Mold isn’t always a bad thing… After all, if you enjoy a good slice of Roquefort or Camembert cheese, you’re appreciating the work of a cheesemaker who used fungal spores to create that unique, mold-ripened flavor.
And penicillium mold naturally produces the antibiotic penicillin, which was the first true antibiotic. It changed the course of medicine across the world.
But outside of those two wins, mold is pretty rotten – in every sense of the word. Quite a few people are allergic – some to the point where it’s debilitating. It’s a common cause of respiratory problems
Mold growing indoors — for example, behind wallpaper or under your flooring – can bring on anything from nasal and sinus congestion to bronchitis, sore throat, headache, asthma, or skin and eye irritation.
Allergies aren’t the half of it
But if your house is mold-infested, allergies may be the least of your problems.
My publishing house has done a great deal of reporting on alternative approaches to dementia, and I can tell you that toxic mold infestation in homes and buildings is now near the top of the list as a possible cause of so-called Alzheimer’s disease.
It may be that these airborne mold toxins should likewise be front and center as a suspected cancer cause. And to make the news even worse, mold infestation in buildings is far more common than you would ever think.
If your house has a water problem of any kind – water in the basement, leak from the toilet or under the sink, any water damage at all – then your home is a candidate for mold toxicity.
Young children and the elderly are at greatest risk.
But for the moment, let’s focus on an easier problem to solve:foodborne molds that may cause cancer. . .
The worst offenders are actually substances called mycotoxins produced by mold. They are the waste products of certain kinds of fungi.
Mycotoxins can be even more toxic than heavy metals. These tiny particles can ravage your body if they make their way inside, “hiding” from your immune system. Molds have a remarkable ability to mutate, meaning the sheer variety of toxins can overwhelm your immune system.
To make it worse, mycotoxins produce chemicals that suppress your immune system. Mycotoxins can also cross straight into your brain, which is another reason they’re considered so toxic. This can lead to anything from mold-induced sinusitis to serious brain complications.
The 5 worst moldy dangers to avoid
Here are the top five most dangerous mycotoxins:
- Aflatoxins are the worst. You find them on peanuts most often, but they also occur on corn, cottonseed, and tree nuts. The fungi that produce aflatoxins, Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus, are most often found in warm and humid regions. They can contaminate crops still in the field, already harvested, or during storage. Aflatoxin exposure is linked to a higher risk of liver cancer.
- Citrinin could be toxic to living cells. It’s found in grains that have been in long-term storage, as well as in fruits and some other plant-based products. It’s created by the fungi genusesAspergillus, Penicillium, and Monascus, and can cause liver and kidney damage.
- Fumonisins aren’t officially considered carcinogenic, but these mycotoxins may as well be. Studies have found a link between this type of mycotoxin and cancer in general. And in studies of rats, high fumonisins made for kidney and liver tumors in both the females and males.
- Patulin, a toxin produced by a variety of molds, is most often found on fruit, especially apples with brown rot and any other fruit with obvious signs of decay and rotting. High doses of Patulin have been shown to be neurotoxic in animal studies. In humans, high doses have caused gastro-intestinal lesions and bleeding in the stomach and small intestines.
- Zearalenone, known as ZEA, can act as a hormone disruptor. This mycotoxin produces “mycoestrogens,” and was at the heart of the famous “Jersey Girl Study” from 30 years ago that found eighty percent of a sample of 163 girls from New Jersey, ages 9-10, tested high for mycoestrogens. The girls were shorter than average, and hadn’t yet reached the onset of breast development. Later, researchers found that a derivative of ZEA had been given to U.S. livestock since the 1970’s. ZEA is banned in the European Union and several other countries, but not in the U.S.
How to protect yourself in the age of mass-produced food
Mycotoxins have been around for thousands of years, for the most part performing a crucial role in our ecosystem: the breakdown of food into organic matter.
But mold-based toxicity has reached epidemic levels because so much of our food system operates at a mass-production level, and then gets stored for long periods of time. Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself:
- When eating grains, look for brands that are non-GMO and organic. Try to avoid mass-produced sources, like commercial breads. Shop at local bakeries whenever possible.
- Buy local veggies often, ideally from a farmer’s market. Locally grown produce doesn’t need to be stored for long periods of time before you buy it. And if you’re buying directly from the grower, ask about their natural strategies for preventing mold.
- For meat, buy only organic, grass-fed, free range varieties. This is the best way to protect yourself from mycotoxin-induced hormonal imbalances.
- Consume natural cleansers, like green tea, whenever possible. The polyphenols in green tea – and matcha tea in particular – will help clean out any mycotoxicity in your body. Other natural cleansing products include garlic, licorice root, and dandelion (all available in tea form). Or try black walnut hulls in supplement form.
- Drink filtered water to flush out any mycotoxins that find their way into your system. Aim for at least half your weight in ounces per day; more if you can handle it. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs., aim for 75 ounces of water (about 9 ½ cups).
Fuzzy food: Not worth the risk
I wouldn’t rank mold and mycotoxins in food as the biggest threat of our day when it comes to cancer, but they are a problem to be aware of. The risk is preventable if you keep yourself educated and aware of what’s in and on your food, and where your food comes from.
Plenty of people think mold is gross and a nuisance, but few treat it as a serious health risk. In my book, trying to salvage food with anything green or fuzzy growing on it just isn’t worth it. Toss it out and save yourself the potential health risk.