If there's one thing I have learned--again and again--over the past few years, it's that I'm the proverbial canary in the coal mine in the presence of mold. Don't get me wrong--I'm no clean freak. I have been know to eat dirt on purpose and pay handsomely for quality fecal bacteria. Mold is just a different type of microorganism with a different kind of agenda.
If you follow Dave Asprey's podcast or blog, my suspicion of and animosity toward mold should not surprise you. Dave is self-proclaimed "biohacker" who is borderline fanatical about minimizing mold exposure. (He even produced a documentary on the topic.) As I grew aware of my sensitivity to mold-containing foods and to environmental mold, I started seeing Dave's anti-mold crusade less as a fringe obsession to sell coffee and more as an important mission to grow awareness of an insidious disease-causing agent. Pondering my health history--as a curious guy with UC is oft likely to do--I now suspect mold was a central factor in the onset of my colitis.
With the camper paperwork behind us, I knew what I had to do: start tearing out the old foam, carpet, and cabinets--and then keep tearing--until I smelled clean camper air. It sounded simple enough. After months of deconstruction (why must the carpets go under everything?!?), we had ourselves a cute, clean, and lean machine. I had a blast working on the project, rebuilding almost everything out of cedar boards, maple plywood, and 100% wool carpet.
Hitting the Road
After the renovation, we set out on I-90 with little agenda other than being back East for a wedding at the end of August. Over the course of 9,000 miles, we saw bunches of friends and family, touched 23 of the United States and a Canadian province, and visited seven national parks. We felt healthy the whole time and made lots of great memories. Aside from some malfunctioning air conditioning and the generally dog-unfriendly policies of our national parks, our five-week trip really could not have gone better. Our concerns about the camper's air quality were well behind us.
We returned home in late August, eager to get back to work and address some lingering issues around the house--for starters, painting those hideous garage doors.
...But, as I dug myself into some basic home-improvement projects, something very unexpected happened--I got really sick.
Over the past several years, my gut was usually predictable, with very few troublesome ulcerative colitis flare-ups. I had learned what to eat and what not to eat. I had learned how to mitigate the emotional stresses that affected my digestion. I had traveled to England for a fecal microbiota transplant. Yet, suddenly, no matter what I did, I was back in a very bad place. My gut was not digesting and--much worse than that--it was tearing itself apart from the inside. Changes like this don't just happen. After years of stable health, I knew SOMETHING was very wrong.
I considered any and all possible causes of my sudden return to sickness, but, after a week of theorizing, a Labor Day weekend getaway in our clean camper unambiguously implicated the primary suspect. Throughout the weekend, my symptoms let up significantly, telling me that my sickness was environmentally induced. After we returned home, as I stood in the kitchen washing up some dishes from the weekend, I got suddenly light-headed--and all I had done was breathe house air. Despite my enhanced sensitivity and awareness, it took a complete and total gut meltdown, repeated bouts of dizziness, and my inability to remember any of my computer passwords or my bank account number to realize...WE HAD MOLD.
If you do some research on the symptoms of mold exposure, you might be left feeling overwhelmed, since mold and its byproducts, mycotoxins, can purportedly cause anything from a runny nose to cancer.
While attempting to avoid paranoia, we couldn't help but reminisce about our health over the past several years (we have lived in our current house about four). Remember that cough that went away last January when we vacationed in the caribbean and came back when we returned home? What about Ethan's moderate colitis flare-up two summers ago that let up when we traveled to Europe? And how about the dog's persistent bald spots that he won't stop licking despite his grain-free, highly raw, animal-based diet? The problem was suddenly more than just a transient nuisance--it was an insidious and ongoing menace.
All told, we suspect the mammalian members of our household suffered many symptoms of mold exposure over the past few years, including lethargy, moodiness, coughs, food sensitivity, skin issues, common colds turned chronic ear infections, and unpredictable--and otherwise inexplicable--digestive issues. There are few cliches that irk me more than "everything happens for a reason." With one small inversion, ditching the fatalistic for the realistic, this nibble of knowledge suddenly makes sense: There's a reason everything happens.
Our mold problem was a huge kick in the pants to change the house we live in into the place we proudly call home. Gone are the carpets, paneling, ceilings, and walls that were making us sick. Gone are (many of the) boxes of junk we still had not unpacked four years after schlepping them off the U-Haul. Truth be told, once we identified the villain, the rest was simply action (including the action of calling in a good mold remediation company).
This Couldn't Happen to You
...But most fascinating, perhaps, is the fact that this couldn't happen to me. I already suspected mold as a causal agent of my ulcerative colitis. I follow a blogger and podcaster who has a huge ax to grind with mold and its toxic byproducts, mycotoxins. I avoid swallowing mold-containing foods like I avoid swallowing hand grenades. If anyone would notice mold-induced health problems at home, surely it's me.
So what can you do? My advice: don't be paranoid, but be informed. It's a big scary world out there--at least, according to the TV--and the last thing any of us needs is another danger over which to fret. The reality of mold is as follows:
Air + Moisture + Anything Organic (paper, wood, etc.) = Possible Mold Infestation
Mold is everywhere, and it has the potential to damage your health and your family's health every single day. The houses we build, with their fancy rooflines, hidden spaces, and running water are all susceptible. I hope you don't have a mold problem like we did but, if you do, please figure it out soon.
In Good Health,
I'm Ethan, a guy whose life used to be controlled by ulcerative colitis. As I systematically tested diets, treatments, and all types of health advice to heal my colon, I learned a lot about my own biology and also how to cook without compromise. I'm here to share the best (and sometimes worst) of that journey with you.