Since mold often goes undetected but can be the root cause of serious health problems, it begs the question, can mold cause migraines?
The short answer is yes; migraines are a known symptom of toxic mold exposure. This article will answer the nuts and bolts questions about mold toxicity, specifically how mold can cause migraines. You will also learn the functional medicine approach to mold toxicity and how to get to the root cause of your headaches!
A Few Facts About Mold
To start the conversation, here are a few important facts about mold:
- Molds are fungi that can grow under ceiling tiles, flooring, carpet, and anywhere else where there’s moisture and little ventilation.
- It is unknown how many mold species exist, but estimates range from tens of thousands to over three hundred thousand.
- Mold reproduces by making mold spores.
- 50 percent of buildings in the United States, including homes and office buildings, are estimated to have mold growth from water damage.
What is Mold Toxicity?
Chronic dampness and limited air circulation can cause certain types of mold, like Stachybotrys chartarum or “black mold,” to grow in your home or workplace. While black mold is obvious to see, some mold can be invisible to the naked eye. What’s more, certain molds produce naturally occurring poisons called mycotoxins.
Mold toxicity is a collection of symptoms resulting from prolonged mycotoxin exposure. These toxins enter the body through inhalation, through the skin, or even through the digestion of mold-contaminated foods.
So, what’s the problem? Toxic mold exposure is a potential trigger for inflammation.
You see, when your body initiates an immune response, it activates the release of inflammatory cells and cytokines (substances that stimulate more inflammatory cells.) These cells work to attack bacteria, viruses, or toxins that are considered outsiders.
Acute inflammation is when your body reacts to sudden physical damage like a cut finger or scraped knee. Meanwhile, chronic inflammation is when your body continuously sends inflammatory cells to attack a perceived threat.
Prolonged exposure to toxic mold can cause chronic inflammation.
Moreover, a 2015 study found that chronic mold exposure can induce changes in inflammatory and immune system responses. Similarly, a 2021 review on mycotoxins and immune response found a common theme across mold species. That included a breakdown of mucosal barriers, cell death, and the suppression of immune cell function in response to toxin exposure, which may increase your susceptibility to microbial infection.
Research also shows that mycotoxins might trigger the onset or exacerbation of chronic inflammatory diseases and autoimmune disorders, especially in individuals already suffering from immune dysfunction.
Moral of the story? Mold toxicity can cause inflammation, resulting in a host of unwanted symptoms and health problems.
Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS)
In a healthy individual, the body flags mold as unfriendly and activates the immune response to eliminate the offending toxin. While many people become ill from mold exposure, most of these symptoms cease once they are removed from the exposure.
However, about 25% of the population is genetically susceptible to mold. This population has the HLA-DR gene, meaning their immune system cannot properly remove mycotoxins from the body.
The result of this is widespread inflammation throughout the body, also known as chronic inflammation. This constant inflammatory response often leads to a chronic illness known as chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS).
Additionally, if you already have an autoimmune disease, you may be more susceptible to mold, which could lead to CIRS.
Sick Building Syndrome
On a side note, there also exists a condition known as sick building syndrome (SBS). SBS describes a medical condition where people in a building suffer from symptoms of illness or feel unwell for no apparent reason.
Symptoms can include unexplained migraines or headaches that strike whenever you are in the building. Interestingly, when you leave the building, your symptoms are alleviated in most cases. For some people, symptoms continue to worsen, which could be an indication of CIRS.
Sick building syndrome is thought to be present in nearly 30% of buildings.
Exactly what makes a building sick is still a point of contention.
The primary culprit could be heating, ventilation, exhaust fans, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Of course, one known cause of sick building syndrome is mold.
Symptoms of Mold Exposure
Symptoms of mold exposure include the following:
- Persistent coughing or wheezing
- Red, itchy, and watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Skin rashes
- Frequent chest cold or congestion
- Chronic sinus infections or sinus inflammation
- Chronic Headaches
- Shortness of breath
- Memory loss
- Confusion, difficulty concentrating
- Sensitivity to light or sound
- Tingling and numbness
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle cramps or joint pain
- Anxiety or depression
- Trouble sleeping
How Can Mold Cause Migraines?
