What is Toxic Mold?

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Stachybotrys (Black Mold)
Photo by Brawlings, CC BY

Mold and fungi are some of the most common life forms on our planet. Fed by humidity and darkness, mold can grow on any substance such as walls, shower curtains, wooden shelves, clothing, bathroom tiles, and even household plants. The source of the mold infestation can be anything from leaky pipes behind walls, to leaky roofs, old air conditioning systems and vents, faulty laundry machines, dark closets, and bathrooms, and basements with poor ventilation. If you live in a humid, coastal, foggy, or rainy area where mold is constantly appearing in places such as shoes left in the closet, along windows, behind furniture, under the sink, or on wooden surfaces, then it is likely that you have been exposed to toxic mold.

Although medical doctors normally do not typically recognize mold poisoning as a real medical disorder, it can cause severe health problems such as:

  • fatigue
  • flu like malaise
  • frequent colds
  • respiratory issues, including chronic dry cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest pain
  • allergy symptoms, including nasal congestion, runny nose, post nasal drip, and skin rashes, etc.
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • brain fog
  • dizziness
  • poor concentration
  • memory loss
  • confusion
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • mood swings
  • insomnia
  • neurological problems, including peripheral neuropathy (a pins and needles sensation in the limbs)
  • muscle weakness

Black Mold

Black mold is typically the most neurotoxic form of mold, which can wreak havoc on the nervous system by producing dangerous mycotoxins. There are several different types of black molds but the two types that cause the most damage and are common in home environments are Stachybotrys chartarum and Aspergillus niger.

Stachybotrys

Stachybotrys is the most toxic form of mold to the human nervous system and produces a mycotoxin known as T-2 mycotoxin that is so potent that it has been used in biological warfare as the aerosolized gas known as “yellow rain.” When inhaled the Stachbotrys mold spores replicate in the respiratory system producing the T-2 mycotoxin which floods into the bloodstream and eventually reaches the neurological system. Once the T-2 mycotoxin reaches the nervous system it causes DNA damage and inhibition of protein synthesis in neurons producing the symptoms of neurological damage such as mental confusion, memory loss, dizziness, weakness, loss of balance and coordination, and even seizures.

Another effect of the T-2 mycotoxin is its ability to suppress immune system function making those exposed to Stachybotrys more susceptible to viral infections such as colds and flus. Due to the damage done to DNA by the Stachybotrys mycotoxins patients infected with this black mold have an increased risk for cancer as well.

Aspergillus Niger

Aspergillus Niger belongs to the family of Aspergillus molds, which are the most common types molds found inside of homes. The mold spores from Aspergillus Niger can enter the respiratory tract through the nose and form colonies in the nasal passages, sinuses, auditory tubes, ear canal, and lungs. In the lungs Aspergillus Niger like other types of aspergillus can form a fungus ball known as Aspergillosis, which is a serious condition that requires medical attention.

Aspergillus Niger produces a variety of at least 12 different of mycotoxins that wreak havoc on several different organ systems. Fumonisin mycotoxins damage the liver and kidneys and increase risk of esophageal cancer. Ochratoxins found in Aspergillus and other mold species are carcinogenic and toxic to the kidneys and lungs. Gliotoxin, a potent neurotoxin produced by Aspergillus niger causes degeneration of brain and nerve cells leading to neurological symptoms such as memory loss, mental confusion, and peripheral neuropathy.

Alternaria

This blackish-grey mold can cause skin infections and paranasal sinusitis.

Green Mold

There is a common belief that only black mold is toxic and that other types of molds like green mold are not very harmful. This is far from the truth as there are several types of green molds that are extremely toxic to humans. The most common types of toxic green mold found in homes are Aspergillus fumigatus, Aspergillus flavus, Cladosporium, and Penicllium.

Aspergillus fumigatus

Aspergillus fumigatus is the most common cause of mold infections worldwide and it very often produces allergic reactions and asthma in infected patients. It can form fungus balls in the lungs causing Aspergillosis, a life threatening condition that requires medical attention. It contains at least 17 different mycotoxins that are harmful to several organs and systems in the body. Fumagillin suppresses immune system function by damaging DNA of both major types of white blood cells, neutrophils and lymphocytes. Gliotoxin, the same neurotoxin found in the black variety of Aspergillus is also found in the green Aspergillus fumigatus causing the degeneration of brain and nerve cells producing the brain fog and neurological symptoms associated with this mold.

Aspergilus flavus

After Aspergillus fumigatus Aspergillus flavus is the second most common cause of Aspergillosis and it produces at least 14 different mycotoxins including the dangerous Aflatoxins, which have been highly documented to cause liver cancer. This mold can invade the arteries of the lungs and brain and cause infarctions. Aspergillus flavus also contains the neurotoxin, Gliotoxin, which causes brain and nerve cell degeneration leading to neurological damage.

Cladosporium

The Cladosporium family of molds vary in color from green to brown or black and are a common cause of sinusitis, lower respiratory tract infections, allergies and asthma in those whose homes are contaminated by this mold. A close relative of Cladosporium called Cladophialophora bantiana can cause brain abscesses in both normal and immunosuppressed patients.

Penicillium

This type of mold, which can vary in color from blue to green is typically a common food contaminant that has a brush like appearance and produces a strong musty odor. Because Pecillium is one of the first fungi to grow on water damaged material it is a common cause of various respiratory disorders such as asthma, allergies, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and even sarcoidosis and pulmonary fibrosis.

The two most dangerous types are Penicilium Aurantiogriseum and Penicillium marneffei.

Penicillium Aurantiogriseum produces dangerous mycotoxins such as verrucosidin, ergosterol, and tremortin, which are all neurotoxins that can cause seizures and neurological damage. When ingested or inhaled this mold can also cause damage to the liver and kidneys.

Penicillium marneffei enters the body through the skin, the respiratory tract, or the digestive tract and produces serious infections that can affect the bone marrow, kidneys, liver, lungs, spleen, skin, and intestines producing symptoms such as cough, fever, diarrhea, skin lesions, lymph node swelling, and anemia.

Other Mold types

Chaetomium

This cottony looking mold, which starts out looking white and then turns grey to olive in color is one of the most toxic forms of mold due to its potent mycotoxins that can cause permanent neurological damage to the myelin sheath. Thus it has been strongly linked to multiple sclerosis, lupus, and other autoimmune diseases. Chaetonium mycotoxins such as chaetoglobosin can inhibit cell replication, cause DNA damage, and increase the risk of cancer. It has also been known to cause brain abscesses.

Fusarium

The fusarium genus of mold range widely in color from yellow to reddish purple, reddish-brown, pink, or white. This mold produces the dangerous type of mycotoxin known as fumonisins, which can cause damage to the brain, kidneys, liver, stomach, and heart and are linked to esophageal cancer as well.

Several Fusarium molds also produce T-2 mycotoxin, which is extremely neurotoxic and has been used in biological warfare as the aerosolized gas known as “yellow rain.” Once inhaled T-2 mycotoxin reaches the nervous system through the blood causing DNA damage and inhibition of protein synthesis in neurons producing mental confusion, memory loss, dizziness, weakness, loss of balance and coordination, and even seizures.

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