So you have mold illness or CIRS…now what?!
Sure, Dr. Google and Facebook groups can be helpful, but face it…when it comes to mold illness and mold illness recovery, the information can be completely overwhelming!
Do you have to get rid of all your stuff?
What supplements should you take?
Do you need to move to a dry climate like Arizona or Colorado?
Should you just live in a bubble?!
Although there is NO one-size-fits-all approach to healing and mold illness recovery, there are several commonalities in helpful therapies, lifestyle changes and treatments that can help you kick mold illness to the curb (for good), including:
Top 12 Mold Illness Treatments
Remove yourself from mold exposure
Marie Kondo your life
Build a capsule wardrobe
Fog & guard your new environment wisely
Eat fresh, organic nutrient-dense foods
Love your gut microbiome & liver
Use the right detox binder
Add in anti-fungals (oral and nasal) to treat mold that may have colonized in your body
Purify your air
Surround yourself with positive energy
Check ‘em out.
Remove yourself from mold exposure
First things first, you’ve got to get out of there. Healing cannot fully begin until you’re removed from the environment.
Whether that means going to stay with family, a friend, moving to a mold-free environment, or working remotely, you will not feel the full effects of your treatment protocol until you are free from the space.
Even if you are remediating your home, a short-term hiatus from the mold free environment is essential.
Breath has the power to both calm and stimulate the HPA Axis (stress response system).
What happens to your breath when you run fast or get scared OR come into contact with mycotoxins? Your breathing rate increases (hello shortness of breath, panting and gasping for air or common). On the flip-side, what happens to your breath when you’re calm and at peace? It’s steady, deep and calm as well. Many of us are breathing the wrong way, which sets you up for problems with metabolism, blood pH, core function, and how much blood is getting to your brain and muscles, which allows cortisol to stay elevated.
Common signs of dysfunctional breathing include:
Inhaling with your chest. If you notice your chest is the first thing to move when you take a breath, this is a sign you have shallow breath or you’re breathing from the upper chest.
Your rib cage doesn’t expand. Place your hands on the sides of your rib cage and take note. Your hands should move to the side about one to two inches as your rib cage widens.
Breathing with your mouth. Unless you have congestion, ideally you should be breathing through your nose. Breathing through your nose releases nitric oxide that is carried to your lungs and helps maintain homeostasis in the rest of the body.
Tight shoulders and upper neck/chest muscles. Tension in these areas may be a sign of shallow or stressed breathing.
Frequent yawning. Sighing and yawning is a sign your body is not receiving enough oxygen.
High resting breath rate. Count the number of times you breathe in one minute. A normal resting breath rate should be no greater than 10-12 breaths per minute—and sometimes as low as 6 to 8 breaths if you are deep breathing. A resting breath rate over 12 is a sign of quick or shallow breathing.
You are activating your diaphragm when you breathe.
If you experience any of these signs of dysfunctional breathing, it’s imperative to first train your body to simply breathe correctly. Given that CIRS (chronic inflammatory response syndrome) is highly connected to cortisol (stress hormone) imbalances, the art of breathing is your innate “stress response” fire extinguisher.
How to Breathe Deeply
Train yourself how to start breathing correctly. You can do this by blowing up balloons, pursing your lips, taking deep breaths through your nose and out through your mouth while doing planking exercises, contracting your abs as you breathe, sitting upright when you work and decreasing shoulder movement during breathing.
Tempo Breathing (a.k.a “4-7-8 breathing”). Place tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue behind the upper front teeth. Quietly inhale through your nose then audibly exhale through the mouth, inhale for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of 7, and then exhale through your mouth, making an ocean-wave-like sound for a count of 8. Repeat this cycle three times.
Belly Breathe. Take a deep breath and focus on expanding your belly, rather than your chest. Watch your belly fill up as you breathe in and flatten as you breathe out.
Breath Walk: Synchronize your breathing with walking steps and focused attention.
Box Breathe: Close your mouth and slowly breathe in through your nose for four counts. Hold your breath for four seconds. Then slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of four. Hold the exhale for another four counts. Aim to repeat for four minutes.
