This is one of the most important posts I’ve written to date. It’s about something that’s had a profound effect on my life, and something that affects at least 100 million people in North America alone. It’s something that matters even more to people in the path of the recent hurricanes.
It matters so much to me that I funded and filmed my first and only documentary about it. It matters so much that I’ve decided to stop charging for a limited time to watch the documentary – it’s more important that people see it than that it pays for itself.
It’s all about toxic mold from water damage. Here’s why mold is so personal to me, and why knowing this can dramatically improve your life if you’re recovering from a tropical storm.
My flood story
In 1997, I was living in California’s Central Valley with my parents when storms caused a levee to fail. Six feet of river water overran my parent’s home – and 1,000 others. We had exactly four hours to move all of our possessions, and the last pickup truck pulled out as the encroaching water lapped over its wheels. Thanks to good friends, we saved 90% of our stuff, but lost family photos and heirlooms, and ultimately our home.
When the water receded in a few days, we worked in the house to try to save it, with the help of dozens of volunteers. Their willingness to help convinced me of the basic goodness of people, a belief I hold to this day.
But the volunteers – and my family – paid a price with our health we didn’t know about. We were working with moldy materials because any time drywall or wood or almost any surface gets water damage, toxic soil molds take over and bloom.
The problem with mold
As humans, our bodies’ energy-generating system is based on ancient bacteria that evolved to become the mitochondria in our cells. Mold is the ancient enemy of bacteria, ergo toxic to your mitochondria. (Antibiotics that kill bacteria come from mold!)
Keeping mitochondria working at their highest potential is what keeps us biologically young and performing at our best. This system is the topic of Head Strong, my last New York Times science bestselling book.
Exposure to the poisons made by toxic molds in water damaged buildings causes inflammation and mitochondrial damage, so your body doesn’t make energy the way it should. When that happens, all sorts of systems in your body go haywire, with so many symptoms it’s hard to nail them down.
How mold impacts your mitochondria
- Mold toxins are genotoxic – they cause DNA damage and mutate your DNA, which can lead to cancer and cells that don’t function well. 
- They break down myelin, the fatty covers that insulate your neurons and allow them to send information throughout your brain. Myelin breakdown is a primary component of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.
- Mold toxins are capable of contributing to neurodegenerative disease. They have the capability to damage your brain, and another study tied brain fungal infections to Alzheimer’s Disease.
Symptoms of mold exposure
The symptoms that stand out the most are crippling fatigue, anxiety, and mood swings. The problem is that your house was just flooded by a hurricane, so it’s normal to feel these things, right? You just need to push harder. But no matter how hard you push, it keeps getting harder. That’s because you are dealing with a poison you breathe (or absorb through your skin) as you’re working on your home or unpacking damp belongings.
Then other symptoms set in, like:
- Muscle weakness
- Chronic sinus infections or strep throat
- Extremely poor memory
- Headache and migraine
- Frequent nosebleeds and unexplained bruising
- Excessively stiff joints and muscle pain
- Tingling feelings and restless legs
- Lightheadedness and vertigo
- Incredible thirst
- Intense need to urinate without a full bladder
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Rheumatoid arthritis and gout
- New food allergies (especially to gluten and dairy)
- Abdominal pain and new Crohn’s disease
- Metallic taste in the mouth
- Sudden change in electrostatic discharge when you touch things
- Worsening of nearly every neurodegenerative and autoimmune disease
Even worse, you might experience four of these symptoms, your spouse a different two symptoms, and your friend none at all. Because we all have different biology, our bodies will react to mold toxins in different ways.
Can your doctor treat symptoms of mold exposure?
Symptoms from mold exposure confound doctors, who are mostly untrained in treating it. As you’ll hear in MOLDY, doctors are taught that if you have more than a few symptoms, by definition you’re a hypochondriac with a mental problem, not a mold problem.
This is what happened to me. By the time I unraveled this all, I had chemically-induced brain damage caused by toxic mold, diagnosed by a scan from Dr. Daniel Amen, one of America’s top brain doctors, who is also featured in MOLDY. And all that time I had blamed myself for not trying hard enough when the reality was that I’d damaged my health working to save my family’s home after a flood. (And I’d lived in other water damaged buildings that contributed too.)
I don’t want anyone to go through that again, ever.
Mold isn’t just from flooding
Many of the same species that make toxins in buildings also grow in our food, especially grains and fermented foods like coffee. Toxic mold in my home taught me how important it was to make foods without mold and how to incorporate low-mold foods into the Bulletproof Diet. Here is a detailed post about the science of toxins in a high mold food like coffee.
