Mold has the cunning ability to thrive undetected – stealthily and silently chipping away at our health. One of mold’s trickier effects is its influence on hormonal balance.

In this article, I want to talk about this complex interplay between mold toxicity and hormones. We’ll touch on why your hormones are so important, the underlying mechanisms mold uses to disrupt your hormones, and most importantly – some strategies you can use to heal from mold exposure and restore balance to your hormones.

 

HORMONES 101: THE ROLE OF HORMONES AND WHY THEY ARE SO IMPORTANT

Hormones are chemical messengers or signaling molecules that your body uses to regulate various physiological processes in your body. These roles range from metabolism to mood, to immune function and reproductive processes, and everything in between. Hormones are secreted and regulated by specialized glands and organs – which all work together to make up a network known as your endocrine system.1

Your endocrine system produces dozens of different hormones – with each one serving a specific and unique role. Let’s zoom in on exactly how these crucial chemical messengers are designed to function in our bodies.

 

busy city

HOW DO HORMONES FUNCTION IN OUR BODY?

Hormones work via a process that goes something like this:2

  • Secretion: Hormones are produced and secreted by specialized glands in the endocrine system, such as the pituitary gland, thyroid gland, and adrenal glands to name a few.
  • Circulation: Once released into the bloodstream, hormones travel throughout the body to reach their target cells or organs.
  • Recognition: Hormones interact with specific receptor proteins located on the surface or inside the target cells. Each hormone has a unique molecular structure that fits its corresponding receptor – much like a key in a lock.
  • Receptor binding: The hormone binds to its receptor, triggering a conformational change in the receptor protein. This change is crucial for the next steps in the cellular response.
  • Signal transduction: The binding of the hormone to its receptor initiates a series of intracellular events known as signal transduction. This involves the activation of various signaling molecules within the cell.
  • Cellular response: The signal transduction pathway ultimately leads to a specific cellular response. This response can vary widely and may include changes in gene expression, alterations in enzyme activity, or modifications in cell function.
  • Feedback mechanisms: To maintain balance, most hormonal systems have feedback mechanisms. When the concentration of a hormone reaches a certain level, it signals the endocrine system to either reduce or increase hormone production.
  • Effects on gene expression: Some hormones, such as steroid hormones, enter the target cells and bind to receptors inside the cell nucleus. This binding can directly influence gene expression, leading to the synthesis of new proteins that mediate the cellular response.
  • Duration of action: The duration of a hormone’s action varies. Some effects are immediate and short-lived, while others may be delayed and prolonged, depending on the type of hormone and the nature of the cellular response.

Think of hormones as messengers or couriers in a bustling city where they work diligently to deliver instructions to their destinations (target cells or organs). These messengers (hormones) carry essential information, directing cells to regulate metabolism, growth, stress response, and countless other functions.

Just as an efficient city relies on smooth communication between messengers and their destinations, a well-functioning body depends on the precise interplay of hormones to maintain balance and coordinate various physiological processes. When this intricate communication system works seamlessly, your body thrives and maintains equilibrium. However, disruptions in the messaging process can lead to imbalances, akin to traffic jams or miscommunication, affecting the overall well-being of the city – aka your body.

 

Balanced Zen stones at the waterfalls

HORMONAL IMBALANCES: WHAT CAN DISRUPT YOUR HORMONES

Your hormones are designed to maintain a delicate balance and can become disrupted in a number of ways:3

