Mold, Mycotoxins, Glyphosate and Estrogen: What To Consider If You Are Suffering the Crossroads of These Offenders

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One thing we know in functional health practice is that everything relates to everything. Just like an ecosystem, issues with your body’s health are not easily isolated/segmented around one specific problem. Often, one dysfunction is connected to another, and until each piece is identified and resolved, the whole system is likely to be compromised. In many ways, modern medicine has taught us that we can “treat” one issue and expect to move on successfully to whole health. If you are reading this article, you have appreciation for another truth, and possibly the question for yourself as to how your hormones are being affected by mold, mycotoxins and/or glyphosate.

Some of the symptoms associated with mold toxicity are fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, skin irritations, memory loss, migraines, respiratory stresses, sinus infections and/or sinusitis, and neurological symptoms such as twitching and muscle weakness. Mold and mycotoxin illness can truly become debilitating, especially if left untreated and/or unidentified.

Unfortunately, mold exposure is far more common than we might expect. In the United States alone, 85% of buildings have had past water damage, while 43% of buildings have current water damage. Many people work in unhealthy buildings, and have little response or cooperation when requesting investigation and/or remediation. This is due, in part, to the fact that not everyone reacts to mold and mycotoxins in the same way - in a healthy immune system, the biotoxin is identified by the adaptive branch of the immune system and is removed appropriately through production of cytokines and antibodies. However, roughly 25% of the general population are susceptible to mold and have poor elimination pathways for the toxins produced by mold. When others are not similarly affected, it appears that the person who is ill/reactive is a hypochondriac. This leads to a great deal of misunderstanding about the dangers of mold toxicity for those who are truly susceptible. Genetic predisposition through the HLA-DR cell surface receptors with weak antigenic activity is one cause for susceptibility. Another major cause is significant antibiotic history and resistance. Other causes include pre-existing GI dysfunction, poor hormone regulation, and issues with methylation.

What are mycotoxins and what is their relationship with mold?

Myctoxins are the toxic byproducts of mold. They are present in environmental molds and are also found in many foods, especially those that are stored in mass quantities. These include:

  • Trichothecenes

  • Fumonisins

  • Ochratoxins

  • Aflatoxins

Mycotoxins have a number of harmful effects on the body. They are carcinogenic, mutagenic (capable of altering your DNA), and estrogenic (meaning they disrupt normal estrogen metabolism). They can also impair the normal function of the immune and nervous systems, kidneys, and liver. Emerging research indicates that mycotoxins also interact with the gut microbiota in negative ways.

The intestinal epithelium (which lines the intestinal wall) acts as a barrier to block the entry of toxins, pathogens, and foreign antigens into the bloodstream. Trichothecenes, fumonisins, and aflatoxins interfere with actin, a protein filament that links the cells of the epitheium together. You may have heard the term “tight junctions” associated with information about leaky gut syndrome - this is what I am referring to here. Destruction of these cells in the tight junctions weakens the barrier, decreasing production of mucin (a gut protector) as well as lowering IL-8, a chemokine that assists with pathogen removal in the body. Leaky gut conditions increase vulnerability to pathogens and infections of all kinds.

Cereal grains can be infected by the fungal genus Fusarium, which produces estrogenic compounds (mycoestrogens): highly stable compounds that can be ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin (Whitten and Patisaul, 2001; Yang and Bittner, 2002). Zearalenone, a mycotoxin with estrogenic properties, is produced by the molds F. graminearum and F. culmorum, which are commonly found in plants, soil, and stored grains such as barley, corn, rice, oats, and rye (Park et al., 1996; Boettger-Tong et al., 1998). Zearalenone has been associated with mammary tumorigenesis (Shier et al., 2001) and may be uterotropic (Sheehan et al., 1984). The uterine and mammary effects are induced by an interaction of zearalenone with estrogenic cytosolic receptors in these organs. Zearalenone also acts on the hypothalamic–hypophysial axis with release of prolactin and luteinizing hormone.

When 500 cereal samples from 19 countries were analyzed for zearalenone, more than 40% had concentrations as high as 0.045 µg/g cereal (Tanaka et al., 1988), whereas concentrations of 21 µg/g have been reported in moldy corn in the United States (Park et al., 1996).

In the trichothecene group, the mycotoxin deoxynivalenol (DON) blocks several nutrient transporters in the GI tract, including the D-glucose/D-galactose sodium-dependent transporter (SGLT1) and the D-fructose transporter (GLUT5). Inhibition of these transporters impairs the digestion and assimilation of carbohydrates, and can promote SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), malnutrition, and unwanted weight loss. In another article, I have discussed the connections between SIBO and estrogen dominance/toxicity. Let’s now take a look at the estrogen connection with mycotoxins.

