Getting Tested for Mold Toxicity in Tampa

By: Dr. Matt Lewis, D.C., DACBN, CFMP®

With the coronavirus and COVID-19 (the disease it causes) commandeering the news cycle right now, I’m thinking that some people are so singularly focused on this illness that they’re missing the big picture — the importance of optimal health and wellness.

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that people with other, comorbid conditions are at the greatest risk for experiencing the worst outcomes. So, it stands to reason that one of the best ways for you to lower your risk of experiencing severe illness from COVID-19 is to optimize your health. And a key step toward optimizing your health is to ensure that you’re not suffering from any conditions that negatively impact immune function, such as mold toxicity.

Getting Tested for Mold Toxicity in Tampa

I focus on mold toxicity because it is so prevalent in the Tampa area where I see and treat so many patients who suffer from this condition and improve dramatically from treatment. Because mold toxicity can have such a dramatic effect on immune function at a time when you need your immune system functioning at its best. Immune system dysfunction increases your risk of experiencing severe illness from COVID-19 in two ways:

  • A weak immune response makes you more susceptible to infection and the spread of the virus through your body.
  • An overreactive immune system can release excessive cytokines and other inflammatory chemicals into your body, which can result in sepsis — a potentially fatal condition involving inflammation in multiple organ systems. Most of the people who die from COVID-19 die as a result of an over-the-top immune response to the virus.

Having your home and you tested and treated (if necessary) for toxic mold and a mold-related illness is an important step toward ensuring optimal immune function and addressing any underlying inflammation.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Mold Toxicity

Exposure to moldy and damp environments can cause a variety of health problems with a wide range of symptoms, including the following:

  • Abdominal pain, diarrhea, and/or bloating
  • Chronic burning in the throat and nasal passages
  • Coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Disorientation and/or dizziness
  • Eye irritation or tearing of the eyes
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Headache and/or light sensitivity
  • Hearing loss
  • Heightened sensitivity to chemicals and foods
  • Increased urinary frequency or increased thirst
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Loss of balance
  • Morning stiffness and/or joint pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Poor memory, difficulty finding words
  • Skin rashes
  • Sleep problems
  • Slower reaction time
  • Static shocks or metallic taste in the mouth
  • Unusual skin sensations, tingling, and numbness
  • Vision changes

Unfortunately, these same symptoms can be attributed to a host of underlying health conditions and are commonly used to support vague, unhelpful diagnoses, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and depression — what I refer to as “waste-basket diagnoses.”

Taking a Test-First Approach

As a functional medicine practitioner, I treat patients — not illnesses — and I am committed to identifying and addressing the root cause of dysfunction. My objective is to restore optimal health and function to the body, so it can fend for itself. To achieve this, I take a test-first approach, which enables me to identify the root causes of poor health, so I can address those root causes and provide the support the body needs to be healthy instead of merely suppressing symptoms.

When someone comes to me exhibiting a cluster of symptoms and a medical history that leads me to suspect the possibility of toxic mold, one of the many tests I order is a MycoTOX Profile, which checks for the presence and concentrations of mycotoxins in urine. Mycotoxins are harmful substances produced and released by certain fungi, which commonly infest homes, commercial buildings, vehicles, and foods. Most mycotoxin exposures are airborne or foodborne, and most of the cases I see here in Tampa can be traced to airborne mycotoxins in water-damaged buildings (WDBs), where fungi grow on walls (including inner walls), wallpaper, insulation, ceiling tiles, drywall, and other building materials.

Identifying the Main Culprits

What concerns me most are the four mold (fungi) that produce the mycotoxins Aspergillus (ass-per-jill-us), Penicillium (pen-ih-sill-ee-um), Stachybotrys (stack-ih-bah-tris), and Fusarium (fyoo-zair-ee-um).

A short introduction and overview of each of these main culprits appears below:

Aspergillus

Aspergillus is the most prevalent of the four main culprits and is responsible for billions of dollars of damage each year to crops and livestock. Aflatoxin and ochratoxin are two of the most common aspergillus mycotoxins —primarily targeting the liver. These mycotoxins are commonly found in certain crops, including corn, cotton, millet, peanuts, rice, sunflower seeds, wheat, and various spices, and in eggs, milk, and meat from animals fed contaminated grains.

Aspergillus fumigatus, a species of this mold, is very common in WDBs. In addition to other mycotoxins, it produces gliotoxin, which suppresses the immune system, allowing the fungi to thrive in the body. Diseases caused by Aspergillus are called aspergillosis (ass-per-jill-oh-sis). The most common route of infection is through the respiratory system. When the mold colonizes in the lung, it can cause severe asthma.

Patients with compromised immune systems — from chemotherapy, for example — are at greater risk of developing aspergillosis. It is most common in people with underlying lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or tuberculosis. For more about Aspergillus and aspergillosis, see BioDesign Wellness’ excellent write-up, “Living with Mold in Tampa: Part 1 — Recognizing the Warning Signs.”

Penicillium

More than 200 species of Penicillium have been discovered, with Penicillium Chrysogenum being the most common. It is a known contaminant in many different food items, especially citrus fruits, but also seeds and grains.

