“One only sees what one looks for, one only looks for what one knows.” —Goethe
“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” —Maya Angelou
These two beloved quotes found on each page of my website are at the heart of the recognition and healing of environmentally acquired illness. No wonder it strikes such a chord with me, not to mention my recent personal experience with exposure to mold toxins and its dramatic deleterious effects on both my physical and mental health. I wrote my first post about it two years ago and the second over the summer.
Environmentally acquired illnesses (EAI) are often not recognized by conventional medicine. Patients run from one doctor to another and no one can help them. The usual lab studies often reveal nothing treatable because their health care providers are not testing for the right things. When all the studies come back normal, a patient may be told that her somatic concerns are an expression of her anxiety or depression, and that she should see a psychiatrist.
“Conditions that are thought to be caused or exacerbated by a person’s exposure to environmental toxins include:
- Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
- Epilepsy and other seizure disorders
- Dysautonomias such as postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS)
- Parkinson’s disease
- Autistic spectrum disorders
- Depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses
- Autoimmune diseases
- Diabetes (Type 2) and metabolic syndrome
- Cardiovascular disease
- Celiac disease, and other food sensitivities
- Leaky gut syndrome (LGS) and dysbiosis
- Asthma and allergies
- Pneumonia and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Psoriasis and eczema
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Mast Cell Activation Disorder
- Persistent Lyme Disease ” ISEAI website
“Symptoms that can be a result of exposure to environmental toxins include:
- Brain fog, memory problems, loss of mental sharpness, trouble organizing tasks or getting things done
- Headaches, light/sound/touch sensitivity
- Neuropathy, numbness, tingling, loss of coordination, paralysis, seizures
- Fainting, dizziness or lightheadedness, vertigo
- Insomnia, poor sleep, sleep apnea
- Anxiety, depression, irritability, emotional outbursts, mood swings, suicide
- Fatigue, problems recovering from exercise or even daily activities
- Muscle weakness, cramping and aching
- Low blood pressure, elevated blood pressure, palpitations, fast heart rate
- Frequent respiratory infections
- Wheezing, allergy symptoms, shortness of breath, air hunger
- Joint aches and stiffness
- Swelling of lips and face, nosebleeds
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Nausea and vomiting, stomach upset
- Frequent urination and increased thirst
- Rashes, itching, prickling skin, blotching and redness
- Heavy periods, irregular periods, PMS symptoms, difficult menopause, miscarriages
- Significant weight gain or weight loss
- Young children are likely to develop fatigue, headaches, and abdominal complaints
This list may sound crazy, as if every ailment in the book is a symptom of EAI. But it is a fact that people suffering from environmental exposure suffer an astonishingly wide range of severe symptoms. In fact, though the list is long, it understates the devastating consequences of environmentally acquired illness.” ISEAI website
The good news is that treatment of these conditions may result in a substantial improvement in an individual’s health.
This current post has been prompted by my astonishment that almost every patient in my practice who I test has toxic mold in their system. In some ways this should not be so surprising, as mold toxins commonly cause depression, anxiety and multiple other psychiatric symptoms. In vulnerable individuals, exposure to mold causes chronic systemic inflammation. This wreaks havoc on the immune system as well as other organ systems of the body. Exposure to toxins is cumulative and is often the cause of debilitating chronic illness and can eventually even result in death. The treatment approach is to reduce exposure to mold and to help the body to expel the toxins through detoxification.
I recently joined an exciting new professional organization called The International Society for Acquired Environmental Illness (ISEAI ) which is hosting its inaugural conference outside of Phoenix from May 3-5, 2019. The title of the conference is “Healing Complex Patients in a Toxic World.” I am looking forward to it. There is so much to learn that will make such a difference in my patient’s lives.
Another important upcoming educational event not to be missed is an online “Toxic Mold Summit” hosted by Margaret Christenson, MD . Both events feature leading integrative practitioners in this field and promise to be outstanding. The ISAEI conference is only open to medical professionals but the on-line Toxic Mold Summit is intended for all. It will be streamed for free between January 28-February 3, 2019, after which the recordings can be purchased.
In conventional psychiatric practice, a patient may see a psychiatrist reporting depression, anxiety and insomnia. The standard treatment recommendation would be: 20 mg of Prozac daily for depression, 300 mg Gabapentin three times a day for anxiety, 1 mg of Ativan as needed for breakthrough anxiety, 10 mg of Ambien for sleep, biweekly CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and follow up appointment in 2-3 months for a 15 minute medication check. No one would raise an eyebrow at this treatment protocol. It’s absolutely typical. When a patient is suffering from toxic mold exposure, depression, anxiety and insomnia are more the rule rather than the exception. Psychotropic medications do not address the underlying root cause which is the inflammatory response driving those symptoms.
The current approach in my practice is to treat environmentally acquired illness in combination with a multi-modal approach to healing including:
- following an appropriate whole foods diet and specific supplementation
- adequate movement and sleep
- addressing childhood trauma
- attending to the quality of an individual’s work and love life
- attending to the need for belonging and community
- attending to he need for satisfying creative expression
- attending to the need for spiritual connection and a sense of purpose and meaning
- attending to the need for time spent in the sunshine and fresh air and connection with the natural world
- attending the need for sufficient rest, relaxation and play
Holistic healing is a huge commitment and takes a great deal of time and effort but it is very effective. Given what all of us are up against in terms of the overwhelming toxicity of our environment and existential stress, it’s our only prayer for creating resilience during this time of ecological crisis on our planet. In the field of medicine, we are in desperate need of a radical paradigm shift. Nothing less will do. We are at a turning point and a tipping point, just as we are in terms of our relationship to the Earth when it comes to climate change.
May 2019 be a year of increased consciousness and awakening, so that together we may participate in creating a planet where our children and our children’s children can flourish.
Blessings to all for the New Year.