Mold, Mycotoxins, and Estrogen

Chronic inflammatory responses from mold toxicity can upregulate aromatase, an enzyme responsible for catalyzing the last steps of estrogen biosynthesis from androgens such as testosterone and its androgenic partners. Therefore, increased conversion of testosterone to estrogen can occur in mold and mycotoxin illnesses. All estrogens (both the healthy and dangerous types) require the proper function of the liver and cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes in order to be metabolized and detoxified. Activation of the CYP enzymes is the first step in many detox processes, including estrogen metabolites, pharmaceuticals, and petrochemicals. These are important, protective steps in the body required to clear toxins and their potentially dangerous impacts upon the body. However, further steps are required to finish the job of methylating and removing these metabolites from the body, such as the catechol oxygen methyltransferase (COMT) pathway. With mold and mycotoxins, the sulfur compounds and the cystathionine beta-synthase (CBS) pathway are both critical for toxin clearing. The CBS pathway is also a secondary one for estrogen clearing when COMT cannot keep up with demands. As we know now from years of study of the human genome, epigenetic stressors such as pathogens and toxins are the major disruptors of adequate function of these mechanisms. Much of what we normally rely upon to keep our bodies clean and clear can become compromised in a toxic exposure such as mold. Add to this the possibility that the exposure can increase aromatization, and we have new risks for increases in dangerous estrogen types and their metabolites.

Additionally, there is research indicating that certain aflatoxins (namely B{sub 1}) are activated by CYP 450 enzymes, catalyzing conversion of these aflatoxins to carcinogenic compounds. So, what can this potentially mean for a person with increased aromatization combined with mold/mycotoxin overload? It can mean that the body is overwhelmed with a variety of toxins to clear and a lowered response for successful clearing.

CYP1B1 is a member of the cytochrome P450 family of proteins. It is expressed in extrahepatic epithelial and particularly mesenchymal cells. This family of enzymes catalyzes a wide array of mono-oxygenase reactions targeting both foreign and endogenous lipophilic compounds. These include mycotoxins produced by mold and found in wet environments and in contaminated foods. The stimulation of CYP1B1 creates a preference for the 4-OH pathway of estrogen metabolism, which is the most dangerous of all.

Lastly, as we have discussed that certain mycotoxins are are also mycoestrogens, we have to be concerned with their abilities to bind to estrogen receptors, confusing the pituitary gland as to the actual stores of healthy estrogens on those sites and potentially lowering appropriate demands for production. While excess estrogen is not desired, adequate stores are absolutely necessary for proper brain function, gut function, and blood sugar regulation in addition to the obvious glandular requirements. Mold is an organism that can grow anywhere but has the greatest affinity for organic matter. Organic matter that contains glucose (sugar) is especially appealing. Sugar is intrinsically linked to estrogen which helps to optimize the actions of insulin, your body’s hormone that controls blood sugar levels.

Mycotoxins and Glyphosate

With the increased use of glyphosate in farming and agriculture, we are also seeing increases in fungal content in our soils. This creates not only more risk of mycotoxin delivery through food, but also through air and water. Glyphosate was developed as a mineral chelator, and as such, robs very necessary nutrients from our soils and our foods that help to maintain eco-balance. As we eat, so do we evolve. Food laced with chemicals such as glyphosate are not only toxic to the body, but possibly part of a multi-leveled delivery of additional fungi and mycotoxins to the body that disrupt delicate balances in the lungs, gut, brain, and liver.

In animal studies, glyphosate has been shown to be a major endocrine disruptor as well as to induce negative developmental changes in fetuses.

Genetically modified foods are highest in glyphosate content. The top 5 GMO foods are wheat, corn, soy, sugar beets, and canola oil.

Glyphosate and fertilizers are also contributing to increases in algae blooms across the US in many lakes and rivers. This has become problematic with drinking/bathing waters in some communities, and also with airborne particles.

Testing and Addressing Mold/Mycotoxin Overload

In order to have successful assessment and resolution of mold and/or mycotoxin overload, possibly accompanied by hormonal dysregulation, we need to consider the following assessments:

  • MycoTox Profile - a urine-based test which provides information on several types of mycotoxins and their levels. A pre-test sauna session with mobilization of the toxins is advised prior to collection.

  • Leptin - an important regulator of appetite and fat storage and is sometimes elevated in those with CIRS as proinflammatory cytokines bind to the leptin receptor.

