For many people with Hashimoto’s, the root cause of their hypothyroidism can be linked to dietary triggers. Often times, eliminating problematic foods is key to finding healing and eventual remission. However, there are other toxins that can contribute to the autoimmune response, some of them less obvious than others. One such trigger that we hear about less often is mold.
Though not everyone is sensitive to mold, a surprising number of people will find that their deteriorating health, including respiratory, digestive and cognitive issues, can be linked to exposure to toxic mold. In fact, almost 10 percent of the people with Hashimoto’s that I surveyed said that they had been exposed to mold—and that number only accounts for those that knew they were exposed!
In this article, I’d like to explore the connections between mold and Hashimoto’s, including:
- The difference between mold versus toxic mold
- The connection between mold toxicity and Hashimoto’s
- Dave Asprey’s Hashimoto’s success story
- Symptoms of mold exposure
- Diagnosing and addressing mold toxicity
What is Mold?
Molds are a form of fungi and are a natural part of the environment we live in. They can be found almost anywhere, wherever oxygen and moisture are present, and can spread through the air by way of spores, their reproductive cells.
Mold often lurks in damp, dark environments within the home, such as bathrooms, kitchens, recently flooded areas, and basement areas. It can also be found under sinks and in areas with poor ventilation.
Outdoors, mold is often found in moist soil and decaying organic matter. High levels of mold spores in the air are often to blame for environmental allergic reactions. Indoors, when moisture is present, mold can be found in building materials, carpeting, and even foods. Mold can often accumulate when a home is flooded or if there is a hidden water leak that is left unaddressed.
Though molds are all around us, it’s exposure in large quantities that can sometimes lead to serious health problems. Indoors, the most common types of mold typically found are Cladosporium, Penicillium, Alternaria, and Aspergillus. Common health complications related to indoor mold exposure include asthma attacks, headaches, dizziness, sinus infections, and skin rashes.
Some molds produce toxic secondary metabolites called mycotoxins. We call these “toxic molds,” as their mycotoxins can cause serious health problems for both humans and animals. Exposure to mycotoxins has been linked to neurological problems and even death.
Stachybotrys chartarum (sometimes referred to as “black mold”), which grows on household surfaces such as wood, fiberboard, gypsum board, paper, dust, and lint, is one of the most commonly known toxic molds.
Mold: A Potential Root Cause of Symptoms
There are hundreds of peer-reviewed articles discussing the harm that “black molds” are capable of causing to the brain and immune system. The work by mold researcher Dr. Enusha Karunasena has demonstrated that the endothelial cells that make up the blood-brain barrier can become compromised by these molds. Since the endothelial cells make up the brain’s primary protection mechanism against outside threats, damage to them means that the toxic molds can easily get into the brain and damage the neurons.
Additionally, the damage to the blood-brain barrier can allow substances (which are otherwise harmless to the rest of our systems) to cross into the brain and further damage the delicate neurons. This makes it possible for individuals who have suffered damage to the blood-brain barrier due to toxic mold, to develop sensitivities and become affected by exposure to a variety of other substances, from wood smoke to air fresheners. (Read more about multiple chemical sensitivities here.) Mold toxicity is also a potential environmental trigger of Hashimoto’s symptoms, and I’ll discuss this in a minute.
It’s important to note, however, that not all molds are harmful. In fact, molds have many valuable functions, including pharmaceutical and food production uses. After all, penicillin, soy sauce, and blue cheese wouldn’t exist without the presence of mold! However, those who are sensitive to mold may find that even the small amounts of mold present in cheese, nuts, or coffee may be enough to create an adverse reaction.
Symptoms of Mold Toxicity
When it comes to mold exposure, not everyone is affected in the same way. Even those living in the same home may develop different symptoms depending on their genes. Sometimes, multiple family members in the same household may have varying levels of immune-related diseases, but others may not exhibit any symptoms.
That said, common symptoms of mold exposure include brain fog, respiratory issues, cognitive impairment, immune suppression, fatigue, depression, arthritis, digestive problems, poor sleep, inflammation, and joint pain.
Those who have an allergy to mold may experience watery, itchy eyes, a chronic cough, headaches or migraines, difficulty breathing, rashes, fatigue, sinus problems, nasal blockages, and sneezing.