  • Overproduction or underproduction: Glands may secrete hormones in excessive amounts (hypersecretion) or insufficient amounts (hyposecretion), leading to imbalances. This imbalance can result from issues with the glands themselves, feedback mechanisms, or regulatory signals from higher brain centers.
  • Receptor sensitivity changes: Alterations in the sensitivity of hormone receptors on target cells can occur. Receptors may become more or less responsive to hormonal signals, impacting the cell’s ability to appropriately interpret and respond to hormonal cues.
  • Feedback mechanism dysfunction: Feedback loops play a crucial role in hormone regulation. Disruptions in these feedback mechanisms can lead to overstimulation or inhibition of hormone production.
  • Cellular signaling pathway abnormalities: Inside cells, hormones initiate signaling pathways that lead to specific cellular responses. Abnormalities in these pathways can disrupt the normal cascade of events and lead to imbalances.
  • Compensatory mechanisms: In response to an initial disruption, the body may activate compensatory mechanisms to maintain overall balance. While these mechanisms may initially help, prolonged compensation can lead to secondary imbalances and contribute to a cascade of hormonal disruptions.

The underlying triggers that can spark these imbalances vary widely and can include things such as:4

  • Stress
  • Poor diet
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Genetic abnormalities
  • Medical conditions
  • Inflammation

But there’s another often overlooked factor that can wreak havoc on your hormones – exposure to toxic mold.

 

looking at mold under a microscope

WHAT IS MOLD TOXICITY?

Mold toxicity, also known as mold illness or mycotoxicosis, refers to health issues or imbalances that arise from exposure to mold. Mold toxicity is not an allergic reaction but rather a response to the toxic compounds produced by certain molds. You see, some molds produce metabolites or by-products known as mycotoxins – tiny substances that exert harmful effects when they enter our bodies.

While encountering small amounts of mycotoxins is normal and unavoidable in everyday life, the problem arises when exposure becomes chronic. You see, mold growth and mold exposure are extremely common. That’s because mold not only spreads far and fast, but it’s also stealthy – meaning toxic mold spores can be hiding out in your home or workplace unbeknownst to you.

And it’s this prolonged, chronic exposure to these tiny toxic compounds that can be especially disruptive to human health – causing a slew of health concerns that can range from irritating to life-threatening. But one particularly problematic way that exposure to toxic mold and mycotoxins can manifest is through messing with the delicate balance of your hormones.

 

Tired young woman with headache

HOW EXACTLY DOES MOLD MESS WITH YOUR HORMONES?

Mold toxicity is tricky because its effects are insidious – gradually and subtly wreaking havoc beneath the surface. You see, when toxic mold spores carrying these microscopic poisons sneak their way into your body, they get to work disrupting your hormones in a few distinct ways. Let’s take a deeper look at each of these.

ENDOCRINE DISRUPTION:

Mycotoxins can act as endocrine disruptors – meaning they interfere with the normal functioning of your endocrine system. They can do this in a variety of ways which can include:5,6

  • Mimicking the structure of natural hormones: Mycotoxins can structurally resemble naturally occurring hormones – allowing the mycotoxin to bind to and activate hormone receptors.
  • Impairing receptor sensitivity: Mycotoxins can affect the sensitivity of hormone receptors on cells, making them more or less responsive to natural hormonal signals and altering the cellular response to hormonal cues.
  • Disruption of hormone synthesis: Exposure to mycotoxins, particularly those produced by molds in indoor environments, can interfere with the synthesis of hormones and artificially modulate the overall balance of hormones in the body.
  • HPA axis dysregulation: Mycotoxins are also known to dysregulate your HPA axis (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis) – the major part of your endocrine system that is integrated with your neurological system. Your HPA axis plays a pivotal role in your stress response, which subsequently impacts a cascade of other hormones throughout your body.

But toxic mold’s role as an endocrine disruptor is only a piece of the puzzle when it comes to how these tiny toxins can throw your hormones off-kilter.

INFLAMMATION AND OXIDATIVE STRESS:

When you come into contact with mycotoxins, your body recognizes these molecules as a potential threat. In response, your body shifts into defense mode and ramps up inflammation in an attempt to neutralize this foreign invader. Now normally, inflammation is a good thing that allows your body to address a threat and then return back to baseline.