This tactic is particularly useful as an “in the moment” tool when HPA Axis symptoms or stress arise.
How to Do It:
Lay on your back, completely flat
Inhale through your right nostril for 10 counts, while closing your left nostril with your finger
Exhale through your left nostril for 10 counts, while closing your right nostril with your finger
Keep your mouth closed, or lips pursed
Repeat for 5-6 cycles
Marie Kondo your life
Get rid of (most) of it. Make Marie Kondo, author of the “Magic Art of Tidying Up” proud.
If it doesn’t “spark joy”, toss it.
And, chances are, if you are truly struggling with mold illness, many of your things will NOT “spark joy.”
Sometimes the best bet for at least the current situation is to “leave it behind.” While it may seem or feel extreme (like a fire happened), to help calm your body and mind for the immediate healing period, a break from not only your environment but also the items that smell like that environment can be a healing part of your process.
In my own experience, I found that the more I kept or tried to hold on to, the more I realized how much those things impacted my symptoms. Starting fresh (see point 4) was difficult to swallow at first, but the more I focused on rebuilding my life slowly, the less overwhelm and attachment I had to my stuff.
Initially, I did a huge closet sweep—throwing most of my clothes into trash sacks and taking them to a local Goodwill and resale shop where individually, the items would not be as strong. I also left my furniture behind and bags—my suitcases, purses, backpack—things that had been living and breathing mycotoxins in my home.
I tried to salvage the little things, however, of the things I did keep, it didn’t take long for me to decide the majority of it, I wanted to give away.
From my leather Kate Spade purse with the tags still on it, to my yoga mat, my makeup and makeup bag, my occupational therapy grad school books, my hair dryer and my Benji (my stuffed dog I had had since I was 4 years old)—all of it smelled like mold and must. Once I was removed from my home, all I wanted was my health and breath back.
Yes, I thought it sounded extreme too, but holding on to old stuff only weighed me down more. I found, as I gradually let even these things go, the more freedom I felt and ability to start new—from the inside out.
Items to Toss or Store (for a long time)
Some of the “top” most-contaminated items include porous or “soft” items to not think too hard about:
Books (especially opened books)
Clothing (primarily items that are dry clean only, and those items that have been hanging in your closet unworn or collecting dust for a long time)—other clothing may be redeemable, however, not optimal
Backpacks, purses, suitcases—things exposed to mycotoxins in the environment (they will most likely smell like the home as you leave)
Opened makeup and makeup bags
Vented items (your hairdryer, fans)
Upholstery (couches, curtains, rugs)
Chairs with cloth or padding
Linens, towels, pillows & blankets
Papers (if needed: Store them loosely in plastic bins until a decision can be made at a later date)
Appliances (Refrigerators, washers, and dryers harbor dust in their coils and fans and are difficult to clean. Spores and spore fragments easily attach to washing machine parts)
Laptop computers (the fans in the computer can pick up mycotoxins; *if ridding of your this is not easy, look into selling back your machine or trading it in to the store, or using it outside of your new, clean environment to avoid cross-contamination)
Given the fibers in these materials, they have a tendency to “soak up” the mycotoxins in the environment.
Items to Possibly “Save”
Some items can be salvaged—particularly the hard-surfaced items that get a good fogging (point 5), including:
Some clothing (see clothing exceptions below)
Sentimental stuffed animals (if laundered like your clothing)
Leather (furniture, bags, shoes) (Use quaternary cleaners on leather)
Lamps (not the shades)
Kitchenware (non bamboo)—plates, pans, pots, silverware, etc.
Non-porous surfaces (able to clean well)—such as that plastic waste bin or desk
Anything made of ceramic, glass or metal
Your car (yes some folks get rid of their’s; Hybridrasta Mama has a great post hybridrastamama.com/how-to-remove-mold-in-cars/ about mold remediation in your car).
“But it sounds so extreme…”
Just breathe. No one is holding a gun to your head to get rid of everything, and little official long term research has been conducted either way revealing whether or not mold contaminated items can make you ill again upon preexposure after healing.