Some of the clients that I’ve seen affected by mold have shown me unbelievable before and after photos. People who were once thin and athletic can put on weight and collect so much inflammation in their bodies that they become virtually unrecognizable within months of mold exposure.
The Mold and Hashimoto’s Connection
An adverse reaction to mold can be a trigger for Hashimoto’s, asthma, and other autoimmune conditions. While I’ve heard a few Hashimoto’s remission stories from readers who were also affected by mold, I was shocked to learn that as many as 45 million people worldwide may be affected!
One of the potential clues of mold being a root cause is when a person’s health begins to deteriorate after moving into a new home. When I conducted a survey with the Hashimoto’s community in 2015, 20 percent of them reported that their health began to decline after a move.
It’s important to note, however, that not everyone is affected the same way when exposed to mold. Depending on a person’s genetic predisposition, they may develop a severe case of asthma, have a sneezing fit, or not experience any noticeable symptoms after a mold exposure.
The mold Aspergillus, commonly found indoors, has been shown in studies to be a cause of thyroiditis in people who were immuno-suppressed. In one study, as much as 20 percent of people affected by disseminated disease were shown to have thyroids that were infiltrated by the Aspergillus mold.
Another study demonstrated that patients who developed chronic illness after being exposed to water damaged buildings and mold were infected with mycotoxins, detectable in urine samples. The study concluded that mold is harbored in the body and continues to release and produce mycotoxins, which contribute to ongoing chronic illness. Sinuses are the favored spot in the body for the mold and mycotoxins to live.
There are a number of different infections, including mold, that can cause sinus problems. These infections can then drain into the gut and cause intestinal permeability (also known as “leaky gut” syndrome). This “leaky gut” caused by mold exposure can then become a major trigger for an autoimmune condition such as Hashimoto’s. (You can read more about leaky gut and Hashimoto’s and how it plays a role in the development of autoimmune diseases here.) I have actually seen cases of Hashimoto’s go into remission when sinus infections are effectively treated.
Dave Asprey Shares His Hashimoto’s Success Story
You may have heard of Dave Asprey, biohacker extraordinaire, the creator of Bulletproof, and the author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Bulletproof Diet, but you may not know that Dave was once diagnosed with Hashimoto’s and was able to put it into remission.
I have to tell you that I was a little star-struck when I met Dave Asprey back in 2013. I sat next to Dave at a dinner following a health conference, shortly after releasing Hashimoto’s: The Root Cause. As I began to introduce myself, Dave cut me off: “Yes, you’re Dr. Izabella Wentz, the ‘Hashimoto’s Hacker’. I’m familiar with your work. I recommend your book to all of my clients with Hashimoto’s.”
I nearly fell out of my chair. I excused myself to call my husband, who, like me, was a huge fan of Dave’s popular podcast. Of course, my husband said, “Why are you talking to me? Go back and talk to him!”. Thank goodness for a voice of reason and assigned seating.
I got a chance to spend the evening chatting with Dave and his wife Dr. Lana Asprey, a fertility specialist, over a delicious Paleo dinner, and we became fast friends. It was amazing to see that Dave was just as brilliant and witty in person as he is on his podcast, but also, that he and his wife were kind, passionate and dedicated to helping people.
I also learned two things that fans of his coffee may not know about Dave…
- Dave USED to have Hashimoto’s and was able to put it into remission.
- One of Dave’s root causes was toxic mold.
At one point, Dave weighed 300 pounds and was constantly brain fogged and exhausted, despite eating a very low calorie diet and exercising six days a week.
Like many of us, he set off on a quest to find answers, and eventually found an integrative doctor who was able to help. Upon finding out he had Hashimoto’s, Dave went completely gluten free and began to change his lifestyle, eventually leading to the development of the Bulletproof diet. As he saw improvement in his health with diet, Dave’s research continued to lead him toward toxic mold. He knew the house where he was living had toxic mold, and the house where he grew up likely had mold issues as well.
He decided to lessen his mold exposure and was able to turn down his autoimmune response. In addition to looking into ways to reduce environmental exposure, he focused on how changing his diet might diminish his mold burden, and reduced his intake of foods containing mold.
His quest to avoid toxic mold in food led him to create his signature Bulletproof Coffee, a drink low in mold and cross-reactive toxins. He also eliminated high-mold foods and beverages from his diet, including peanuts, raisins, beer, and wine. Additionally, he supported his body with activated charcoal (which helps get rid of mold) and glutathione (an antioxidant). The results were astonishing. Dave is now the muscular poster-boy of high performance and is running a multi-million dollar company. And, his thyroid antibodies are now at zero!
