Mold Migraines: A Complete Guide
The following is a complete guide to dealing with mold and migraines. It’s a one-stop shop with cited research.
The guide includes:
- How mold can trigger migraines.
- Where mold is found.
- How to test for mold.
- How to evaluate if mold is a problem for you.
- How to remove mold.
- What I have learned from my severe mold allergy.
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Work-related Mold Migraines
In a study of 857 office workers, work-related migraine correlated with high mold content in the dust of air samples (study).
Mold Migraine Allergies
A study of over 5000 migraineurs found that 66.8 percent had allergies and mold was a contributing allergen.
Allergies were also associated with increased headache frequency (study).
Allergens are common migraine triggers (full article).
Sinus Mold Migraines
Exposure to mold can cause sinus problems that are associated with inflammation.
According to a mold study completed in 2009, “the better the inflammatory process is managed in the sinuses, the more easily migraines are managed” (study).
Oxidative Stress, Inflammation, Mold, and Migraines
Both animal and human studies have shown that exposure to mold can trigger oxidative stress and inflammatory reactions (study).
Oxidative stress raises the risk of migraines and is found in nearly all migraine triggers (full article).
Inflammation also plays a large role in triggering migraines (full article).
Asthma, Mold, and Migraine
Asthma increases the risk of migraines by 45 percent and doubles the risk of later developing chronic migraines (full article, #18).
Lack of Migraine Mold Research
Despite documented cases of mold triggering migraines and widespread concern, there are few studies on mold and migraines (study).
New research makes it clear that mold is a health concern (study).
However, research on mold in general is scant compared to how common and destructive mold can be.
If an illness can be cured without multi-billion dollar drugs, both government and big pharma will have little interest in funding that research.
Where is mold found?
Mold can be found in most environments.
Mold can enter your home through windows and doors as well as through heating and air conditioning systems.
Outdoor mold can even attach itself to clothing and spread once indoors.
Mold grows rapidly in humid conditions and is most commonly found around leaks in the roof, widows, pipes, and areas exposed to flooding.
It can grow in dust, paint, drywall, insulation, carpet, and fabric (CDC).
Toxins produced by mold, known as mycotoxins, are also commonly found in grains such as wheat, barley, corn, and rice crops (study). These foods can cause a similar response as a moldy environment or add to the inflammatory damage of environmental mold.
A study conducted in 2009 found that human exposure to water-damaged buildings can cause neurological damage that mimics dementia and movement disorders (study).
Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker, a leading mold researcher and physician, later attributed the neurological damage found in patients exposed to water-damaged buildings to what he called “chronic inflammatory response syndrome” (CIRS) (study).
Dr. Shoemaker discovered blood markers that could accurately diagnoses mold illness.
Prior to Dr. Shoemaker, symptoms associated with mold were loosely referred to as “sick-building syndrome.” However, the definition and diagnosis of sick-building syndrome were vague.
Check out Dr. Shoemaker’s website (survivingmold.com) for expert advice from the pioneer of mold research himself.
Below is an interview with Dr. Shoemaker on mold toxicity:
What Causes Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS)
According to Dr. Shoemaker, there are many toxic chemicals found in water-damaged buildings that combine to cause mold illness.
This combined source of inflammation creates chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS). Mold is only one component (source).
CIRS toxins may include the following:
- Mold spores
- Beta Glucans
- Microbial volatile organic compounds
- Other toxins (study)
Symptoms of Mold Illness and CIRS
Symptoms of mold illness may include the following:
- Fatigue, weakness, and aches
- Blurred vision, light sensitivity, red eyes
- Sinus problems
- Muscle cramps
- Shortness of breath
- Gut issues
- Joint pain
- Memory/focus/concentration/word recollection issues
- Mood swings
- Temperature regulation problems
- Increased urination
- Numbness and tingling
- Skin sensitivity
- Ice pick pain (source)
Looking at the symptoms above, you could easily mistake mold illness for migraine symptoms (migraine.com).
Fatigue is present in 90 percent of patients exposed to water-damaged buildings (study).
Most chronic fatigue syndrome patients (82 percent) also suffer from migraines (full article, #17).
Because mold illness is associated with infection, allergic reactions, and inflammation, it’s often brushed off as fatigue, a common cold, or allergies (study).
Blood Test: Mold Markers and Migraine Markers
Many of the blood markers used to diagnose mold illness are similar to those in migraine sufferers and can increase the risk of migraine.
The following blood markers can be tested for mold illness and to prevent the misdiagnosis of multiple other conditions (source):
♦ VIP – Vasoactive Intestinal Polypeptide
VIP levels are increased in migraine sufferers (study).
♦ MSH – Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone
♦ TGF Beta-1 – Transforming Growth Factor Beta-1
TGF Beta-1 is associated with migraine (study).
