In 2022, a TikToker named Terrin gained popularity for a series of videos about her health. She said she had struggled with health problems for approximately two years, and wondered whether there was a root cause of all her symptoms: hair thinning, chronic pain, inflammation, hormone imbalances, adult acne, anxiety, depression, fatigue, high cholesterol (despite a strict, healthy diet), and more. She consulted an array of doctors, including a gynecologist, allergist, ENT (ear, nose, and throat), rheumatologist (autoimmune), and dermatologist. Evaluations and testing helped her somewhat — she learned that 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 one typically means the patient has an autoimmune disorder.) However, Terrin was never diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, and she never felt fully satisfied with her doctors’ responses. She told her TikTok followers that she thought her doctors were missing something.
In September 2022, Terrin posted a video in which she claimed she had finally figured out the root cause of all (or at least most) of her symptoms. “I have mold toxicity from mold in my home,” she said, adding that she took something called a mycotoxins test. “No conventional doctors helped me figure this out. Every single conventional doctor I went to scratched their head.” So, what is mold toxicity? Learn more about the condition and Terrin’s case below.
Understanding Mold Toxicity
ParsleyHealth.com defines mold toxicity as the symptoms a person develops after mold exposure. There isn’t a set timeline as to when mold toxicity sets in — it depends on the mold species and a person’s sensitivity to it. In general, people develop symptoms if they are allergic to mold or if the mold emits mycotoxins (toxic chemical compounds).
Parsley Health notes that many symptoms are linked to mold toxicity. These symptoms are split into two main categories: immune reactions (like a runny nose, itchy skin, and exacerbated 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, vertigo, tinnitus, digestive issues, fatigue, and symptoms that resemble hormone imbalances.
The Problem With Diagnosing Mold Toxicity
Megan McElroy, PA-C , a physician assistant at Parsley Health, notes that there aren’t many human studies linking chronic inflammatory symptoms to mold toxicity. This lack of evidence may make traditional doctors cautious about diagnosing their patients with mold toxicity. In addition, very few people receive a diagnosis because there is no standard for mold testing or treatment, and because each patient experiences mold toxicity differently.
Indeed, Joseph Pizzorno, ND, editor in chief of Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, writes that conventional medicine acknowledges mold toxicity as a respiratory condition that causes rhinitis, exacerbated asthma, coughing, and wheezing. But the World Health Organization does not acknowledge non-respiratory symptoms. Dr. Pizzorno argues that non-respiratory symptoms, while difficult to source back to mold toxicity, are “considered important indicators of mold 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 mold) can spark a cytokine response in the body. Cytokines are small proteins that communicate with other immune system cells; some cytokines stimulate an inflammatory reaction, while others calm the reaction. When inflammatory cytokines constantly activate the immune system, that chronic inflammation can lead to a wide range 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 cause of androgenetic alopecia. HarvardHealth.com notes that chronic pain is the result of chronic inflammation.
AriaIntegrativeMedicine.com says inflammation may lead to hormone imbalances because the body releases cortisol (the stress hormone) during stressful situations, and constant, high levels of cortisol can cause changes to other hormones. A scientific paper published in Frontiers in Immunology argues that depression and fatigue are both linked to increased inflammatory activity in the body. As previously noted, however, there isn’t much evidence that directly links mold toxicity to these symptoms.
As for Terrin’s high cholesterol, one scientific review from 2006 found that people exposed to mold sometimes have “cholesterol abnormalities.” The review authors theorized that mycotoxins interact with cholesterol in the body and “enhance” existing cholesterol abnormalities. Ultimately, the authors concluded that people exposed to mold might be at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. But as the review is nearly two decades old, more research is needed to support this theory.
The Bottom Line
What does all of this mean for you? While there are many possible causes of the symptoms Terrin listed (hair thinning, chronic pain, inflammation, hormone imbalances, adult acne, anxiety, depression, fatigue, high cholesterol), a mold toxicity test or a house inspection may bring you one step closer to a diagnosis. Keep in mind that false negatives and false positives on mold toxicity tests are common, and these tests are not covered by insurance, per Parsley Health. A home inspection performed by a certified mold inspector may give you more accurate answers.
For more on the dangers of mold in the home:
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.