Dave was also behind the creation of MOLDY, a documentary about the health effects of toxic mold to spread awareness about this little-known root cause of multiple health conditions.
Testing for Mold
If you suspect that you have been exposed to mold, like Dave Asprey had been, it’s important that you test both your home environment and your body to see if molds are present.
Mold in the Home
As I mentioned earlier, the most common places for mold to exist in the home are dark, damp places that get limited ventilation, such as bathrooms, basements, and any areas that have been flooded in the past. Many affected homes may have a stale, moldy smell. Though a visual inspection may alert you to the presence of mold, not all mold spores are visible to the human eye. Mold can also be lurking behind walls and under flooring, so it will be important to perform an air quality to test to find out if mold is present in your home.
Additional places that can harbor mold in the home include:
- Christmas trees
- HVAC filters
- Cardboard boxes
- Washing machines
- Water pipes
You may have heard of “toxic black mold” and think that all toxic molds are black and easy to spot. However, this is a myth. Many molds are not visible to the eye and present in a multitude of different colors.
To determine if mold is present in a building space, an air sample is taken by using a specialized pump to collect airborne spores. A lab will then determine both the amount of mold spores present in the air, as well as the species of molds.
Mold testing can be conducted by a professional service; however, there are also home kits available that allow you to test for the presence of mold in your home yourself. Kits can be purchased through Real Time Laboratories, and results will be sent directly to you.
To prevent mold growth in your home or workspace, there are several steps that can be taken:
- All sources of uncontrolled moisture should be eliminated (e.g. roof leaks, pipe leaks, flooding).
- Keeping indoor humidity levels below 40 percent will inhibit mold growth.
- All heat/air ductwork systems should be cleaned every two years, and all of the seals on the ductwork should be inspected and repaired, if necessary.
- Once or twice a week, a non-toxic, bio-balancing spray (such as Citrisafe) should be sprayed into the intakes of the duct system. As the unit pulls air, the spray will circulate and keep mold growth to a minimum.
- Anti-microbial filters that kill mold spores should be used in your HVAC intakes.
- Get rid of cardboard boxes. Mold feeds on the ground up wood used to make cardboard, and most people store boxes in under-ventilated spaces, such as garages and closets. Use plastic containers for storage instead.
- Don’t pack clothing articles too tightly in closets — let the closet breathe.
- Leave your washer and dryer doors open while not in use, and spray with a bio-balancing spray (Citrisafe) after each use.
- Don’t clutter corners and areas around furniture with objects that might cause poor air circulation; these areas collect dust and harbor mold.
- Increase ventilation in bathrooms (open windows, turn on fan) to help remove moisture during and after use.
- Cold water pipes should be insulated to prevent sweating and water dripping.
- All pipes entering through flooring or walls (e.g. under the kitchen counter) should be sealed with caulking. The same thing should be done with the metal boxes of all electric plugs and light switches.
- Indoor plants should be limited, as houseplants can easily grow mold. However, NASA has performed extensive research on plants and toxic air to find plants which would remove harmful chemicals from the air (such as formaldehyde and benzene). The following is a list of the plants they found to be helpful:
- Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea seifritzii)
- Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)
- English Ivy (Hedera helix)
- Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
- Janet Craig (Dracaena “Janet Craig”)
- Marginata (Dracaena marginata)
- Mass Cane/Corn Plant (Dracaena massangeana)
- Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (Sansevieria laurentii)
- Pot Mum (Chrysantheium morifolium)
- Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum “Mauna Loa”)
- Warneckii (Dracaena “Warneckii”)
Mold in the Body
Testing for mold in your home environment is just as important as testing your body for the presence of molds.
Functional medicine testing can help you determine whether the mold from your environment has moved into your intestines. Stool tests like the GI MAP test and the GI Effects test may sometimes show mold and fungi present in the stool, and this would be an indication to do deeper testing to figure out the kind of mold a person is colonized with or has been exposed to.
My go-to tests for mold in the body are:
- Organic Acids Test (OAT) from The Great Plains Laboratory: This is a screening test for mold, and can reveal if mold has colonized your body.