Ultimately, you may have to find out for yourself what you can and cannot tolerate, and perhaps, more than anything, time away from your contaminated items can help you strengthen your body from the inside out—and also realize…it’s all just stuff. Stuff is helpful for doing some things in life, but we come into this world bald, curled up and naked, and leave it bald, curled up and naked…and we take nothing with us. In other words: It can be replaced.
If the idea of tossing everything out is devastating, recruit a cleaning company, family member or friend to box things up for you, or wear protective clothing (here) and a nose and mouth mask to put things into bins, large plastic bags or trash sacks to store away while you remove yourself to heal. This also may mean renting a storage facility for a period or storing your items in a family member’s garage. If you’re going to the trouble of moving away from a toxic environment, don’t apologize for being “extreme.” Do what you need to do to break free, allow for healing to occur and then decide what to keep or toss (chances are, you may realize you can live without it).
You can clean some things—particularly the machine washable items that have been regular circulators in your clothing rotation (not the items that have been hanging in your closet for a year).
Use EC3 Laundry Additive on these items, and wash through 2 to 3 cycles, dry and also place in the sun (natural ozone helps kill off mycotoxins). Homemade Hack: You can also use a combination of Borax and white vinegar as your “detergent”.
What about other items I may keep…Do I literally have to clean everything in my house (i.e. plastic storage containers, books, toiletries, candles, knickknacks, canned food etc) or just the major things like clothing and furniture?
Yes, everything. I love the whole EC3 line—their concentrate, spray, laundry additive and candles.
Build a capsule wardrobe
Speaking of Marie Kondo, no time like the present to simplify your wardrobe! Out with the old, in with the new. A capsule wardrobe is a “minimalist’s dream”—filled with only the essentials needed to make dressing easy, classy and vogue.
Most minimalist fashionistas advise you build your wardrobe on no more than 30 to 40 “staple” pieces (or less) for every 3 months of the year (seasons)— including clothes, jewelry, accessories and shoes. (This excludes underwear, loungewear, and workout wear).
A capsule wardrobe may entail:
5-7 basic tops
Simple v-neck white tee
Simple black tee
Button up Chambray
5-7 trendy fun tops
1-2 pairs of denim jeans
1 pair white pants
1 pair black pants
Gold strappy sandals
Jewelry & Accessories
Pair stud earrings & hoops
How to Start Your Capsule Wardrobe
Pare down your closet to no more than 50 items (ideally: 35-40; excluding underwear, workout wear and lounge wear)
Wear only those 35-50 items for three months.
Don’t go shopping during the season until…
During the last two weeks of the season, plan and shop for your next capsule.
The amount you buy for the next capsule is up to you (you can recycle some from the previous capsule).
Remember: less is more.
Fog & guard your new environment wisely
As you transition into your new environment, it’s uber important to prevent cross contamination from your old place.
No, you cannot live in a bubble, but “proper” transition practices can keep your new place (and you) mycotoxin free. This was a huge mistake I made when moving out of my home initially. Although I left most of my things behind, I did trek in my daily use items that I did not think twice about including:
Tenni shoes I wore daily
The “little stuff” can add up if you are super sensitive and it’s best to quarantine most all items from the old place into a separate plastic bin or large trash sacks (closed tightly) and store them in a place like a garage in order to mindfully discard contaminated items.
You can try salvaging some things with an at home fogging machine, as well as use your fogging machine with EC3 solution concentrate in it to spray and disinfect your new place.
I recommend the Longray Basic ULV Fogger with Adjustable Flow & Flex-Hose and EC3 solution. All you have to do is pour the desired amount of EC3 solution + distilled water (see back of the bottle to measure) into the fogger, then turn the fogger on the medium pressure intensity and spray every nook, cranny, and item you have to make them (more) “mold free”.
Sweat helps detox and push impurities out of the body. Some options include:
Infrared sauna (3-4 times per week for 15 minutes)
Fresh air & sunshine
Energizing workouts (not chronic cardio; the “just right” challenge for 30-45 minutes, doing something you enjoy)
Eat fresh, organic nutrient-dense foods
Let food be thy medicine. Optimize your detoxification pathways and energy levels by focusing on the foundations, while avoiding foods that leave you (and your gut health) down.
