When a client comes to me with mysterious symptoms, identifying the cause often lies in thinking outside of the box. While addressing diet is important, it’s also necessary to consider the entire picture of a person’s lifestyle and environment.
A real-life example of this comes from one of the clients that I recently treated. We’ll call her ‘Sarah’ to protect her privacy. Sarah came to me with itchiness all over her body, but she was uncertain of the cause. To help calm the inflammation, I recommended my Sugar Detox program. She had been indulging in daily wine during the initial quarantine of Covid19 shutdown and eliminating sugar was a high priority since she didn’t feel great and had gained a few pounds. We also eliminated high-histamine foods which could be contributing to her itchiness (a type of allergic response) – red wine happens to be very high in histamine so eliminating this and aged cheeses or smoked meats was helpful. She started taking quercetin and nettles to help lower histamine levels even more. From diet and supplement changes alone, her body started to respond.
Sarah’s symptoms started to resolve, yet she continued to have persistent itchiness on her wrists. I recommended that she have a urine test done for mold exposure. Sure enough, Sarah’s mold levels came back quite high. I recommended Candida-targeting supplements, and her doctor prescribed a round of antifungals. I also recommended a good dehumidifier since she lived in an older New England home. After treating the mold exposure, her itchiness completely went away!
In the case of many chronic illnesses, mold exposure should always be considered as a potential root cause. Toxic mold can cause a wide range of symptoms and conditions. Exposure is often more common than you may think.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is another one of those difficult-to-treat conditions. The causes of CFS are not well understood, which is problematic. Many have to jump through hoops with specialists and lab draws before landing on a diagnosis of CFS. This can be an incredibly frustrating process. However, there is an important link between mold exposure and CFS that should always be considered.
While the etiology isn’t clear, research suggests a link between CFS and exposure to mycotoxin-producing mold. (2) These mycotoxins are common in water-damaged buildings. If you’ve been suffering from symptoms of CFS, it may be worth investigating mold illness as a potential root cause.
What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
In today’s fast-paced world, burnout and fatigue aren’t unusual. However, many suffer from pathological exhaustion known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
Living with CFS feels like your gas tank is always empty. Fatigue is persistent, severe, and unrelieved by rest. You may be spending the majority of your day in bed. Even the smallest activities or errands can wear you down. CFS can be debilitating to your life, career, relationships, and mental health.
While many haven’t heard of CFS, it’s more widespread than you may think. It’s estimated that over 2 million Americans have CFS, many of these undiagnosed.1 How is it so easy to miss such a debilitating chronic illness? At first, CFS may get dismissed as “normal” exhaustion – but it’s much more than that.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is also known as myalgic encephalitis (ME). It’s characterized by severe fatigue that doesn’t improve with rest. Many individuals with CFS spend the hours of their day resting with no improvement in their energy levels. This extreme level of fatigue can affect the ability to maintain a normal life. (1)
The CDC defines CFS as: severe fatigue lasting longer than six months, and accompanied by at least four the following symptoms…
- Post-exertional malaise (or extreme tiredness after any physical activity)
- Unrefreshing sleep
- Poor memory or concentration
- Muscle pain
- Multi-joint pain
- Sore throat
- Lymph node tenderness
The causes of CFS aren’t well understood. It’s likely that there are several complex factors interacting with each other. Some of these possible causes include infection, genetics, environmental factors, or childhood trauma. (1)
Diagnosis is tricky, as the symptoms of CFS overlap with many other chronic diseases. CFS is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that there isn’t a specific test for it. Your doctor will need to rule out many other conditions first before landing on CFS. This can make diagnosis a long-winded and frustrating process.
Treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Because it’s difficult to identify the root causes of CFS, it can be challenging to treat. Focus is usually geared towards managing symptoms. (1)
- Graded exercise therapy: Introducing exercise gradually can increase activity tolerance.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): Trained therapists can use CBT to help patients understand how thoughts affect energy levels.
- Nutrition: As with any chronic illness, it’s important to eat in a way that reduces inflammation and promotes healing.
Understanding the etiology of CFS will allow for more targeted and effective treatment. In considering root causes, it’s worth considering the potential role of mycotoxin exposure.
