In December of 2016 I wrote my first post about toxic mold after becoming severely afflicted with anxiety, depression, insomnia, headaches, massive bloating, urinary frequency and tinnitus in the context of doing a lengthy daily yoga practice involving deep breathing in a moldy basement. Please read my first post about this topic for additional background.
After my own dramatic personal encounter with toxic mold, my consciousness about the potential profound impact that this bio toxin can have was raised. As a psychiatrist, it was particularly notable to me that my exposure resulted in the most common of psychiatric symptoms: depression, anxiety and insomnia. This lent credence to the hypothesis that the root cause of psychiatric illness is often neuro inflammatory in nature, and possibly much is the result of environmental exposure.
As I mentioned in my first post, not every one who is exposed to mold toxins will become symptomatic. Only those individuals who have difficulty detoxifying mold toxins will be impacted by exposure. An entire family can be living in a moldy home, and only one family member who has an impaired capacity to detoxify will fall ill.
This difference between people was highlighted this summer when I was vacationing with my childhood friend, Betsy, in the lush green mountains of western North Carolina. Most of the hotel rooms in which we stayed were carpeted, and I began to sleep increasingly poorly and started to feel more anxious and depressed for no reason. Betsy slept and felt well. The coin finally dropped when we were staying in a room that actually smelled moldy, and I was utterly unable to sleep and found myself getting up every half an hour to urinate. Suddenly I realized that this was exactly how I had felt when I had gotten sick two years previously when doing yoga in the moldy basement.
Needless to say, I could not get out of that room fast enough. It now adds a whole layer of complexity to traveling. When I travel, I know that I need to find food on the menu that does not trigger an auto immune reaction, but now in addition, I need be aware of the possibility of encountering toxic mold in my lodging. This was absolutely not on my radar previously. It maybe true for you too, and an important factor to consider when making travel plans.
Conversely, there are some people who only feel well when they are traveling and away from their homes which are contaminated with toxic mold. Many people are unaware that their homes have sustained water damage and that they are being regularly exposed to mold toxins. They do not link their chronic headaches, anxiety, gastro intestinal complaints and joint pain to mold toxins. The whole issue of mold toxicity is much more pervasive than has been previously appreciated and has huge implications for psychiatric practice.
I recently joined an exciting new organization, The International Society for Environmentally Acquired Illness (ISEAI) whose stated mission is to “Restore health to individuals with environmentally acquired illnesses through clinical practice, education, and research.” Environmentally Acquired Illness are illnesses that are a result of environmental triggers such as mold, infection with tick born illnesses, chemical exposure from a variety of sources such as plastics, heavy metals, pesticides and personal care products, electromagnetic frequencies, to name a few. This organization is responding to a desperate need as these sorts of conditions are becoming an epidemic and more people are getting sicker and sicker. These illnesses all adversely impact the immune system and set up a chronic inflammatory response. ISEAI will hold its first annual conference in May of 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. It is entitled, “Healing Complex Patients in a Toxic World.”
Here is some information from their website:
“How do environmental toxins make people sick?
Exposure to triggers such as environmental toxins and infections can cause chronic inflammation in multiple body systems. These triggers cause damage to the immune system, the brain, the heart, the lungs, and many other body systems. Exposure to triggers is cumulative and can, over time, cause debilitating chronic illness and even death. An important part of the treatment of all EAIs is to reduce exposure to environmental triggers and to help the body to expel toxic buildup through detoxification. Treatment of EAIs is more likely to be successful if the patient and physician can identify the specific triggers affecting the patient’s health. EAIs are interconnected. For example: a person with biotoxin illness is likely to become more sensitive to chemicals and develop multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS). Likewise, a person who suffers from chronic Lyme disease is likely to become more sensitive to mold and other toxins found in water-damaged buildings. Some people who have become ill from exposure to one set of triggers may become sensitive to wi-fi exposure.
It is thought that many illnesses not mentioned above may be caused or exacerbated by a person’s exposure to environmental toxins. These 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
Treatment of EAIs may lead to substantial improvement of a person’s health.
What symptoms are experienced by people suffering from EAIs?
Chronic exposure to harmful environmental toxins and other triggers interferes with the normal functions of your body. They can even affect your mind. It is not uncommon for children or adults with recurring exposures to moldy indoor environments at home, work, or school to develop multiple symptoms. Some of the symptoms of EAIs 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 complaint”
I now routinely test most patients in my psychiatry practice for mold toxicity. I believe that it should be ruled out in cases of depression and anxiety that is accompanied by other medical and neurological symptoms, whether or not the patient is aware of water damage in the home. Recently I have seen several new patients with histories of severe bipolar and psychotic disorders with multiple medical and neurological symptoms who have tested positive for mold toxicity. I have prescribed treatment to promote the elimination of mold toxins and am hopeful that this approach will have a positive impact upon their psychiatric conditions.
Laboratory testing for mold toxins has become less expensive and is done via urinalysis. Great Plains Laboratory has a new test, GPL Myco Tox, that is much less costly and provides more accurate results than previous tests, and detects a wider variety of mold toxins. The test is very sensitive. It is possible that the test is so sensitive that it is detecting mold toxins, but that their presence is not actually causing the psychiatric symptoms. This remains to be discerned. Treating environmentally acquired illness is a new field, and there is so much to be learned. There is pioneering work to be done correlating levels of mycotoxins with symptomatology and tracking response to treatment. I believe it is the future of psychiatry.
“Toxic” Heal Your Body from Mold Toxicity, Lyme Disease, Multiple Chemical Sensitivities and Chronic Environmental Illness, the book pictured at the beginning of the post, is brand new and authored by Neil Nathan, MD , a family practice doctor in California with a long standing interest and expertise in treating chronic acquired environmental illness. I highly recommend it. The writing is very accessible to the lay person and is based on Dr. Nathan’s wealth of experience treating these conditions.
Mary Ackerley, MD is an integrative psychiatrist who I admire with a practice in Tuscon, Arizona. She is another expert in the field of chronic acquired environmental illness. Below is an absolutely fascinating YouTube video of an interview with her entitled “Brain on Fire.” Both Dr Nathan and Dr Ackerly are members of ISEAI.