In 2022, a TikToker named Terrin became popular due to a series of videos about her health. She said she had struggled with health issues for about two years and wondered if there was a cause for all of her symptoms: thinning hair, chronic pain, inflammation, hormonal imbalances, adult acne, anxiety, depression, fatigue, high cholesterol (despite a strict, healthy diet), and more. She consulted a range of doctors, including a gynaecologist, allergist, ENT (ear, nose and throat), rheumatologist (autoimmune), and dermatologist. Evaluations and testing helped her somewhat – she discovered she had food allergies, androgenetic alopecia (a common form of hair loss), and a positive ANA test. (An ANA test detects certain antibodies in a patient’s blood, and a positive usually means the patient has an autoimmune disease.) However, Terrin was never diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and she was never completely satisfied with the responses from her doctors. She told her TikTok followers that she thought her doctors were missing something.
In September 2022, Terrin posted a video claiming that she had finally discovered the cause of all (or at least most) of her symptoms. “I have mold toxicity from mold in my house,” she said, adding that she had done something called a mycotoxin test. “No conventional doctor helped me figure this out. Every conventional doctor I went to scratched my head.” So, what is fungal toxicity? Read more about Terrin’s condition and case below.
Understanding mold toxicity
ParsleyHealth.com defines mold toxicity as the symptoms a person develops after exposure to mold. There is no set timeline for when mold toxicity occurs – it depends on the mold species and a person’s sensitivity to it. Generally, people develop symptoms if they are allergic to mold or if the mold releases mycotoxins (poisonous chemical compounds).
Parsley Health notes that many symptoms are related to fungal toxicity. These symptoms are split into two main categories: immune reactions (such as a runny nose, itchy skin, and aggravated asthma) and “chemical and inflammatory reactions.” Chemical and inflammatory reactions are much more difficult to pinpoint as reactions to mold, and they include brain fog, anxiety, chronic pain, dizziness, tinnitus, digestive problems, fatigue, and symptoms similar to hormonal imbalances.
The problem with diagnosing fungal toxicity
Megan McElroy, PA-C, a physician assistant at Parsley Health, notes that there aren’t many human studies linking chronic inflammatory symptoms to fungal toxicity. This lack of evidence may make traditional physicians cautious in diagnosing their patients with fungal toxicity. In addition, very few people receive a diagnosis because there is no standard for testing or treating mold and because each patient experiences mold toxicity differently.
Indeed, Joseph Pizzorno, ND, editor in chief of Integrative Medicine: Journal of a Doctor, writes that conventional medicine recognizes mold toxicity as a respiratory condition that causes rhinitis, aggravated asthma, coughing and wheezing. But the World Health Organization does not recognize non-respiratory symptoms. Dr. Pizzorno argues that non-respiratory symptoms, while difficult to trace back to fungal toxicity, “are considered important indicators of fungal problems in the integrative medicine (IM) community.”
Why mold toxicity may have caused Terrin’s symptoms
Parsley Health explains that mycotoxins (the chemical compounds emitted by fungi) can trigger a cytokine response in the body. Cytokines are small proteins that communicate with other cells of the immune system; some cytokines stimulate an inflammatory response, while others calm the response. When inflammatory cytokines constantly activate the immune system, that chronic inflammation can lead to a wide variety of symptoms.
There is some evidence linking chronic inflammation to the symptoms Terrin experienced. 2020 research published in The Journal of Inflammation Research suggests that chronic inflammation is a major driver of androgenetic alopecia. HarvardHealth.com notes that chronic pain results from chronic inflammation.
AriaIntegrativeMedicine.com says inflammation can lead to hormonal imbalances because the body releases cortisol (the stress hormone) during stressful situations, and constant, high levels of cortisol can cause changes in other hormones. A scientific article published in Frontiers in immunology states that depression and fatigue are both linked to increased inflammatory activity in the body. However, as noted earlier, there is not much evidence that fungal toxicity is directly related to these symptoms.
As for Terrin’s high cholesterol, a 2006 scientific review found that people exposed to mold sometimes have “cholesterol abnormalities.” The review’s authors theorized that mycotoxins interact with cholesterol in the body and “improve” existing cholesterol abnormalities. Ultimately, the authors concluded that people exposed to mold may have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. But since the review is almost two decades old, more research is needed to support this theory.
It comes down to
What does all this mean for you? While there are many possible causes of the symptoms Terrin listed (thinning hair, chronic pain, inflammation, hormonal imbalances, adult acne, anxiety, depression, fatigue, high cholesterol), a mold toxicity test or a home inspection can get you one step closer to a diagnosis. Keep in mind that false negatives and false positives in mold toxicity testing are common and these tests are not covered by insurance, according to Parsley Health. A home inspection performed by a certified mold inspector can give you more accurate answers.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your doctor before following any treatment plan.