Ask A Doctor

A Holistic Approach to Mold Illness

BY Conan Milner and Dr. Ann Corson TIMEJune 26, 2022 PRINT

Mold is a fungus that can flourish with just three ingredients: moisture, oxygen, and organic material.

At its best, mold is an indispensable part of the circle of life. When plants and animals die, mold helps break down their remains so they can return to the earth.
But mold can also be a hindrance. We all most likely remember when food left too long on the counter or in the refrigerator develops fuzzy green, blue, grey, or white spots. The longer it sits, the more mold grows, destroying the food.

Mold can also infest your house, your work place, your place of worship, your gym, your car and seriously affect your health.

Integrative family physician Dr. Ann Corson diagnoses and treats mold induced illness. Her recent Ask a Doctor article discusses how mold infested buildings can cause disease.

The Epoch Times asked Corson to explain how she treats mold related illness, how mold affects other diseases, and what we can do to prevent mold from taking hold.

Epoch Times: When it comes to serious health concerns, people typically think of cancer, heart disease, or perhaps COVID. But mold doesn’t immediately spring to mind. How serious is it?

Dr. Ann Corson: In my view, it’s a very serious health hazard. It’s been estimated that 30 percent of public buildings have some problem with mold growth in them.

Since the 1970s, mold growing in residential homes has become a more significant problem. Just think about how our building materials have changed. We now frame out houses with wood, and sometimes that wood has already molded while sitting in the lumber yard. We use drywall which grows mold easily. We use insulation with cardboard backing. We use a pressed board or OSB board to form the walls. Houses are sealed tight with vinyl windows. HVAC (heating and air conditioning) units are often placed in the attic where condensation, accidental overflow or temperature changes causing condensation allows for mold growth. Additionally, the ducting materials used sometimes mold. So between the building materials and humidity, mold can be a serious problem in a lot of buildings.

About 25 percent of the population will become ill to some degree on a chronic basis due to exposure to toxic molds that grow in water damaged buildings. The reason is due to their immune system hard drive or genetic set point. We have 42 chromosomes and on our sixth chromosome we have a large area which codes for the proteins for the cell surfaces of some of our immune system cells.

Our innate immune system, which is our first line of defense, calls out the alarm that there are foreign invaders in the body. It then creates inflammation and communicates to other branches of the immune system to develop a long-term cleanup plan. The cellular or adaptive immune system then makes antibodies to help bind toxins and infections and clear them from the body. Other immune cells come in like garbage trucks to clean up. The toxins and infections that we are exposed to throughout our lives develop the software that controls our genetic hard drive.

In about 25 percent of the population, there are some glitches in that hard drive that makes them more susceptible to illness upon exposure to mold. The lines of communication between the innate immune system and the cellular immune system don’t work so well. A small percentage of these people are really weak in developing antibodies to clear the mold toxins that come from indoor toxic mold species. These people become seriously and chronically ill upon long term exposure to indoor toxic molds.

In these patients, the innate immune system just stays stuck in the ‘on’ position, kind of like a thermostat being stuck on high in a heatwave in the summertime. Mold toxins don’t get cleared very well out of the bodies of these people. Rather, they stay in the body and accumulate everywhere due their very small size. As they are both fat and water soluble, these toxins get into all cells.

These small toxins can enter the nucleus of cells where our DNA is kept and they’re actually able to change the expression of our DNA by turning on the productions of inflammatory proteins called cytokines. The thermostat is stuck on high because of a positive feedback mechanism that keeps producing inflammation generating cytokines. So, these people are just incredibly inflamed they have a lot of illnesses as a result as inflammation is at the root of many chronic illnesses.

The illness caused by toxic mold exposure is called biotoxin illness. In addition to mold, it is believed that some of the chronic infections people have can also secrete toxins which also perpetuate this inflammatory process.

Epoch Times: Another type of disease-causing fungus we hear more about is yeast or candida. Are there any similarities between yeast overgrowth and mold?

Dr. Ann Corson: Well, it’s different than having a yeast infection in the intestines, or having a yeast or fungal growth on your skin such as athletes’ foot or ringworm. Spores from indoor toxic molds such as Aspergillus can settle and then grow in the sinuses in people who are breathing in the toxins in the spores for long periods of time. In very sick people, Aspergillus can grow in the lungs. Usually, if you have a mold infection in the lungs, you’re ill and in the hospital.