- MycoTOX Profile: This comprehensive test screens for 11 different mycotoxins, from 40 species of mold, in one urine sample. It uses advanced mass spectrometry (MS/MS) to detect lower levels of these fungal toxins. This test is optimal for follow up testing to ensure that detoxification therapies have been successful.
Treatments to Eliminate Mold
If you’ve been exposed to mold, it is quite possible that the mold has taken up residence in your body. Eliminating your exposure is a critical first step to recovery from mold toxicity.
In addition to removing the source of the mold, you will most likely need additional interventions to clear the mold from your body.
The presence of mold in the sinuses and intestines can lead to intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and become a trigger for autoimmune disease. Sinus infections (sinusitis), which are often triggered by mold, can also be a root cause of Hashimoto’s. In fact, a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic showed that moldy home and work environments were responsible for 9 out of 10 cases of chronic sinus issues.
For years, researchers believed that all sinus infections were the result of either bacteria or viruses. Now, they are coming to realize that when fungi like mold enters the sinus cavity, a suppressed immune system can react and result in fungal sinusitis. Fungi love damp, dark conditions, making the sinus cavity a perfect place to grow.
There is almost no way to tell the difference between sinus infections caused by fungi and those caused by viruses or bacteria. Additionally, sinus infections can often have a combination of causes. Symptoms of all three types of sinus infections look the same: headaches, sinus pressure, congestion, and discolored discharge.
Allergic fungal sinusitis was first recognized as a disease about a decade ago. It accounts for approximately 6-8 percent of all chronic sinusitis diagnoses that require surgical intervention. Although certain signs and symptoms may cause a physician to suspect allergic fungal sinusitis, no standards have been defined for establishing the diagnosis. However, it is extremely important to recognize allergic fungal sinusitis and differentiate it from chronic bacterial sinusitis, because the treatments and prognosis for these disorders may vary significantly.
Fluconazole, in particular, is a promising treatment for persistent fungal sinusitis infections. One recent study looked at 16 patients with a history of allergic fungal sinusitis. The patients were given fluconazole nasal spray and were followed for three months. Improvement of disease, without significant side effects, was observed in 12 of the 16 patients. Though larger studies are needed to confirm these results, these preliminary findings show that people with allergic fungal sinusitis may benefit from this course of treatment.
The only way to know for sure whether your sinus infection is caused by mold is to get tested for fungal sinusitis by your doctor. There is a test called MARCoNS (Multiple Antibiotic Resistant Coagulase Negative Staphylococci) that can test for mold related bacterial infections, as well as fungi in the sinuses.
A CT scan (which combines x-rays to view cross sections of the body) with an ear, nose and throat specialist can also help determine if a fungal or bacterial infection is present in the sinuses.
Symptoms of chronic sinusitis include pain in the sinuses, nose, ear, face, or throat, as well as drainage from the nose, headaches, chronic cough, post-nasal drip, sneezing, congestion, throat irritation, loss of smell, and ear inflammation. A person may also have a fever, but that may be missed in thyroid disease.
In some cases, treating this sinus infection can reverse Hashimoto’s.
Supplements to help clear mold from the sinuses and gut include:
- Argentyn 23 nasal spray: 5-10 sprays in each nostril for 7-14 days, then 2 sprays in each nostril twice daily until infection resolves
- Oil of oregano: 2 capsules, 3 times per day, for 30–60 days
- S. Boulardii: 5 billion–15 billion CFUs, 2-4 times per day (up to 8 per day), for 60 days
- Activated charcoal: 2 capsules at bedtime (may cause magnesium depletion)
- CholestePure by Pure Encapsulations (soy derived): 1–2 capsules,
3 times per day (with meals), for 30–90 days
Additionally, some prescription medications may be required to treat the infection:
- Fluconazole (kills mold in the sinuses and throughout the body)
- Cholestyramine (binds mold in the body)
- Doxycycline/Augmentin (treats secondary bacterial sinus infections)
- Nystatin oral (treats mold in the gut)
- Nystatin nasal flush (compounded medication used with a NasoNeb to treat fungal infections in the sinuses)
- Prescription Nasal Spray (compounded medication that includes Sporanox, Xylitol, Bactroban, and Beclometasone, to treat both fungal and bacterial infections in the sinuses)
In addition to these treatments, I recommend implementing a nasal rinse with a neti pot once or twice daily, as well as optimizing gut health.
