Is mold making you fat, depressed, forgetful and tired?

Is mold making you fat, depressed, forgetful and tired?

Hurricane Sandy, October 2012.

I was living in a condo directly on the Hudson River. When the hurricane passed, I was relieved to be safe from harm, or so I thought, until the severe fatigue, massive hair loss, weight gain, and rapid visible aging began. My body suddenly shifted into perimenopause with abnormal cycles. What was it?

Black mold. A black mold infestation discovered in the heating/air conditioning unit under my window that faced the river.

Written by Jill Carnahan, MD, ABFM, ABIHM, IFMCP

In 2013 there was a flood in Boulder, Colorado. A year after the flood the mold in formerly flooded buildings began to grow. I discovered the hard way that I am part of the 1% of the population that is genetically sensitivity to mold. I had never had asthma, yet it was so pronounced that I had to stop running and became short of breath walking the two flights of steps to my office. I also now caught every bug or fungus that came along. As a functional medicine doctor, I knew something was wrong with my immune system. I was diagnosed with a severe immune deficiency. I knew that mold was the issue, but I delayed testing. My health continued to decline. Six months later I tested positive for mold and mycotoxins, a toxic secondary metabolite produced by mold. Black mold from the flood was discovered in the basement of my office building. When I discovered the mold, I never returned to the building and sold everything that I had left there. No one else in the building was ill.

Is toxic mold exposure the cause of your symptoms?

Are you one of the many people unknowingly living or working in water damaged buildings? It’s estimated that indoor air pollutants, including mold and mycotoxins may be contributing to more than 50% of our patients’ illnesses. Typically we think of smog, smoke, and outdoor pollution as detrimental to our health but indoor air quality may be an even bigger risk to your health.

Exposure to water-damaged indoor environments is associated with exposure to molds. The most common types of mold that are found indoors include CladosporiumPenicilliumAlternaria, and AspergillusStachybotrys chartarum (sometimes referred to as “toxic black mold”) is a greenish-black mold, which grows on household surfaces that have high cellulose content, such as wood, fiberboard, gypsum board, paper, dust, and lint and is usually an indicator that there has been elevated moisture present or previous water damage.

Some molds secrete mycotoxins, that can be measured in the urine, such as ochratoxin, aflatoxin, and trichothecenes. Exposure to mold and mold components is well known to trigger inflammation, allergies and asthma, oxidative stress, and immune dysfunction in both human and animal studies. Mold spores, fungal fragments, and mycotoxins can be measured in the indoor environments of moldy buildings and in humans who are exposed to these environments. Most of the time, we are exposed to molds, like stachybotrys, through the skin contact, through ingestion, and by inhalation. Most common are reports of exposure involve water-damaged homes, schools, office buildings, court houses, hospitals, and hotels. Court houses, schools, and older buildings often have mold. I have treated numerous teachers for mold. Mold is epidemic in schools. It’s estimated that as many as 25% of buildings in the US have had some sort of water damage.

Molds have the ability to produce various symptoms, such as skin rashes, respiratory distress, various types of inflammation, cognitive issues, neurological symptoms, and immune suppression. The most common symptoms associated with mold exposure are allergic rhinitis and new onset asthma.

Did you know mold can impact your brain? 

We are now finding out how certain mycotoxins have the ability to impact the brain, causing neurotoxicity. A 2011 review in the Journal of Molecular Science examined specific mycotoxins, which are known to impact the brain.[1] Symptoms of mold exposure include rage, anger, anxiety, and sudden deep dark depression.

There isn’t one single cause of Alzheimer’s. This is why most AD treatments have been mostly unsuccessful, until now. There are multiple metabolic processes involved in AD and six subtypes.[2]

Interestingly, subtype 3 is also called Inhalational Alzheimer’s Disease (IAD) and caused by inhaled toxins which bioaccumulate overtime.[3] We already know how dangerous mold can be, but the fact that we now know biotoxins can cause Alzheimer’s is reason for grave concern.[4]

Is mold the cause of your fatigue?

