Did you know:
Your strange array of symptoms that got you a less-than-helpful diagnosis like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, IBS, multiple chemical sensitivities, etc. may actually all be caused by toxic mold.
All too often, those who are dealing with a toxic mold illness get labeled with a diagnosis that only describes their symptoms. A diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome isn’t helpful. It just describes your symptoms — fatigue for a long duration. Researchers and clinicians still aren’t sure what causes fatigue. The chronic fatigue diagnosis is based solely on symptoms — there is no blood test for CFS. And there’s little to no effective medical treatment after being diagnosed.
Do you really think an antidepressant is going to resolve your fatigue for good?
But mold illness and Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome do have clear pathways. There is a clear etiology (understanding of how the disease develops/progresses) on toxic mold. There are accurate blood tests that can be run. The markers on these blood tests are commonly out of range in CIRS/mold illness. And, perhaps most importantly, there’s an effective treatment protocol that results in a resolution of symptoms.
I’ll show you all of that — and more — in today’s post!
How does mold cause fatigue?
First, you need to know that there is a world of difference between a mold allergy and a condition known as Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS). Chronic fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of CIRS. There’s not the same connection between a mold allergy and chronic fatigue. Thus, the remainder of this post will focus on the connection between CIRS and chronic fatigue.
When your mitochondria struggle to produce enough ATP, you feel tired. There is a myriad of ways that your mitochondria can become negatively affected. From your genes to virus and bacteria, to gut infections, and even your hormone levels. And another — often underlooked — way to negatively affect your mitochondrial performance is through a condition known as CIRS.
Approximately 25% of the population possess the genes to develop CIRS. These genes are known as the HLA DQR genes. If these individuals get exposed to mold, there’s a high likelihood that their body will be unable to rid itself of the mold. Ever. This results in a chronic immune activation and a manifestation of seemingly unrelated symptoms.
The most common symptom of toxic mold is that of fatigue. In the context of Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS), fatigue develops because of the mold’s effect on something known as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). VEGF is a signal protein that is primarily used to form new blood vessels. (1)
When you were just a tiny embryo, VEGF is what helped your body create that entire network of blood vessels used to send blood through your anatomy.
In conditions like cancer, VEGF levels can rise to incredibly high levels. In these instances, VEGF works against your body as it can help tumors grow by building additional blood vessels that improve the circulation of blood surrounding the tumor. Not something you want happening in conditions like cancer!
VEGF’s effect on your fatigue
Molds and their biotoxins bind to surface receptors of cells within your body. Your immune system recognizes these biotoxins as intruders and sounds the alarm bells. Inflammatory cells and messages are relayed throughout your body. This initial activation of your immune system tends to cause symptoms like:
- Muscle aches
- Unstable temperature
- Difficulty concentrating
As your immune system activates more and more cytokines — small proteins that stimulate your immune system — they end up attracting white blood cells to the area. With too many white blood cells, there’s not enough room for red blood cells. This leads to a condition known as peripheral hypoprofusion. Hypoprofusion is reduced blood flow and oxygen to a particular tissue(s).
One of your body’s initial responses to toxic mold is to increase VEGF levels. Remember, VEGF helps improve circulation by building blood vessels. In acute mold illness, you’ll likely see elevated VEGF levels. But in Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS) or toxic mold illness, you start to see the opposite occur — a lowering of VEGF levels. Remember, VEGF is part of the system that restores the oxygen supply to tissues. (2)
What do you think happens when your muscle tissue is unable to receive enough oxygen?
You guessed it, muscular fatigue, aches, and/or cramping. Sometimes, it can be so intense that you struggle to remain standing upright. This is known as orthostatic intolerance. And it’s part of the new diagnostic criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome.
If circulation is decreased to your brain, you’re going to experience brain fog, cognitive impairment, headaches, and challenges regulating your body temperature. Lowered levels of VEGF could be the cause of both your muscular and cognitive fatigue. Low VEGF could also be what’s causing your shortness of breath and a general feeling of malaise/fatigue.
