If you've been expoed to mold, whether in a building damaged by contaminated food or water, you've likely also been in the presence of mycotoxins, toxic by-products of mold. These are common environmental toxins and they have adverse effects on many body systems, including the gastrointestinal tract.
While you've probably heard of respiratory symptoms that can result from mold exposure, research indicates that mycotoxins can also cause serious problems in your gut. Read on to learn how mycotoxins affect gut health and the microbiota, and what you can do to restore your gut health if you've been exposed.
Have you run into mold?
Unfortunately, exposure to mold is much more common than we might expect. In the United States alone, 43 percent of buildings have current water damage and 85 percent have suffered water damage in the past.
Even houses that have not suffered water damage can harbor mold if indoor humidity levels are too high. Contaminated crops, including cereals, as well as some fermented and dairy foods, can also carry mycotoxins.
Mycotoxins may play a crucial role in the development of chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS), a complex and multifaceted disease. If you suffer from CIRS caused by exposure to mold, you could experience a wide variety of symptoms:
· Discomfort after straining
· Weakness or fatigue
· Memory problems
· Difficulty breathing and other breathing problems
· Chronic abdominal problems
If you experience the above symptoms and you think you may have been exposed to mycotoxins, it is recommended that you get a CIRS test.
More information on mycotoxins
Mycotoxins are not molds, but toxic compounds produced by specific types of fungi such as:
· Stachybotrys chartarum or toxic black mold
While some mycotoxins have useful applications (the antibiotic penicillin is a toxin derived from Penicillium fungi and the mycotoxin citrinin is used to produce cheese, sake, and miso), the vast majority of mycotoxins are harmful and can ause disease in humans.
The most commonly encountered harmful mycotoxins (which can be ingested by eating contaminated food, inhaled, or otherwise absorbed) are:
Mycotoxins have a wide range of harmful effects on the body. They are carcinogenic, mutagenic (capable of altering your DNA) and estrogenic (thus triggering a hormonal imbalance) and affect the normal function of the immune system, kidneys, liver and nervous system. Emerging research indicates that mycotoxins also interact with the gut microbiota.
How exposure to mold damages your gut health
The mycotoxins produced by mold damage intestinal health on a structural and functional level. They disrupt the balance of beneficial and pathogenic bacteria in the gut, increase intestinal permeability, interfere with nutrient absorption (causing malnutrition), generate oxidative stress and inflammation, and increase your susceptibility to bacterial, viral, and parasitic intestinal infections.
Mold affects your gut microbiota
Mycotoxins can increase the levels of harmful gut bacteria and deplete beneficial microbes. Research has found that exposure to deoxynivalenol (DON), a fumonisin mycotoxin, significantly increases Bacteroides levels in the gut.
Also, having a high proportion of Bacteroides is associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Ochratoxin reduces the levels of Lactobacillus reuteri and bifidobacteria. Reduction of beneficial lactobacilli and bifidobacteria decreases intestinal production of short-chain fatty acids, leading to impaired intestinal immunity.
Mycotoxins also promote the growth of pathogenic bacteria. In animal studies, ingestion of ochratoxin increased the growth of a family of bacteria that includes Staphylococcus and Listeria. The combination of aflatoxins and fumonisins promotes the growth of Escherichia coli which produces the Shiga toxin, a type of E. coli that causes diarrhea, urinary tract infections, and bloodstream infections.
Exposure to mold can cause leaky gut syndrome
The intestinal epithelium, which are very compact epithelial cells that line the walls of the intestines, act as a barrier to block the entry of foreign pathogens, toxins, and antigens into the bloodstream.
Trichothecenes, fumonisins, and aflatoxins affect a protein that binds epithelial cells, weakening this barrier. They also decrease the gut's production of protective mucin and decrease IL-8, a cytokine that helps to eliminate pathogens. These effects increase intestinal permeability, causing leaky gut and making the gut vulnerable to infection.
It can cause weight loss and even malnutrition
Mycotoxins can damage intestinal villi. Intestinal villi are small hair-like projections that extend through the small intestine. These increase the surface area of the intestine and provide more pathways for the absorption of nutrients.
Trichothecenes and ochratoxins degrade intestinal villi. The shortening of the intestinal villi increases the risk of malnutrition, since the surface available for the absorption of nutrients is reduced.
The mycotoxin deoxynivalenol (DON), a member of the trichothecene family, also blocks several nutrient transporters in the GI tract. Including the sodium-dependent D-glucose / D-galactose transporter (SGLT1) and the D-fructose transporter (GLUT5).
Inhibition of these transporters alters carbohydrate absorption and can promote small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), malnutrition, and weight loss.
Exposure to mold could increase oxidative damage
People who have been exposed to mycotoxins require higher levels of antioxidants to fight free radical damage in their gastrointestinal tracts. Mycotoxins induce the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which oxidatively damage intestinal cells.
Increases susceptibility to intestinal infections
Those who develop symptoms caused by mold often experience a variety of gastrointestinal problems, including intestinal infections. Exposure to mycotoxins can directly increase your susceptibility to intestinal bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections as they lower your intestinal immunity.