Are you suffering from unrelenting fatigue that doesn’t seem to respond to any intervention? Perhaps you’ve asked your doctor to check your thyroid function and it came back normal. Perhaps you’ve been testing for iron-deficiency anemia this, too, was normal. Or perhaps you’ve been told by an integrative medical doctor that your adrenal function is suboptimal. Maybe what you haven’t thought of is the fact that you could be harboring hidden pathogens in your body that are robbing your energy and stealing your steam!

If basic testing fails to reveal a cause of your fatigue, you may want to have your doctor test for occult infection. More sophisticated investigations can reveal the presence of all kinds of pathogens capable of colonizing the body and evading the immune system. Some of them include: Parvoviruses, HHV6, Epstein-Barr, Cytomegalovirus, Mycoplasma, and Borrelia burgdorferi. Other patients have a history of chronic fungal infections or biotoxin exposure. A history of chronic mold exposure is a feasible explanation for such symptoms, as is the presence of B. burgdorferi.

Fatigue & Infections

This figure shows the role of viruses, bacteria, and chronic fungal and biotoxin exposure as the cause of intractable fatigue accompanied by cognitive and physical disability (Diagram from this article)

Why is it that some patients who get an infection recover and have no fatigue and others may be colonized with pathogens and suffer from intractable lack of energy?

It appears that part of the answer lies in the genetic polymorphisms or variances in our bodies response to infection and inflammation.  For those who develop severe fatigue in response to toxic exposure, like mold or infection, their immune systems respond more robustly to the threat with massive production of cytokines, like IL-ß1 or TNF-alpha.[5]

Have you suddenly gained considerable weight?

People can put on 50 pounds from mold exposure even with decreased caloric intake and increased exercise. Because of the insulin resistance from the imbalance of leptin and adiponectin, these people cannot burn fat.

Appetite swings are real common. One very unique thing is patients in a moldy environment often will develop leptin resistance and because of that, they can gain thirty, fifty pounds in a very short period of time with no change in diet or exercise and you can imagine how terrifying that is to a patient to suddenly have this massive amount of weight gain. It’s less frequent to have weight loss but that can also occur.

How do you know if you’ve been exposed to mold or a water damaged building?

Top Symptoms Associated with Mold-Associated Illness:

  1. Fatigue and weakness
  2. Headache (ice pick pain, a sharp pain like a knife going through your head)
  3. Poor memory, difficult word finding
  4. Difficulty with concentration
  5. Anxiety, depression
  6. Sudden weight gain
  7. Morning stiffness, joint pain
  8. Unusual skin sensations, tingling and numbness
  9. Shortness of breath, sinus congestion, nasal congestion or chronic cough
  10. Appetite swings, body temperature regulation
  11. Increased urinary frequency or increased thirst
  12. Red eyes, blurred vision, night sweats, mood swings, sharp pains
  13. Abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating, sudden food sensitivities
  14. Tearing, disorientation, metallic taste in mouth
  15. Electric or static shock (if electronics seem to be breaking all around you, check for mold!)
  16. Vertigo, light headedness, dizziness

Checklist that might indicate mold exposure or mold sensitivity (from ECH website)

  • Do musty odors bother you?
  • Have you worked or lived in a building where the air vents or ceiling tiles were discolored?
  • Have you noticed water damage or discoloration elsewhere?
  • Has your home been flooded?
  • Have you had leaks in the roof?
  • Do you experience unusual shortness of breath?
  • Do you experience recurring sinus infections?
  • Do you experience recurring respiratory infections and coughing?
  • Do you have frequent flu-like symptoms?
  • Do your symptoms worsen on rainy days?
  • Do you have frequent headaches?
  • Are you fatigued and have a skin rash?

Basic mold cleaning protocol

In general, you’ll want to clean everything thoroughly off with a cleaner first, followed by a thorough cleaning with an encapsulant.

The best cleaners include: Borax and Benefect.

A note regarding bleach: Bleach IS NOT effective against mold on porous surfaces such as wood and drywall. Please do not use bleach. For those with genetics that are susceptible to mold, bleach may kill the mold but the dead mold particles may still be quite toxic and induce illness.

Next, you’ll want to clean everything with an encapsulant.

Cleaning products are only useful if you’re cleaning off existing mold. They won’t prevent mold from coming back, and are considered temporary. You should use cleaning products first but ALWAYS follow cleaning with an encapsulant.

The best encapsulants include: Caliwel and Concrobium.

