Mold is commonly found in our homes and workplaces. It is important that we understand the potential health issues caused by mold exposure along with the signs and symptoms. Education and awareness are the first steps to understanding how our exposure to mold can contribute to a range of different issues.

What is mold?

Mold is a type of fungus that grows best in warm, damp, and humid conditions. It can grow almost anywhere moisture and organic material is present, such as in soil, on foods and plants, and in homes or other structures. Mold can enter the home through open doorways, windows, vents, and heating and air conditioning systems. Mold in the air outside can also attach itself to clothing, shoes, and pets, which can then be carried indoors. In homes, mold most commonly occurs in areas where there has been a roof leak or other flooding as well as near windows and pipes. Mold grows well on paper products, cardboard, ceiling tiles, and wood products. It can also grow in dust, paints, wallpaper, insulation, drywall, carpet, fabric, and upholstery. (2)

A large number of studies in many geographical regions have found consistent associations between evident indoor dampness or mold and respiratory or allergic health effects in infants, children, and adults. (11)

 

 

Mold exposure woman cleaning window
Windows are common locations for mold to grow.

 

Signs and symptoms of mold exposure

The most common symptoms of mold exposure include allergy-like symptoms and irritation. Other less common adverse effects of inhaling mold include infections and illness. (17) Although rare, some individuals, particularly those with severely suppressed immune systems, may experience serious infections from mold exposure. Mold-related respiratory infections have been reported from workplace exposures to mold. Although symptoms can vary widely, the most common symptoms of mold exposure seen in people exposed to mold indoors include:

  • Cough
  • Eye irritation, such as itchy, red, watery eyes
  • Headache
  • Nasal and sinus congestion
  • Skin irritation (e.g., rash)
  • Throat irritation
  • Wheezing and difficulty breathing (17)

 

 

Mold exposure man rubbing eyes
Itchy, red, watery eyes are some of the physical symptoms associated with mold exposure.

 

Health effects of black mold

Black mold refers to several species of mold, such as Stachybotrys chartarum, that have a dark green or black appearance. (2) The most common black mold symptoms and health effects are associated with a respiratory response and include:

  • Chronic coughing and sneezing
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Irritation to the eyes and mucus membranes of the nose and throat
  • Persistent headaches
  • Rashes (4)

Furthermore, mold exposure (ME) has been shown to pose a risk to neurological health. One study investigated the effects of ME on human cognition by analyzing neuropsychological data from patients who were exposed to mold in their homes or workplaces. Compared to normative data, ME patients demonstrated impaired (<10th percentile) cognitive measures, with the most consistent deficits in visuospatial learning, visuospatial memory, verbal learning, and psychomotor speed. (3)

Addressing mold exposure

Supporting lung health and consuming nutrient-dense foods may help if you’re experiencing any adverse health effects of mold exposure. Additionally, your integrative healthcare provider may recommend certain herbs or antioxidant supplements.

Consume nutritious foods

A diet that emphasizes whole, nutritious foods, including plenty of greens, fiber, and healthy fats, can help control inflammatory processes associated with the effects of mold on the body.

Fruits and vegetables

Consider including anthocyanins (plant pigments) found in beets, berries, cherries, and dark purple and red grapes as they help control the inflammation linked to allergic reactions. Green vegetables and citrus fruits such as lemons and oranges contain hesperidin, a bioflavonoid with anti-inflammatory properties that protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Quercetin-rich foods such as apples, berries, red onions, and red grapes are considered to be nature’s antihistamines. (12)

Healthy fats

By increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids (e.g., fish, flax), you can help control inflammation. Dietary fatty acids can control the incidence and severity of inflammation by improving membrane fluidity and receptor function. (19) Omega-3s play important roles in the body as components of the phospholipids that form the structures of cell membranes. In addition to their structural role in cell membranes, omega-3s (along with omega-6s) provide energy for the body and are used to form eicosanoids. Eicosanoids are signaling molecules that have similar chemical structures to the fatty acids from which they are derived; they have wide-ranging functions in the body’s cardiovascular, pulmonary, immune, and endocrine systems. (14)

Mold exposure and lung support

Working closely with the heart and blood, the main role of the respiratory system is to uptake oxygen from the air we breathe and dispose of waste gases, primarily carbon dioxide. Supporting the lungs is essential for those suffering from short- or long-term exposure to mold.