Penicillium is often found in indoor environments (in wallpaper, carpet, furniture, and fiberglass insulation) where, unlike other molds, it can thrive in low humidity. Sadly, it is responsible for many allergic reactions.

The most common mycotoxin produced by Penicillium is ochratoxin (OTA), which is nephrotoxic, meaning it damages the kidneys. It is also carcinogenic (cancer-causing).

Stachybotrys

Stachybotrys is a greenish-black mold that commonly grows on materials with high cellulose and low nitrogen content such as gypsum board, paper, fiberboard, and ceiling tiles. It requires constant moisture to grow.

This mold is known for producing the highly toxic macrocyclic trichothecene mycotoxins, including roridin E and verrucarin. Trichothecenes kill olfactory neurons and may be at least partially responsible for “brain fog” and other cognitive impairments related to mold exposure. (See “Psychiatric Illness or Moldy Brain” on the BioDesign Wellness website for more information.)

In addition, Stachybotrys produces nine phenylspirodrimanes, as well as cyclosporine, which are potent immunosuppressors. The one-two punch of immunosuppression and toxicity may be why this fungus poses such a formidable threat to human health.

Fusarium

Fusarium is a soil fungus that grows best in temperate climates and is found on many different grains including wheat and corn.

Fusarium’s major mycotoxins are zearalenone (ZEN) and fumonisin, which can cause abdominal distress, malaise, diarrhea, vomiting, and even death. Fumonisin induces neuronal degeneration in the cerebral cortex — the part of the brain responsible for executive function. People who experience signs of cerebral cortex degeneration may ask the same or similar questions repeatedly, utter whatever it is that they are thinking, have difficulties making decisions and solving problems, and may even regularly appear to be irritable of angry. ZEN possesses estrogenic effects and has been implicated in reproductive disorders. Fusarium also releases the mycotoxin T-2, which indiscriminately kills normal brain cells.

A Simple Test

If you or someone in your family is experiencing any of the symptoms described at the beginning of this post and has not yet received a satisfactory explanation and effective treatment, I strongly encourage you to get tested. The MycoTOX Profile is a simple, non-invasive urine test for adults and children that can quickly identify and gauge the level of any mycotoxin exposure.

After reviewing the results, you will know for certain whether mold is or is not the root cause of symptoms. If the root cause is mold, I can refer you to a reputable mold remediation service to have your home or building tested and help you decide the best course of action to reduce or eliminate your exposure moving forward. I can also order additional lab tests needed to help identify and treat any dysfunction or deficiencies in your body that need to be addressed and to help your body detox, so you can start to feel better as soon as possible.

Urine’s role in testing for mold

You may be wondering, “If mold is everywhere, won’t everyone have mold in their urine?” Yes, mold is everywhere — inside and outside. It’s in homes, schools, and workplaces, and even in and on many foods. In fact, if your exposure to mold is from the outside world, the concentration of mold in your system isn’t likely to be an issue. On the other hand, if you’re living and breathing in an enclosed home, school, or workplace where mold is growing, you’re likely to have elevated levels of mold toxins that may be negatively impacting your health. And, unfortunately, there are some people who have a genetic inability to detox mold toxins, which is another condition I can test for and treat.

While we are all exposed to mold and mold toxins — and are likely to test positive for the presence of mycotoxins in our urine — the MycoTOX Profile accounts for “normal” levels of exposure. If concentrations exceed the expected or “normal” levels, and you have symptoms of mold-related illness, mycotoxins are the likely cause, and treatment is recommended.

To read a case study of one of my patients who is successfully recovering from mold toxicity, see BioDesign’s write-up, “Meet the Patient: Case Study on Migraines and Environmental Acquired Illness.” To schedule an appointment or to consult with me about your symptoms, and to be tested for mold toxicity, please visit the Appointments page here on my site.

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Disclaimer: The information in this blog post about the role of urine testing in treating mold-related illnesses is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect current medical thinking or practices. No information contained in this post should be construed as medical advice from Dr. Matt Lewis, D.C., DACBN, CFMP®, nor is this post intended to be a substitute for medical counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate medical advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a licensed medical professional in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.

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About the Author: Dr. Matt Lewis, D.C., DACBN, CFMP®, specializes in diagnosing and treating the underlying causes of the symptoms related to chronic and unexplained illness through nutrition, lifestyle, chiropractic, and other natural approaches to whole-health healing in Tampa, Florida. Dr. Lewis has twenty years of experience practicing nutritional and holistic medicine. He earned his B.S. in Biology from Shenandoah University, his Doctorate in Chiropractic from Life University, his Diplomate status in Clinical Nutrition from the American Clinical Board of Nutrition, his CFMP® from Functional Medicine University, and his certification as a Digestive Health Specialist (DHS) through the Food Enzyme Institute. Dr. Lewis’ passion for health and wellness stems from his own personal experience. With a family history of autoimmune conditions and diabetes, and his own lab tests showing his genetic susceptibility to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (autoimmune thyroid), he has learned how to restore his own health and vigor to prevent the onset of these and other illnesses and live an incredibly active life. Through this process, he acquired a deeper understanding of health and wellness, which he now offers his patients in Tampa.

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