Mold toxins damage the lining of the gut: the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and so on. I tell my patients that damage that mold toxins do to your gut lining is like showering sparks on a silk scarf, they put holes in your gut, creating a leaky gut. Leaky guts let molecules of things such as digested food, toxins, and microorganisms through into the body that shouldn’t get through which causes a whole lot of allergic upregulation and more inflammation in the body.

The toxic molds growing in buildings create a leaky gut and generally contribute to a shift to an abnormal gut microbiome or dysbiosis. Leaky gut and dysbiosis can be caused by other toxins that people consume as well. People who are eating a lot of non-organic food that has been sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, particularly the chemical glyphosate, will develop leaky gut with an unhealthy or dysbiotic organisms that overgrow their good gut microbiome. Exposure to toxins and mold makes gut problems much worse.

Epoch Times: How do you tell if someone is suffering from mold exposure, and how do you address it once you’ve found it?

Dr. Ann Corson: It is important for patients to understand just how toxic the molds growing inside buildings can be and that mold exposure may be the most important of several possible factors at the root cause of their chronic illness. It is difficult for some people to accept that their own home may be making them sick.

First, I establish that mold is a problem by checking for the genetic material of molds and/or mold toxins wherever people may be being exposed. Ideally, all such places should be checked. This is usually done with a dust sample after which spore trapping, culture and microscopic analyses can follow as needed. Some bacteria that grow in water damaged buildings can be toxic to people. You really should look for both.

Then, I follow patients’ body burdens of mold toxins (mycotoxins) by testing their urine. Five different classes of mycotoxins can be measured in the urine. I follow the excretion of these toxins as I am detoxifying somebody. There are also inflammatory markers in the bloodstream that I follow that are characteristic for the inflammation that is created by chronic exposure to molds and infections.

The mold toxins in and of themselves not only damage the gut, but they also directly damage many organs and bone marrow, where immune and blood cells are made. So, they suppress and damage the immune system. They damage the liver, brain, pancreas, thyroid, and they can cause all kinds of dysfunction in the immune system. They can cause cancers. alot of them are teratogenic, which means they can cause tumors in growing embryos.

Therefore, there are a lot of body systems that are affected. When you have chronic inflammation all the time as your body is trying to remove these toxins, the immune system doesn’t have the bandwidth to fight other chronic infections as it is too busy trying to deal with the inflammatory process and trying to get rid of the mold toxins.

Our immune system usually keeps a lot of microorganisms we have acquired in our lives under control, like putting them in a cell and locking the door. The problem is when you have a condition like chronic inflammation, these get unlocked and the bugs come out to play. It is my opinion that you never can really rid yourself of some infections until you are able to calm immune system confusion and eliminate mold exposure and mold toxins in your body.

Epoch Times. You mentioned that 25 percent of people are more vulnerable to mold than others. What about everyone else?

Dr. Ann Corson: There’s a bell curve on how severely affected people are. Chronic exposure to mold toxins is no good for anybody because everybody will suffer from cancer causing effects, immune suppression, and organ damage. But not everybody who’s exposed to mold gets really chronically ill where they can’t function in their daily lives anymore.

There is a small subset who are very, very susceptible. But you also have a lot of people who have a lot of different symptoms that they are not attributing to mold, but which would go away if they got out of mold and detoxified themselves.

The symptoms of mold exposure are protean. Those affected can be totally exhausted or have incredible brain fog. Some adults can’t work well anymore, or they get lost driving home in their own neighborhood. Children regress in school performance, can develop ADD or ADHD; they lose musical skills; they lose coordination and athletic abilities. They develop anxiety disorders and behavioral problems.

Patients with biotoxin illness have little to no aerobic endurance and can’t exercise as they once did. They get anxious and angry. They can’t sleep. They have all kinds of aches and pains everywhere. They have stomach aches and bowel problems, peripheral neuropathies, night sweats, rashes, menstrual problems, and bladder pain. They get terribly thirsty at night. They crave sugar. They get electric shocks easily when they touch things.

Most people will think, “I’m anxious, so I’ll go see a psychiatrist,” or “I have a stomach ache, so I’ll go see a GI doctor,” or “I have a peripheral neuropathy so I’ll go see a neurologist,” not understanding what is the root cause of their symptoms.

