Do you have mold illness?
Check out my top recommended testing methods to find out, including:
- Mold Toxicity Checklist
- Mycotoxin Urine Test
- Gut Testing
- Liver Function Testing
- DUTCH Cortisol Hormone Test
- Visual Contrast Sensitivity Testing
Mold Illness Refresher
Let’s briefly review Mold Illness 101 before diving into my top recommended tests to know what we are looking for in the first place.
Mold illness or “mycotoxin illness” is a serious condition that is commonly referred to as “CIRS”—Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome.
Unlike a disease—which is condition typically with a specific known cause and similar symptoms (such as insulin resistance, frequent urination and weight gain in people with diabetes)— a syndrome, like CIRS, is a much broader “collection of signs and symptoms” that may present differently in different people.
Signs & Symptoms of CIRS
Common signs and symptoms of mold illness or CIRS include:
- Respiratory difficulties (difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, asthma)
- Neurological symptoms
- Sinus congestion and stuffy nose
- Hair loss
- Brain fog, confusion or memory loss
- Difficulty concentrating
- Morning stiffness, joint pain
- Light sensitivity
- Skin rashes
- Red eyes, blurred vision, sweats, mood swings, sharp pains
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Appetite swings
- Poor body temperature regulation,
- Gastrointestinal problems (cramps, abdominal pain)
- Weight loss or weight gain (unintentional)
- Unusual skin sensations, tingling and numbness
You may have several of these symptoms—or just one or two. The amount of symptoms don’t matter as much as the unrelenting poor health experienced because of them.
Although these symptoms are also synonymous with other conditions often talked about in functional medicine—from “adrenal fatigue”, thyroid disorders to gut dysbiosis—the key distinguisher in mycotoxin illness or CIRS is often times, these are often the patients who do not “get better” once commencing a protocol.
Buttttt….how do you know if you really have “mold illness” or CIRS—or you’re just feeling out of sorts? What tests can you do to reveal true illness
There are a handful…
Mold Toxicity Checklist
Aside from identifying your symptoms, answer “Yes” or “No” for the following questions (adapted from Environmental Health Center).
Yes or No?
- Do musty odors bother you?
- Have you worked or lived in a building where the air vents or ceiling tiles were discolored?
- Have you noticed water damage or discoloration elsewhere?
- Has your home been flooded?
- Have you had leaks in the roof?
- Do you experience unusual shortness of breath?
- Do you experience recurring sinus infections?
- Do you experience recurring respiratory infections and coughing?
- Do you have frequent flu-like symptoms?
- Do your symptoms worsen on rainy days?
- Do you have frequent headaches?
- Are you fatigued and have a skin rash?
If you answer “yes” to 4 or more, your CIRS-like symptoms may have some more merit.
Mycotoxin Urine Test
Mycotoxin urine testing is a relatively newer form of testing that can reveal the release of toxins in the urine. If you really suspect mycotoxin illness from molds to be at play, this test can yield highly insightful information for putting your puzzle together.
Some key detected mycotoxins include:
- Great Plains Urine Testing (Order Here on behalf of Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD).
*Note: Sometimes false “negatives” can occur with urine testing since some patients are unable to detoxify in the first place. In order to get the most accurate results, I recommend using high dose glutathione + NAC for 5 to 7 days prior to conducting your urine test in order to encourage elimination and detoxification.
My preferred formula is Trizomal Glutathione by Apex Energetics, which includes both NAC and glutathione. Take 1 tsp 3 times per day for 5 to 7 days. It is tough to find online, but if you call the company directly at 949-251-0152, request a bottle be sent to you on behalf of Dr. Lauryn Lax.
Bloodwork doesn’t always tell the whole story of CIRS or mycotoxin illness, but certainly can point to markers of inflammation and immune dysregulation.