C4a increases inflammation. Inflammation triggers migraines (full article).
♦ HLA DR
HLA DR is a gene mutation that makes you susceptible to mold illness. Twenty-four percent of the population has this gene.
According to an Italian study published in 2005, migraine is associated with HLA DR (study).
♦ AGA IgA/IgG
IgA and IgG are common allergen markers. Allergies play a large role in triggering migraines (full article).
Cortisol is the primary stress hormone. Stress is the top migraine trigger (full article).
VEGF stimulates nitric oxide. Nitric oxide plays a role in triggering migraine (study).
♦ ACLA IgA/IgG/IgM
IgG antibodies are associated with food allergies that take two to three days to trigger migraines (study).
Increased allergen antibodies will increase migraine risk (full article).
Vasopressin controls the amount of water your body removes.
Dysregulation of vasopressin includes dehydration, frequent urination, thirst, weight gain, and edema.
Raised levels of vasopressin are seen during migraine attacks and may be responsible for the common symptoms of thirst, dehydration, and frequent urination (study).
MMP-9 is an enzyme that can raise inflammation in the brain and other organs.
Increased MMP-9 levels have been found in migraine sufferers (study).
MMP-9 may play a role in triggering migraine auras and increasing nerve pain in migraine sufferers (study).
Leptin is the hormone that tells your brain you are full after eating a big meal. However, leptin is also stored in fat and the fatter you are, generally, the more leptin you will have circulating in your blood.
Too much leptin in your system will cause your brain to be “leptin resistant” and store fat when it shouldn’t (study).
Increased leptin can lead to increased inflammation, chronic fatigue, and the inability to lose weight.
Dr. Shoemaker recommends printing out the lab sheet on his site and taking it to your doctor because most physicians do not test for these markers (source).
Mold Illness and CIRS are often Misdiagnosed
According to Dr. Shoemaker, mold sickness is often misdiagnosed as:
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Attention Deficit Disorder (source)
All of the conditions above are associated with migraine (full article).
Migraine is often misdiagnosed as well (full article).
Why Hospitals Don’t Properly Treat Migraine and Mold Victims
Hospitals treat mold problems the same way they treat migraines. They prescribe drugs that don’t address the problem.
If a fish was sick in a dirty fish bowl, would you give the fish clean water or drugs?
Healing a mold illness involves changing the environment and not just prescribing drugs.
Your doctor is unlikely to question a mold allergy for migraines because there is not sufficient time during a twenty-minute visit and the average doctor has little education on migraines (full article).
The lack of time, education, and proper testing leads to high misdiagnosis rates of both mold and migraine.
Do I Have Mold in My House?
You definitely have mold in the air if you can see mold behind the fridge, in closets, on clothes, in damp areas, in vents, or under the house.
However, many people are exposed to mold in the air that they cannot visibly see anywhere. It can live invisibly in the walls, under paint, and in ventilation systems.
According to a report on Harvard.edu, it’s estimated that up to 70 percent of homes have mold behind the walls and “it is unlikely that that there is a home in the world without some stachybotrys [mold] spores in it.”
Mold is everywhere. Quantity is what matters. However, standards of what is not an acceptable quantity of mold have not been established, according to the CDC.
Mold Allergies and Illness Are Unique to You
According to Dr. Shoemaker’s research, about 25 percent of people have a genetic susceptibility to develop mold illness (source).
In these people, the antigens that attack mold stay in the body and create inflammation.
Following exposures to mold are more severe because the body is unable to effectively eliminate the mold.
This can lead to chronic inflammation, a weak immune system, and migraines.
How to Test for Mold
If you suspect mold and want to test your home, it’s going to cost you.
The average cost of a professional company to test your house for mold and toxic materials is between $307 and $1,234 (HomeAdvisor.com).
If you have the excess money, do it. However, mold is found everywhere and its level of toxicity is individual to you.
The best way to test if the mold in your home is a problem is to go on a migraine pilgrimage.
In medieval times, mycotoxin from mold called ergotamine caused blackened extremities, known as St. Anthony’s Fire (study).
Ergotamine-infested mold often contaminates wheat, corn, barley, sugar, coffee, soy, and cheeses (study).
Ironically, this is the same ergotamine used to treat migraines.
Ergotamine is not recommended for habitual use because of serious long-term side effects such as blue extremities (drugs.com).
People with St. Anthony’s Fire would go on a spiritual pilgrimage to cure their blackened extremities.
Of course, we now believe that the secret to the pilgrimage was removing the mold-contaminated food and perhaps going to an environment where mold was not an issue.
A current-day migraine or mold pilgrimage is to leave your home and stay somewhere for a few days to a few weeks where mold is not suspected as a problem.
This could be a nearby relative or friends house. Obviously, a drier climate is ideal, but not required.
