In my functional clinical practice, Texas Integrative Medicine, one of the most common problems I see is chronic, complex illness from the presence of mold toxins in the body. I usually see patients who come in with a group of unexplained symptoms and the cause is unknown. In other cases a person knows that they are being exposed to bad mold and have symptoms, but don’t know what to do about it.
Some of the symptoms of mold toxin/mycotoxin toxicity are caused by the direct toxic effects on our cells and sub-cellular organelles (especially mitochondria). Probably even more symptoms are caused by immune self-injury! Let me explain. When our body’s immune system encounters non-self, such as a mycotoxin molecule, it is programmed to respond with what is called the immune response, the purpose of which is to neutralize or remove the non-self (think germ invader or germ toxin). Unfortunately in many cases our own cells and tissues can be injured by the immune response in a process of immune self-injury or “autoimmunity“. Many of the symptoms that patients encounter with mycotoxin exposure are immune self-injury or immune inflammation symptoms. Ok, what are they? Almost always severe fatigue and intolerance to exercise or exertion is a hallmark of mold illness. Symptoms involving the nervous system are almost always present. These symptoms are from effects on the Central Nervous System as well as the Peripheral Nervous System (all the many nerves outside the brain). Brain Fog is a term my patients often use to describe the brain effects of mold toxicity. This term means that they experience loss of focus, loss of train of thought, difficulty with word finding, difficulty with problem solving, memory loss, and even confusion. In addition to brain fog most patients also experience significant mood alterations. They experience a sense of anxiety, emotionality, excessive fear or worry, depression, sense of despair, and often the inability to get restful sleep. Symptoms of peripheral nervous system involvement include many symptoms of numbness, tingling, burning and pain. This is often localized to one area or side of the body and often migrates and comes and goes. Digestive Disorder symptoms are exceedingly common. When mold toxins on mold spores are inhaled into the nose, they stick to the nasal mucous and later are usually swallowed. Some mold toxins are actually on the food we eat and are consumed. Effects of mycotoxins in the Gastro-Intestinal tract include acid reflux/heartburn, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. Pulmonary manifestations include shortness of breath and cough. The toxic effects of molds also can reek havoc on our hormone-producing glands leading to a wide array of hormone imbalances and deficiencies. Immune self-injury of the muscles, ligaments, bones, joints, and tendons often causes severe aches, pains and stiffness.
In 1996, Dr. Shoemaker was practicing Family Practice in Maryland on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay. Some of his long-time patients were coming to him with the symptom picture that I described above. He had heard about a toxin-producing algae-like germ called Pfiesteria that occured in algae-blooms in the bay. One of his patients came in with severe diarrhea. He decided to treat her diarrhea with cholestyramine, an old medicine used to lower cholesterol by binding it in the intestine, which was one of his favorite diarrhea treatments. To his surprise and pleasure, the patient reported that within a few days her diarrhea was gone along with her memory loss, headache and cough. He later learned that similar toxins could be produced by many indoor molds and lead to a similar clinical picture. Over the years Dr. Shoemaker worked out many of the mechanisms that resulted in patient’s symptoms and he called the disease process Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome or CIRS based largely on the fact that most of the symptoms were the result of inflammation due to the immune system’s response to the mycotoxins.
Later Dr. Shoemaker worked out a complex protocol and actually formed a training program (subject to tuition costs of course) to “certify” practitioners in his Shoemaker Protocol. He has published several books on CIRS including Mold Warriors: Fighting America’s Hidden Health Threat (April 2005) and Surviving Mold: Life in the Era of Dangerous Buildings (December 2010). He also maintains a very informative website about the illness- www.survivingmold.com.
It has been my experience in working with patients with the symptoms of Mold Illness that the symptoms seen from a variety of diseases associated with infection from a variety of Vector-Borne diseases are much the same.
Lyme Disease which is a disease reaching epidemic proportions in the United States is one such disease that overlaps the symptoms of mold illness. The germ Borrelia burgdorferi, a spirochete which does occur in Texas and in much of the United States is just one stealth infection that may look like mold illness. Even though the principles of treatment of each disease is different although some of the approaches to treatment overlap.
In my practice I am amazed by the differences that I see among individuals that are shown to have mold toxins and stealth germs in their bodies. It appears that some people are completely without any symptoms even though they harbor mold toxins/mycotoxins and stealth germs like the “Lyme germ” in their bodies. I have found that it is very important to individualize the treatment of these diseases. The individual’s susceptibility to manifest symptoms from the various toxins is what I call BioTerrain. These are the various factors of genetics and epigenetics which is what causes one person to be a “Canary in the Coal Mine” while another person with essentially the same set of mold toxins and stealth infection toxins is like a “Cast Iron Skillet” and may be perfectly well.