Unfortunately, many patients consult with their conventional medical practitioners and are told, “Your lab tests are normal”, but have not ordered more specialized tests that help look deeper into mycotoxicity and inflammation. Helpful markers and their normal ranges for assessing mycotoxin illness include:
Specialty Mycotoxin Blood Tests
Elevations in the following markers point to mold toxicity
- VIP (normal range: 23-63, only available by ARUP Labs)
- MSH (normal: 35-81)
- MMP-9 (normal: 85-332)
- C4a (normal: 0-2380)
- TGF-beta-1 (normal: <2380)
- Leptin (Male: 0.5-13.8; Female: 1.1-27.5)
- HLA-DR (the gene that 25% of the population has, making them more susceptible to mycotoxicity; can only be run by LabCorp)
Other labs that may be “off” on general lab work include:
Complete Blood Count
- Red Blood Count low (normal: 4.40–4.90 x 106/µL)
- White Blood Count low or high (normal: 5.0–0 x 103/µL)
- MMA high (ideal < 300 nmol/L)
- Folate low (ideal > 8 μg/L)
- Glucose low or high (normal fasting: 75-85, normal 1-2 hours post-meal: 110-140)
- HgbA1C high (normal 4.6–5.3%)
- AST high (normal: Male: 0–25 IU/L; Female: 0–23 IU/L)
- ALT high (normal: Male: 0–26 IU/L; Female: 0–20 IU/L)
- Zinc (often low)* (normal: 81–157 µg/dL)
- Copper* often high (excess copper can lead to low zinc) (normal: 81–157 µg/dL)
- Iron high or low (ideal: 40–135 µg/dL)
- Ferritin high (Male: 30–200 ng/mL; Female: 30–100 ng/mL)
- Vitamin D low (normal: 35–60 ng/mL)
*Urine testing via NutraEval (Order Here and search for “NutraEval FMV by Genova)
- Total Cholesterol high (normal: 150–220 mg/dL for males; 150–230 mg/dL for females)
- LDL Cholesterol high (normal: 0–140 mg/dL)
- C Reactive Protein (CRP) high (normal: 0–1 mg/L)
- BUN high or low (normal: 13–18 mg/dL)
- Creatine low (normal: Male: 0.85–1.1 mg/dL; Female: 0.7 – 1.0 mg/dL)
*Hormone markers can be a sign that something more is going on “under the hood.” Inflammation from mold toxicity and CIRS can drive hormone imbalance. Since hormones are the “key messengers” made by our glands to regulate body functions, if our hormones are “off”, they may perpetuate the symptoms of CIRS.
- PTH elevation (normal: 10-35 pg/mL
- T3 (Thyroid Hormone) deficiency (normal: 2.5–4.0 pg/mL)
- Testosterone deficiency
- Progesterone deficiency
- Estrogen dominance or deficiency
Bloodwork out of the norm in several of these areas may indicate imbalance.
A bi-directional relationship exists between mycotoxins and gut microbiome—mycotoxicity can impact and worsen our gut health, just like poor gut health can make one more susceptible to mycotoxicosis (1)—creating the “perfect” storm.
On this note, it’s critical to realize, “mold illness” does not just happen from mold alone. Other pathogens that cause the same symptoms as mold illness include:
- Bacteria & bacterial infections (like Babesia and Borrelia)
- Mold spores
- Endotoxins (aka lipopolysaccharides, or LPS; cell wall components of gram-negative bacteria)
- Inflammagens (irritants that cause inflammation and edema)
- Beta-glucans (sugars that are found in the cell walls of bacteria, fungi, yeasts, algae, lichens, and plants)
- Hemolysins (toxins produced by bacteria that can destroy cells)
- Volatile organic compounds
The key theme behind all of these? They affect your gut!
Your gut microbiome is home to 100 trillion microorganisms (gut bacteria). The healthier your gut bacteria, the healthier you are! The sicker or more pathogenic your gut bacteria, the sicker you are!
It’s no wonder that candida (fungal overgrowth) and sinus congestion (from fungi and mold growth in the nose—part of the nasal microbiome) are common in those with suspected mold toxicity or CIRS (2).
Given that approximately 80% of your immune system is produced and housed in your gut, a “strong” gut filled with diverse, healthy gut bacteria helps boost your immune fighting defenses to weather the storm of mold and mycotoxin exposure. However, if your gut is infiltrated by pathogens—and not enough “man power” to weather the storm, eventually your gut microbiome profile can shift, resulting in an unhealthier gut…and an unhealthier you.