If symptoms go away, you may have a mold or allergy issue at your house.
How Do I Fix a Moldy Environment?
Fixing a moldy environment can be a huge financial setback.
It can involve replacing water- or moisture-damaged flooring, carpet, and drywall.
Porous surfaces such as couches, chairs, and clothes may also need replacement or professional cleaning.
The cost of poor health is certainly more.
In most rental cases, people move out and the landlord slaps a new coat of paint on and acts like nothing happened. Rinse, repeat.
Mold is a Zombie
Mold can creep into porous surfaces that are hard to reach. This makes it difficult to kill mold.
Furthermore, even if you kill mold, mold spores are still allergenic (study). That’s right. You can bleach mold, kill it, and it will still be a problem for people highly sensitive to mold.
Cleaning and complete removal of mold may be necessary in some cases.
Quantity does Matter
Fortunately, most people do fine after a moisture or water leak is corrected, cleaned, and the area is dried.
The quantity does matter with any allergen. Removing the majority of mold may be sufficient.
How to Clean Mold:
There is a lot of misleading information on mold cleaning.
There is a common myth that bleach does not kill mold. This is false.
Beach does neutralize mold allergens and lowers the amount of allergic reactions in patients that are sensitive to mold (study).
Other cleaners may work fine, but have less research to back them up. However, there are no cleaners that kill 100 percent of mold (study).
I strongly recommend using a cleaning mask while cleaning anything with any substance.
Cleaning supplies, dust particles, mold within dust particles, and other allergens can irritate the sinuses and trigger migraines.
The CDC recommends removing mold from hard surfaces with commercial products, soap and water, or a bleach solution of one cup of bleach to one gallon of water (CDC).
A Brazilian study published in 2014 found that bleach fumes were a trigger for 27 percent of migraine sufferers (study).
Ensure you have skin and respiratory protection, as well as adequate ventilation during and after cleaning with bleach.
Many people use alternative cleaners to bleach because it can leave small amounts of toxic residue (study).
♦ Hydrogen Peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide (3 percent) may be the most popular bleach alternative for cleaning mold. Just spray on the surface, let it sit for more than 10 minutes and wipe it away (study).
Some professional cleaning companies will use 10 percent hydrogen peroxide but the workers will all wear gloves, body protection, and HEPA masks.
The stronger solution is used because 3 percent hydrogen peroxide does not completely kill mold, nor do any cleaners (study with images).
One study found vinegar to be better at killing bacteria than borax, baking soda, and other alternative cleaners (study).
The study also found that it performed the worst at actual removal of dirt and grime. This suggests that you would also need a cleaner to remove mold.
Warning: bleach and vinegar combined creates toxic chlorine gas (doh.gov).
Vinegar is effective at preventing mold in Malaysian timber (study).
Various studies show that vinegar is effective at killing mold and it’s recommended by the Australian Mould Guidelines (study).
However, it’s unclear on how vinegar compares to bleach or other industrial cleaners on killing mold.
There are also books and online resources claiming that vinegar removes 99 percent of bacteria and 82 percent of mold, but I was unable to locate a reputable study (book).
How to Prevent Mold Migraines:
Ensure leaky plumbing, windows, and roofs are fixed. Ventilation for the shower, laundry, and kitchen should also be adequate.
The best way to prevent mold is to control humidity levels.
Humidity levels above 60 percent are a breeding ground for mold.
In addition, it’s recommended that you get a HEPA filter with a UV light to filter and kill mold spores in the air. Your vacuum should also have a HEPA filter to prevent spreading mold.
Here is a full mold guide from the EPA.
In addition, you will want to eat foods that have low mycotoxins levels and prevent migraines (The 3-Day Migraine Diet).
What I’ve Learned About Mold
If you read my book, you already know that I’m extremely sensitive to mold. I become deathly ill.
I’ve learned several things:
Mold allergies can develop slowly over time. You may become accustomed to mold and not realize what is causing those allergies, headaches, migraines, or fatigue.
Leaving a moldy environment for a long period of time is the best way to see if mold affects you. However, symptoms can become much worse upon your return.
Mold loves dust. Regularly clean walls, around windows, and anywhere that mold spores are likely. HEPA air purifiers with UV light do a great job at keeping dust and mold spores out of the air.
Keeping humidity under 60 percent is critical. A dehumidifier and HEPA filter can feel like a switch that turns mold symptoms off.
HEPA filters and dehumidifiers will help mold symptoms, but may not be enough when large quantities of mold are still present.
Some mold is invisible and requires expensive removal and construction work. However, mold that is not inside the walls or foundation may only require cleaning and humidity control.
Moldy the Documentary
To learn more about mold, you can watch Dave Asprey’s documentary on mold illness here. It’s free.
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