Mould: A Common Cause Of Gut Problems

Mould: A Common Cause Of Gut Problems

The most common effects of mycotoxins on the GI tract include inflammatory and necrotic changes, disturbances in secretory activity and metabolism of the enterocytes, damage to the intestinal barrier and dysfunction in intestinal absorption (source)

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Mould: A Common Cause Of Gut Problems

Firstly it is important to point out that there is a bidirectional relationship between the gut microbiome and mycotoxins. For example it has been discussed in the research how the gut microbiome is capable of eliminating mycotoxins naturally, provided that the host (i.e you) is healthy with a balanced (diverse) gut microbiome.

However, the gastrointestinal tract and the gut microbiome, are the first to come into contact with mycotoxins present in food, and so are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of these toxins (source).

Let’s dive in to how mould and mycotoxin exposure cause gut problems such as IBS.

What Mycotoxins Effect the Gut And Enteric Nervous System?

  • Deoxynivalenol (DON)
  • T2 toxin, similar to DON, belongs to the trichothecene family.
  • Zearalenon.
  • Patulin.
  • Fumonisins.

The multidirectional adverse effects of mycotoxins on the GI tract cause that exposure to these substances may result in various disturbances of the GI activity in humans. However, the common prevalence of mycotoxins in the human environment and food indicates that participation of these chemicals in the development of intestinal diseases in humans may be an important public health problem all over the world.

What Are The Signs, Symptoms And Effects Of Mycotoxins on The Gut?

  • DON: Abdominal pain, increased salivation, diarrhoea, vomiting, anorexia, decrease in body weight gain.
  • T2: Gastrointestinal bleeding, diarrhoea, vomiting, decreased feed consumption and weight gain
  • Zearalenon: Gastrointestinal symptoms are not typical for ZEN toxicity. Decrease in feed intake and body weight, changes in intestinal microbiome.
  • Patulin: Anorexia, salivation, distended abdomen, loss of body weight, bleeding from the digestive tract and diarrhoea.
  • Fumonsins: reduction of feed, consumption, and body weight, abdominal pain, diarrhoea

The impact of mycotoxins on the intestinal barrier functions, intestinal immunity, secretory activity and gut microflora, as well as their genotoxic/mutagenic and carcinogenic effects are mainly known from experimental studies. Such studies do not always fully reflect the conditions of natural exposure to mycotoxins. The first problem is the dose of mycotoxins, which is very difficult to determine in the human diet.

The second, more important, problem is the fact that food may contain several or even a dozen mycotoxins at the same time. These mycotoxins may chemically interact with each other, which leads to changes in their toxic properties and bio-availability. In this case, synergistic interactions between mycotoxins is particularly dangerous. For example, previous studies have shown that mixtures of ZEN and DON or DON, T2 and ZEN show higher toxicity than these individual mycotoxins. Moreover, it is known that human food may also contain other active substances and contaminations, such as bacterial products, pesticides, phytotoxins, chemical contaminations and preservatives, which not only affect mycotoxin activity but may contribute to various disorders in the GI tract.

How Do Mycotoxins Effect The Gut?

DON: In the GI tract, toxicity with DON results in a wide range of changes, such as inflammation, changes in the intestinal villi, a decrease in the number of goblet cells in the small intestine, intensification of apoptosis and degeneration of lymphatic  cells in the gut.

Mould Can Change The Microbiome

Mycotoxins have been demonstrated to be able to modulate the composition of the gut microbiome. This is often termed dysbiosis. Not only do we see a reduction in commensal organisms (bacteria that we all have that are meant to be there, but we also see an increase in gut pathogens.

Most, if not all, of the reported effects of mycotoxins, are negative in terms of intestinal health, where beneficial bacteria are eliminated accompanied by an increase of the gut pathogen.

It’s also quite common to see changes to the mycobiome – the yeasts that reside in the gut.

When analysing results from clients the most common findings when it comes to the microbiome are:

  • Poor diversity.
  • Low levels of commensals such as bifidobacteria and lactobacillus.
  • Candida overgrowth.
  • Poor mucosal immunity demonstrated by low secretory IgA.