But here’s the thing. Breathing mold and mold toxins cause far more damage than eating them (even though you don’t want to do either). It is my own exposure to water damaged buildings that taught me to feel the difference between eating moldy foods and clean foods and to know what it feels like to walk into a hotel room or home with mold from water damage.
Here are the primary toxic molds you find in water damaged buildings and foods.
Thanks Jill for taking the screenshot from Gary Gordon’s write-up!
If this is still hard to believe, please spend one hour watching MOLDY to hear from a dozen top doctors and a dozen people like you and me who lived in moldy buildings and lived to tell the tale. You could also look at the 900 references in this post detailing some of what we know about just one of the classes of toxins above.
What to do if your house floods
Here are the things I wish I’d known – and what to do if you were exposed and have some of the symptoms above. I hope you never need this list.
Things to keep in mind if your home suffers water damage
- Some things aren’t worth your health or your life to save.
- Mold can enter from your skin (tricothecene) or mostly from breathing.
- It’s the poison from the mold and the immune reaction to the mold that cause the damage. It’s not usually a direct fungal infection (but that can happen).
- If you feel crazy tired, super emotional, get unusual headaches, or have a profound need for sleep or sugar after entering a moldy house, it’s your body responding to the toxins. Recover (see next section) and upgrade your Tyvek suit and respirator before you go back.
- You must wear a Tyvek suit and a suitable respirator to go into a water damaged building that has been sitting for more than two days, sometimes even less if it’s hot.
- You want a full-faced silicone respirator like this or a Moldex if you can get one, or good goggles with a half-face respirator like this one or this one that takes screw-on cartridges. Those paper masks don’t work.
- Only use cartridge filters that are HEPA rated with either P100 or N100 ratings which mean that 99.7% of particles 0.3 microns or larger get blocked. Cheaper HEPA filters need replacing often. For the best results, get one with activated charcoal to block organic compounds that can also make you sick, like the 3M 2097 or go for the very best filters, Moldex 7600. Those filters last a very long time without replacing.
- You must never bring moldy items from your water damaged home into your clean living space until they have been thoroughly decontaminated.
- Porous items (bedding, furniture, wood, papers, books, clothing, etc.) can not be decontaminated. You have to throw them away. (To this day, I have a sealed box of normal-looking but moldy papers from my parent’s house. If I open the box and handle the papers, I wake up the next day feeling hungover and with sore joints. The papers are ruined, and if I opened them in my bedroom where the toxins and spores could spread, I would feel like crap for a few weeks.)
- Dry cleaning clothing that is moderately contaminated (or curtains) works.
- You may be able to recover some items by exposing them to strong ozone gas for long enough to break down the toxins and the mold, but it usually doesn’t work well.
- There is a company called Homebiotic that makes a beneficial environmental probiotic bacteria that eats toxic mold as a fuel source. I use it as a preventative in my home and anywhere I have a water leak. You may want to use it on damp items. (Full disclosure: I funded the company to help it get started when I discovered this was possible but do not draw any compensation from it.)
- Non-porous items like glass, metal, ceramics, and plastics can be safely decontaminated with scrubbing and bleach or peroxide.
- Bleach on porous items (including your walls) does not fix mold – it makes it worse because bleach is mostly water, and the mold comes back stronger.
- If you have family photos that were stored in a moldy home, either laminate them or take photos of the photos and re-print them. Never hang moldy pictures from your old home in your new living space.
- If you wear your cleanup suit in your car, your car will be contaminated. Take it off before you drive.
- Consider buying an ozone generator to treat your new living space once or twice a week (remove pets and plants first) if you are moving out of a water damaged home and into a clean home.
- When you believe you’ve completed cleanup work on your flooded home, before you begin repairs and remodeling, you MUST get an ERMI test from a qualified mold inspector. This test measures the level of toxic spores in your home compared to the outside. You don’t want to waste your time remodeling on top of existing toxic mold.
How to take care of yourself when you are recovering your water damaged home
- Eat a low toxin cyclical ketogenic diet like the BP diet. . The reason for this is that ketones (fat burning molecules instead of sugar) are anti-inflammatory, especially in your brain. They can help your body deal with mitochondrial stress from mold toxins. You may need to avoid all starch and sugar for 6 weeks if you’ve got mold illness, but when you’re under lots of stress, get your ketones by adding Brain Octane to meals, and have moderate amounts of carbs some of the time. See the easy to follow one-page Diet Roadmap here (free)
- Don’t eat fried food or artificial sweeteners – they harm your mitochondria, which makes you more susceptible to the stress you’re already under, not to mention the potential mold toxins. And don’t drink any alcohol when you’re dealing with mold, especially beer and wine.
- Every time you leave your mold damaged home consider doing the Bulletproof Sinus Rinse to remove mold toxins and particles from your sinuses before they can enter your system further.
