It’s an increasingly common understanding that a link exists between mold and mental health, but does the presence of mold create psychological issues or merely mimic them? In an age where more than half of US homes face significant mold problems and one in four people suffer from a mental health disorder – the same proportion of those at risk of toxic-based mold illness (coincidence?) – MoldBlogger investigates!
Chronic exposure to harmful environmental toxins can interfere with the normal functions of the body – both physiological and psychological – to such an extent that many psychiatric practitioners now routinely test for mold toxicity.
Ever since Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker published a series of books about mold toxicity – positing publicly for the first time that exposure to biotoxins may causes changes in the brain in the early years of the 21st Century – studies have spiralled.
New York psychologist, Cheryl Harding led an experiment which found that exposure to mold spores can cause cognitive deficits, depression and anxiety. “Our basic hypothesis is that mold inhalation, like bacterial infection, activates an innate immune response triggering microglial activation with resultant behavioral dysfunction,” the researchers wrote. It’s vital to note an observation made by epidemiologist of Brown University, Edmond Shenassa, however, who reportedly said that the heightened risk of depression could also be down to the lack of perceived control. “If you are sick from mold and feel you can’t get rid of it, it may affect your mental health.” Psychology professor at British Columbia, Robert Gifford, also casts some doubt around the factor of income, which could be an important variable as wealthier people can afford to eliminate mold whereas those who are less well-off may be forced to live with it.
Further research comes from a Denmark-based study, which found that having an autoimmune disease (which can be caused by mold exposure) increases the risk of an accompanying mood-disorder by 45%, whilst another European study found that the level of depression in a mold-infested property was 35-40% higher than in mold-free dwellings.
Another Polish study of children found that those living in moldy conditions suffered a cognitive decline compared to their peers. And on it goes.
Interestingly, psychiatrist Dr. Mary Ackerley, who has written extensively on the subject, believes that despite whether a psychological problem is caused by a biotoxin or not it is almost always based in an accompanying physiological condition – meaning more often than not, it is treatable. “I’m not going to say that mold causes manic psychosis or depressed psychosis”, she says, “but I think it clearly exacerbates existing psychosis. Getting people out of exposure and treating the mold seems to restore normal brain function.” She adds that those who present to her after the age of 50 with no family history of mental illness will first and foremost be met with an approach looking at biotoxins – primarily mold – followed by various autoimmune disorders.
– Fish oil. Studies have proven this as an effective treatment for cutting psychotic illness and schizophrenia by 25%.
– Diet. The Ketogenic diet eliminating sugars and simple carbs is effective in treating epilepsy in children, whilst Dr. Ackerley also encourages her patients to ditch gluten and dairy.
– Supplements. Magnesium, turmeric, probiotics and Vitamin D have all been proven to have a positive effect on the brain and associated conditions.
Somewhat frustratingly for those who suffer, mold toxicity is often not considered as a real possibility by conventional practitioners as they fail to account for the notion that only one in four have a genetic predisposition to it – which easily explains why in a whole mold-infested household not all the residents will suffer from it.
Still, The International Society for Environmentally Acquired Illness (ISEAI) – an exciting new organization – is on a mission is to “restore health to individuals with environmentally acquired illnesses through clinical practice, education, and research.”
Further reading: Mold Toxicity: A Common Cause of Psychiatric Symptoms.