In this article:
Mold -- a type of fungus -- is everywhere! You may be battling mold in your garden, a moldy, damp basement, or find mold growing on your walls after water damage. Even the cheese in your refrigerator isn’t immune to mold!! We simply can't avoid being exposed to some mold in our daily life, both indoors and outdoors.
Mold thrives with moisture and humidity. Outdoors, mold uses water and decaying plant materials to fuel its reproduction, releasing tiny spores that float to other damp locations. There, the spores take hold and form new mold colonies. Indoors, mold growth depends on water and building materials to spread. This is how a small spot of mildew on the bathroom tiles can spread quickly across an entire wall of shower tiles!
While most people can be exposed to normal daily levels of mold without any health effects, it’s important to note that there are four situations when mold can pose a health hazard:
(1) When the mold exposure is long-term and chronic (2) When the levels of mold are very high (3) When the type of mold is the less common “Toxic Mold,” and (4) When the person being exposed has a propensity to autoimmune disease, a greater-than-average sensitivity to toxins, or has a compromised immune system.
We also now know there’s also a direct link between mold exposure and thyroid disease, specifically, hypothyroidism. Ahead, a look at the important link between mold exposure and an underactive thyroid condition.
With the prevalence of mold in our homes, workplaces, and outdoors, it’s fortunate that most types of molds are relatively harmless to humans. Chronic, long-term exposure to otherwise benign types of molds is, however, associated with various health issues.
For example, a common and widespread mold, Aspergillus, is not typically harmful to most people. However, in some people, exposure to Aspergillus can trigger a variety of symptoms, including watery, itchy eyes, headaches, migraines, sinus conditions, fatigue, a chronic cough, breathing problems, skin rashes, a stuffy nose, and sneezing.
There are several types of molds that are referred to as “Toxic Mold.” This means that the mold is capable of producing toxic pathogens called mycotoxins, which can create a variety of health problems. Studies have shown that exposure to mold mycotoxins can cause a variety of significant changes to the immune system and organs, including lung problems, breathing issues, development of autoantibodies that are precursors to various autoimmune diseases, and central nervous system irregularities, among others.
Perhaps the best known “Toxic Mold,” is Stachybotrys chartarum, also known as “Black Mold.” Stachybotrys grows indoors on material with a high cellulose content, such as fiberboard, gypsum board, and paper. While the evidence is not yet definitive, many experts feel that Black Mold can be responsible for more serious health complications and may be a trigger for autoimmune reactions.
A chronic or high level of exposure to mold and its mycotoxins is associated with a variety of symptoms of mold allergy or sensitivities, as seen in the following chart.
When it comes to your thyroid, there’s increasing evidence of a direct link between mold exposure and thyroid health.
For example, chronic exposure to Aspergillus mold in people with a susceptibility to autoimmune disease and/or a compromised immune system increases the risk of developing a condition known as Aspergillus thyroiditis, a fungal infection caused by aspergillus that targets the thyroid gland.
Research published in 2017 reported that long-term exposure to mold could be a significant factor in developing another thyroid condition known as Non-Thyroidal Illness Syndrome, or NTIS. In NTIS, T4 and T3 levels are low, Reverse T3 levels are high, and the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level tends to remain in the reference range. In the study of thyroid patients with NTIS, removal of exposure to the mold – along with thyroid treatment – helped resolve several symptoms. However, symptoms reappeared quickly when the patients were re-exposed to the mold.
Mold is also considered an endocrine disruptor, and the thyroid gland is very susceptible to the chemicals and other endocrine-disrupting substances that are toxic to the endocrine system. Common chemicals like pesticides, bisphenol-A (BPA), phthalates, flame retardants, non-stick coatings -- and mycotoxins from mold -- are all considered endocrine disruptors. Long-term and higher exposure to these toxins can increase the risk of thyroid conditions and other endocrine diseases.
There’s also evidence that mold exposure can increase the risk of autoimmune disease, including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which causes hypothyroidism. It makes sense that exposure to mycotoxins is an issue. Any exposure to any toxin puts increased stress on the immune system and wastes valuable immune function, sending the immune system into overdrive to defend against a long list of foods, chemicals, and other toxins in the air, water, and food. When the immune system is occupied fighting against toxins, this compromises the immune system and leaves space for autoimmune conditions to develop. That means that, like other potential toxins such as gluten, fluoride, or the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA), mycotoxin exposure poses a greater risk to people with a genetic propensity to autoimmune disease or those who already have an autoimmune condition.
If you suspect you’re being exposed to mold in your home, your first step is to make a plan. A helpful resource is the EPA’s “Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture and Your Home.”
You can use a home testing kit for mold. Even better, however, is having mold inspection and testing done by a reputable mold testing and remediation expert. They will look for mold in its most common hiding places, including carpets and flooring, damp basements, HVAC and ventilation systems, dishwashers and washing machines, plumbing systems, and water-damaged walls. They will also conduct surface and air testing to sample for mold spores and mold growth.
The most important takeaway, however, is that ANY mold that’s found in your home and can’t be easily cleaned should be removed. In fact, there’s a saying: “When in doubt, take it out!”
While it’s best to use a professional mold removal and remediation contractor to handle this potentially toxic job, if you choose to do it yourself, be sure to familiarize yourself with the proper procedures. Here's a comprehensive set of "Guidelines on Assessment and Remediation of Fungi in Indoor Environments." issued by New York City.
If you’re cleaning up mold yourself in your home, you should also use the necessary safety precautions to protect your health from further exposure. For example, the EPA recommends that you wear an N95 respirator mask, goggles, and gloves while doing mold removal to avoid inhaling mold spores. For more information, read: What to Wear When Cleaning Moldy Areas.
If you have documented mold in your home, or have the signs or symptoms of mold exposure, consult with a physician who is knowledgeable about the effects of toxic exposures. During that visit, it’s important to share as part of your medical history any relevant environmental changes that may raise suspicion for mold exposure. For example:
- A recent move
- Changing workplaces
- Leaks, flood damage, or water damage in your home or office
Your health care provider can also work with you to conduct laboratory testing for mold exposures. Various urine, stool, and blood tests can evaluate whether you’ve been exposed to certain types of molds, and the degree of exposure.
For hypothyroid patients, reducing or eliminating unresolved symptoms starts with optimizing your thyroid function. The Paloma home thyroid test kit makes it easy to test your thyroid hormone levels as a starting point. You can also schedule a virtual visit with one of Paloma’s knowledgeable thyroid practitioners, who are committed to providing optimal treatment and will work with you to ensure that you get the best possible resolution of symptoms. During your consultation with a Paloma practitioner, make sure that you raise the issue of any risk factors for or symptoms of mold exposure you may have.