Organic pastured proteins: chicken, beef, eggs, bison, wild-caught fish
Dark leafy greens
Fungal fighting foods, including:
Prebiotic Fibers: Carrots, Rutabaga, Onions, Garlic, Raidsh
Spices & herbs: Cayenne, Turmeric, Cinnamon, Ginger Root, Clove, Goldenseal, Olive leaf, Tea trea
Lemon & Lime
Manuka raw honey
Coconut oil (caprylic acid)
Teas: Green tea, dandelion tea, Pau d’Arco
Other colorful, low starch veggies: broccoli, spinach, summer squash, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, arugula, chard, cucumber, bell peppers, tomato (fresh only), leeks, asparagus, artichokes, seaweed
Healthy Fats: Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, coconut milk, ghee, avocado, organic butter, pumpkin seeds, flax
Fermented foods: Sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, coconut kefir/yogurt, fermented pickled veggies (Contrary to popular belief, eating fermented foods regularly can support the immune system and prevent the invasion and spread of yeasts or fungal infection. Consume 1-2 medicinal doses daily if tolerated).
Apple cider vinegar
Bone & meat broth. Bone broth is a rich source of collagen, which supports the integrity of the gut lining.
Pastured organ meats. Liver, heart, tongue, kidney; Or, quality grass-fed supplement (like this one by Ancestral Supplements).
Other beverages: Herbal teas, mineral water, fresh veggie juice, coconut milk
The bottom line: Eat fresh foods as much as possible. (Hint: Buy the freshest fruits, vegetables, meats and foods and buy in smaller quantities vs. having items in your refrigerator for weeks)
Molds thrive on sugar and anything that is not fresh or aged. Mold-loving foods including:
High mold nuts: peanuts, walnuts, pecans, cashews, brazil nuts
High amounts of high starch vegetables and legumes: sweet corn, potatoes, beans and peas, lentils, sweet potatoes, winter squashes, turnips, parsnips (stick to 1-2 servings per day)
Instant coffee & non-organic, conventional coffees (i.e. Starbucks, Folgers)
Sugar & artificial sweeteners
Seed oils: cottonseed, grapeseed, canola
Processed and smoked meats: sausages, hot dogs, corned beef, pastrami, smoked fish, ham, bacon.
Packaged & processed foods
Canned beans, soups & ready-made sauces
5+ day old produce
Edible fungi: including all types of mushrooms and truffles (cordyceps & reishi supplements ok)
Leftovers beyond 2-3 days. While some molds you can see (like the fuzzy green mold on breads), others are not so noticeable. A good rule of thumb for leftovers is a two-day rule (one is better).
Love your gut microbiome & liver
Your gut is the gateway to health, and your liver is your body’s “master” detoxifier. If one or both of these two systems are down, then you (and your immune system) are more susceptible to molds and the effects of mycotoxins on your health.
Although many mold sufferers will tell you that 25% of the population has a specific gene (the HLA-DR gene) that makes them more susceptible to mold illness, this is only part of the story.
Genes load the gun, but environment, lifestyle and your gut microbiome pull the trigger. Disease genes cannot be turned on unless these other factors are at play.
Given the fact that mycotoxin exposure can wreak havoc on your total health—particularly your gut health— by eliminating beneficial bacteria, by focusing on optimizing your gut health you will give those mycotoxins a run for their money. Research shows the gut microbiota is capable of eliminating mycotoxin from the host naturally, provided that the host is healthy with a balance gut microbiota (1).
A few essentials for optimizing gut and liver health include:
Perform at-home gut testing (Figure out what’s going on in your gut with a comprehensive gut test)
Take a quality probiotic (like this one) and prebiotic fiber (1 tsp.) (like this one)
Boost stomach acid & digestive enzymes (add 1 tbsp. Apple cider vinegar to 2-4 oz. of water and 1-2 capsules digestive enzymes with meals)
Eat 1-2 fermented foods daily and 1-2 servings of prebiotic fiber in your diet
Working with a practitioner to safely and effectively cleanse your gut with anti-microbial, anti-fungal herbs if you find a gut “issue” present
Use the right anti-fungal and binder for your mold illness
Using anti-fungal herbs and medicines are a common approach for treating a person with mold illness or mold-related issues (like candida) to directly kill molds, candida and yeast in your body. Conventional doctors may prescribe pharmaceuticals like Nystatin or Diflucan, and holistic practitioners may integrate herbs via supplements and foods.
