Dr. Neil Nathan, a specialist in treatment of complex medical illnesses, practices with Gordan Medical Associates near Mendocino, CA. This information is excerpted with kind permission from his book On Hope and Healing for Those Who Have Fallen Through the Medical Cracks ©2010 Neil Nathan, MD, all rights reserved. These excerpts provide a general introduction to biotoxicity as one cause of unexplained illness; but a detailed discussion of biotoxicity's many agents, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment can be found in the book.
Mold and Biotoxicity: There’s a Fungus Among Us
When it comes to understanding the different components of chronic illness, the concept of toxicity has received a good deal of recent attention. With the publication of Dr. Richie Shoemaker’s brilliant book Mold Warriors, we now have some new tools to both evaluate and treat toxicity in its different forms.
It is fairly obvious that a microbe (bacteria, virus, fungus, parasite, or other infective agent) makes us sick by infecting us, and it is equally clear that treating these disease-causing microbes will make us better. But what is just becoming clear to us is that not only do these microbes make us sick by causing an infection, but some of these microbes can, in the process of being killed by our immune system, release toxins into our bodies that make us even sicker. Because these toxins are made by microbes, which are living biological systems, we call them biotoxins….
…For most, the immune system recognizes these toxins and uses its defense mechanisms to destroy them. Unfortunately, about 25% of people are genetically unable to make an antibody to these toxins, and these patients may get progressively sicker as the toxins accumulate within their bodies.
What specific microbes are we talking about? The most common offenders are molds, especially the black mold Stachybotrys, but several other mold species such as Cladosporium and Fusarium can play a role in toxin formation. Harmful toxins can also be produced by certain viruses, especially those in the Herpes family, such as Epstein-Barr virus, which is the agent of mononucleosis; Cytomegalovirus; and Human Herpes Virus 6 (HHV-6), which is the agent of roseola infection.
A new and particularly toxic strain of HHV-6 has recently been discovered and has now been linked to chronic fatigue [ME/CFS] and fibromyalgia. Lyme bacteria can also produce these toxins, as can infections with the mycoplasmas, which are infective particles between viruses and bacteria in size. The atypical pneumonias (walking pneumonia) and Gulf War syndrome are examples of these infective agents….
So what are the symptoms of biotoxicity? Patients with this problem may experience a surprisingly wide range of symptoms related to many different organ systems…. These symptoms sound a lot like fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue or depression. In children, it might appear like ADHD....
The first order of business is to even consider the diagnosis….
Several treatments for biotoxicity are currently in use. Dr. Shoemaker provides a combination of medications based on his testing. In its simpliest form, this consists of using the binding resin cholestyramine (trade name, Questran) or its cousin, Welchol….
Maureen's Story [a diagnostic case study of mold biotoxicity]
Maureen was a 28-year-old woman whom I saw for the first time in March of 2006. Her symptoms had begun three years previously, when she was working in a building with a very leaky roof.
She had also experienced several traumatic events at the same time, including a difficult divorce, which complicated both our evaluation and her perceptions about what may have triggered her illness.
In August of 2005, Maureen began to violently throw up on a daily basis, and this went on for months. She saw multiple physicians, including several gastrointestinal specialists, and underwent extensive testing, which showed no obvious cause for her symptoms.
She was diagnosed by various physicians as having bipolar disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, and hypochondriasis (meaning it was all in her head or psychosomatic).
Since her initial exposure to the mold, Maureen had gained 35 pounds and had developed sensitivities to all sorts of chemicals and perfumes (which we call multiple chemical sensitivities). This is actually a common event following untreated biotoxin exposure.
She continued to experience daily nausea and vomiting, regular headaches, and an inability to think clearly. She described her poor decision making in very simple terms: “It’s like I’m inept.” She also reported blurred vision and bouts of chest tightness with wheezing.
When Maureen came to me, she had just lost her job of 14 years, at which she had been previously quite competent, and she was trying to live a normal life and raise her three children.
But she could hardly function.
Her energy level was very low, and she reported difficulty staying asleep and waking up unrefreshed each morning. She described joint pains in her neck, shoulder, and upper back, and she displayed the classical irritable bowel symptoms of gas bloating, distention and diarrhea alternating with constipation.
When I tested her vision with the Functional Acuity Contrast Test (FACT) [a test of ability to detect contrasts that can indicate poor retinal function and has been closely related to biotoxicity], the results strongly suggested biotoxin exposure.
Her DHEA test was a little low, as was her progesterone level. I started her on natural progesterone cream, ¼ tsp daily, applied to her skin. I also put her on a small dose of DHEA.
And we started cholestyramine in the form of Questran Light, one scoop mixed with water three times daily, which is the best immediate treatment for mold toxicity.
When Maureen returned in April, just six weeks later, she reported that she was already 80% better. Her energy was markedly improved despite the fact that she was still living in her home, which had obvious mold exposure.
She had a new job, was successfully working again, but noticed that when she missed even a single day of her Questran, she became lethargic again.
She planned to remediate her home to clean up the mold, and she was thrilled that she had her life back; she was no longer plagued by nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and joint pain.
She was so impressed with her improvement in just a short period of time, that she bought a copy of Mold Warriors to give to her family physician, who had essentially told her she was a hypochondriac.
Her physician refused to even look at the book or to take Maureen’s story seriously.
* * * *
It has been my experience that most of our mold-toxic patients have had a similar experience to Maureen’s. Their symptoms are usually misunderstood as representing psychological imbalances, particularly depression, but they do not respond well to antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications. That should be the tip-off that we need to look deeper for a cause of these symptoms.
Recalling that only 25% of patients are genetically unable to make the antibodies they need to these toxins, these patients may live in a home with others who have no symptoms or work in a mold-laden environment where others are not sick....
* Neil Nathn, MD, is perhaps best known to ProHealth readers for his recent trial of "A simplified Methylation Protocol for Treatment of ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia," conducted in collaboration with Drs. Amy Yasko, Rich Van Konynenburg, and Jacob Teitelbaum.
Note: This information has not been reviewed by the FDA. It is general information and is not meant to take the place of a physician's attention or to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any illness, condition or disease. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.