Mold and Mycotoxin Exposure as a Root Cause in Chronic Illness
In the case of many chronic illnesses, mycotoxin exposure is worth exploring as a root cause. Mycotoxins are toxins naturally produced by certain types of mold. Mycotoxin-producing mold is often found in water-damaged buildings. (3) Many are unaware that mycotoxins can be devastating to human health. Mold exposure can be a root cause of many health conditions. Some of these include sinusitis, immune system dysfunction, neuropathy, asthma, sarcoidosis, respiratory infections, and more. (4)
If you’ve been experiencing mysterious symptoms, you may want to investigate mold illness. Mycotoxin exposure can be tested via a simple urine test.
Want to know the scariest part of mold illness? Your nose and sinuses can act as a reservoir for mold to create biofilm communities. These biofilm communities are able to self-produce their own mycotoxins. This means that, without proper detoxification, you can remain sick for a long time. Research shows that many individuals stay sick for years after exposure – even if they’re no longer living in the water-damaged environment. (4) Complete detoxification is necessary for a full recovery.
Treatment for Mold Illness
In dealing with the aftermath of mold, it’s important to work with your doctor and/or health practitioner. Make sure that you’re supporting your body through the detoxification process.
1. Remove yourself from the water-damaged environment. This is key. Your body is capable of self-healing when given the right conditions. If you’re continuing to expose yourself to toxins, your body will remain in an inflammatory state.
2. Treat with antifungals. Antifungals may be necessary to help get rid of those pesky biofilm communities.
3. Binders and supplements. Charcoal and clay binders can help remove residual toxins from the body. (5)
4. Optimal nutrition. The right diet decreases inflammation and supports the body through the healing process. Work with a practitioner familiar with mold illness for further nutritional guidance. There are loads of moldy foods and it’s important to remove these from your diet!
The Link Between Mold Illness and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
A research study done in 2013 showed a clear link between mycotoxin exposure and chronic fatigue syndrome. In 112 patients with CFS, 93% of them had mycotoxins detected in their urine. (2) Many of these patients also had known exposure to a water-damaged building.
Researchers believe that mycotoxins could cause damage to mitochondria. Mitochondria are the components of your body’s cells responsible for energy production. (2) Disrupting these important processes could explain many of the symptoms associated with CFS.
With CFS, it’s true that other causes may also be at play. Knowing this link between CFS and mycotoxin exposure is a key consideration. It may not be possible to improve your CFS symptoms until you completely heal from mold illness.
The Importance of Testing for Mycotoxin Exposure
In the case of many chronic illnesses, it’s worth considering mycotoxin exposure as a potential root cause. As discussed, many individuals with mold exposure can remain ill for years after leaving the environment. This is because mycotoxins can colonize the body and self-produce more mycotoxins. This is why it’s so important to get tested for mycotoxins, even after treatment.
You want to make sure that your body has fully detoxed from the mycotoxins. It’s recommended that you retest for mycotoxins after 6 weeks of treatment. (5) You may need a change in your antifungal treatment.
Who Else Should Consider Testing for Mycotoxin Exposure?
Are you addressing your diet, taking all the right supplements, and you still don’t feel like your normal self? Mold can cause such a wide array of symptoms, and you may want to consider it as a root cause. In Sarah’s case, diet and supplements helped to a degree. But getting her back to her healthiest self required treating the mold exposure.
Knowledge is power when it comes to facing chronic illness. It’s so important to be your own advocate in seeking treatment.
Do you suspect that you may have had mycotoxin exposure? Reach out to your healthcare practitioner. My recommendation for accurate testing is The MycoTOX Profile from The Great Plains Laboratory. This comprehensive urine test screens for 11 different mycotoxins. It can also detect low levels of mycotoxins, which is so important to ensure a full recovery.
1. Yancey, J. R., & Thomas, S. M. (2012). Chronic fatigue syndrome: diagnosis and treatment. American family physician, 86(8), 741–746.
2. Brewer, J. H., Thrasher, J. D., Straus, D. C., Madison, R. A., & Hooper, D. (2013). Detection of Mycotoxins in Patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Toxins, 5(4), 605–617. https://doi.org/10.3390/toxins5040605
3. World Health Organization. (n.d.). Mycotoxins. World Health Organization. Retrieved November 23, 2021, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mycotoxins.
4. Brewer, J. H., Thrasher, J. D., & Hooper, D. (2013). Chronic Illness Associated with Mold and Mycotoxins: Is Naso-Sinus Fungal Biofilm the Culprit?. Toxins, 6(1), 66–80. https://doi.org/10.3390/toxins6010066
5. MycoTOX profile – mycotoxin / mold test. Great Plains Laboratory. (n.d.). Retrieved November 23, 2021, from https://www.greatplainslaboratory.com/gplmycotox.