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  • Writer's pictureMegan Vardeman, PA-C

Mycotoxins and their Impact on Health: What are Mycotoxins?

Updated: Apr 17, 2023

Mycotoxins are metabolites produced by fungi like mold. They include some of the most prevalent toxins in the environment and most of us are exposed to them through food ingestion or inhalation. Mycotoxins are particularly resilient to heat and many types of processing procedures. Mold exposure can manifest in a wide variety of symptoms, including, headaches, abdominal pain, immune suppression, endocrine disruption, gastrointestinal symptoms, psychiatric symptoms, and neurological manifestations. Some mold exposures can even cause fertility issues.

How do I know if mycotoxins are playing a role in my symptoms?

Living in Houston, we are no strangers to humidity, hurricanes, flooding, and water damage. Our risk of exposure to environmental mold is high. So how do we recognize when an environmental exposure has led to a significant mycotoxin burden? Many mycotoxins at bearable concentrations can be bio-transformed and detoxified by enzymes and are then excreted out of cells. On the other hand, concentrated mycotoxins or repeated exposure to a mycotoxin can lead to accumulations of the toxins, oxidative stress, and alterations in mitochondria. These processes are behind the adverse effects we observe in the cells, like DNA damage, cell cycle arrest, changes in cell organization and structure, and cell death.(1)

First, let’s establish the cellular role of the mitochondria. The mitochondria are microscopic organelles that serve as the energy powerhouses found in each one of our cells, and they are responsible for signaling apoptosis, or programed cell death. Most mycotoxins induce high levels of reactive oxygen species within the body that must then be neutralized. When the burden of reactive oxygen species becomes too high, we call this “oxidative stress.” The mitochondria are sensitive little organelles, and they can be injured by an undue stress response, leading to changes in how they function, and even setting off the signal for apoptosis. When cellular death occurs in neurons, one loses brain function; in immune cells, immune dysregulation; muscle cells death leads to weakness--you get the picture. Because mitochondria are present in every single cell of our body, the possibility for symptom manifestation after mold exposures are multiple: hormonal disruption, intestinal inflammation, dysregulated immune responses, brain atrophy, carcinogenesis, and vagal/autonomic dysfunction. As such, “mycotoxicity” can be difficult to identify without either a very clear link between a known exposure and symptom onset, or specialty testing. Environmental toxins should be on the list for investigation in any individual with unusual symptoms without a clearly identifiable cause. And, especially here in Houston, mycotoxins are a prime suspect.

At YWP, we take an in depth look at your symptoms to get to the root cause and identify the “why” of what you’re experiencing. We can do specialized testing to investigate the presence of mycotoxins and environmental exposure burdens to help you understand what is going on in your body, and we can guide you towards the solutions you need to begin to feel better.

1. Wen J, Mu P, Deng Y. Mycotoxins: cytotoxicity and biotransformation in animal cells. Toxicol Res (Camb). 2016;5(2):377-387. Published 2016 Jan 7. doi:10.1039/c5tx00293a

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