This information is sure to alert you to the danger of mold exposure, but you’re wondering how can mold cause migraines?
First, migraines can be a symptom of problems in the central nervous system. Research shows that mold negatively affects the central nervous system. Remember that mold can easily enter the nervous system through inhalation.
Similarly, mold exposure can cause rhinitis, or inflammation of the mucous membranes in the nose. People with rhinitis suffer from more headaches and migraines.
Mold has been linked to respiratory conditions like asthma, and asthma increases your risk for headaches and migraines by 45 percent. Furthermore, mold causes more than 30% of all asthma cases. In fact, conventional medicine recognizes that mold is a potential cause of respiratory conditions like asthma.
Finally, if you are genetically susceptible to CIRS, you are more likely to suffer from headaches associated with mold exposure. CIRS puts the body in a state of chronic inflammation, and this state of elevated inflammation can trigger headaches.
How to Test for Toxic Mold Exposure
Testing for mold toxicity presents a challenge as the technology is still limited. When mold exposure was first identified as a health problem, the available tests looked at antibodies to mold in your blood. Essentially, the goal was to determine if you had an immune system response to an exposure to mold. Nowadays, we can also evaluate actual toxicity by looking at mycotoxins excreted in the urine.
Achieving a diagnosis of mold toxicity often requires looking at both shifts in inflammation and mycotoxins in the urine.
Additionally, a mycotoxin test that is negative doesn’t necessarily mean there is no mold exposure. That’s because testing is limited by the number of mycotoxins and mold species it can identify. If you get a negative result but still suspect mold exposure, consider hiring a certified mold inspector to evaluate your home or other indoor settings for the source of the mold.
Functional Medicine Approach to Mold Toxicity
The functional medicine approach to mold toxicity begins by eliminating toxins from your body through lifestyle and dietary interventions. The end goal is to heal any damage to your immune system and repair and reverse the improper immune response that was stimulated by the toxin.
Eliminate Mold Exposure
Eliminating toxins starts with decreasing exposure to mold. This process can be difficult as there may be extensive mold in your home. You can also eliminate common mold-containing foods from your diet, such as coffee, peanuts, grains, dried fruit, and cured meats.
After addressing exposure, your ability to detoxify and excrete toxic substances is critical to your overall health. You see, your body was designed to remove harmful substances via your kidneys, liver, lungs, and lymphatic system. When those systems are overloaded with an abundance of toxins, or your genetics cause your body to not properly recognize and remove these toxins, these organs sometimes need additional help to function properly in the mycotoxin removal process. A functional medicine practitioner can recommend a personalized protocol of supplements, medications, and dietary and lifestyle changes to support these detoxification pathways.
Mold toxicity causes unwanted symptoms like migraines due to your body’s inflammatory response. To manage your symptoms, you need to reduce inflammation. Eating a low-inflammatory diet, getting enough sleep, and optimizing your antioxidant intake are just a few ways to begin reducing inflammation.
IV therapy is also a great option and supports glutathione and antioxidant function to mitigate inflammation. For example, we can use phosphatidyl choline via IV infusion to heal the cellular membrane by supporting the ability of your cells to remove toxic fatty acids and replace them with healthy fatty acids.
The cellular membrane is the outer layer of each cell that determines what is allowed into and out of the cell. Without a healthy membrane, the rest of the cell has a difficult time functioning properly and getting itself out of the inflammatory cascade that occurs with mold exposure.
Get to the Root Cause of Your Migraines
So, can mold cause migraines? Yes, but with a functional medicine approach, you can get to the root cause of your migraines and optimize your health to find the healing you desperately need.
At Peak Health Institute, we focus on functional medicine and cutting-edge therapies to bring individuals’ options for taking their health to the next level. We love working with patients from all walks of life.
When addressing mold toxicity, we offer a comprehensive plan to both detoxify your body as well as restore cellular health and optimization to the areas that have been damaged by the inflammation associated with mycotoxins.
We use a variety of supplements and compounded medications as a foundational starting point. Some of our favorite tools for detox and cellular restoration include ozone therapy, IV infusions, NAD+, our full spectrum infrared sauna, glutathione and phosphatidyl choline pushes, and peptide therapy.
Want to learn more? Contact us here to get started!