10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Mold
Toxic mold doesn’t get much time in the spotlight, but it’s a big deal.
Exposure can often quietly lead to sinusitis — one of the most common diseases in the country — as well as a number of other problems you might be experiencing, without knowing they’re caused by mold.
Personally, I know how much mold can wreak havoc because I grew up in houses filled with toxic mold — and the effects on my body and brain were devastating.
That’s why I created “Moldy,” a new documentary exploring toxic mold in your home environment.
Along the way, I learned a few key things about how to avoid and beat mold exposure:
1. Mold is in many common foods.
For the average person, a little mold won’t do much harm. But for 24% of us, mold can make you incredibly weak and sick.
The trouble is that most of us are consuming more than we realize. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has shockingly lax standards when it comes to mold content in many popular foods:
- Coffee is a commonly infested crop and the FDA allows up to 10% of beans to contain mold. It’s a good reason to drink coffee that’s been third-party tested for mold levels.
- Most fruit juices can pass inspection with up to 10% mold content.
- Canned or frozen berries can be sold with mold content up to 60%.
- Tomato products can have anywhere from 45 to 67% mold content, depending on their form (paste, sauce, ketchup, etc.).
The bottom line: many processed and packaged foods have more mold in them than you’d think. You can check out the full list of mold content guidelines, sorted by food, on the FDA’s website.
2. Mold is a problem in buildings, too.
Toxic mold exposure goes beyond just eating tainted foods. In fact, the worst mold poisoning can come from the air you breath, as well as your home and work environment—thanks to water damage from leaky pipes, flooding, and other HVAC problems.
And it’s estimated that 30 to 50% of all American homes and offices have conditions ideal for mold buildup. Yikes.
3. You can’t always see it—or taste it.
Mold flourishes in dark, damp places—like inside air vents or walls that look perfectly sound from the outside. In other words: it’s often difficult to spot from the outside.
And it can be just as hard to detect in food. In fact, some companies make it common practice to mix moldy products in with fresh foods in order to maximize profits.
4. The problem is getting worse.
Farmers started using biocides on their crops in the first half of the 20th century, and in the 1970s, companies began putting fungicides in paint to extend its shelf life.
This sweeping approach to killing molds and other fungi is a double-edged sword. While it destroys many of the molds, those that do survive—and then multiply—are the strongest, baddest molds around.
Over time, these “supermolds” have become more and more widespread, and they’re the ones capable of causing us the most harm.
5. Mold isn’t all bad …
It’s worth noting that not all mold is harmful. In fact, some types of mold can be quite beneficial. For example, certain molds in the Penicillium family create—you guessed it—penicillin, a hallmark of modern medicine. And many other molds are neutral—they don’t help us, but they don’t hurt us either.
6. ... but molds that produce mycotoxins are very bad.
Molds are territorial, and they have nasty ways of keeping other living things away from them. One strategy is to produce mycotoxins: potent toxic chemicals that can trigger everything from asthma to cancer.
Unfortunately, many of the molds that produce mycotoxins are the same ones that commonly grow on food and in damp buildings.
7. And so are molds that produce xenoestrogens.
Just as bad are xenoestrogens, another class of toxins produced by many mold species.
As their name suggests, xenoestrogens act like estrogen—but they’re up to a thousand times more potent. Even minimal xenoestrogen exposure can disrupt hormone levels and cause serious problems, like weight gain and decreased fertility.
8. Avoid high-mycotoxin foods to decrease exposure.
Steer clear of foods that can be highly contaminated—like potatoes, wheat, corn, peanuts, soy and cheese. Alcohols, particularly beer and wine, also tend to be high in mycotoxins.
9. Eat foods that supercharge your body to help combat mold.
To keep healthy, follow a diet that’s low in sugar and rich in antioxidants, good fats, grass-fed meat, and green veggies. (I recommend The Bulletproof Diet.)
10. You can keep mold out of your home.
To fight mold in your environment, pay close attention to damp areas—like basements, kitchens, and bathrooms—and be sure to clean up water and fix any leaks.
If you do already have mold, it can be tricky to clean up. Start by running a lab grade test for it, to see if it’s best to have a professional mold remover tackle the job.
Otherwise, rid your home of it immediately by using a strong cleaning agent—and be sure to wear a mask and gloves to avoid cross-contamination.