Encapsulants may be toxic (pesticides, mildewcides, biocides) or less toxic (concrobium). While it may seem like a good idea to reach for the most powerful option available, many fungicides are harmful – possibly more harmful than the mold itself. And unless you’re specifically trained to them with the correct personal protective equipment (PPE), I urge you to leave these treatments alone or at least consult with a professional first.

What else can you do to protect your home from mold?

Check your home and office for mold. Mold is estimated to be in about 50% of homes. You should have an ERMI mold test completed by a trusted inspector.

Avoid excess moisture. Moisture supports the growth of mold and mildew, which contribute to childhood allergies, respiratory infections and possibly to leukemia. In homes where two or more people develop leukemia, a mold called Stachybotris grows, producing a group of immune-suppressive, cancer-promoting toxins called tricothecenes. To prevent mold growth, investigate and correct any sign of moisture accumulation in your home, including seasonal condensation in basement, attic or living space, and leaks from any source.

Do not carpet areas prone to dampness, like bathrooms and basements.

Remove any material that harbors fungal growth–rotten food, old wood, furnishings or building materials that have been damaged by water.

Surfaces where mold regularly grows, especially shower stalls and curtains and the damp areas beneath sinks, should be cleaned weekly with a non-toxic antiseptic solution such as hydrogen peroxide diluted with an equal part of water. Make sure your shower or bath doesn’t leak or that dripping faucet will lead to mold growth.

Maintain a relative humidity of less than fifty per cent in each room of your home, using a dehumidifier if necessary. Relative humidity can be measured with an inexpensive meter, available in hardware stores.

Clean air ducts, install clean filters, and have your air ducts cleaned at the end of summer.

Check for mold in carpets, closets, pillows, refrigerators, AC units, showers, under sinks, washing machines, garbage cans.

Invest in a high qualify air purifier that has a HEPA filter. Mold spores are also tiny – between 1 to 30 microns in size – so you’ll want to look for an air purifier that can capture particles of those sizes or smaller.

Adopt houseplants. Houseplants are not just for décor; they are great ways to boost the diversity of your home microbiome. Plants and soil come with their own bacteria and viruses, a vast majority of which are benign to humans. Your exposure to these microbes can help you further develop a health immune system. Here are some great air-purifying plants you can add to your home today:

Spider plant
Ficus/Weeping Fig
English ivy
Chinese evergreen
Peace lilies
Aloe vera

About Jill Carnahan, MD, ABFM, ABIHM, IFMCP

Dr. Jill Carnahan received her medical degree from Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine. She is double board-certified in Family Medicine and Integrative Holistic Medicine. Dr. Jill was part of the first 100+ health-care practitioners to be certified in Functional Medicine through the Institute of Functional Medicine. She founded Flatiron Functional Medicine in Boulder, Colorado. She recently opened a new medical clinic in Louisville, Colorado. Dr. Jill is a 15-year survivor of breast cancer and Crohn’s disease.


1. Dog, K. and Koji Uetsuka, Mechanisms of Mycotoxin-Induced Neurotoxicity through Oxidative Stress-Associated Pathways. Int J Mol Sci. 2011;12(8):5213-5237.

2. Bredesen, D.E. Metabolic profiling distinguishes three subtypes of Alzheimer’s disease. Aging (Albany NY). 2015 Aug;7(8):595-600.

3. Bredesen, D.E. Inhalational Alzheimer’s disease: an unrecognized-and treatable-epidemic. Aging (Albany NY). 2016 Feb;8(2):304-313.

4. Ruth, A., et al. Fungal Infection in Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 21 Jan 2014;41(1):301-311.

5. Lee, K.A., et al. Cytokine polymorphisms are associated with fatigue in adults living with HIV/AIDS. Brain Behav Immune. 2014 Aug 12;40:95-103.


Take Back Your Thyroid Health! Sign up and never miss a post - it's FREE

I appreciate every share! Thank you.

About Dana Trentini

Dana Trentini founded Hypothyroid Mom October 2012 in memory of the unborn baby she lost to hypothyroidism. This is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for consulting your physician regarding medical advice pertaining to your health. Hypothyroid Mom includes affiliate links including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.


