Mycotoxins can have a serious impact on our health. Mycotoxins are microscopicfungal poisons that can sneak into our bodies through the digestive and respiratory systems. They are literal poisons that have the potential to make us very sick.
What’s even more shocking is we are now finding out how certain mycotoxins have the ability to impact the brain, causing neurotoxicity.
A 2011 review in the Journal of Molecular Science examined specific mycotoxins, which are known to impact the brain.
I want to take a closer look at how certain mycotoxins cause neurological damage and what can be done to prevent these scary invisible killers from infiltrating our lives.
But first, let’s take a step back and examine the basics.
What are mycotoxins, anyway?
Mycotoxins are created by microfungi. They’re the secondary metabolites which can make you very sick. Some mycotoxins are mildly annoying, like athlete’s foot, while others can be life-threatening.
When you’re made sick by mycotoxins you’re basically being poisoned. This is called mycotoxicosis. The symptoms of mycotoxicosis differ depending on the type of mycotoxin you’re exposed to, how long you’re exposed to it, the amount of the exposure, and your personal attributes such as age, gender, and health.
There are hundreds of factors that can impact how a mycotoxin exposure presents in your body, including:
- Vitamin deficiency
- Microbial disease
- Other diseases or conditions
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Low-caloric intake
How mycotoxins can impact your brain
Neurotoxicity refers to brain or peripheral nervous system damage. As you can imagine, it’s incredible dangerous and even deadly in some cases.
Toxins that cause neurotoxicity, or neurotoxins, can alter your brain activity through disrupting or even killing neurons.
This important review examined four mycotoxins known to induce neurotoxicity in rodent models, including:
- T-2 toxin – Known for inducing neuronal cell death in both fetal and adult brains.
- Macrocyclic trichothecenes – Causes neuronal cell death and inflammation in the olfactory system.
- Fumonisin B1 (FB1) – Causes neuronal degeneration in the cerebral cortex and disrupts ceramide synthesis (and important lipid in the brain).
- Ochratochin A (OTA) – Induces acute depletion of striatal dopamine, which has shown to cause cell death in the hippocampus, substantia nigra, and striatum (different parts of the brain).
These mycotoxins cause neurotoxicity, especially in oxidative stress-associated pathways. Oxidative stress-associated pathways are areas in your body that are particularly vulnerable to the imbalance between damaging free radicals and neutralizing antioxidants.
Because each of these mycotoxins are dangerous to your brain, let’s take a closer look at where they exist, how you can avoid them, and what they do to your body.
T-2 Toxin is mostly found in corn, wheat, barley, and rice. It can infect these food items both while growing in the field and in storage. The only way to completely prevent exposure to T-2 toxin is to limit your intake of these crops.
This particular toxin has been linked to a number of diseases including alimentary toxic aleukia and red mold disease.
Symptoms of T-2 toxin mycotoxicosis usually occur within minutes to up to two hours after exposure, and how they present varies depending on the route of exposure. Symptoms of T-2 toxin mycotoxicosis include:
- Prostration (extreme weakness resulting in near or complete collapse)
- Ataxia (loss of control over bodily movements)
- Loss of coordination
Symptoms by route of exposure:
- Transdermal exposure: Burning sensation, blistering, skin necrosis
- Gastrointestinal exposure: Anorexia, nausea, vomiting, bloody diarrhea
- Inhalation: Itching, sneezing, wheezing, coughing, blood tinged saliva
- Ocular: Blurred vision, eye pain, tearing, and redness
Ingesting T-2 toxin can result in alimentary toxic aleukia, which is a clinical syndrome. Symptoms of alimentary toxic aleukia include:
- Skin irritation, rash or itching
- Bleeding and hemorrhaging
- Dyspnea (labored breathing)
T-2 toxin inhibits protein synthesis through binding to peptidyl transferase. Enough of this binding can trigger a ribotoxic stress response. T-2 toxin also interferes with membrane phospholipid metabolism. T-2 also increases liver lipid peroxides or oxidative degradation of lipids, which is linked to all sorts of diseases.
This powerful and deadly toxin is bad news.
