Mold Toxicity

Mold Toxicity

Molds are present everywhere; indoors and outdoors. Walls, clothes, books, toys – nothing is sacred when it comes to mold growth. Molds can turn our most prized possessions into clammy, moist anguish that only look perfect for the garbage. But for all its hazard effects , the question rises, that to what extent should we be worried about mold and the most important question, that we should ask ourselves is that, if these are the effects that it can have on our possessions, to what extent can these molds affect our bodies?

It is very important to understand the meaning and the underlying effect of mold on human health.

Mold and Human Health

Mold, fungi and mildew are all terms generally used to describe a specific group of organisms that can be found both indoors and outdoors. Molds grow wherever there is enough surface moisture to keep them alive. These molds are found in every type of environment and in every social and economic condition. They generally grow on a damp surface. Mold and mold spores require moisture and a food source, such as cellulose or decaying food, to grow. As mold spores swell with water and grow, they elongate, forming balloon-like protuberances (hyphae), which secrete digestive enzymes and mycotoxins. The fungi then digest the food source to support their growth. About 100,000 fungal species have already been identified; in fact, fungi are estimated to comprise an astounding 25% of the world’s biomass. Molds are capable of growing on a variety of different surfaces, like, fabric, paper and wood. The most common indoor molds are:

  • Stachybotrys – also known as ‘toxic black mold’, produces trichothecenes and other mycotoxins. It feeds of cellulose usually found in dry wall and can become airborne on dust particulates.
  • Alternaria – found in damp places indoors, such as showers or under leaky sinks or ceilings.
  • Aspergillus – found growing on dust, powdery food items and building materials like dry walls.
  • Penecillium – found typically on water damaged materials and are mostly of green and blue color.
  • Cladosporium – capable of growing in cool areas as well as warm areas.

Mold spores are invisible to naked eyes but still are found everywhere. Open windows, doorways and even ventilation systems are getaways through which these spores enter the houses. These molds will only land somewhere if the conditions are idle for their growth i.e. places with excessive moisture and with a supply of suitable nutrients. Wet cellulose materials act as a great support for mold growth – these includes paper products, cardboard, ceiling tiles and wood products. Wallpaper, insulation materials and upholstery are other typical launch pads for mold growth. Mold growth can be easily notices as it usually is visible and often produces a musty and moist odor.

Exposure to molds causes numerous health diseases. After pollens, molds are the leading cause of outdoor airborne allergies. Molds produce several harmful substances like allergens, irritants and the most harmful of all, mycotoxins – potentially toxic substance. Molds and the toxins they secrete i.e. mycotoxins are increasingly being recognized as a source of illness and wide range of symptoms, ranging from mild to severe, including:

Brain fog, muscle and joint aches and pains, wheezing, muscle aches, headaches, fatigue, depression, sleep disorders, skin rashes, immune suppression, kidney disease, lung disease, and even cancer.

Mold Toxicity

The term Mold Toxicity refers to the direct injurious effects of mold produced molecules, called mycotoxins – low molecular-weight chemicals produced by molds that are secondary metabolites unnecessary for the primary growth and reproduction of the organisms. Fungus causes mold toxicity by releasing this poison called a mycotoxin, commonly found in wet homes or buildings and some foods such as coffee and peanuts. Water damage is a leading culprit of mold toxicity. Since the odorless mold lives in hidden spots and floorboards, it often lurks quietly and indefinitely. Mold toxicity can affect the mind in the form of intangible issues that are pegged as overarching “depression” or “stress.” Since many people have these problems from time-to-time, it’s simple to chalk it up to a hectic work or family life. Major long-term effects are memory loss, insomnia, anxiety, and depression. Additional symptoms include difficulty focusing or finishing a task, disorganization, feeling disconnected, confused, not feeling like yourself, or losing parts of your personality.

Dr Allan Lieberman, in his paper Explosion of Mold Cases in Homes, Workplaces and Occupational Medicine Practice, examined 48 patients who were heavily exposed to molds and stated that the following problems are caused by molds:

  • Muscle and joint pain (71%)
  • Fatigue and weakness (70%)
  • Neurocognitive dysfunction (67%)
  • Sinusitis (65%)
  • Headache (65%)
  • Gastrointestinal problems (58%)
  • Shortness of breath (54%)
  • Anxiety/depression/irritability (54%)
  • Chest tightness (42%)
  • Insomnia (40%)
  • Dizziness (38%)
  • Numbness/tingling (35%)
  • Laryngitis (35%)
  • Tremors (25%)
  • Heart palpitations (21%)

In a review paper published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology co-authored by Dr. Lieberman and Dr. Curtis called Adverse Health Effects of Indoor Molds, the authors cite the study by Rea et al of 150 heavily indoor mold-exposed patients, which found similar health problems in similar percentages as Lieberman’s study. Dr. Curtis also wrote another important paper on the effects of mold that Dr. Lieberman summarizes here.

Diagnosis and Treatment

At our Center, evaluation, by an environmental physician including a comprehensive history and physical examination, is a part of the diagnosis. We look for biomarkers of exposure through blood, urine, and allergy testing to determine sensitivity and the type of mold you have been exposed to. Indicators of mold poisoning include, but are not limited to, a low white blood cell count, poor lung function, and neurological damage associated with exposure to biotoxins. Knowing the type of mold and its affects can help the doctor pinpoint the treatment.

Treatment of mold toxicity is a combined effort of you as patients and we as doctors. Clean environment and clean house is the stepping stone of a successful treatment. We care, hence we cure….

Home or Office Testing

Environmental sampling can be performed to check for spores and mycotoxins. Placing agar plated mold dishes in suspected moldy environments can yield counts of colony forming units. One study implies more than four colonies could be a problem, especially for those with recurrent sinusitis.

Calling in a mold inspector to do a thorough evaluation and written report of their findings is important. If litigation is involved it is wise to bring in a CIH, Certified Industrial Hygienist, who is qualified by training to determine the presence and extent of mold over growth.

Recommendations will be made as to avoidance of the contaminated environment entirely. If that is not an option then proper professional remediation of affected areas is required.

For information about mold assessment of homes or businesses:

Please see the article Assessment of Mold in Indoor Environments written by a Certified Indoor Environmental Consultant (CIEC). In addition, mold plates for household sampling of molds are available for our patients at The Center.

Another great resource is May Dooley at


Curtis L, Lieberman A, Stark M, Rea M, Vetter M. Adverse health effects of indoor molds. Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine (Sept 2004) 14(3) 261-274.

Lieberman, A. Explosion of mold cases in homes, workplaces and occupational medicine practices. Presented at the 21st Annual Symposium on Man and His Environment in Health and Disease, Dallas, Texas, 19-22 June 2003.

Liebowitz, R, Waltzman M, Jacobs J, Pearlman A, Tierro P. Isolation of fungi by standard laboratory methods in patients with chornic rhinosinusitis. Laryngoscope 2002:112(12):2189-91.

Vodjani A, Campbell A, Kashanian A, Vodjani E. Antibodies against molds and mycotoxins following exposure to toxigenic fungi in water-damaged building. Archives of Environmental Health 2003; 58(^):324-36.

Vodjani, A, Thrasher J. Madison M, Gray M, Heuser G, Campbell A. Antibodies to molds and satratoxin individuals in a water-damaged building. Archives of Environmental Health 2003; 58(7)421-32.

Vodjani, A. Health effects and immunotoxicology of toxigenic molds and mycotoxins. Presented at the 21st International Symposium of Man and His Environment in Health and Disease, Dallas, Texas, 20 June 2003.