A relatively recent phenomenon in the scientific literature is the study of mycotoxins — poisons made by a very few species of mold.
There now are tens of thousands of peer-reviewed papers on mycotoxins, including thousands showing health effects in mammals and many hundreds showing health effects in humans.
The toxins are designed to kill off other microorganisms, allowing the species that produced them to grow more freely in the environment. Harm to animals and plants seems to be an unfortunate side effect.
Mycotoxins have been recognized since the 1960’s to be a problem with regard to the contamination of various human and animal food products.
They also are a component of at least some colonizing fungal infections (such as aspergillosis) and have been put to medical use in antibiotics such as penicillin.
Concern about the role of environmental molds in the air is more recent, with the vast majority of studies being published since 2000.
Changed Building Techniques
Although Leviticus (Ch. 13-14) gives detailed instructions on the importance of dealing appropriately with environmental mold, most of the problems associated with toxin-producing molds seem to have been prompted by the development of modern living environments.
For instance, Stachybotrys (“black mold”) had historically grown on straw and was first found growing indoors under wallpaper in the mid 1800’s. The phenomenon of “Gosio’s Gas” also occurred in the 1800’s, when the mold Scopulariopsis brevicaulis converted arsenic pigments in wallpaper into hazardous arsine gas.
Changed building techniques (including cellulose-containing drywall and wall insulation; decreased indoor-outdoor air circulation; centralized ductwork; temperature/humidity climate control; and low-budget construction) starting in the 1970’s have resulted in dramatic increases in toxin-producing molds in many homes, office and commercial buildings, and (perhaps especially) schools.
The combination of toxins (including a variety of mold toxins, bacteria toxins, amoebas and various chemicals) in some buildings may have the potential of producing particularly severe health effects in a segment of those exposed. (Other people seem not to be harmed nearly as badly.)
Extensive research has been done on the effects of specific mycotoxins.
For instance, gliotoxin appears to be especially associated with multiple sclerosis. Aflatoxin is strongly associated with liver cancer, and ochratoxin is associated with kidney disease.
The specific abnormalities present in myalgic encephalomyelitis, chronic fatigue syndrome and related neuroimmune diseases seem to be more consistent with the effects of trichothecenes, such as those produced by the mold Stachybotrys.
Some effects of trichothecenes that have been firmly established in the literature include:
* Damage to the immune system (especially the innate immune system)
* Neurological damage (cognition, emotional stability, processing of sensory information)
* Mitochondrial damage (interfering with energy production)
* Severe oxidative stress and depletion of glutathione (causing free radical damage and leading to problems with pathogen killing and detoxification)
* Gut dysbiosis (mycotoxins kill off a wide range of bacteria)
* Perforations in the blood-brain barrier (potentially allowing toxins, gluten and pathogens that ordinarily would be kept out to enter freely and cause damage)
* Intestinal permeability (contributing to gluten/food sensitivities and other issues)
* Systemwide inflammation (including elevations in IL-1b, IL-6, IL-8, TNF-alpha and N-F-k-b)
Long-term, low-dose exposures to trichothecenes (such as are experienced when people live for months or years in even moderately contaminated buildings) can be especially damaging.
The presence of endotoxin (LPS), which is made by bacteria that can be present either in problem buildings or colonizing the gut, can cause Stachybotrys to be harmful in much smaller amounts.
In order to determine whether and how mycotoxins are playing a role in ME, CFS and similar diseases, additional research is needed.
Pictured above: Close-up of Stachybotrys chartarum spores.