To successfully resolve symptoms, I have found that rule #1 is to identify and eliminate ongoing exposure to the toxins causing the problem. This may require inspecting for mold-toxin causing molds in the indoor environment. This may include testing for the presence of mold toxins and stealth infections in the body. Often tests to understand the BioTerrain are helpful in order to modify the individual’s susceptibility to symptoms and inflammation. Finally the goal of treatment is to assist in the elimination or reduction of toxins, mycotoxins and harmful stealth germs such as the “Lyme Borrelia” from the body. There are quite a few tools that are used to accomplish this and I have found that these tools must be individualized from patient to patient. One size definitly does not fit all.
I would be privileged to assist anyone who suspects that they are suffering from the effects of mycotoxins and other biotoxins and has not found the answers that they are looking for. I am accepting new patients. Please call 512-420-9300 if you wish to be seen by me in consultation.
Dr. Taylor practices integrative medicine at Texas Integrative Medicine in Austin, Texas. After obtaining a general medical doctorate degree from University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas he completed a general medical internship and residency training in head and neck surgery ENT and allergy. After 20 years service in the US Army Medical Corps and practice in Colorado and Texas he founded Texas Integrative where he now offers a functional holistic approach to disease which treats the entire individual instead of each separate symptom. He has found more satisfying results using this Systems BioIndividualized approach. His motto is “Health and Wellness from Head to Toe”. www.texasintegrative.com office phone-512-420-9300
In my last blog post, Part 1 of this series, I introduced the concept of stealth infection as a cause of chronic disease. I explained that many persistent illnesses with many different symptoms-diseases like autoimmune disease, diabetes, thyroid disorder, adrenal fatigue, heart disease, and even cancer- may in fact be manifestations of the presence of harmful microscopic organisms called pathogens within the body. Since stealth germs are often very difficult to identify and recover in the body, the concept of stealth infection has been underappreciated by many health care providers. I explained how diseases such as HIV/AIDS, chronic viral hepatitis, chronic neuroborreliosis (Lyme Disease) and others are explained by this phenomenon. I discussed how symptoms like chronic fatigue, chronic pain, arthritis, depression, brain fog, irritable bowel are common symptoms associated with stealth infections.
In Part 2 I will dive a little deeper into this subject and attempt to answer some common questions about stealth infection.
The answer to this question requires a brief explanation of how infection is generally diagnosed. Infection is first suspected clinically based on symptoms and signs that the patient exhibits. Often symptoms of infection are caused by the immune system’s response to infection that is sometimes referred to as inflammation. If the immune system does not recognize or respond to infection, symptoms of disease are often absent or diminished. This may not be a good thing since the pathogen proceeds unchecked. When there are symptoms of inflammation-classically fever or warmth, local or generalized pain, swelling or induration, and redness-infection is likely at fault. Infection may be diagnosed by growing the pathogen in appropriate culture conditions from a specimen (urine, blood, sputum, etc.) of the sick person. In the case of a Strep throat or a bacterial urinary tract infection this is straight forward. In many other infectious diseases it if very difficult if not impossible to culture the disease-causing germ. Viruses are especially resistant to culture.
Infection is sometimes diagnosed by seeing the pathogen usually under a microscope since they are very tiny. Again this can be routine as when the germ causing tuberculosis is seen under the microscope in a sample of a sick patient’s sputum. Many germs that cause stealth infection are difficult to see. Viruses because they are extremely tiny are not typically seen under the light microscope but may be seen under an electron microscope. Many germs that cause stealth infection have adapted the ability to enter our human cells and may be more difficult to see even under the microscope. Special staining techniques can assist in seeing these pathogens within cells. Stealth germs may reside in nests of sticky material known as biofilms and not be readily visible. When stealth germs are present in specimens in small numbers, which is often the case, they may be overlooked with microscopic visualization techniques. Techniques are sometimes employed to try to increase the numbers of pathogens in a specimen using tricks to concentrate their numbers in order to make it more likely that they may be seen.
Very commonly infection is inferred by indirect tests that depend on measuring factors from the patient that are specific for infection. These tests are sometimes referred to as serologic tests (present in the patient’s serum/blood) or antibody titer tests. Often, but not always, when a stealth pathogen is present it will trigger the immune system to form antibodies which are proteins produced by specialized cells of the immune system. Of course this requires that the patient’s immune system is capable of making enough antibody to measure. Sometimes the amount of antibody is measured at the onset of suspected infection and again later to see if the quantity of antibody rises (acute and convalescent titers).