However there are a few of catches:
#1. Anti-fungal treatment must be customized
You must know which molds you have so you can be on the right anti-fungals to treat them—this may entail either prescription medications by a medical doctor or herbal anti-fungals via supplements and foods. It’s important to work with a skilled practitioner who understands mycotoxin illness, CIRS and detoxification in order to implement the right approach for your body.
Natural anti-fungals may include one or a blend of the following:
Pau D’Arco Extract (bark)
Grapefruit seed extract
#2. Anti-fungals are BEST used orally and nasally (sinus spray)
To effectively treat mold illness, you also must treat every single place that mold can be settled in and growing. Since molds grow in moist, warm cavities (think mouth, nose/sinus and gut), using both oral and nasal antifungals yields the best results.
One of my favorite anti-fungals is the CitriDrops by Microbalance. You can also make your own nasal anti-fungal wash at home using garlic cloves and probiotics.
Homemade Nasal Anti-fungal Wash for Mold Illness Recovery[RHEA: CAN YOU MAKE THIS A TEXT BOX/GRAPHIC IN THE MIDDLE?)
Ingredients & supplies
A neti pot.
Non-iodized sea salt.
Filtered water (not tap water).
A clove of fresh garlic.
2 probiotic capsules
Get used to the Netipot. Use the neti pot as usual for a few days. (Instructions should come with the pot). Dissolve the correct amount of salt into lukewarm filtered water (not tap water), and then pour the solution through one nostril while tilting your head. When done correctly, the water will flow up into the sinuses, and then down and out the other nostril.
Add in garlic + probiotics. Chop the clove of garlic & place the garlic in a strainer. Make sure that NONE of the garlic pieces can fit through the holes in the strainer (you don’t want bits of garlic in your sinuses). Pour filtered boiling water over the garlic (through the strainer) and into a cup. Let the mix cool until it is lukewarm. Add your 2 probiotic capsules and stir into the water, then pour the lukewarm infusion into your neti pot. Add salt as usual (make sure to use the correct amount), and follow the standard method for using a neti pot. The only difference is that the water has been infused with garlic and probiotics.
#3. Anti-fungals are useless without a binder or bio-film disruptor
When mold starts to die during the treatment, your body needs to eliminate the dead molds, yeast and released toxins. If the amount of toxins released by the dying candida is more than what your body can safely handle, you may experience a healing crisis (also known as a “herx”, “healing” or “die off” reaction). Common symptoms may include GI or other ill-feeling symptoms, such as nausea, fever, joint and muscle aches, skin breakouts and headaches. A “herx” reaction typically means your body’s usual rhythms are being recalibrated, and last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
For this reason, a quality detoxification binder and biofilm disruptor (along with emphasis on optimizing gut health and liver function in point 8) is recommended to assist in elimination pathways.
A binder is a compound that helps grab the mold and pull it out of your body. Commonly used binders include:
Modified Citrus Pectin
Cholestyramine (CSM, a prescription)
Not all binders are created equal, and it’s most beneficial to know the type of mold you have in your body (using a test like the Great Plains Mycotoxin Test) to choose the best binder for you, since certain species are more susceptible to some more than others. Results from the test will also show which binders are most appropriate for you.
If you are not sure of your particular mold species, I find that a broad spectrum binder like GI Detox by Biocidin or Chlorella tablets are gentle but effective (without too much constipation).
Note: If you tend towards constipation, binders—particularly charcoal—can make you feel more constipated. Constipation busting “hacks” include: digestive bitters (like Iberogast), Liposomal Vitamin C and Magnesium Citrate like Natural Calm.
