Many people assume they are safe from mold if they follow the basic rules of cleanliness, but the truth is that mold is more pervasive than most of us realize. In fact, many troubling symptoms can be traced back to hidden sources of mold. The good news is that many natural remedies and easy preventative measures exist.
Mold is a type of fungus that thrives in moist conditions, both outside and inside. It is essential to the environment – in the outdoors! – because it breaks down things like dead leaves.
Mold is more problematic indoors, where it favours damp, dark places like basements or poorly ventilated bathrooms. It can also grow in wet carpet, on windowsills, or in drywall. Even dishwashers and washing machines can harbor mold! And anyone who has ever forgotten to empty a lunchbox or thermos may have had an unpleasant encounter with mold.
When mold is growing indoors, its presence is not just limited to visible patches. Mold produces tiny spores and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that spread through the air. In other words, a room may look clean, but if there is a small patch of mold growing in, for example, a corner of a windowsill, people in the room may be breathing in mold spores and VOCs. Some people are sensitive to these spores, some preexisting conditions are exacerbated by it, and people have allergies to mold.
The effects of mold on the body are often cumulative, meaning that they build up over repeated exposure. Some common symptoms include:
- Unexplained muscle aches
- A runny nose
- Sore throat
- Eye sensitivity
- Watery eyes
- Changes in appetite
- Night sweats
- Unexplained skin rashes
These symptoms are more likely to appear in children, older people, or the immunocompromised. Roughly 5% of the population has allergic responses to mold, which can trigger respiratory symptoms like wheezing and sneezing. Alarmingly, mold exposure may also be linked with a higher rate of depression, although more research needs to be done in this area.
Long-term exposure to mold can produce more serious effects in young people. One study found that children exposed to mold in their early years performed lower in cognitive assessments. Another linked mold exposure to an increased risk of asthma in children.
Nobody likes to see mold on their food, and in some instances, the effects on your health can be serious, particularly for people with mold allergies. Some food molds produce poisonous and even carcinogenic substances called mycotoxins. Fruits, vegetables, bread, and cheese are foods particularly prone to mold. If a soft food, such as bread or berries has spots of mold, throw out the entire thing, as it’s possible invisible spores have permeated the rest of it. Don’t sniff the mold before you toss it, since you could inhale mold spores. Just assume it doesn’t smell very good!
Mold needs moisture to grow, so the first step to keeping mold at bay is to identify any sources of water or moisture.
- If you see mold in a room, look for water leaks immediately.
- Always use the bathroom fan when showering or bathing.
- Maintaining HVAC systems is essential.
- Use a dehumidifier if moisture is a problem in an area where it’s hard to address, such as damp crawl spaces.
- When in doubt, throw out. Mold grows rapidly and is often hard to see initially. If a household item like a damp rug has a bit of mold, replace the whole thing.
Although household bleach can effectively kill mold, it carries health risks of its own and should be avoided. Here are some alternatives you can try:
- Tea tree oil is an excellent alternative. Just mix two teaspoons with two cups of water, and spray on affected surfaces. Let it sit for at least an hour before wiping clean with a scrub brush.
- Baking soda is another good, non-toxic choice – just add some to water and spray.
- Undiluted white vinegar can also kill mold. It’s cost effective, non-toxic and don’t worry about the smell – eventually the vinegary smell fades.
If you’ve been exposed to mold and are experiencing reactions, the obvious first step is to remove the mold, as outlined above. As your body restores itself, you can take some steps to help detoxify.
- Raw garlic has natural antifungal properties. You can include fresh raw garlic or tablets, however, speak with a practitioner about any specific dosage for you.
- Activated charcoal binds itself to toxins in mold to slow or stop its spread. Taken internally, activated charcoal tablets can help rid your body of mold trapped inside. Again, speak with a qualified practitioner to see if this supplement is right for you.
- Chlorophyll not only has antifungal properties, but it also protects our DNA from damage from toxins. Green leafy vegetables are an excellent source of chlorophyll, as are phytoplankton and spirulina.
- A sugar-free diet inhibits the growth of fungus.
Mold is not the most pleasant topic. It can be disturbing to find some in your own home and even worse it can negatively affect your health without you knowing it if you can’t pinpoint the source.
Taking a proactive approach and doing all you can to prevent mold exposure can lessen the impact of mold on your health.
Jedrychowski W, Maugeri U, Perera F, et al. Cognitive function of 6-year old children exposed to mold-contaminated homes in early postnatal period. Prospective birth cohort study in Poland. Physiol Behav. 2011;104(5):989-995. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2011.06.019
Oluwole, O., Kirychuk, S.P., Lawson, J.A., Karunanayake, C., Cockcroft, D.W., Willson, P.J., Senthilselvan, A. and Rennie, D.C. (2017), Indoor mold levels and current asthma among school-aged children in Saskatchewan, Canada. Indoor Air, 27: 311-319. https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12304
US Department of Agriculture. Molds on Foods: Are They Dangerous?
Potera C. Molding a link to depression. Environ Health Perspect. 2007;115(11):A536. doi:10.1289/ehp.115-a536a
Hope J. A review of the mechanism of injury and treatment approaches for illness resulting from exposure to water-damaged buildings, mold, and mycotoxins. ScientificWorldJournal. 2013;2013:767482. Published 2013 Apr 18. doi:10.1155/2013/767482