal organisms. They may be ingested and gain admittance to your body through your digestive tract, or they may cross the barriers of your body by being breathed in by your lungs. Breathing them in also contaminates your upper respiratory tract, your mouth, your esophagus and some of these can also gain access to your digestive tract. Additionally, they can get on your skin, and cause skin inflammation, and irritation, and theoretically can gain access through any mucous membrane.

Internal Infection From Environmental Mycotoxin

The most common symptoms are due to mycotoxins that are from water-damgaed buildings, and they cause inflammatory reactions in the body. However, some mycotoxins actually take up residence in the body and cause an infection. Aflatoxins from Aspergillus is known to cause actual infections in people who are immunocompromised as well as those not thought to be immmunocompromised. There is an Aspergillus induced sphenoid sinusitis and intracranial invasive aspergillosis. (Originates in sphenoid sinus.) Agricultural workers who injure their eyes have been known to develop Aspergillus corneal infections. Aspergillus has been known to infect ears in healthy individuals in both the external and middle ear. Additionally, aspergillus has infected postoperative cavities and then migrated into the ear.

Non Infectious Damage From Mycotoxins More The Norm

When mycotoxins gain entry into your body, some of them can cause infections as just mentioned, but they can also cause general toxic damage from inflammatory reaction to these antigens. This damage to cells, tissues and organs is much more common than actual fungal infections. The mycotoxins are generally found intracellularly and may be stored in body fat, myelin, organs and other body sites. They can cause many different types of symptoms.

The fate of a mycotoxin in the body depends upon the intestinal biotransformation of the toxin and the extent and rate of its absorption from the gastrointestinal tract, distribution, its binding or localization in tissues such as storage in fat or bone, its biotransformation in the liver and other tissues, and its excretion processes including enterohepatorecirculation. Mycotoxins can have both acute and long term effects.

Mycotoxin Research

Most research on mycotoxins is on animals ingesting mycotoxins in food. The various sensitivity of animals to mycotoxins is due to a variety of factors that include species, breed, sex, physiology, age, nutrition, health or disease, as well as environmental factors.

Now that we are gaining the awareness of this illness, research is being undertaken on humans, as well as our environment. We are in a learning phase, but even though there is much to learn many of us have already found ways to recover from mold related illness.

Solutions Lay Ahead Of Us

Data obtained in the last three decades has given a better understanding of biotransformation pathways of mycotoxins and their consequences in terms of metabolites occurring in animal-derived food products. More recently, society has become aware that mycotoxins are a major problem in human food also. Both masked, and unmasked mycotoxins are known to be in the food supply. Some of these molds are commonly found in moisture-damaged buildings, and we are now as a society begining to truly realize how hazardous these mycotoxins can be. In ancient times, we knew about mold, as our ancestors wrote about the hazards of mold, and we seem to have simply forgotten. In those days a building that was contaminated was either partially, or completely dismantled, and removed far outside of the community, to a place where soiled materials were left. Our current building methods have created the perfect storm for molds to breed and thrive, so we can't ignore this matter for much longer. People are  looking to the past for guidance on healthier, breathable building methods. We simply need to pay attention, and change our methods of construction.