Mold Exposure and Neurotoxicity


Richard G. Jaeckle, MD
Dallas, TX

Any living organism takes in nourishment and discharges wastes. Mycotoxins are the wastes or products of the metabolic processes of molds, which are toxic when consumed. Molds and their toxins are present on the product in the field, but multiply during transportation and storage if thorough drying is not accomplished. Conditions favorable for growth are moisture and temperature. Physical damage to the product accelerates the process, but drought stressed plants are more vulnerable. In 1960, worldwide attention was focused on them when an unprecedented catastrophe occurred. An entire farm of 100,000 turkeys and 20,000 other poults were killed by contaminated peanut meal from Brazil. The culprit was the most poisonous toxin produced by any mold: aflatoxin.

The major mycotoxins include aflatoxin, DON, T-2, zearalenone, fumonisin, and ochratoxins. Agricultural products prone to the development of toxins include peanuts, cottonseed, soy, corn and other grains. For many years veterinarians have observed mycotoxin effects on animals, including allergies, reproductive failure, unthriftiness, loss of appetite, feed refusal, suppression of immune system, decreased feed efficiency, and death. Their effects on organ systems include neuropathy and leucoencephalomalacia, hemorrhage, pulmonary failure, myocardial infarction, liver failure, kidney failure, epidermal and mucosal necrolysis, immunosuppression and bone marrow destruction, and cancer. Biochemical effects include complement lysis, binding of S-H group proteins, cross-linking of proteins, inhibition of DNA and protein synthesis, up or down regulation of macrophages, decreased respiratory function of mitochondria via P-450, and inhibition of sphingolipid synthesis.

Mycotoxicoses in man include St. Anthony’s fire, cardiac beriberi, alimentary toxic aleukia, farmer’s lung, pulmonary, gastrointestinal and immune insult, and cancer. Cancer in humans has been linked to aflatoxin, sterigmatocystin, zearalenone, patulin, ochratoxin, and fumonisin.

Another mycotoxin source for humans are mushrooms.

The following represent the major types of reactions:

1) The most common mycotoxin effect is irritation to the gastrointestinal tract, namely nausea, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea from certain mushrooms.

2) Certain species of mushrooms produce muscarinic effects, usually within 15-30 minutes of ingestion. They may include excessive salivation, sweating, tears, lactation (in pregnant women), severe vomiting and diarrhea, visual disturbances, irregular pulse, decreased blood pressure, and difficulty breathing. Victims normally recover within 24 hours, but severe cases may result in death due to respiratory failure. Atropine is the specific antidote.

3) Atropine is NOT indicated for poisoning due to muscimol, ibotenic acid, and other isoxazole derivatives. These produce symptoms in 30 minutes to 2 hours, and last for several hours. Nausea and vomiting are quite common, but the principal effect is on the CNS: confusion, visual distortion, a feeling of greater strength, delusions, and convulsions. Drowsiness is common, and often the victim falls asleep and cannot be aroused. Treatment is supportive, and recovery is spontaneous.

4)Poisoning from amanitin is extremely serious. Fatality from the amatoxins is 50%. It is so dangerous because symptoms are delayed 6 to 24 hours after ingestion, by which time the toxins are completely absorbed and bound. RNA syntheses is inhibited within every individual cell. The first stage is a latency period of 6 to 24 hours during which toxins are actively destroying the victim’s liver and kidneys. The second stage of about 24 hours is characterized by violent vomiting, bloody diarrhea and severe abdominal cramps. The third period of 24 hours is apparent recovery, during which time the patient is usually discharged. The fourth stage is a relapse due to liver and kidney failure, leading to subsequent relapses or death. Treatment is supportive.

5) Gyromitrin may produce only headache and gastrointestinal symptoms, or proceed to liver, kidney, and RBC damage possibly resulting in death. A hydrolysis product is used by NASA as a rocket fuel.

6) Poisoning from Orellanine is extremely serious, since it is delayed as long from 36 hours to three weeks. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, lethargy, anorexia, frequent urination, burning thirst, headache, sensations of coldness and shivering (generally without fever), progressive kidney failure.