Integrative doctors like me help to put it all together. We try to understand the patterns that we see in people’s symptom complexes, and then we try to discover and eliminate the root cause. I tell my patients that I like to go to the headwaters of the river and fix what’s being dumped in there and the delta of the river will get clean. You can’t stand in the delta looking upstream and try to catch all the pieces of garbage coming down. You’ve got to stop the garbage being put in at the headwaters in the first place.

Epoch Times: What is the conventional treatment for mold exposure?

Dr. Ann Corson: Most regular, conventional doctors just don’t even know it exists. Because they never were taught about it in medical school, they don’t think it exists. They don’t understand that there is a chronic inflammatory process and illness that develops when a certain percentage of the population are exposed to mold toxins.

Epoch Times: How did you discover that mold was a problem?

Dr. Ann Corson: I’ve been treating mold illness since 2004. I started talking about it within the group of doctors at the medical conventions where I was lecturing. But it really wasn’t until around 2010 that other physicians in my circle really started paying attention to mold illness. Even in the integrative functional medical community, a lot of the doctors didn’t believe it was an issue. Luckily, now there is a huge push to understand it. Recently there was a whole two-day summit all about mold illness. There are now medical societies whose membership focus on mold or environmental illness. There seems to be a growing awareness among medical professionals, just not nearly enough yet, in my opinion.

In 2004 I learned about mold because both my son and I were living in a very moldy house and nearly died. It was my own experience that led me down this path. Then, in 2005, my patients nudged me towards a more naturopathic path. I started learning all about German Biological Medicine, naturopathic medicine, and nutrition for healing. I just hit the ground running and never looked back.

Epoch Times: So how do you treat mold illness?

Dr. Ann Corson: Well, it’s a very complicated process and it’s very individualized because everyone is different. The people that come to see me are generally quite chronically ill. They have been to all kinds of doctors and no one’s been able to help them.

The first thing is to reduce inflammation in the patient and get them to understand the things they themselves need to do (we’ll talk about that in a minute). You want to try to support the gut and get the gut functioning as well as you can because you’re going to be using the gut to move toxins out of the body. This can be hard on people whose guts are a mess. So, fixing the gut is one of the first things to do.

You want to start gently binding the toxins in the gut as the liver will continually try to clear toxins by dumping then into the bile. We reabsorb a lot of our bile salts down in the large intestine which, unfortunately, brings a lot of toxins back into our bodies. So, we need to put something into the gut that will bind the bile salts and remove them from the body. I use a whole variety of different types of binders depending on patients’ needs at the time.

You have to get the patients’ kidneys and livers functioning well and make sure their lymphatic systems are flowing well. Once you get everything going, really bind the toxins, reduce inflammation, then you have to start dealing with the different variety of infectious agents that start to crop up, and start knocking those down.

I tell my patients, it’s kind of like peeling an onion, you go down layer by layer. Sometimes you find a really rotten spot, you hang there for a little while, and then you can keep going.

The patient is really responsible for a lot of their own care. I tell people, “I’m not going to fix you. You and I are going to work together so that your body can fix itself. So, you have a lot of responsibility here too.”

Diet is critical. If people don’t change their diets, if they’re not going to change their lifestyle, then they are not really committed to getting well and they most likely won’t get well. Diet is so important. You can’t keep putting toxins in your body. You have to eat a clean diet of 100 percent organic, whole foods; 100 percent grass fed meats; only wild caught fish, if any (the oceans are filthy, you know); and free-range poultry that has not been fed GMO foods.

Patients also have to remove all the chemicals from their environment and house found in their shampoo, dishwashing liquid, laundry detergent, cosmetics, body lotions, et cetera. Everything has to be clean. They have to stop putting toxins in, take their protocols as prescribed by me, and get out of mold as rapidly as they can.

I can clean compliant patients’ bodies up pretty well within about 10 to 18 months and they will be feeling a whole lot better. People want to be better tomorrow, but it doesn’t work that way. They have to understand that sometimes they have to make dramatic changes in their lives.

There is a lot of upheaval. It is difficult to afford fixing homes or moving to a clean home, changing workplaces, changing schools, places of worship, or even their cars (sometimes cars are very difficult to clean properly). It’s very hard as well because many workplaces or schools don’t understand and don’t want to hear about there being a mold problem. Often, it is easier to just to leave.

