Updated: Oct 20
... or both?
In the journey of a woman's life, menopause is a significant milestone. It marks the end of a woman's reproductive years and brings with it a host of changes. However, what if some of these symptoms commonly associated with menopause are not solely the result of hormonal fluctuations but are intertwined with another invisible culprit – mold-related illness?
Turns out there is an intricate connection between menopause and mold-related illness, and it starts with a commonly known molecule, Histamine. There's no doubt that you've heard of histamine and it's role in allergies and various other immune responses. What perhaps you may not know its that this powerful inflammation signaling chemical plays a central role in understanding the connection between menopause and mold-related illness. Mold has the power to trigger histamine release within the body, and the complex dance between estrogen and histamine adds another layer of intricacy.
Estrogen and Histamine: A Complex Dance
Estrogen, the primary female sex hormone, interacts closely with histamine levels. Estrogen tends to increase histamine release, which can lead to higher histamine levels during specific phases of the menstrual cycle. This elevation can result in symptoms associated with histamine intolerance or sensitivity. During perimenopause, when menstrual cycles become irregular, estrogen levels can wildly fluctuate, potentially causing abrupt and unexpected increases in histamine levels.
Estrogen receptors are found in various tissues, including those containing histamine receptors. Estrogen has the power to impact the creation and activity of receptors responsive to the histamine signal, this in turn can alter the receptor's sensitivity and general response to histamine. Specifically, estrogen can increase H1 receptor creation, which can boost the pro-inflammatory signal release when histamine lock into these receptors. This process is essential for nervous system excitation, which is involved in arousal and is needed for a healthy libido. Although this dance between estrogen and histamine receptors is needed for normal processes, it can also lead to an increase in symptoms related to histamine release (ex. mast cell activation symptoms), and may even lead to issues such as histamine intolerance.
Histamine breakdown relies on various enzymes, perhaps the most well known is the the enzyme diamine oxidase (DAO). Interestingly, estrogen reduces the important activity of the DAO enzyme, which can lead to histamine metabolism issues. Some individuals may have DAO gene variant (SNPs) that can make histamine reactions worse. Again, during perimenopause, estrogen levels can wildly fluctuate. In such instances, the activity of DAO may be reduced (aka. less break down of histamine), leading to, you guessed it, more histamine. Symptoms of elevated histamine can manifest as itching and flushing. Sounds a bit like a hot flash, no?
Symptoms associated with histamine intolerance and estrogen dominance are strikingly similar, which adds to the confusion. These shared symptoms include headaches, migraines, allergies, skin issues, mood swings, and menstrual irregularities. Distinguishing between the two conditions based on symptoms alone can be challenging. Added difficulty lies in trying to determine the source of the histamine reaction (ie. MCAS, general allergen, food intolerances), while navigating these confusing overlapping symptoms.
One of my favorite tools for quelling a histamine flare is the Histamine Balance essential oil blend from Blue Vibrant Oils.
Immune System Changes: The Menopausal and Mold Connection
Understanding how the immune system functions in menopause and its interaction with mold-related immune changes is crucial in unravelling this complex web of symptoms.
Mold and mycotoxin exposure can exacerbate menopause symptoms by triggering inflammation in the body. This increase in inflammation can worsen menopausal symptoms, leading to a spike in hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and joint pain.
In fact, research has shown that mold exposure can lead to an increase in overall inflammation, affecting the quality of life for women going through menopause.
As women move into menopause, there is a decrease in sex hormones which can cause an imbalance in immune system health. Several functions of the immune system are impacted by estrogen, and as a result, menopause is associated with higher chronic levels of inflammation- including spikes in inflammation signals such as TNFα and IL-6. Additionally, when estrogen decreases there is a related drop in the count and function of important immune system cells- such as CD4 T cells, B cells and Natural Killed cells. A drop in the count or function of these cells means a reduced ability to respond to infections and other antigens. These immune changes can leave menopausal women more susceptible to infections and other health issues.
Research has shown that prolonged exposure to mold and mycotoxins can negatively impact the immune system. This can manifest as an increase in inflammation as seen with spikes of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-6 and IL-17, a decrease of the beneficial anti-inflammatory chemical signals. Plus, mold and mycotoxin exposure can result in decreased white blood cells across the board, and more specifically the T regulatory cells and macrophages. Plus these environmental exposures can result in an increase in autoimmune risk by their stimulation of TH1 and TH17 responses. Plus, we see a decreased ability of our macrophages- the clean up crew of our immune system- to do their important work of phagocytosis. Unfortunately, as you can see, menopausal women living in mold exposure run the risk of having to navigate a double whammy of immune system suppression.
As outlined above, mold related illness and menopause symptoms can overlap- as they both share symptoms of histamine reactions and immune system suppression. This, in turn, results in menopause looking a lot like mold related illness, as they both can involve fatigue, hot flashes and flushing, night sweats, mood swings, joint pain, brain fog, cognitive impairment, memory issues and even sleep difficulties.
Lesser known overlapping symptoms relate to the urinary system. Urinary complaints like interstitial cystitis and UTI's are common during menopause, and are correlated to inflamed tissues arising from a drop in estrogen. However, mold exposure can also lead to urinary issues, making it challenging to differentiate between the two.
Mold and mycotoxin exposure can result in abnormal fluid balance resulting in sensation of dehydration, even in the face of drinking constantly (this is often connected to low blood pressure and feeling lightheaded on standing). This poor regulation of fluid balance can result in an increase in urination. Moreover, mycotoxins detoxed by the body and excreted in the urine, can result in local irritation to the bladder. Pair these two together- an increase urination and local irritation, and it's easy to assume that you may be dealing with menopause related interstitial cystitis and even UTI. Understanding the nuances of urinary issues and their potential connection to mold-related illness is essential to successfully addressing the true cause.
Telling Them Apart: Signs to Look For
There are a few hints to look for when trying to differentiate between menopause and mold-related illness:
Unsuccessful Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): If symptoms persist despite hormone replacement therapy, mold-related illness may be a factor.
Positive Environmental Testing: Evidence of environmental exposure in your living and working spaces can help identify potential mold exposure sources. (If you need help finding someone to test your home check out this video)
Urinary Mycotoxin Testing: Mold exposure can sometimes be detected through urine tests, revealing mycotoxin presence.
Blood Testing: Specialized blood tests- which look for immune system reactivity (antibodies) to molds and mycotoxins, or that look for the actual fungal molecules (antigens) in the blood stream can help identify immune responses to mold exposure.
The Take Home:
Menopause is a big deal in a woman's life, and this transition can become even more complex when intertwined with mold-related illness. It may be useful to consider hidden mold exposure when menopause symptoms aren't improving with individually tailored hormone therapy. When experiencing symptoms related to mold exposure or mycotoxin illness, it is essential to seek guidance from a mold illness specialist. Vitality doesn't have to stop with menopause and by addressing mold-related concerns one can restore balance and improve overall quality of life.
Life After Mold.