But if your body is unable to effectively clear and eliminate these toxic substances, your immune system remains in the “on” position in an attempt to get these mycotoxins under control. And when inflammation is prolonged it can cause what’s known as oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an influx of reactive oxygen species (which can be created by immune cells). When left unchecked, reactive oxygen species ravage your healthy cells – stripping them of electrons and leaving them damaged and unable to perform their duties at full capacity.7,8

This duo of inflammation and oxidative damage equals double trouble for your hormones. Not only can oxidative damage extend to the tissues that regulate your hormonal balance, but persistent inflammation pushes your body into a sort of fight or flight mode that alters your body’s hormonal balance even further.

INCREASED MAST CELL ACTIVATION:

The impact that mold and mycotoxins can have on your immune response doesn’t end with inflammation and oxidative stress. Exposure to toxic mold spores can also have a major impact on your mast cells. Mast cells are like your frontline defenders that patrol your body looking for threats. When a threat is detected they immediately spring into action – releasing a cocktail of signaling molecules to notify the rest of your immune system and jump-start the immune response.

The problem is, when you’re being exposed to mold and mycotoxins on a regular basis, your mast cells continue to sound the alarm and continue to release their medley of pro-inflammatory molecules. And over time, this chronic activation can cause your mast cells to become hypersensitive – causing them to overproduce and over-release their inflammation-stoking signaling molecules.

This creates a vicious cycle because while mast cells are primarily known for their role in the immune response, they also possess hormone receptors. So these malfunctioning mast cells can become overreactive – spewing out their contents in response to not only perceived threats but also hormonal interactions. This can push the balance of hormones even further out of equilibrium and magnify the symptoms of mold exposure.  Click here to learn more about the link between mold and mast cells.9,10

So what’s the solution? How can you best address hormonal imbalances linked to mold exposure?

 

sauna interior

HOW TO HEAL HORMONAL IMBALANCES RELATED TO MOLD EXPOSURE

Healing hormonal imbalances and mold exposure simultaneously requires a big-picture approach. To get to the root of the issue and restore balance to your hormones, you must implement some key shifts that include:

ADDRESSING EXPOSURE TO MOLD

The first and most foundational step is to address the source of mold exposure. You absolutely must stop the influx of toxic mold to even consider beginning the process of healing. Addressing and eliminating exposure often requires:

  • Identifying hidden mold in the home or workplace
  • Removing yourself from the moldy environment
  • Conducting mold remediation (this may require hiring a professional)
  • Properly cleaning anything that may be contaminated with mold spores (clothing, bedding, furniture, books, etc)
  • Following a low mold diet

Once mold exposure has been thoroughly addressed and you’ve removed yourself from the source of mold, you can move forward with healing underlying imbalances caused by mold.

IDENTIFYING MAST CELL ACTIVATION

Before undergoing any detox protocols, it’s important to first identify if there is in fact an issue with mast cell activation. Mold-sensitive individuals with mast cell activation disorders may experience worsened symptoms when attempting detoxification if mast cells are not stabilized first. To learn more about how mast cell activation is diagnosed and treated, you can read my article Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS): A Hidden Epidemic.

DETOXING FROM MOLD

Some ways you can help your body detox and process out toxic mold include:

  • Increasing sweating (either via low-level exercise or infrared sauna therapy)
  • Supporting adequate hydration and increasing urine output
  • Incorporating detox-enhancing and mitochondrial-supporting supplements like glutathione – I recommend OptimumGlutathione
  • Incorporating toxin binders (like OptimumBinder) to support your body in eliminating mycotoxins
  • Providing your liver (your primary detox organ) with additional support with supplements like Optimum 2Phase Detox and OptimumHepatoPlus

Detox protocols should be individualized based on a multitude of factors, but these strategies are often a good place to start.

MINIMIZING EXPOSURE TO OTHER HORMONE-DISRUPTING TOXINS

Mold is not the only toxin that can interfere with your body and disrupt your hormones. There are chemicals and toxins known to impact hormones that can be found within many home and personal care products. Minimizing your exposure to these toxins is an integral part of restoring balance and recovering from mold exposure. You can find more information about reducing toxins in your life in my article The Hidden Impact of Toxins in the Home.

