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  • Writer's pictureKimmer Collison-Ris, MSN, FNP-BC, MS CAM

Food, Mold, and Your Health

Updated: Mar 6




Our health is dependent upon the food we eat. Sometimes it is not fresh or is affected by mold spores known as mycotoxins. Mold exposure is a common occurrence in food supplies globally. When our food is affected by mold it impacts our immune system. Understanding mycotoxin’s influence on food and its individual health impact on the body is key to staying healthy (Kraft et al., 2021).

There is an intricate relationship between the environment and our internal human microbiome, which is driven by our immune system. Disrupting this relationship can profoundly impact health and in some individuals leads to illness (Sharma & Gilbert, 2018). Mold toxicity commonly mimics many other health conditions, often misdiagnosed in traditional medical offices. Foods most often containing mycotoxins include dairy products, cereals, grains, coffee, nuts, spices, and bulk foods (Eliaz, 2020).

Mycotoxins can cause inflammatory illnesses in vulnerable individuals exposed to food or indoor molds. Understanding how mold is embedded in some foods directly impacts our nutrition. Surprisingly, discussion about mold’s harmful effects is lacking from health education sources and medical provider visits (Christensen, 2020). Mycotoxins in our foods come in two varieties: aflatoxins and ochratoxins. Exposure to these can cause significant medical issues as they are considered extremely hazardous to our health (Eliaz, 2020).

Incidence/occurrence

Naturally produced by various species of fungi, mycotoxins are harmful to our health because they easily infiltrate food and feed ingredients (Debasish Kumar Dey et al., 2022). In the natural habitat, mold positively speeds up decomposition of dead trees and fallen leaves. Commercially, some molds are useful in the making of cheese and creating antibiotics (Eliaz, 2020). But here, the growth of harmful fungi in food is discussed. Mycotoxins require the right pH, humidity, and temperature to multiply and spread in foods (Debasish Kumar Dey et al., 2022).


Adults tend to have robust immune systems versus young children who are more impacted by toxic food contaminants. Cereals are considered the best choice for transitioning from breast milk (or infant formulas) to solid foods. Easily digestible, cereals are relied upon and vital for infant and child nutrition, providing key nutrients for growth and development. Therefore, mycotoxins must be quickly identified in these foods to avoid harm to the vulnerable (Pereira et al., 2022).

Impact upon Human Health

Mycotoxins cause other health problems and can promote irritant responses. Inhaling or disturbing mold spores commonly causes allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. S sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash (Christiansen, 2020; NIH, 2021). Recently molds have gained importance in their impact upon human health. Mycotoxin exposure in persons with immune system dysregulation typically causes allergies, chronic inflammatory responses, and autoimmune disorder flare-ups (Kraft et al., 2021).

Opportunistic, mycotoxins are typically connected with diseases like Lyme, irritable bowel syndrome, and fibromyalgia (Eliaz, 2020). Mold exposure negatively disrupts biochemical pathways, tissues, and organs, causing a confusing mass of symptoms. This exposure decreases glutathione, impairing an individual’s antioxidant and immune defenses. The gut microbiome is strongly affected as mycotoxins cause imbalance of gut bacteria, suppressing helpful types and expanding opportunistic and infective microorganisms (Christensen, 2020).

Chronic mold exposure readily overloads detoxification pathways, increasing the body’s toxic burden. Many mycotoxins easily accumulate in the body’s fatty tissues and are resistant to elimination (Christensen, 2020). Mold exposure creates strong immune reactivity, causing a deluge of inflammatory signaling molecules (Shoemaker & House, 2005). These molecules, intended to protect the body from assault, but when unmanaged, damage DNA and brain, gut, and liver tissues. Neuroinflammation commonly results in mycotoxin illness, causing brain fog, cognitive dysfunction, and depression.

Mycotoxins suppress the immune system and can reactivate dormant infections (Rosenblum Lichtenstein et al., 2015). Long-term exposure causes inflammation, immune system changes, and opportunistic infection vulnerability (Christensen, 2020; NIH, 2021). Frequently misdiagnosed, mold toxicity’s wide-ranging effects, are usually mistaken for autoimmune disorders, depression, and multiple sclerosis.  The key reason mycotoxins cause many symptoms is that their damage suppresses the immune system’s normal warning symptoms (Eliaz, 2020).