- Upgrade your body’s toxin binding and antioxidant systems with supplements like glutathione, calcium-d-glucarate, and activated charcoal (yes, Bulletproof manufactures those for a reason and I use them. I am mentioning them here but not linking to them. Buy whatever kind you want. Just get these compounds into your system!) Also up your vitamin C, E, and vitamin D intake.
- Get lots of sleep.
- Recognize that you just went through one of the most stressful things you can go through and it’s normal to have emotional swings. Learn to feel the difference between grief (normal) and mold-induced (what the hell did I just say to my loved ones???) emotional swings.
- Every night, find one thing to be grateful for and write it down. Did you lose your house the way I did? Then take a moment to be grateful you saved your life. Your mindset matters, and you have some influence over it. Gratitude, even for the littlest thing, is the key to activating it.
- If you have a meditation practice, now is the time for it. If you belong to an organized religion, now is the time to call on your local religious institution for spiritual and emotional support. It matters.
- Consider all the other practices in Head Strong that support your mitochondria as you work to recover your home and protect your health.
How to recover from mold toxin exposure
- Be grateful you know this is what’s happening. Knowing the cause can save you years of expensive suffering. You can hack this and you will get better.
- Know that many cases of chronic lyme disease are related to toxic mold poisoning. Fix the mold, and the lyme can go away. Leave the mold, and the Lyme will stay.
- You must get away from mold contaminated environments and stay away as you recover. Returning to a water damaged building, or snuggling with a water-damaged pillow, will cause symptoms to return.
- Use toxin binders the way the U.S. Military does for mold exposure: activated charcoal, bentonite clay, and (prescription but most effective) cholestyramine. Use them daily (watch for constipation) and especially use them before and after you get re-exposed to a moldy environment. Add extra magnesium or vitamin C if you get constipated.
- Improve your detox functions with glutathione, calcium-d-glucarate, and vitamin C. Alpha lipoic acid can help. The amino acid glycine helps (or you can use grass-fed collagen to get glycine the way I do…and yes Bulletproof makes that too.) Consider adding methyl B12 and folate (not folic acid).
- A cup or two of coffee (especially Bulletproof!) can dramatically improve how you feel and provide willpower and motivation. It did for me.
- Avoid sugar, but if you get re-exposed, you might want to have 1 tbsp of sugar right away if you feel symptoms returning.
- Do the Bulletproof Sinus rinse because toxic mold can cause bacteria to form biofilms in your sinuses, and mold commonly colonizes sinuses.
- Consider prescription antifungals. My favorites are nystatin (oral, nasal spray, and vaginal if necessary) and fluconazole (watch for rare but dangerous liver toxicity).
- Don’t drink alcohol.
- Get a high end air filter for your living space and use it religiously.
- Get a dehumidifier if you are in a high humidity environment, but watch for mold growth in the collection tray. Consider misting it with Homebiotic bacteria to combat mold growth.
- Don’t eat moldy foods:
- All types of grains except white rice
- Corn, beans, oats, peanuts, cottonseed
- Pork (unless pastured)
- Aged meats
- All alcohol, but wine and beer are the worst
- Coffee and chocolate (unless mold tested – that’s my specialty!)
- Dried fruit of all types
- Brazil nuts
- Pistachios are high mold risk but very good for you if they’re clean
- Chile and other spices are high risk but good for you so quality matters
- Pre-ground black pepper is almost always moldy
- Detox therapies like infrared saunas, 24-hour fasting, cryotherapy or ice baths, red light therapy, acupuncture, and intravenous vitamin C or glutathione can all accelerate your recovery.
- Consider getting a urine mycotoxin screen if you’ve been exposed.
- Ozone therapy – rectal or intravenous can reverse mold symptoms quickly. See podcasts with Dr. Rowen and Dr. Robyn Benson about it.
Minimize exposure, maximize recovery
The bottom line is that you are probably going to get exposed to mold if your house is damaged by a storm and you enter it. Your job is to minimize the exposure, minimize the damage when you are exposed, avoid bringing contaminated items into clean spaces, and to make sure your body recovers as quickly as possible. Doing this can save you *years* of struggle and tens of thousands of dollars in medical costs.
Floods and storms can be overwhelming. So can all this info. It was for me. It was for my parents. No one told me this stuff, and if they had, it would have saved me years of unexplained cognitive and physical symptoms that made no sense. Even if you only do some of the things in this post, it can make a huge difference in how you feel now, and even more in how you feel later.
Please watch MOLDY to bring this all home so it makes sense and you can see how much it matters to you right now.
I truly hope you never need any of this information. But if you do, please use it and share it with your neighbors who can use it too.
Bulletproof blog posts about mold:
Bulletproof Radio Episodes: