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Protecting Your Brain…From Mold

Now that Easter is past, you may have noticed that traffic is easing up a little. I walk to work every morning, but I can tell just by watching the intersection at Airport-Pulling Road and Pine Ridge Road that the snowbirds have flown back to their homes in the north. If that’s you, I’ll look forward to seeing you next fall.

Living in Southwest Florida obviously has a ton of great advantages — lots of sunshine and mild winters leap to mind — but it also has some drawbacks, like the fact that it is an ideal environment for mold, especially as we head into the rainy season.

A Good Home For Mold

I know, mold can turn up anywhere you have warm, humid, closed spaces, but with our local climate being consistently warm and humid (we live in the swamp, technically), mold is more prevalent here.

If you are heading north and you haven’t left yet, I want to suggest a couple of ideas for protecting your Naples home from mold while you’re away. We’ll get to that in a little bit.

It’s not just in our bathrooms or under our kitchen sinks; it also grows in the air conditioning ducts, attics, and garages. If you leave your house unattended for several weeks with the air conditioner off, you may come home and find it on your interior walls. Mold loves drywall, fiberboard, paper, carpet, and other surfaces with a high cellulose content.

There are many varieties of mold that grow here in Southwest Florida, but I want to deal specifically this week with black mold, which is sometimes called “toxic mold.” The important thing to remember about mold is that it is made up of microscopic spores, so it may be reproducing and spreading around your home before it becomes visible to the naked eye.

Do You Have Mold?

How can you tell if you have mold growing in your home?

The obvious sign of mold is if you smell a stale odor of mildew. You might also see dark stains on your walls or ceiling. If you don’t mind spending a few bucks, it might be worth it to have your house inspected for mold. There are a bunch of companies in the area that specialize in that.

While few people have a clinically-diagnosed allergy to mold, everyone suffers on some level when it is present. One way to tell if mold is present is if you find you have symptoms in one area (like at home), but the symptoms diminish when you’re out and about. If you have symptoms like these and they only seem to show up when you’re in a specific place, let it be a red flag to have that area checked for mold:

  • Headaches
  • Eye irritation
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Throat and lung irritation

Our more sensitive friends may experience symptoms like:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Depression
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bleeding from the nose
  • Coughing up blood
  • Memory loss and confusion

I’ve talked to many people over the years who were suffering with depression and fatigue for the first time in their lives and couldn’t figure out why. It may have been that they were breathing in mold spores and didn’t even know it.

The Brain Connection

Last fall, I made the determination that 2019 was going to be the year we deal with brain health issues like dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other neurological impairments. It didn’t take long for mold to show up on my radar.

One of the most hopeful things I’ve seen in my research is that, while dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease are tragic, debilitating, and even life-threatening, there are things you can do to protect your brain. One of those things is to reduce your exposure to mold spores.

Next week, my friend and colleague, Dr. Pamela Hughes, is going to be here for our May Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinner, and she is going to be diving deep on this topic, so I don’t want to steal her thunder. I hope you’ll join us.

For now, I want to encourage you that, if you are experiencing consistent memory loss or confusion at home, and it’s not normal for you, this might be something you want to look into. It would be easy to start worrying that you are succumbing to dementia, but let’s rule out environment causes first. You might find that you feel better in several ways at the same time. 

Cleaning Up the Environment

We talk about cleaning up the earth and our outdoor environments. Well, for the sake of our health let’s talk about some things you can do in your home to fight the growth of mold and purify your air.

The first thing most people do is buy an air purifier, and that’s a good idea. Just make sure you are consistently changing or cleaning the filters, but I think there are some other things we can do first that may have more lasting impact.

Look For Water Leaks

Take a look around your house, especially under your sinks and cabinets, for water leaks. If you don’t deal with leaky pipes, nothing else you do will matter much.

  • Do you have damp spots on your walls?

  • Do your baseboards or crown moulding feel damp or are they crumbling or bubbly? Most wall trim is made of low-density fiberboard, which disintegrates over time if it gets wet.
  • Do you have discoloration on the ceiling, especially around air ducts or near exterior walls? It’s time to get your roof, soffits, and facia looked at.
  • Check your window sills for moisture or discoloration. If you frequently have condensation inside your windows, you have moisture getting in.
  • If you have laminate floors or carpet, feel for damp spots, swelling, or bulging. There may be water underneath, especially if you have a wood-frame second story.
  • Check around the washer and dryer, especially the hoses. If a water hose is just a little bit loose, water can leak out and get into your drywall.
  • Get the damp spots treated or repaired by a professional.
  • You might have to have drywall or flooring removed.

Get Your Air Conditioner Inspected

Air conditioning ducts can be a comfortable place for mold spores to colonize and spread. A trained professional will know where to look and what actions to take safely.

Treat Moldy Areas With Tea Tree Oil, Not Bleach

Bleach is powerful antiseptic and antifungal, but it comes with its own side effects and can irritate your lungs, eyes, and nose for days afterward, especially if you have children or someone with asthma in your home. It will also burn your skin if you don’t dilute it carefully.

I have also seen where people will follow up with a spray bottle of baking soda and water mixture and scrub away the mold stains. Rinse the area and do a second round with the baking soda spray, then let it sit. Other do-it-yourselfers like to spray undiluted vinegar or diluted hydrogen peroxide directly on the moldy area. It smells bad, but it works.

A better-smelling option that is just as effective is to combine two or three teaspoons of tea tree oil (an natural antifungal) with two cups of water in a spray bottle. Then let it sit and do its work. I think you will like the smell much better. Frankincense, pine oil, and oregano oil are also great for this purpose.

Get Rid of Moldy Items

This might sound obvious, but I’m also referring to moldy carpet, rugs, or furniture. Even your drapes can soak up moisture and mold if they get wet. In some cases, I’ve seen people rip out cabinets, drywall, even whole walls.

It might be a good excuse to redecorate, if you were looking for one. You’re welcome.

Dump the Air Fresheners

I want to say more about this in another article, but the chemicals in air fresheners are just as bad as the smells they are trying to mask. Even the ones that say they contain essential oils usually contain toxic phthalates and parabens.

It’s like anything where you mask symptoms instead of dealing with the root cause (like most modern medicines): you never really fix the problem, you just hide the symptoms. The smell of mold is your red flag that you need to take action and eliminate the problem from the root.

Ventilate

I know that, as we move through summer, this will seem like a less-desirable option, but from time to time, I encourage you to open the windows and let fresh air blow through the house. If you’ve been following me for awhile, you know that I far prefer to the health benefits of fresh air and outdoor living to the canned existence we deal with in modern America. The more that moldy, chemical-filled air circulates around the house, the works it gets. Give your home (and your body) some fresh air consistently.

Let The Sun Shine In

As much as possible, get direct sunlight in your home. Open the curtains and raise the blinds. Sunlight has some powerful antifungal properties.

If you own your home and want to increase your sun exposure, I encourage you to install more or larger windows on the south-facing side of your house or skylights into rooms that normally don’t get much sunlight. Have you ever noticed that mold and mildew tend to grow on north-facing exterior walls more than others? It is because they sit in the shade almost all the time.

Going Out of Town?

I realize that some places don’t allow you to leave the air conditioner or dehumidifier running all summer. Even if you do own your own home here, there may be extended power outages like we head a couple of summers ago. There are some inexpensive home-brewed options for purifying the air in your home while you’re out of town:

  • Wrap a piece of charcoal in a paper towel and leave it in your refrigerator and freezer, especially if you plan on unplugging the power for the summer. Charcoal is an excellent air purifier.
  • Open boxes of baking soda or Damp-Rid (calcium chloride) and leave one in each room of your home.

Worth The Effort

Treating your home for mold is dirty work and can be unpleasant, but it is totally worth it. Mold is a major health hazard, whether you have a known sensitivity to it or not. If you have children or seniors in your home, or people who are already concerned about memory loss, you must deal with it for their sakes.

I did a series last year on ways to naturally detoxify your living and working spaces. If you are interested in learning more about this, I would encourage you to do some reading there. And by all means, if you live in the Naples area, be sure to join us next Thursday, May 9 at 6:15 p.m. for our next Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinner, where my guest, Dr. Pamela Hughes, will talk more about this. It could be the answer you’ve ben looking for to a persistent health problem. The RSVP link will be on my Facebook page later this week.

Also, chances are that you know someone who is looking for information to deal with issues in their home that are tied to mold. Take a few seconds to share this article on your favorite social media channel. Thank you for being a part of getting the word out about wellness.

“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas

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