Mould And Leaky Gut

It has been demonstrated in numerous studies that mycotoxins cause leaky gut (source) (source) via different mechanisms including: cell proliferation, tight junction medicated mechanisms and microvilli disruption.

It’s fascinating that many of the cells that make up the gut lining are replenished every 3-5 days. However, certain mycotoxins, including aflatoxin and ochratoxin A have been shown to significantly inhibit cell growth, causing cell cycle arrest (source).

Ochratoxin A doesn’t just influence cell proliferation however. It also OTA has resulted in microvilli disruption and tight junction protein disruption – all contributing to intestinal permeability.

Mould And Mycotoxin Exposure May Cause Constipation Or Diarrhoea

One of the lesser-known aspects of the impact of mycotoxins on the gastrointestinal tract is the influence of these substances on gastrointestinal innervation (source).

T-2 toxin has been shown in studies to increase the number of nerve fibres containing VIP located in the muscular and mucosal layers of the stomach and small intestine. VIP has a potent inhibitory effect in the enteric nervous system and causes the relaxation of the gastrointestinal muscles and sphincters.

Mould And Mycotoxin Exposure Cause Low Stomach Acid

VIP also inhibits stomach acid secretion.

Mould And Mycotoxins Cause SIBO

While I haven’t found any published evidence on this I have seen this countless times in clinic. The above example of how T-2 can suppress stomach acid production via VIP already demonstrates how mould and mycotoxin exposure cause gut problems. Adequate levels of stomach acid is essential to prevent SIBO.

In fact, the way I ended up specialising in mould illness is because client after client was coming to see me having tried every diet, every supplement, and every other therapy (such as time restrictive feeding and vagus nerve exercises) and just getting no where with their SIBO.

I was essentially forced to look outside the box and it was because of this that I found a strong connection between mould and chronic SIBO. Once clients had detoxed the mycotoxins their SIBO naturally went away – this males perfect sense when we consider SIBO is a secondary condition to something else. Unless you can restore function to the thing that caused SIBO in the first place, you’re always going to relapse.

Mould And Mycotoxin Exposure Increase Risk Of Infection

Trichothecenes (a type of mycotoxin) have been linked with a decreased level of IL-8 (an inflammatory immune molecule) in the intestine, which is responsible for pathogen removal. So mould can increase our susceptible to a gut infection by suppressing immunity in the gut. This leaves us at greater risk of post-infectious IBS.

Overall, mycotoxins exert negative impacts on GI tracts specifically on the gut absorption, integrity, and immunity.

Mould And Weight Loss

Mould and mycotoxins can alter the normal intestinal functions such as nutrient absorption contributing to weight loss, and gut problems such as IBS.

Probiotics And Mould

Probiotics, which may generally help restore the natural harmony of the gut microbiome, coupled with their mycotoxin reducing ability, could increase its health-promoting value. Options include:

  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus
  • Lactobacillus plantarum
  • Lactobacillus casei
  • Saccharomyces boulardii

If you’re trying to reduce your total mycotoxin load and detox, I encourage you to supplement with a multi-species probiotic containing these strains. Spore based probiotics have been found to be particularly helpful here.

Testing For Mycotoxins UK

There are two labs that offer mycotoxin urine testing: Mosaic Diagnostics and Real Time Labs.

Treatment Considerations

Interview with Dr. Jill Crista

Final Thoughts

It’s important to highlight that the impact of mycotoxins on the gut lining, gut immunity, secretory activity and the gut microbiome, as well as their carcinogenic effects are mainly known from experimental studies.

We already know from these sorts of studies that they do not always accurately reflect the conditions of ‘natural exposure to mycotoxins’ (i.e real life!).

This can partly be explained via the dose of mycotoxins, which is very difficult to determine in the human diet.

The second, and arguably more important problem, is that food can contain several mycotoxins at the same time. These may interact with each other, which may increase their toxicity  and also their bio-availability.

However, a comparison of the changes occurring in the gut during human gastrointestinal diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and changes in the gut caused by mycotoxins has shown that the changes, in both cases, are similar (source).

This suggests a correlation between mycotoxin exposure and the risk of human gastrointestinal diseases, as well as mycotoxins contributing to the development of various gastrointestinal diseases, including IBD, coeliac disease and colorectal cancer.

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