  1. Dallas Mold Removal says

    If you’re worried you have mold in your house the best thing to do seek a professional mold removal.

  2. There is absolutely no scientific basis for the mold/leptin issue. It’s all manufactured by alternative doctors that jumped on the mold bandwagon to make a quick buck back in 2000 and beyond. Sadly, people ignore the real issue for their weight gain because they spend thousands of dollars trying to remidiate or taking unnecessary supplements – or they are subject to further health issues because blame everything on mold

    • Hi Joe, I”m sorry to hear this happened to you. I personally had a black mold problem in my home after Hurricane Sandy that made me very ill and I lost so much hair that I thought I would go bald. I’m feeling back to my old healthy self again in large part thanks to getting rid of mold not just in my environment but inside my body. Mold was very hard to get rid of for me but it has made a big difference. I hear you about band wagons and the selling of unnecessary supplements but I’m not so quick to dismiss the concept of mold because I’ve lived it. I don’t think it is the health villain for everyone but it may be for some especially those with major infestations. Regards, Hypothyroid Mom

  3. So, how do you get tested for toxic mold? The article does not discuss this.
    Western medicine doctors do not always follow through on extra tests. I have mold allergies but they never tested positive on allergy tests
    It took SRT/Accupressure testing to find out and I was desensitized.
    It took a Functional Medicine MD and I brainstorming to have the urination testing done for Toxic Mold and Chemical issues. Both lead to the toxic Penicillium and Lead poisoning.

    This article does not discuss what protocols a patient may have to take once they have been diagnosed either. In conclusion, I found this article to be missing elements and not thorough

  4. Good post… This is an interesting and informative idea. Thanks for sharing the details with us.

  5. Thank you, this is a fantastically timed article since being held up in an empty family’s home during Covid since March and though usually lean, I have crazy weight gain, inflammation, and my mood is altered from always even keel happy, to some lows now. Thank you for writing about what I suspected was at least part of the culprit. Could I take something medicinally to help with this crazy weight gain and hypothyroidism off the rails, or does getting out of a moldy house help tremendously? I so hope that will and We will be out of here for good in two weeks. Also, can extended fasting help me flush this systemic inflammation and weight gain? I am trying longer fasts of 24/42 hours though my hair seems to fall out a lot so I break the fasts. I know I’ve fired off many questions and appreciate whatever you may be able to answer. Thank you so much for writing this!

    A post menopause, hypothyroidmom fan of Many years,

    • Hi Amanda, I hope all worked well for you after moving from the mold. I’d be interested to know if your weight gain reversed? I’ve been living in a moldy house in the tropics for 4 years and I’ve gained so much weight amongst severe allergies. It’s been horrendous and has aged me and has changed me from easy going to crazy mood swings and even rage at times. I’m moving into our new home in September.. I would be so interested to hear how you’re going. Thank you so much.

    • Hi Amanda, I hope all worked well for you after moving from the mold. I’d be interested to know if your weight gain reversed? I’ve been living in a moldy house in the tropics for 4 years and I’ve gained so much weight amongst severe allergies. It’s been horrendous and has aged me and has changed me from easy going to crazy mood swings and even rage at times. I’m moving into our new home in September.. I would be so interested to hear how you’re going. Thank you so much.

  6. Any mold lawyers?
    When your at the mercy of a negligent landlord is there recourse?

  7. cindy ouellette says

    Research or people who have had success
    DX : hypothyroidism symptoms after my daughter was born.
    My free T3 2.4 is always at end of reference range : free t-4 : 1.52
    taking tirosnit now > 15 yrs , decreased does to half 50 Mcg’s with TSH 2.34
    Dexa scan 1/2020 : with bone mineral apparent density formula from Dr susan Ott used : Osteopenia spine : -1.85 , femoral neck : -1.25
    will request trying : cytomel .
    Endo MD who dx me did not think Armour was as good as cytomel .
    .Concerned regarding taking thyroid meds and decreasing bone density. I hope to improve my health focus on nutrition , gut heatlh , and decrease stress levels.
    has anyone been able to slowly ween off of thyroid meds .
    looking forward to hearing positive clinical outcomes of free T3 in median range as my TSH , aand free t4 and hopefully success strategies to ween off of thyroid meds.
    Thank you cindy

Speak Your Mind