Please note: Candida yeast can often co-occur with mold toxicity, especially when a sinus infection is present, so it may be necessary to follow protocols to eliminate Candida overgrowth along with the mold. You can read more about my recommendations for addressing Candida overgrowth here.
It may be helpful to work with a practitioner who is specifically qualified to treat fungal infections. For more information on what to look for in a doctor and a few resources for finding a mold doctor near you, please visit the Biotoxin Journey website.
Additional Lifestyle Interventions
Whether you’ve experienced mold toxicity yourself, or you simply want to avoid toxic mold exposure as much as possible, there are several ways you can protect both your living environment and your body from excessive amounts of mold.
Many commonly consumed foods can be contaminated with molds that will increase the toxic burden on the body. Some foodborne molds are obvious. White fuzz on the casserole you found in the back of the refrigerator should probably be avoided! But other foods may contain molds that aren’t visible to the eye. If consumed regularly, these molds can be problematic.
Common mold-contaminated foods include:
- Aged cheeses
- Alcoholic beverages
- Wine vinegar
- Processed meats
- Packaged fruit juices
- Dried fruit
- Leftovers (eat within 24 hours or freeze)
- Overripe fruit and vegetables (avoid produce that is wilted, discolored, or mushy)
- Tomato products
- Multi-B vitamins
- Products of Aspergillus fermentation (soy sauce, chocolate, black tea, malt extract, Lactaid, citric acid)
All foods will become moldy with time. Therefore, it is important to shop frequently and buy in small quantities. When in doubt about the freshness of the food at your local market, don’t hesitate to ask the vendors about the freshness of their products. Also be aware that organic foods are more likely to mold quickly.
Additionally, following a diet that is low in mold-containing foods (such as the one outlined in Dave Asprey’s The Bulletproof Diet book, which avoids many of the commonly mold-contaminated foods above) can be helpful when you are trying to eliminate molds from your body.
If you’ve discovered mold in your home, it’s likely that you will need to call in a professional mold remediation service to safely remove the contaminated parts of your home. It is critical that the source of exposure be removed in order to heal from mold toxicity. Otherwise, you will be recontaminated and the vicious cycle will continue.
The Environmental Protection Agency website provides more information and a number of resources for detecting mold in your home, methods to clean the mold yourself, and how to find a professional agency to remove mold from your home.
In extreme cases of mold within a home, it may be necessary to move and discard any belongings that have been contaminated with mold. Otherwise, the risk of recontamination can be too great. While this may seem extreme, remember that your health is worth the sacrifice and you will feel so much better once you have eliminated this trigger from your life.
If you are shopping for a new home or workspace, I suggest having the space inspected by a professional mold detection service so that there are no surprises down the road.
It’s also critical that you keep your living space dry and ventilated. Any flooding or water leaks should be immediately addressed to avoid the opportunity for mold to flourish.
Additionally, you will want to have your air ducts cleaned on a semi-annual basis to ensure they remain clear of mold spores.
Using a probiotic cleaning spray, such as Homebiotics, will help kill mold and bacteria on household surfaces. This spray is naturally derived, and safe to use around children and pets.
I also highly recommend investing in a quality air filter, such as the Air Doctor, to help purify your living environment of airborne molds and other allergens. My mother, who has asthma, has seen a reduction in her asthmatic symptoms with it!
Though mold is one of those unpleasant substances that we’d rather not believe is lurking inside our walls (or inside our bodies!), uncovering the mold in your life could be an important step toward recovering your health and putting your Hashimoto’s into remission.
Testing your home and workspace, eliminating any molds that are present, and being vigilant about preventing mold from forming in your living space are important first steps to becoming free of mold toxicity. Further testing to see if mold is present in your body, followed by implementing a protocol of supplements and pharmaceuticals, may be next steps to ensuring that you eradicate the mold completely.
As always, I encourage you to keep digging for the root cause of your thyroid condition and take the necessary steps to recover your health and vitality!
P.S. You can also download a free Thyroid Diet Guide, 10 thyroid-friendly recipes, and the Nutrient Depletions and Digestion chapter of my first book for free by subscribing to my weekly newsletter. You will also receive occasional updates about new research, resources, giveaways and helpful information.
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Note: Originally published in June 2015, this article has been revised and updated for accuracy and thoroughness.