If you’ve been diagnosed with a mold-related illness, chances are, somewhere along the way, a doctor or loved one has told you that your symptoms were all “in your head”. When grappling with an illness that’s hard to pinpoint and that’s triggered by a culprit that’s often even harder to pinpoint, it’s not uncommon to be dismissed by those who don’t understand.
But as it turns out, telling those with mold-related illnesses that it’s “all in their head” might not be so far off after all. You see, some of the symptoms triggered by exposure to toxic mold might just be traced back to mold’s impact on a specialized network in your brain known as your limbic system.
Today we’re going to explore exactly what mold illness is, how mold affects your brain and your limbic system, and most importantly – how you can begin “retraining” your limbic system to begin healing. Let’s dive in.
What Is Mold Illness?
Mold illness is a condition triggered when you’re exposed to certain strains of mold. Mold reproduces via tiny reproductive cells known as spores that are released and wafted through the air. As these spores float through the air – both indoors and outdoors – we inevitably breathe them in.
Exposure to low levels of these mold spores in and of themselves isn’t necessarily a problem. But mold exposure becomes problematic when we encounter certain strains of mold that produce microscopic poisons known as mycotoxins. And it’s these tiny toxins that can trigger mold illness – resulting in a slew of unpleasant and perplexing symptoms.
What Are the Symptoms of Mold Illness?
Mold illness can be particularly tricky to pinpoint because it often causes a constellation of vague, seemingly unrelated symptoms, such as:1,2
- Allergy-like symptoms (coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, runny nose, etc.)
- Respiratory infections, persistent coughing, difficulty breathing, and sinus inflammation
- Headaches, sensitivity to light, lightheadedness
- Muscle cramps, joint pain, relentless fatigue
- Digestive issues, appetite changes, weight loss or gain
And if left unchecked, chronic mold exposure can spiral into more serious conditions like:
- Immune suppression
- Liver and kidney toxicity
- Neurological damage
- Organ damage
- Respiratory infections
- Swelling of the brain
- Systemic infections
- And sometimes even death
But there’s another often-overlooked impact that mold can have that can be even more frustrating and frightening than the physical symptoms. Mold is notorious for exerting some serious effects on your mental and emotional well-being.
Your Brain on Mold: How Mold Can Affect Your Brain
Many people exposed to toxic mold experience an intense barrage of unsettling mental and emotional symptoms such as:3,4
- Depression and feelings of hopelessness
- Detachment from reality
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling out of control of your emotions
- Feelings of impending doom
- Intense sleepiness
- Irrational fears
- Panic attacks
- Relentless brain fog
What’s even more interesting, is that certain strains of mold tend to have specific “personalities” – with exposure to specific types of mold triggering distinct neurological and emotional changes. That might sound far-fetched at first, but mold is a type of fungus. And fungi have been instrumental in the development of numerous potent pharmaceutical drugs as well as been used for centuries as a form of plant medicine to induce hallucinations and achieve spiritual enlightenment.
So the idea that these mold strains could have powerful effects on our thoughts and emotions really isn’t so far-fetched. But how exactly does mold exert these brain-altering effects? As it turns out, the answer may lie in a part of our brain known as the limbic system.
What Exactly is the Limbic System?
Your limbic system consists of a specific group of structures within your brain that includes:5
- The limbic cortex
- The hippocampal formation
- The amygdala
- The septal area
- The hypothalamus
Together, this complex network plays a pivotal role in a slew of brain functions including:5
- Addiction and feelings of motivation
- Appetite and eating behaviors
- Autonomic and endocrine responses to emotions (like the “fight or flight” response)
- Emotional responses including fear, rage, placidity, and calmness
- Olfaction or the processing of smells
- Sexual behavior
- Sleep and dreams
- Social cognition or the thought processes involved in understanding and dealing with other people
This complex, interconnected web of structures serves as the central hub for a number of heavy-hitting mental and emotional functions. So it makes sense that any imbalance in this delicate system could result in some significant symptoms. So, let’s dive into how mycotoxins can potentially trigger dysregulation amongst your limbic system.
The Link Between Mold Exposure and the Limbic System
It’s speculated that mold is able to cast a spell of mycotoxin-induced mood alterations in a process that goes something like this:6,7
- When you inhale mold spores, these tiny airborne particles travel from your nasal passage and through your nasal epithelium – where they can then pass into your brain.
- As these mold spores cross into your brain, they stimulate electrical activity in the amygdala and hippocampal areas of the limbic system in a process known as kindling.
- Exposure to an acute, high-level dose of mold or recurrent low-level, intermittent exposure to mold can alter the limbic system response – essentially hijacking your limbic system.
- This hijacking stimulates the electrical activity primarily concentrated in your limbic system, bypassing your more rational prefrontal cortex, and triggering an onslaught of neural, psychological, and psychiatric abnormalities.
