Managing Mold Exposure

By: Amanda Gawrysz, L.Ac., MSOM

Have you been feeling sick, tired, congested, and overall heavy and sluggish recently? The mold spore count in the area has been three times its normal levels! The recent storms and winds caused a lot more humidity in our environment and activated the lovely spores to go airborne.

Mold and mildew allergies occur when the immune system erroneously responds to mold spores, causing initial symptoms that may include itchy eyes, sneezing, fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and sinus congestion. Over time, however, these allergic symptoms may lessen or worsen depending on your individual immunity. Often, long-term exposure may create serious consequences such as breakdown in digestive, immune, and neurological functions. 

Not only is the mold spore count high, but we are also entering the season of late summer. Late summer in Traditional Chinese Medicine is associated with the energies of the spleen and stomach organs. The spleen organ dislikes dampness, a progenitor of mold. Dampness can we absorbed from the foods we eat like dairy and sugar products, from our environment like humid weather or mold exposure, and we may also be born with a constitutional disposition towards accumulating these energies within our bodies more easily. 

Antihistamines and decongestants are readily available at any drug or grocery store for initial allergy type symptoms, but those products may cause some nasty unwanted side effects. Those are typically bandaid-like solutions without addressing the root cause. 

Mold is almost everywhere and unavoidable, but we can significantly decrease our exposure to it by managing our exposure. This will put less toxic-load on our bodies and immune systems to decrease or even prevent symptoms from occurring in the first place. Here is what you can do to help with mold prevention.

  1. Dehumidify--mold requires moisture to thrive so keeping humidity levels below 50% in your home and work environment is essential. Bathrooms are typically the rooms containing the most moisture so buying something like a volcanic rock in a bag which is sold in most hardware stores and hanging it will help absorb those yucky bathroom spores.

  2. Humidifiers--if you do have a humidifier in your home or work space, make sure to clean it once a week to prevent bacterial and mold infestation that may have built up in the machine. This can be done by adding 1 cup of apple cider vinegar with 1 gallon of water into the humidifier weekly.

  3. Inspect Outdoors--mold spores do not necessarily have to be inside to make you sick. Make sure to check around your building because these spores can make their way inside. Make sure all drains are in appropriate locations to help move water away from the building. Check that gardening sprinklers are not aiming towards the walls of your residence or workplace. Inspect any leaks or sitting puddles that may be around including your crawl space and driveways if you have them

  4. Sunlight--beaming natural sunlight into your space is the single best thing you can do to counter the unhealthy build up of mold in your immediate environment. Furthermore, the UV rays from the sun can kill most mold species.

  5. Maintain good health and immunity--since our immune systems protect us from infections and invasions, it is important to have a healthy diet, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and keep emotional stressors low. Some herbs that boost immune function to consider include echinacea, astragalus, lingustrum, elderberry, honeysuckle, cherokee rose, and andrographis.

  6. Detoxification--herbs to help the body detox faster as we try to clear out our systems from mold exposure can include hawthorn, milk thistle, and dandelion. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has its own approach and perspective with mold induced conditions by eliminating and preventing damp accumulation within the body. A Chinese medicine practitioner will need to examine the extent of damp accumulation within the patient as well as their overall digestive function and Kidney fire energy. 

Based on TCM nutrition, all dairy products should be avoided. This includes cheese, milk, yogurt (although exceptions can be made with yogurt). Sugar, sweets, white flour, refined starch, and alcohol should be limited if not completely eliminated from one’s diet. Excess raw fruits because of their sugar content and raw vegetables due to mold in the soil need to be carefully consumed. Mushrooms and other fungi can be toxic to the body when being exposed to too much environmental mold. Tomatoes which typically are not discussed attract mold to them very easily and need to be eaten with caution. Excess fermented foods can also cause further damp accumulation in the body. Anything containing yeasts and vinegar also need to be avoided. Fatty, greasy, and deep fried foods are always a bad idea if you want to maintain good health and a strong immune system. 

The basic idea in Chinese medicine is to consume more foods that are warm and cooked and eat less foods that are raw and cold. Raw and cold food and drinks are very damaging to the digestive fire that is needed for our metabolisms to function at optimal levels. If you do eat raw and cold try countering that cooling temperature with things that are warming in nature like garlic, onions, turmeric, ginger, fennel, clove, cayenne, pepper, cinnamon, chives, parsley, etc. 

Not typically discussed and acknowledged is the impact that stress has on our lives. Keeping cortisol levels down and our nervous systems out of a fight-or-flight response allows our immune system to perform the way it is meant to. A daily stress management program and quick coping techniques are highly recommended and essential to maintaining a healthy immune response. 

Acupuncture also helps our bodies to return to a state of balance and homeostasis by effectively restoring and supporting healthy functions. 

The problem with mold is increasing due to heightened awareness and better understanding of how excess exposure can create harm to the body. It is up to each individual to become sensitive to one’s environment, to identify possible causal factors, and be proactive to prevent mold infestation. A good practitioner or healer will help and guide you in the right direction, but true healing comes from healthy daily practices and habits. 

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