Types of Molds
Which species of mold happens to grow in a home or workplace also determines whether a person becomes ill. Many outdoor molds, either by their inherent nature or environmental milieu, produce zero to minimal impact on human health. Yes, poisonous mushrooms do grow in the forest, which intoxicates the foolish adventurer. Still, our primary concern lies with molds that grow on water-damaged buildings and release volatile toxins into the indoor air. The outdoor molds garner more of a reputation for their ability to trigger allergic symptoms.
The water-damaged building-associated molds are more likely to produce toxins that harm both microscopic neighbors and other larger organisms like humans. Not only do they make toxic chemicals, they also inhabit closed environments – our homes, our offices, and other buildings – where their toxins can accumulate. If outdoors, even these molds may never concentrate enough airborne toxins due to winds and the sheer volume of space. Indoors, especially if ventilation is poor, they can accumulate to create a toxic punch for the unsuspecting and genetically vulnerable.
The indoor molds produce various classes of mold toxins based on their species. The classes vary immensely in their structure and complexity. Chemically, some are simple structures while others are quite complex. Some target mitochondria while others target hormonal systems. Some primarily dysregulate the immune system. While very few aflatoxins, like those from peanuts, even increase cancer risks.
Ochratoxin A is produced by Aspergillus and Penicillium species of mold. Ochratoxin A is toxic and likely carcinogenic, especially in the kidneys and liver.
Ochratoxin A is found in cereals, coffee, wine, dried fruits, beer, and grape juice. It also occurs in animal organs (kidneys, liver) of grain-fed animals. In humans, ochratoxin A can have a severe immunosuppressant effect at low and high exposure doses. Ochratoxin A also changes the absorption of nutrients in the intestines.
Zearalenone is produced by Fusarium species. It can bind to estrogen receptors (mimic estrogen) and is a reproductive toxin in animal studies. Additionally, zearalenone is toxic to the liver and leads to cell death.
One study describes zearalenone as: “It is a non-steroidal compound that exhibits estrogen-like activity in certain farm animals such as cattle, sheep, and pigs.”
Aflatoxins are produced by a couple of different Aspergillus species. There are multiple types of aflatoxins, with aflatoxin B1 being one of the most toxic and carcinogenic.
Aflatoxins are often found in peanut products and milk from cows fed with contaminated grain. Aflatoxin B1 is also found in cottonseed oil.
“Aflatoxicosis is toxic hepatitis leading to jaundice and, in severe cases, death.”
Chronic dietary exposure to aflatoxins is linked to liver cancer.
Fumonisins are metabolites produced by Fusarium species. Certain fumonisin subtypes are linked to an increased risk of esophageal cancer, and in general, fumonisins are considered a WHO class 2B carcinogen.
An interesting observation by researchers is that fumonisins interact with folate uptake in cells: “Because fumonisin B1 reduces uptake of folate in different cell lines, fumonisin consumption has been implicated in neural tube defects in human babies”.
Trichothecene mycotoxins encompass about 100 subtypes of metabolites from Fusarium species. Trichothecenes can contaminate corn, wheat, barley, oats, rice, rye, vegetables, and other crops. They are a common cause of poisoning in animals eating contaminated feed. Trichothecenes are easily absorbed and then distributed throughout the animal’s tissues. Human exposure comes from consuming meat, milk, and eggs from animals fed contaminated grains.
Consumption of trichothecene-contaminated foods can cause gastrointestinal issues. This mycotoxin affects actively dividing cells, such as intestinal or oral mucosa, and causes cell death.
Ergot alkaloids are compounds created by Claviceps species, which are fungal pathogens that attack grasses such as rye. Ergot poisoning has been known for centuries. It was described as a “slow nervous fever” that occurred in the summer after a wet winter in the Middle Ages. Modern grain processing methods eliminate ergot as a problem in human food sources, but it can still affect animals graze on grasses or contaminated grains.
St. Anthony’s fire refers to an illness caused by consuming ergot-contaminated grain (usually rye). The symptoms recorded throughout history include convulsions, sores, hallucinations or mania, headaches, nausea, gangrene, and burning extremities.[ref] The gangrene occurs because ergot is a vasoconstrictor, and too much constriction cuts off blood circulation to the extremities. The neuroactive components in the ergot alkaloids are similar to precursor molecules for LSD. Interestingly, a couple of Parkinson’s drugs are derived from ergot.
Deoxynivalenol is a mycotoxin produced by Fusarium species. It is found in wheat, beans, and some spices. Deoxynivalenol causes severe gastrointestinal issues when consumed via contaminated foods.
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