  • MSH - Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone produces melanin in the skin but is also liver-protective and gut-protective. With blocked leptin receptors, MSH is lowered in those with mold poisoning. Low levels of MSH can lead to damage of the tight junctions in the digestive tract, often leading to leaky gut syndrome. Having a leaky gut can make someone more susceptible to developing an autoimmune condition, which is one way in which mold toxicity can lead to the development of an autoimmune condition (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Grave’s disease being 2 common associations). Low levels of MSH also can cause a type of bacteria known as MARCoNs to colonize the deep nasal passages. MARCoNS can create certain toxins which help perpetuate the inflammatory process. (NOTE: a retrospective study was conducted on 79 consecutive patients (30-77 years old) with chronic sinus problems, chronic fatigue, and history of significant indoor mold exposure. All of these patients had high levels of indoor mold on settle plates (more than 4 colonies). Testing for pituitary hormones revealed that 40 of these patients (51%) were deficient in growth hormone, 64 patients (81%) were deficient in thyroid hormone, and 59 (75%) were deficient in adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH). These pituitary hormone level deficiencies are quite high, as growth hormone is deficient in about 1.6% of USA adults and thyroid hormone is severely deficient in about 1 to 2% of USA adults. Deficiencies of growth hormone, thyroid hormone, and ACTH can cause many health problems including chronic fatigue, reduced memory and concentration, depression, reduced immunity, and loss of muscle and bone mass.)

  • TGF Beta-1 - helps to suppress autoimmunity, but at the same time it is associated with decreased function of regulatory T cells. Elevation of TGF Beta-1 can lead to a decrease in regulatory T cells, which play a role in suppressing autoimmunity. As a result of the low number of regulatory T cells, the person is more susceptible to developing one or more autoimmune conditions.

  • Vasoactive Intestinal Polypeptide (VIP) - VIP is a chain of amino acids that has numerous vasodilation actions as well as pituitary and brain actions, regulating hormones. VIP will typically be low in those with a mold toxicity. In this case, a person will frequently experience shortness of breath and air hunger, especially upon exertion. Low VIP levels can also cause an upregulation of aromatase, which has been previously discussed. As a result, having low VIP levels can lead to low testosterone levels and elevated estrogen levels. Dysregulated prolactin levels may also be associated.

  • C4a - is associated with the immune complement system, and it plays a role in activating inflammatory responses.  It is usually elevated in those with a mold toxicity.

  • Antidiuretic hormone (ADH) - also known as vasopressin, ADH instructs the kidneys to preserve water.  In those with CIRS due to a mold toxicity, ADH is usually undetectable, which means that the kidneys aren’t conserving water, and as a result the person typically experiences dehydration and excessive thirst. 

  • Matrix metallopeptidase 9 (MMP-9) - a marker associated with the innate immune system, often elevated in mold sickness and involved in the degradation of the extracellular matrix.

  • Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) - a marker of capillary hypoperfusion. Low levels can result in a reduced oxygenation of tissues, which in turn has a negative effect on the health of the mitochondria.  This commonly causes symptoms such as fatigue and muscle pain.  VEGF might be elevated early in CIRS, but in the later stages this marker is usually low. 

  • Dutch hormone test - a gold standard of hormone testing which provides information about aromatization and hormone methylation in addition to hormone levels.

It is imperative in a mold illness to identify the sources, both environmental and food based, and remove them. If a home, school, or office environment is contaminated, the illness will not be managed nor resolved without remediating or leaving the environment. Also, as I am constantly educating, any illness requires the absolute best refinement of individualized nutrition possible. Without this, working to “treat” the illness therapeutically can often cause worsening of symptoms, due to reduction of energy stores in the body needed to accomplish the healing.

Therapeutically, there are many, many options for supporting the healing of a mold/mycotoxin illness, both in traditional and alternative medicine realms. These choices should be made individually based upon a person’s test results and physical challenges. Both internal and external ozone therapies have been helpful to many with mold illness, as have air and water purifiers, sauna treatments and sometimes IV therapies. Binders, minerals, tribulus, and sitosterolins are common alternative therapies. In the case of my personal experience with mold, a combination of medical and alternative therapies was utilized, very successfully.

Resolving the issues of glyphosate and/or hormonal imbalances requires avoidance of certain substances in the diet and environment and also use of specific agents that detoxify these compounds.

Again, a careful assessment and proper application are needed for each individual. As always, in any acute state of illness, seek medical advice and proper testing. You are not alone. Many of us have dealt with this challenging set of conditions, and understand the complex crossroads of factors involved.