Mold is a type of fungus comprised of small organisms found almost everywhere. They come in a variety of colors: black, white, orange, green, blue, or purple. There are over 100,000 species of mold, and in small amounts, they are usually harmless.
In the great outdoors, mold plays an important role in nature, breaking down dead leaves, plants, and trees. Mold thrives on moisture and requires constant moisture to grow. Mold reproduces by sending out tiny spores that travel through the air.
Mold in the home
We are mostly exposed to mold through skin contact, ingestion, and inhalation. Our exposure is most commonly from damp or water-damaged buildings, and it is estimated that somewhere between 25%-50% of buildings in the US have had some sort of water damage.
When mold spores land on a damp spot in your home, they can start to grow. While the mold is growing on a surface, it can release spores into the air where they can be easily inhaled. If you inhale a large number of spores, you could experience health problems.
The most common molds found indoors include Cladosporium, Penicillium, Alternaria, Aspergillus, and Stachybotrys Chartarum. The last one is most commonly known as “toxic black mold,” and can show up when you have water leaks, condensation, water infiltration, or flooding.
Black mold grows on material with high cellulose and low nitrogen content, like fiberboard, wood, drywall, paper, lint, and dust. If you spot mold in your house, you need to:
- Find and fix the source of the moisture
- Remove the mold and clean the surface thoroughly with a mold-killing agent (a 1:1 ratio of bleach to water solution is very effective)
- Make sure the surface is completely dry to make sure it doesn’t return or replace it (as in drywall, or carpet)
If you have a recurring mold problem, you will need to more thoroughly address the moisture at its source.
Certain modern building practices appear to promote mold growth. Biodegradable materials combined with water-resistant barriers and lack of adequate drainage means that if water happens to get behind a water-resistant barrier and soak the materials behind it, they are less likely to get fully dry, encouraging the proliferation of mold.
Symptoms of mold exposure
As black mold grows, it secretes mycotoxins which can trigger a variety of symptoms, including:
- allergic rhinitis (aka “hay fever”)
- various types of inflammation
- immune suppression
- immune dysfunction
- skin rashes
- respiratory distress
- cognitive issues
- neurological symptoms
Mold spores, fungal fragments, and mycotoxins (toxins secreted by a fungus) can be measured in indoor environments with air testing, and in humans exposed to these environments, via blood or urine testing.
Mold in your food
Dangerous molds produce mycotoxins and some also produce aflatoxins, carcinogenic compounds in foods, potentially causing liver damage and cancer. Some foods contain these toxins naturally, and some have fungal contamination before and after harvest. When large amounts of foods are stored for long periods of time, the risk of being contaminated with mold increases.
Foods to avoid (or eat in limited quantities) include:
- peanuts and peanut butter (especially avoid the do-it-yourself nut butter machines at the grocery store, as those nuts may have been stored in the machines for weeks)
- other nuts, including pistachios, tree nuts, and brazil nuts
- grains, including wheat, barley, rye, sorghum, oats, rice, and quinoa
- soybeans and other beans
- milk and cheese (from the cows eating contaminated feed)
- figs and other dried fruits
- vegetable oils, like cottonseed and soybean
- cocoa beans
Not all molds in food are dangerous, however. For example, the specific molds used to make blue cheese, of the Penicillium family, cannot produce mycotoxins in cheese. Cheese has been considered a “safe” moldy food for thousands of years.
Blue molds in cheese accelerate the breakdown of proteins, making the cheese extra creamy, and also increase the breakdown of fats, giving blue cheese its signature tangy, spicy, sharp, and strong flavor.
If your cheese is not blue cheese, and is soft or shredded cheese with mold growing on it, throw it out. But if it’s hard or semi-soft cheese like parmesan, cheddar, swiss and the like, you can cut away the mold about an inch deep and the rest of the cheese will still be fine.
Mold prevention tips
- Keep your humidity levels low (under 50%)
- Use an air conditioner or dehumidifier in humid months
- Make sure you have adequate ventilation in every room, including exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathrooms
- Clean your bathrooms with mold-eradicating products (I keep a bottle of 1:1 bleach and water solution in a spray bottle in the bathroom to tackle the grout and caulk around tub and in shower)
- Don’t use carpets in high-moisture areas like bathrooms, kitchen, basement, or laundry room
- Remove and replace carpet that has experienced flooding (rule of thumb: if it isn’t completely dry in 24-48 hours, it needs to go)
- If you have a water spill or a leak, everything needs to be clean and completely dry within 24-48 hours, or it needs to be removed.
- Remove drywall that has gotten wet
- Inspect barriers to water and/or recaulk bathrooms, kitchen, windows, and roof (where exhaust ducts exit) annually
- Take supplements that support detox pathways like glutathione, n-acetylcysteine (a precursor of glutathione), vitamin C, milk thistle, methylated B complex, burdock root, and dandelion root
- Take activated charcoal or bentonite clay to act as a binder for mold (make sure to take magnesium or another laxative agent to prevent constipation)
So in a nutshell (no pun intended!), avoid foods that contain mold, support your detox pathways, and keep your indoor spaces high and dry for maximal, mold-free health.