Sometimes these people are too sick to work at all. One of the hardest challenges for me is to really try to help people get out of environments with toxic mold. If I have people call me and say, “Well, I’ve been living in a moldy apartment for 10 years, but I don’t have any place to go.” I tell them, “I just can’t help you until you get out of the mold.

Epoch Times: Dedication definitely seems like the difference between someone who overcomes mold illness and someone who doesn’t.

Dr. Ann Corson: Yes, because so much of your own health and wellness comes from your own lifestyle. It’s about the way you view the world, as well as your own character. Usually, the more upright your character, the better your health becomes. I talk with my patients about these concepts as well. It’s about losing the victim mentality and accepting where you are while looking forward in a positive way. All these things help people to gain insight into themselves and into how to get healthy.

Epoch Times: Can mold illness be fatal?

Dr. Ann Corson: Stachybotrys molds can cause bleeding or hemorrhage in the lungs and death in infants. That’s well documented in the literature. But also think of how many people may have died of lung disease, because mold toxins damage your lungs over time, or cancer, autoimmune disease, or even chronic infections. How many people living in mold developed something like rheumatoid arthritis, and then end up getting immune system suppressing drugs to treat the pain of rheumatoid arthritis and dying of other chronic infections because their immune system was suppressed with a double whammy. How many of the medical problems people have are actually due to living in mold?

Epoch Times: You said mold remediation is fundamental to fixing this problem. What’s involved?

Dr. Ann Corson: Unfortunately, there is a huge variety in efficacy and adequacy of mold remediation. If you have the wrong mediator it can completely destroy your house and make it so that it’s not habitable for you. The ones that are good and know what they’re doing are quite expensive because it’s quite complicated to do the job right.

I’ve had patients who have found mold in multiple places in their home and thought they were safe and then they find it someplace else. It’s a big problem in some homes. If people don’t have the resources to try to fix it, I really don’t know how to help them because people just won’t get well if they don’t get out of the toxic environment that is perpetuating the illness.

Epoch Times: Where does mold typically start?

Dr. Ann Corson: Usually there is a history of ongoing water intrusion somewhere in the house, a current or past a plumbing leak in the walls that no one was aware of, a leaking roof, a wet basement, or condensation inside duct systems. Some homes have bad exterior drainage issues that allow for intermittent water intrusion.

I always ask people about all the possible issues in the house. If people have an HVAC system in the attic, they can have problems with some sort of condensation or overflow, and therefore mold. If cardboard boxes in the basement get moldy, the basement has issues. If food such as fruit molds when left out on the kitchen counter, if there are musty odors in closets, cabinets, attics, or basement, there is a problem.

Here is another clue that mold is a problem: some people go away for a couple weeks of vacation and feel much better. When they come home, sometimes as soon as they walk in the door, they get a headache, stuffy nose, and coughing, and they don’t feel well. This indicates that there is most likely a toxic environmental exposure in their homes.

Epoch Times: What can be done to better prevent mold illnesses?

Dr. Ann Corson: It is important to increase awareness that mold illness exists and really does cause a great deal of physical, emotional, and psychiatric illness. It would really help to change our building practices, but that would take a real shift in many areas of the economy. I think it is more effective to educate the public enough to demand that builders use materials that won’t mold so easily when they get damp or wet.

I also want people to be aware that the signs and symptoms of mold-induced or biotoxin illness are so diverse that they should think about mold if they have unusual or unexplained symptoms.

Epoch Times: Where can people learn more about this?

Dr. Ann Corson: The American Academy of Environmental Medicine and the International Society for Environmentally Acquired Illness are good places to start.

 

 

 

 

Epoch Health articles are for informational purposes and are not a substitute for individualized medical advice. Please consult a trusted professional for personal medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment. Have a question? Email us at AskADoctor@epochtimes.nyc

Conan Milner
Conan Milner is a health reporter for the Epoch Times. He graduated from Wayne State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and is a member of the American Herbalist Guild.
Dr. Corson obtained her MD degree at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia, PA in 1982 and is board certified in Family Medicine and Integrative Holistic Medicine. Her solo practice in Philadelphia, PA is devoted full time to the treatment of patients suffering from all forms of chronic disease. In 2008, Dr. Corson joined Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH) to help raise awareness of China’s live forced organ harvesting of innocent prisoners of conscience, primarily Falun Gong practitioners. Since 2016, she has been editor-in-chief of DAFOH’s newsletter.
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