But the damage doesn’t end there. Exposure to mycotoxins can also:6,7
- Elicit significant oxidative stress and spike inflammation within your brain.
- Compromise the integrity of your blood-brain barrier (the network of tissues that serves as the gatekeeper between your brain and the rest of your body) – allowing irritating and inflammation-producing molecules to inadvertently sneak their way into your brain.
- Bind to proteins in your brain that regulate synaptic activity – inhibiting your brain cells’ ability to properly communicate.
- Damage your mitochondria (the energy-producing component of your cells) – inhibiting the formation of new neural connections in your brain.
This combination of effects can add up to some incredibly damaging and downright traumatizing impacts on your cognitive and emotional functions. That’s why addressing this chemical trauma and retraining your limbic system is key when it comes to recovering from mold illness.
Retraining Your Limbic System: The Key to Recovering from Mold Illness
There are many layers to healing from exposure to toxic mold – all of which I dive deeper into in my article Concerned You May Have A Mold-Related Illness? How to Tackle Toxic Mold. Each component of healing is crucial, but one “piece of the puzzle” that’s often missing in mold treatment protocols is the retraining of your limbic system and restoring balance to your psychological well-being.
You see, mold exposure can elicit a chemical trauma to your limbic system – essentially shifting the balance of this delicate network and causing you to get stuck in a sort of “fight or flight” mode. So it's crucial to essentially reset your limbic system by rewiring it to return to a more balanced, restful state. Some powerful ways you can begin retraining and restoring balance to your limbic system include:
- Primal Trust Program
- Gupta Program brain retraining
- Breathwork (like Buteyko breathing)
- Cranial sacral therapy
- Emotional freedom technique or “tapping”
- Frequency-specific microcurrents
- Integrative manual physical therapy
- Listening to binaural beats
- Medical hypnosis
- Neurolinguistic programming
- Practice getting into a state of flow
|Ten Ways to Experience More Flow
1. Choose something you already love to do or try something new.
2. Make it challenging but not too hard. Flow happens right between the two extremes.
3. Clear away other distractions; optimally you should set aside at least four hours for the task.
4. Teach yourself something new—take dancing lessons, learn to surf, go rock climbing, or pick something else that you’ve always wanted to try.
5. Don’t force it. Stop and move on to something different if you are not enjoying yourself.
6. Limit external distractions, silence alerts on your phone, and shut down your Internet browser if you are working on creative writing.
7. Avoid multitasking. Focus only on the one task at hand.
8. Breathe intentionally and let go of any stress; surrender to the process.
9. Listen to music that enhances flow. I like to use Focus@Will for alpha wave–inducing music while I am working creatively.
10. Use a PEMF mat (I like HigherDose) or red light therapy (Sauna Space or VieLight for the brain) to jump-start the process.
For more information on flow state inducers, visit www.ReadUnexpected.com/Resources.
To truly heal from mold illness, limbic system dysfunction must be addressed just as carefully as the physical symptoms that mold causes. Because healing from mold requires such an intricate and comprehensive approach, I cannot overemphasize the importance of working with a mold-literate Integrative and Functional Medicine Practitioner to guide you on your path of healing.
Are You Or A Loved One Grappling With Mold Illness?
Mold illness can be life-changing, to say the least – sabotaging both your physical and emotional well-being. If you’re grappling with mold illness, an environmentally-triggered condition, or any ongoing health challenge, please know that there is hope and you are not alone.
I know firsthand just how devastating mold illness can be. And I also know firsthand that with the right approach, it is possible to heal from mold illness and come back stronger than ever. I dive deeper into mold-related illness, limbic system retraining, and my own experience with healing from exposure to toxic mold in my new book Unexpected: Finding Resilience Through Functional Medicine, Science, and Faith.
I poured my heart and soul into this book and packed it full of practical, scientific recommendations interwoven with my own personal story. My hope is that this book can serve as a way to empower you with implementable knowledge while inspiring you to continue overcoming, and most of all, remind you that you are not alone in this journey.
Click here to order your own copy of Unexpected: Finding ResilienceThrough Functional Medicine, Science, and Faith (and maybe grab a copy or two for someone who could use a little nudge of inspiration too).
- Long Term Effects of Black Mold | Black Mold Symptoms (sanitred.com)
- CPSC Statement on mold and mycotoxins health effects
- Mold Toxicity: A Common Cause of Psychiatric Symptoms | Psychology Today
- Mold inhalation causes innate immune activation, neural, cognitive and emotional dysfunction – PMC (nih.gov)
- The limbic system (nih.gov)
- Possible Mechanisms for Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: The Limbic System and Others – Multiple Chemical Sensitivities – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)
- Mold inhalation causes innate immune activation, neural, cognitive and emotional dysfunction – PMC (nih.gov)
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.