It also suppresses your ever-important glutathione S-transferases, which is needed to metabolize drugs.
And it messes with your mitochondria, leading to dysfunction. You need healthy mitochondria because they are the powerhouses of your cells. You could live weeks without food and days without water, but if your mitochondria are starved, you’ll die in seconds. This is how T-2 toxin is so dangerous.
Macrocyclic trichothecenes is emitted from a fungus Stachybotrys chartarum, which grows on wet cellulose-containing building materials. Water-damaged wallboard, ceiling tiles, and cardboard commonly contain S. chartarum.
Chronic exposure to macrocyclic trichothecene has been linked to debilitating respiratory symptoms, damp building-related illnesses, immune system dysfunction, and neurological impairment.
Macrocyclic trichothecenes work by inhibiting protein synthesis and binding to proteins and other macromolecules. Exposure to macrocyclic trichothecene mycotoxins results in chronic inflammation and cell death, which damages neurological and pulmonary tissues and cells.
Symptoms of macrocyclic trichothecene exposure include:
- Ataxia (loss of control over bodily movements)
- Low blood pressure
- Bleeding disorders
You can be tested for macrocyclic trichothecene mycotoxins with the guidance of your functional medicine doctor. A complete panel of urinary mycotoxins can be taken through Real Time Labs or Great Plains Labs.
Fumonisin B1 (FB1)
Fumonisin B1 is considered one of the most abundant and toxic mycotoxins.
Fumonisin B1 is mostly found in corn and in various cereals. Your best chance of avoiding this toxin is through avoiding corn and cereal products, which is a good idea anyway since most corn is GMO and heavily treated with atrazine.
Fumonisin B1 disrupts sphingolipid synthesis, which are the fatty acids primarily found in the cell membranes of nervous and brain tissues.
Fumonisin B1 also inhibits protein synthesis, causes DNA fragmentation, increases lipid oxidation, and causes cell death.
The symptoms of Fumonisin B1 exposure include:
- Lack of appetite
- Pressure in the head
- Liver damage
Eventually, exposure to fumonisin B1 can cause death.
Ochratochin A (OTA)
Ochratochin A is found mostly in cereals and has a very long half-life, meaning is remains in the body for a long time and accumulates in the food chain.
The best way to avoid OTA is to reduce your cereal and grain consumption. OTA is also found in wine, beer, coffee, grapes, pork, poultry, dairy, spices, and chocolate.
Ochratochin A has been linked to kidney diseases and enzymuria. It’s also been found to be immunotoxic, neurotoxic, teratogenic, and genotoxic. OTA works through causing oxidative stress in the body, impairing your mitochondria, and inhibiting protein synthesis.
Symptoms of ochratochin A exposure include:
- Respiratory symptoms such as asthma
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Renal disease
- Night sweats
- Fungal skin rash
- Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
- Hair loss
Ochratochin A is of particular concern because it’s believed to be responsible for significant oxidative damage to DNA, lipids, and proteins in the body. It’s believed that ochratochin A exposure can contribute to neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
I recommend being tested for ochratochin A through your functional medicine doctor if you suffer from any chronic symptoms especially brain fog. You can have a complete panel of urinary mycotoxins through Real Time Labs or Great Plains Labs.
Mycotoxins are more common than most realize
Mycotoxins are relatively unknown and yet they continue to impact our health in a serious way. Illness caused by mycotoxins present differently depending on numerous factors. You can be tested for mycotoxin exposure with the help of your functional medicine doctor and I seriously recommend it.
Mycotoxin exposure is much more common than most realize. This is one of the reasons I recommend avoiding grains in your diet and being wary of water damaged buildings. I also recommend being tested for mycotoxins if you suffer from any chronic conditions or any of the symptoms listed above. Talk to your doctor about how to best get an accurate test reading. Some patients who are very toxic will not excrete the mycotoxins in the urine without pretreatment with infrared sauna or liposomal glutathione.
Awareness is also critical and so I ask that you share this article with a friend or family member who may be suffering from mysterious chronic symptoms – it could be mold exposure that’s keeping you down.