This is the second part of our interview with David Brooks where he talks about his son’s environmental illness, his journey of discovery, and the long path to recovery. In this edition we talk more about mold allergies, mold toxicity and the harmful nature of environmental illness.
DAVID BROOKS: Our son, Wes, had prolonged high level exposure to toxic mold. It was the hardest thing our family has ever faced. The mold, we were dealing with for many years was growing invisibly between our walls. Our house looked clean. There was no indication of mold. Yet the indoor air quality was severely compromised and we didn’t know it. This put an enormous load on his young, developing immune system over many years.
Before we discovered the mold issue, we found out that Wes had a gut parasite, Dientamoeba fragilis. Then we learned how vitally important gut ecology is when it comes to immune system support. When we started treating the parasite with antibiotics Wes suddenly changed. He became lethargic, even depressed. He could not think clearly. He was easily upset. What had been a smoldering problem with attention issues up until that point became an acute crisis with multiple new, on-going symptoms. We later learned that the antibiotics weakened the healthy gut bacteria which had been fighting to hold the fungal infection in check.
DAVID FROME: Healthy flora, healthy bacteria in our bodies is critical in terms of our immune system and when we take antibiotics we destroy healthy bacteria along with potentially problematic bacteria and in so doing we are really impairing the body’s immune system. My question about anitbiotics and molds goes further. Additionally, antibiotics were originally derived from molds and sometimes still are.
To compound this issue, our bodies store toxins in the liver and in body fat. What is the role of antibiotics in mold toxicity?
DAVID BROOKS: We have not given our son antibiotics for the last six years. On two occasions when we did earlier, it sent him into gut dysbiosis. This imbalance was so severe that it took months to recover the first time and years the second time. So in Wes’s case, we had to look for other tools – like using antibiotics from nature instead of those distilled into concentrated forms in pharmaceuticals.
The problem when we take antibiotics is that we kill beneficial bacteria as well as the bad “gut bugs.” We want to have enough good bacteria to overcome the threat posed by bad bacteria. Opportunistic pathogens are always present in the GI tract to some extent. Antibiotics may fix one problem while opening a door to create more by shifting the balance in gut ecology. Beneficial gut flora can be built back through probiotics and fermented foods. But it takes time.
Most people are familiar with mold allergies. But even medical professionals often have an incomplete understanding of the difference between a mold allergy and mold toxicity. Allergies are commonly triggered from many outdoor molds. Toxic mold exposure most often comes from being in a water damaged building.
Some say mold is everywhere, so mold toxicity must be a myth. I’d agree that mold is something we can’t avoid. But what this perspective fails to take into account is the difference between typical outdoor molds and the highly toxic types of molds which most often grow indoors as a result of water damage. Mold from water damage thrives on high humidity and steady temperatures year around and doesn’t get the wind, rain, sunshine and snow. In general, if there’s been interior water damage, there will likely be several types of mold producing some level of harmful mycotoxins which place a load on the immune system. Prolonged exposure can lead to systemic infection, with mold colonizing inside the nostrils, the ear canal, or other locations. Mycotoxicosis, or mold toxicity, is a very, very different issue to deal with than mold allergies triggered by common outdoor molds. The load on the system can result in life-altering impact.
Minimizing total system load is one of the keys to rebuilding or maintaining health. Our body burden can be environmental. It can be through things that we eat. It can be through pesticides or preservatives in foods. Everything adds up to a cumulative load that our immune system has to process. We found with Wes that we have to respect this reality and minimize the overall load as best we can, giving his immune system an opportunity to rally against the threat. Thankfully, he’s made tremendous progress in his recovery.
DAVID FROME: There are literally over 100,000 chemicals that are produced in the US and many of them are potentially hazardous.
You mentioned pesticides, but there’s literally over 100,000 chemicals that are produced in the US and many of them are potentially hazardous. The food and drug administration really doesn’t test most of these chemicals that are in use around our homes, in our carpeting, in our clothing and so these substances can contribute to what may have started as a mold toxicity.
The exposure to mold and also to chemicals has a cumulative effect so that over time these toxins build in the body and the load becomes too great and this is when you see a further breakdown in the immune system and deterioration really can affect almost any aspect of our health.
Perhaps this is a good place to put a check on this segment of our talk and in the next segment we will talk more about the steps that you took in terms of helping your son to recover from environmental illness.