IMPLEMENTING GUT HEALING STRATEGIES

Your gut plays a pivotal role in detoxification and immune function. And mycotoxins can have a particularly negative impact on your overall gut health by weakening your gut barrier and contributing to gut dysbiosis.

To help support your gut in healing, minimize your intake of inflammatory gut-irritating foods that can damage the integrity of your gut lining. It can also be helpful to consider adding in a probiotic like AIMProbiotic Synergy to reintroduce beneficial bacteria. In some cases, spore-based probiotics, like AimProSpore, may be better tolerated than live bacteria, especially if you’re dealing with mast cell activation.

CORRECTING NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES

Prolonged exposure to mycotoxins and persistent inflammation can lead to deficiencies in essential nutrients. To correct these deficiencies, it can be helpful to follow an anti-inflammatory diet that is centered on nutrient-dense, minimally processed foods. You may also consider adding in a daily vitamin like OptimumMultiChews to fill in any nutritional gaps while adjusting your diet.

STRESS MANAGEMENT

Mycotoxins can have a particularly potent impact on your neurological system and as discussed previously, your HPA axis. And elevated stress levels can not only disrupt hormonal balance but can also make healing an uphill battle. Finding ways to appropriately manage and minimize stress levels is a key but often overlooked aspect of recovering from imbalances triggered by mold exposure.

Incorporating things like meditation, breathwork, and guided relaxation can be great for reducing stress and improving relaxation.

SLEEP OPTIMIZATION

While you may be resting peacefully during sleep, your body is hard at work. Adequate sleep is essential for detoxification, cellular repair, hormonal balance, and much more. It can be easy to skimp on sleep in our fast-paced world, but taking steps to prioritize and optimize sleep is essential if you want to restore and maintain balance to your hormones.

Click here to read more about how you can improve your sleep habits and unlock the power of quality sleep.

 

healthy man standing on mountain at sunset

NEXT STEPS IF YOU’RE DEALING WITH HORMONAL IMBALANCE

If you are dealing with hormonal imbalances, mold exposure, or both, working with a health practitioner well-versed in complex health issues and offering personalized medicine is the best way to address the root cause and help you find the right treatment plan for you. Here at AIM Center for Personalized Medicine, we specialize in taking a holistic, whole-person approach – treating each of our patients like the unique individuals that they are.

We will work diligently to pinpoint any underlying factors that might be contributing to your symptoms. And we’ll work with you to create an individualized treatment plan to get you on the path to healing. At AIM we pride ourselves on giving our patients the attention they deserve and empowering them with the knowledge and tools they need to access true healing – not just band-aid solutions that mask symptoms.

To learn more about AIM and get started on your journey to better health, simply click right here.

RESOURCES:

  1. Hormones: What They Are, Function & Types (clevelandclinic.org)
  2. The Endocrine System – PMC (nih.gov)
  3. Principles of endocrinology – Endocrinology – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)
  4. Hormonal Imbalance: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment (clevelandclinic.org)
  5. Endocrine Effect of Some Mycotoxins on Humans: A Clinical Review of the Ways to Mitigate the Action of Mycotoxins – PMC (nih.gov)
  6. Endocrine activity of mycotoxins and mycotoxin mixtures – ScienceDirect
  7. Mechanisms of Mycotoxin-Induced Neurotoxicity through Oxidative Stress-Associated Pathways – PMC (nih.gov)
  8. Impact of Mycotoxins on Animals’ Oxidative Status – PMC (nih.gov)
  9. Impact of mold on mast cell-cytokine immune response – PubMed (nih.gov)
  10. Neuroendocrinology of mast cells: Challenges and controversies – Theoharides – 2017 – Experimental Dermatology – Wiley Online Library