Liver Testing & Symptom Checklist
In addition to your gut, your liver—your body’s “chemical processing factory” and recycling system—also plays an important role in guarding against mycotoxin and mold illness. Consider your liver your “defense” for mycotoxin and mold exposure. A sluggish or overworked liver can equally wreak havoc on your health and make you susceptible to mycotoxin illness.
The best way to assess for liver dysfunction is a combination of blood markers and symptoms. Common liver malfunction indicators include:
- Sensitive to chemicals (perfuma, cleaning agents, etc.)
- Bitter/metallic taste in mouth
- Headache over the eyes
- Easily motion sick
- Itchy skin
- Jaundice colored skin/eyes
- Swelling (abdomen, legs, ankles)
- Light or clay colored stools
- Greasy or shiny stools
- Easily intoxicated
- Hormone imbalances (PMS, PMDD, irregular menses)
- Glucose/blood sugar imbalances (hypoglycemia in particular)
- Brain fog
- Nutrasweet/artificial sweetener consumption
- History of antibiotics, birth control or long term medications
Liver Function Blood Markers
- ALT: High
- AST: High
- GGT: High
- LDH: High
- Alkaline Phosphatase: High
Cortisol Hormone Testing
Your CNS (central nervous system) is your “stress response system.” When functioning properly, your body is able to overcome stress. If malfunctioning, chronic illness and uncontrolled inflammation happens. Swelling of the brain and “stress response” system can lead to changes in nerve endings and interfere with the electrical signaling to all functions of the body. Enter: The unrelenting CIRS symptoms that persist for those who suffer from mycotoxin illness.
Cortisol hormone testing can give you a clearer picture of where your “stress hormones” are at, along with neurotransmitter function that play a role in controlling inflammation and stress in the body as well—such as dopamine and serotonin.
Note: NOT all hormone testing is created equal. While bloodwork is great for assessing sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone), it is not great at cortisol testing.
Cortisol is a constantly changing hormone throughout the day. Therefore you need to collect multiple samples in a given day via urine and saliva in order to see an accurate pattern for your body. In addition, not all urine and saliva tests are created equal! Most tests measure either one or the other—leaving you with only partial results. Most tests also only measure “free cortisol”—NOT metabolized cortisol. However, free cortisol only makes up less than 3% of all cortisol in your body.
For these reasons, to date, the gold standard for cortisol hormone testing is the DUTCH test—which uses both urine and saliva testing, and measures both free and metabolized cortisol.
- DUTCH Cortisol Hormone Testing (Order Here)
Visual Contrast Sensitivity Test
Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker, creator of SurvivingMold.com and a “father” of mold toxicity recovery invented the “Visual Contrast Sensitivity” test to measure of one of the neurologic functions of vision called contrast.
In his years of work with patients recovering from mycotoxin illness, Dr. Shoemaker realized a key theme his patients shared was poor “contrast sensitivity” in their vision.
His online test can help individuals further identify potential exposure to neurotoxins, biotoxins, and nutritional deficiencies in the body. These compounds have been implicated in diseases such as ADHD, CFIDS, fibromyalgia, mold illness, and Lyme disease.
It’s not the “end all, be all”, but can be part of a comprehensive work up.
While testing can be a helpful piece of the puzzle to identifying and confirming CIRS and mycotoxin illness, it’s vital to remember, testing is not the “end all, be all.”
As a functional medicine practitioner, I treat and empower individuals based on the person, not the numbers, and if empirical findings—such as your symptoms or lack of health improvement despite “doing all the things” (i.e. eating clean, working out, sleeping) are still present, then it is safe to assume that something is not right “under the hood.”
Check out the next post on my top ways to “treat” for mold and get rid of it! (So you can get on with your full, amazing life).
- Winnie Pui Pui, Liew & Sabran, Mohd Redzwan. (2018). Mycotoxin: Its Impact on Gut Health and Microbiota. Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology. 8. 10.3389/fcimb.2018.00060.
- Brewer JH, Thrasher JD, Hooper D. Chronic illness associated with mold and mycotoxins: is naso-sinus fungal biofilm the culprit? Toxins (Basel). 2013 Dec 24;6(1):66-80. doi: 10.3390/toxins6010066. PubMed PMID: 24368325; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3920250.