Many environmental factors contribute to the development of pulmonary diseases. Environmental pulmonary diseases result from the inhalation of dust, allergens, chemicals, gases, and environmental pollutants. The lungs are an important interface between the body and the environment; consequently, the lungs are a common site for environmentally-induced diseases. (16)

In the lungs, inflammation is usually caused by pathogens or by exposure to toxins, pollutants, irritants, and allergens. During inflammation, numerous types of inflammatory cells are activated. Each one releases cytokines and mediators to modify the activities of other inflammatory cells. Orchestration of these cells and molecules leads to a progression of inflammation. (13) While this response is usually protective and beneficial, inflammation also has the potential to injure tissue, including the airways, within the lungs. (9)

Natural supplements can be beneficial when dealing with respiratory issues caused by short- or long-term exposure to mold.

Supplements for lung health

Supplementation with specific vitamins, minerals, and medicinal herbs can be highly beneficial for reducing symptoms associated with mold exposure.

Here are some things to keep in mind when looking for an effective dietary supplement:

  • Ensure that scientific research supports the reliability and effectiveness of the ingredients.
  • Choose a supplement that has been tested to ensure there are no heavy metals, contaminants, or other toxins present.
  • Select multi-ingredient formulas, which provide a synergistic combination of nutrients, or if choosing single-ingredient products, ensure the dose is consistent with scientific research.

Supplement with beneficial herbs for respiratory health

Medicinal herbs may offer therapeutic benefits for respiratory diseases since several compounds have shown anti-inflammatory effects and inhibition of different inflammatory mediators involved in respiratory diseases such as asthma, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Many studies highlight the antioxidant effects of these products. (20)

Did you know? Chronic respiratory diseases (CRDs) are chronic diseases of the airways and other structures of the lungs. Some of the most common conditions include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and respiratory allergies, occupational lung diseases, sleep apnea syndrome, and pulmonary hypertension. (15)

A beneficial combination may include various herbs, including:

  • Baikal skullcap root (22)
  • Chrysanthemum flower (23)
  • Eucalyptus leaf (21)
  • Japanese honeysuckle flower (10)
  • Stinging nettle leaf (7)

Consume antioxidants

Polyphenols derived from foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds are effective antioxidants and may protect against several chronic diseases. (8) Data from human clinical trials suggest a beneficial effect from the dietary intake of polyphenols in obstructive lung disease, asthma, and lung function. (1)

A beneficial combination may include specific antioxidants, including:

  • Bilberry berry extract (6)
  • Maritime pine bark (18)
  • Quercetin (5)

 

 

Mold exposure dietary supplements
Dietary supplements can be beneficial to support respiratory health for those who have been exposed to mold.

 

The bottom line

People who have asthma, allergies, or immune system-related issues are more vulnerable to the effects of mold, regardless of its color. To prevent mold overgrowth in your home, it is essential to control humidity levels, promptly fix leaky roofs, windows, and pipes, and properly ventilate showers, laundry, and cooking areas. Watch for small clusters of mold growth and be sure to remove them right away. If you think you have been exposed to mold and it’s affecting your health, speak to your integrative healthcare practitioner about the effects of mold on the body and your treatment options.

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Disclosure: This article was written in partnership with Alpha Science Labs. All supplier partnerships have been approved by doctors on our Integrative Medical Advisory team, and this content adheres to all guidelines outlined in our content philosophy. Fullscript has not been compensated financially for the publication of this article.

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