Some stealth pathogens have developed the capability of preventing the patient’s immune system from making antibodies that would normally assist in the control or elimination of the disease. These stealth pathogens have “learned” to become immune system disruptors in order to give them a survival advantage in evading immune system attempts to control or eliminate them. Some stealth pathogens make enzymes that break down or digest elements of our immune systems rendering it ineffective in combating disease. In other cases antibodies that are produced by the body may not be specific for the germ that is causing the stealth infection and the infection may be wrongly diagnosed. These types of antibodies are said to be cross-reactive.
More recently molecular diagnostic techniques are emerging that attempt to identify molecules within the patient that are unique to a specific stealth infection-causing germ. Often the DNA or RNA molecules of the stealth pathogen are the targets for this type of testing which sometimes goes by the name PCR testing. DNA and RNA, of course are the unique instruction-containing “molecules of life” that differentiate one living being from another. They are “fingerprints” so to speak that identify each creature. Testing techniques which attempt to identify DNA or RNA of a stealth pathogen are rapidly being developed. One drawback is that there must be enough DNA or RNA to pass the threshold of detection within the specimen being evaluated. The exact sequence or makeup of the DNA or RNA of the stealth germ must have been previously determined in order to diagnose a specific infection much in the same way that to catch a criminal with a fingerprint, the fingerprint of that criminal must have been determined previously. Even though the DNA or RNA of a specific stealth germ is identified in a patient’s specimen, there is no guarantee that the presence of the germ in question is directly causing the patient’s chronic disease.
Later we will explore how stealth germs actually cause disease once they enter the body.
Dr. Taylor practices integrative medicine at Texas Integrative ENT and Allergy in Austin, Texas. After obtaining a general medical doctorate degree from University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas he completed a general medical internship and residency training in head and neck surgery ENT and allergy. After 20 years service in the US Army Medical Corps and practice in Colorado and Texas he founded Texas Integrative where he now offers a functional holistic approach to disease which treats the entire individual instead of each separate symptom. He has found more satisfying results using this Systems BioIndividualized approach. His motto is “Health and Wellness from Head to Toe”. www.texasintegrative.com office phone-512-420-9300
These chemicals damage cells and tissues both by direct toxic effect as well as by interfering with the function of important nutrient metals including calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron, and copper. Although toxicity from a single exposure is quite rare the toxic effect of gradual low levels of exposure is now appreciated to be a common occurrence in many individuals. Diagnosis of heavy metal toxicity is somewhat controversial. Blood testing misses many cases not associated with high level recent exposure. The heavy metals often accumulate in tissues like the brain, liver, kidneys, and immune system. A more sensitive method to detect the presence of heavy metals involves the measurement of heavy metals in urine following the administration of a chelating agent designed to transiently increase mobilization and clearance.
Although it is important to learn to recognize the symptoms of heavy metal toxicity, tissue levels are often quite high before symptoms are appreciated. Symptoms include cramps, numbness, tingling, tremors, muscle tics and twitches, memory loss, confusion, impaired language skills, loss of coordination, abnormality of gait, anxiety, depression, headache, digestive problems, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, fatigue, night sweats, deteriorating vision, unexplained weight gain or loss, aching joints, body aches and pains, hair loss, impaired blood sugar regulation, frequent colds and flus, unexplained skin rashes, insomnia, low body temperature, bleeding gums, sensitivity to chemicals and odors, menstrual irregularity, infertility, and miscarriage. Diseases associated with heavy metals include peripheral neuropathy, Parkinson’s, dementia, epilepsy, autism, kidney failure, liver cirrhosis, diabetes, alopecia, pulmonary fibrosis, and vitiligo.
Start reading labels of personal skin and hair care products and avoid products known to contain aluminum and other harmful chemicals. Drink lots of purified or mountain spring water. Avoid cooking with aluminum and teflon. Certain hobbies and vocations are known to be associated with a marked increase in toxic metal exposure like hair-dressers, welders, potters, farmers, stained glass workers, and painters.
If you suspect symptoms of heavy metal toxicity or have been diagnosed with elevated and potentially toxic levels of these metals it is important to take active steps to support detoxification metals designed to assist the body in elimination of them in order to avoid and even reverse their toxic effects. At Texas Integrative Medicine we are very aware of the role that toxic heavy metals play in chronic disease and we have protocols that are designed to diagnose and treat this frequently seen problem. Call today to schedule an evaluation at 512-420-9300.