Symptoms

Typical mycotoxin health reactions include allergic symptoms (coughing, runny nose, sneezing, and wheezing). Non-allergy prone persons exposed to mycotoxins, can also be affected by congestion, eye irritation, headaches, skin rashes, and chronic sore throat (NIH, 2021). Chronic mycotoxin exposure causes a constellation of other symptoms including digestive problems, dizziness, fatigue, fever, headache, joint pain, memory problems, shortness of breath, sensitivity to light, sinus infections, skin rash, trouble concentrating, and wheezing (Eliaz, 2020).


Solutions and Treatment

Symptoms caused by mycotoxin exposure can be identified and reversed by nutritional intervention (Christensen, 2020). Experienced whole health specialists can identify and customize treatment protocols. Although acquiring home mold testing kits is useful for identifying structural mold, this cannot be applied to food that harbors mold (beans, cereals, coffee, grains, nuts, and seeds). Currently, no home food mold detection device is available (Debasish Kumar Dey et al., 2022).


Limited research exists on the bio-accessibility of mycotoxins in food products. However, interesting results have been observed correlating the fiber and lipid contents of these products with a higher or lower bio-accessibility of mycotoxins. Commercial surveillance includes LC-MS/MS, a method of choice, for detecting and quantifying mycotoxin loads as it has high sensibility and accuracy (Pereira et al., 2022).


What should individuals do to protect themselves from mycotoxin exposure in their food and home? First, try to keep your home free from leaking roofs, drains, and water accumulation that could damage walls, floors, and ceilings, which could contribute to a humid home environment. Additionally, check exterior walls, windows, and floors that have poor heating as they provide mycotoxins opportunity to grow. If this occurs, get an expert to fix the problem immediately.

Store food appropriately in airtight containers and prevent kitchen humidity buildup. Pay attention to expiration dates and signs of deterioration. Purchase foods from stores that quickly rotate their products. Unfortunately, bulk food sections can be suspect. Avoid buying large quantities of foods that easily become stale (coffee, cereals, nuts, seeds, and grains). Purchase fresh coffee and teas. Always feed your children fresh produce and cereals, and store appropriately. Finally, smell your food for freshness. These simple tricks can help keep mycotoxins at bay.


 

References

Christensen, L. (2020, March 13). Food for Mold Illness: What to Eat and What to Avoid [Review of Food for Mold Illness: What to Eat and What to Avoid]. Chriskresser.com. https://chriskresser.com/food-for-mold-illness-what-to-eat-and-what-to-avoid/

Debasish Kumar Dey, Ji In Kang, Bajpai, V. K., Kim, K., Lee, H., Sonam Sonwal, Simal-Gandara, J., Xiao, J., Ali, S., Yun Suk Huh, Han, Y.-K., & Shukla, S. (2022). Mycotoxins in food and feed: toxicity, preventive challenges, and advanced detection techniques for associated diseases. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 1–22. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2022.2059650

Eliaz, I. (2020, October 15). How to Detox Your Body from Mold Without Stressing Out Your Kidneys & Liver [Review of How to Detox Your Body from Mold Without Stressing Out Your Kidneys & Liver]. Dr. Axxe. https://draxe.com/health/how-to-detox-your-body-from-mold-without-stressing-out-your-kidneys-liver/ 

EPA (n.d.). Mold and Health. [Review of Mold and Health.]. EPA.gov. Retrieved January 13, 2024, from https://www.epa.gov/mold/mold-and-health

Kraft, S., Buchenauer, L., & Polte, T. (2021). Mold, Mycotoxins and a Dysregulated Immune System: A Combination of Concern? International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 22(22), 12269. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms222212269

NIH (2021). Mold and your health [Review of Mold and your health]. NIH.gov. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/sites/default/files/health/materials/mold_508.pdf In-text citation: (2021)

Sharma, A., & Gilbert, J. A. (2018). Microbial exposure and human health. Current Opinion in Microbiology, 44, 79–87. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mib.2018.08.003

Shoemaker, R. C., & House, D. E. (2005). A time-series study of sick building syndrome: chronic, biotoxin-associated illness from exposure to water-damaged buildings. Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 27(1), 29–46. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ntt.2004.07.005

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