In animal studies, ochratoxin triggered viral intestinal infections and strengthened the virulence of intestinal parasites. In chickens, Fusarium reduces the populations of CD4 + and CD8 + cells (helper T cells), which increases the risk of coccidiosis, an intestinal disease that is easily transmitted from one bird to another.
Also, when you have high levels of mycotoxins, the effectiveness of antiparasitic drugs is reduced, suggesting that exposure to mold and its mycotoxins should be addressed first before attempting to treat parasitic infections.
These factors can worsen the harmful effects of mold
Several factors can exacerbate the damaging effects mycotoxins have on your gut, including diet, antibiotic use, stress, exposure to other environmental toxins, and genetic backgrounds.
Eating a diet rich in cereals, consuming conventional dairy products and other processed foods that can become contaminated exponentially increases your exposure to mycotoxins. Mycotoxins can enter the food supply at various points in its production and distribution.
For example, stored grains, waiting to be transported or processed, can become wet and then mold with mycotoxin-producing fungi. And especially when it comes to industrial crops that are grown and harvested in large quantities and then stored for long periods of time before going to market.
Additionally, the use of antibiotics and stress are known to alter the gut flora, which can reduce the microbiome's ability to cope with mycotoxins. Exposure to other environmental toxins in homes or other buildings with water damage, such as bacteria, actinomycetes, endotoxins, and microbial volatile organic compounds (VOCs), creates increased toxicity in the gastrointestinal tract.
Finally, people with variants in CYP genes may be at increased risk of developing mycotoxin-induced dysbiosis and damage to the intestinal epithelium. This is due to poor processing of mycotoxins by cytochrome p450 enzymes in the liver.
If you suffer from SIBO or IBS, exposure to mold could make these conditions worse.
The gastrointestinal tract serves as the main interface between ingested mycotoxins and the rest of the body.
Impressively, researchers have found that mycotoxins and the gut microbiota participate in a two-way crosstalk that ultimately influences the structure, function, and health of the gastrointestinal tract.
Through studies they have learned that while a healthy gut microbiota can bind and metabolize some ingested mycotoxins, mycotoxins can also alter the microbiota and reduce your ability to naturally detox.
This means that people who suffer from pre-existing gut problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and SIBO, may be more affected by mycotoxin exposure than people with a healthy gut microbiota, due to changes in gut bacteria. that reduce their ability to process mycotoxins.
How can you restore your gut health after exposure to mold?
The first step in treating mycotoxin side effects is to stop your exposure to mold first and do a mold test in your home. Once this is done, you can focus on restoring your gut health.
The beneficial intestinal bacteria bind to mycotoxins and prevent their absorption in the small intestine. Some probiotic strains that have mycotoxin-binding properties are Lactobacillus rhamnosus, L. plantarum, L. casei, and Propionibacterium freudenreichii.
If you are trying to reduce your total mycotoxin load and have a detox, supplementing with a multi-species probiotic containing these strains is recommended. Saccharomyces boulardii is another mycotoxin-binding probiotic that is very beneficial. It has been shown to be effective in the treatment of animals exposed to ochratoxins.
Use activated charcoal or another chelating agent
Chelating agents, or sequestering agents, are compounds that bind to mycotoxins in the gastrointestinal tract and prevent their recirculation through the liver and GI tract. These helps reduce the amount of mycotoxins that GI cells and microbes are exposed to.
Cholestyramine, activated charcoal, and bentonite clay are powerful binders that can reduce the bioavailability of mycotoxins in the gut. However, these can cause constipation. They would only be recommended if you tend to have loose stools or if you suffer from diarrhea. If you are constipated, chlorella also has mycotoxin-binding properties and may be a better option for you.
Try a low mold diet
Your diet can be an important source of mycotoxins, especially if it consists mainly of cereals, dairy, and other processed and packaged foods.
Testing on a low mold diet will reduce the amount of mycotoxins entering the gastrointestinal tract and protect the intestinal epithelial cells and the gut microbiota. Here are some simple guidelines for a low mold diet.
Avoid these foods completely
Avoid fruits with high sugar content:
Too much sugar fuels fungal overgrowth in the gut, a condition that often accompanies toxic fungal disease. Avoiding these fruits temporarily will starve them and facilitate the eradication of fungal pathogens.
It is also recommended that you stay away from packaged and processed foods, and most grains and fermented foods. And, of course, do not eat foods that contain mold or yeast, such as:
· Alcoholic drinks
· Processed and smoked meats
· Edible mushrooms
· Dry fruits
You can eat these foods, but only in moderation
Consume moderate amounts of:
· Gluten free oats
· Sweet potatoes
· Low-sugar fruits like apples and berries
Eat these foods whenever you want
You are free to eat free range and organic meats and poultry, wild seafood, non-starchy vegetables, fresh sprouted nuts and seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, ghee and butter.
Bone broth, gelatin, and collagen peptides provide easily assimilated amino acids that can help repair damaged intestinal cells, making them another great addition to your low-mold diet.
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