7) Psilocybin has been used in primitive religions and medicine for its hallucinogenic effects, and rediscovered in the 1930’s. Onset of symptoms occurs within an hour and may last 4-6 hours. Effects are primarily psychological and perceptual, including heightened color perception, religious ecstasy or anxiety, and sometimes hallucinations or delusions mediated through the serotonergic systems.

8) Paxiluss involutus is a common cause of gastrointestinal symptoms in Eastern Europe, but may also produce a chronic hemolytic anemia.

Shaw has recently reported small molecule mycotoxins in the urine of a large series of autistic children. These metabolites from yeast, as well as products from Clostridia, came from intestinal contents. Some early cases even returned to normal after antifungal medication and/or Lactobacillus acidophilus was used. Their lowered fungal resistance was due to repeated courses of antibiotics for multiple ear infections. Tartaric acid, which is highly toxic and not produced in humans, was found in high levels in some children. It blocks the Krebs cycle at the malic acid site with effects of decreased energy and impaired gluconeogenesis. Arabinose, a pentose, was also identified and blocks receptor sites for B-6, lipoic acid, and biotin. Other effects of arabinose include pentosidine crosslinking, which decreases solubility and causes neurofibrillary tangles, decreases enzyme activity, decreases flexibility of collagen and muscles, and stimulates autoimmune disease.

In all likelihood, the mycotoxins are also responsible for chemical sensitivity. In 1977 Truss hypothesized that chemical sensitivity was caused by chronic infection with Candida due to the accumulation of the metabolite acetaldehyde. This chemical diffuses body wide, forming a Schiff base with any amine (displacing P5P) or any sulfhydryl group, also decreasing NAD. Randolph also felt that symptoms of chemical sensitivity were aggravated by chronic Candidiasis in women.


#1 AK, 7.5 lbs. at birth, weighed 12 lbs. at one year and was diagnosed FTT (failure to thrive). A progressive downhill course started at 8 yrs. And she was incapacitated by seizure-like rages at 12 yrs. Several physicians found nothing wrong and sent her for psychiatric evaluation. She was extensively studied and then treated with vaccines, Nystatin, and nutrients. Finally, the addition of Tricophyton and Epidermophyton at a dose based on DST produced a dramatic improvement, including a 10x-40x elevation of platelet neurotransmitter levels to normal. A dose based on the ISR produced the seizure/rages several times. We were never able to draw blood during the attacks because of her thrashing about. However, her mother used a glucometer during one episode to verify blood sugars at 40, descending into the thirties and twenties. (Shaw has reported severe hypoglycemia in an autistic child reversed with Nystatin.) We speculate that the proper dose of Tricophyton and Epidermophyton based on the DSR inhibited yeast activity and production of mycotoxins, which then permitted enzyme systems to return to normal function.

#2 WJ, 57 y/o female, had chemical sensitivities, severe allergies, and intestinal problems, which kept her captive to her environmental trailer for over 11 years. Suddenly she developed hemorrhagic areas on her skin body wide. Previously hospitalized for mania in 1981, she again developed mania and was hospitalized on the Psychiatry unit. Lithium, Elavil and tranquilizers were started along with Nystatin. Within 5 days, her skin lesions were fading as her mental status improved. MET vaccines were added later. She has remained normal for several years and is off medication, but continues her MET vaccine.

Since yeasts are part of the normal flora of the intestinal tract, it is imperative that they be considered in any case of food allergy. Food allergic reactions impair digestion and provide more opportunity for fermentation by yeasts and bacterial flora. This increases dramatically the toxicity of the intestinal contents. It is my opinion that food allergies and abnormal flora with yeast overgrowth always coexist. This suggests that a vigorous anti-yeast program should be used with every food allergic patient. The testing and use of the MET vaccine has been discussed previously.

Murphy JW, Friedman K, Bendinelli M., Fungal Infections and Immune Responses, Plenum Press, New York & London, 1993.