Biofilm Disruptor 101
Biofilm disruptors help ensure both your anti-fungals and binders can work in the first place. Molds often create a glue-like matrix around themselves to protect themselves. Sure, you can take anti-fungals and binders to treat them, but if you can’t “break” into the molds, than you won’t get them out. Biofilm disruptors hack through the goo and allow the anti-fungals to reach the fungi and kill the mold.
Interfase Plus (2-3, in between meals, 2 times per day) –OR–
Biocidin Drops (2-3, 2 times per day)
Stress (your brain) less
With soooo many steps, therapies and treatments, mold illness recovery can be overwhelming. Not only was living in mold stressful on your health (mentally and physically), but so is recovery!
That said, the name of the game of winning victory over mold illness is actively and intentionally seeking to stress less—physically and mentally. Since inflammatory cytokines are the key drivers of mold illness symptoms, then stress management is essential for recovery including:
Quality sleep (7-9 hours)
Natural fresh air (daily)
Eating a nutrient-dense whole foods diet
Drinking clean filtered water
Minimizing screen and light exposure at night
Rewiring your brain and limbic system
Limbic System 101
There’s a theory in the CIRS and mold illness world that the limbic system—your body’s “stress” system intertwined with memories—is hyper functioning.
After mold illness, your body stores deep rooted memories of smells, environments, circumstances and can easily sound the “alarm” for the body to react in a myriad of ways when any similar or familiar memory is aroused—such as the smell of must in a different environment.
In my own recovery, I personally struggled with sleeping in a bed again—I had “PTSD” like symptoms after my experience of waking up at 2 a.m. feeling like I was having a heart attack due to the chronic mold exposure and the asthma-like symptoms it gave me. I spent the next 3 months without a home, couch surfing from friend’s home to friend’s home, and not feeling comfortable back in a bed—where my previous two years of living in that environment came to a head.
I literally had to tell my body, “It’s ok,” and my body had to tell me back, “I don’t want to hurt you.”
Limbic system “retraining” involves actively retraining neural pathways to think, act and believe differently. It is inspired by a woman named Annie Hopper who recovered herself from her own chronic mystery illness, similar to CIRS and mold illness.
Purify your air
Air quality matters—especially in your new environment. Air purifiers with HEPA and charcoal filters can help keep mycotoxins at bay and keep you breathing clean air as you “start over.” Like most things in the health and wellness world, not all air purifiers are created equal.
Don’t waste your money at Target or Bed Bath & Beyond. Most models on their sales floors are not the quality grade you (and your home) need—similar to how that $10 probiotic at Target is not the same as a quality probiotic that actually delivers the ingredients on the label to your gut.
My top recommendations for a quality air filter include:
Austin Air: The Bedroom Machine
Austin Air: Healthmate Junior Plus
I keep a big guy (like the Bedroom Machine) in the home to filter the whole house, and smaller units—like the Healthmate Junior or Air Doctor—in my bedroom.
In addition, if you want to take things to the next level, an Air Ozone Generator can aid in ozonating your space for cleaner, fresher and disinfected air.
You don’t have to go overboard, but investing in a couple units can help you breathe easier indoors—since we spend the majority of our time (about 22-23 hours daily) inside!
Surround yourself with positive energy
Last, but definitely not least…mold recovery can not only be stressful, but also draining and sometimes, negative.
If you’ve ever found yourself on an endless Facebook group for CIRS or mold illness recovery survivors, you know what I mean.
One thing can lead to another, and before you realize it, you believe you have cancer or you’ll never recover.
No matter what beliefs you have right now about your personal illness and recovery, know this:
When given the right tools, your body innately wants to heal itself.
Repeat: When given the right tools, your body innately wants to heal itself.
You will recover. Speak truth into your body. Lean in. Seek to nourish your mind, body and soul. And believe freedom and healing is possible.
There was a time you were not ill, and there will be a time again.
I believe it, do you? If not, let me help you.
Liew WP, Mohd-Redzwan S. Mycotoxin: Its Impact on Gut Health and Microbiota. Front Cell Infect Microbiol. 2018 Feb 26;8:60. doi: 10.3389/fcimb.2018.00060. PubMed PMID: 29535978; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5834427.
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