Proper supply of oxygen to your tissues is that important! And VEGF is the key to increasing your fatigue levels!
A blood test to diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome?
Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of chronic fatigue syndrome is that it is a symptom-based diagnosis of exclusion. (3) What I mean by that is if all your blood work comes back in normal ranges, yet you’re still incredibly fatigued, the diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome is usually handed out. Yes, there’s been mild improvements to the diagnostic criteria but it still remains a diagnosis of exclusion.
These symptom-based diagnoses are not always accurate. And all too often you may receive the label of CFS when there’s actually something else causing your fatigue. Once you have the chronic fatigue diagnosis, further investigation into why you’re so tired seems to stop. Perhaps an antidepressant if offered. But not much else.
Wouldn’t it be incredible if there was a blood test that could objectively measure whether or not you have chronic fatigue syndrome?
This is the future of VEGF labs (in my opinion). We still need a lot more research to link a causal connection between VEGF levels and chronic fatigue syndrome. But at the time of this writing, there are already preliminary studies showing a strong connection between VEGF and fatigue.
One study of 105 women on a leave of absence from work due to chronic stress exhaustion (note: these women were not diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome) were found to have significantly higher levels of VEGF in their blood compared to healthy controls. (4) And a twelve and twenty-four-month follow-up with these same women found their VEGF levels decreased to levels well below that of healthy controls. (5)
Now let’s keep in mind that this study did not take mold illness into account. These women may have been completely mold-free. What is worth noting though is how strongly VEGF levels were correlated with fatigue levels.
Another study examined VEGF in those with diagnosed chronic fatigue syndrome and/or myalgic encephalomyelitis. This study again found CFS was strongly correlated with elevated levels of inflammatory cytokines. Giving us more clues that CFS may really be an inflammatory condition. But what I think was most interesting about this study was how it found lowered VEGF levels to be so accurate in predicting chronic fatigue syndrome that it could potentially be used as a diagnostic marker. (6)
Perhaps most remarkable about VEGF (and two other inflammatory markers known as IL-7 and IL-16) was that these remained within normal ranges in patients who had either chronic infections or autoimmune liver diseases — two conditions where persistent fatigue is the most common symptom. (7) That makes VEGF, IL-7 and IL-16 possible blood markers that are unique to chronic fatigue syndrome. Granted these markers need to be tested on many more sub-groups of the population to ensure there’s not any other illness that results in low levels of VEGF, IL-7 and IL-16.
Are you convinced that researchers may have actually found a blood test for chronic fatigue syndrome?
If not, consider another study that measured VEGF in those with Gulf War Illness. Gulf War Syndrome/Illness is thought to be a subset of chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis. Common symptoms of Gulf War Illness include:
- Muscle pain
- Cognitive challenges
Sounds a lot like chronic fatigue syndrome, doesn’t it?
It is thought that Gulf War Syndrome is caused by infectious agents like pesticides and or chemical weapon exposure. (8)
Perhaps toxic mold is also playing a role here too?
Much like chronic fatigue syndrome, Gulf War Syndrome is fraught with controversies and a general lack of clarity on the diagnostic criteria. In both illnesses, the diagnosis comes about because there’s not an objective laboratory test. It’s a diagnosis of exclusion.
But a recent study also found those with Gulf War Syndrome to have decreased levels of VEGF, IL-7, and IL-16. (9) This preliminary research suggests that there may very well be future lab tests that can objectively determine whether or not you have CFS.
Mold, inflammation, and fatigue oh my!
Let’s be clear, the diagnostic criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome are weak (at best). The diagnosis is based on symptoms. And it’s often handed out when doctors don’t know what’s causing your fatigue. Toxic mold or Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome, on the other hand, has very clear, objective diagnostic markers. (10, 11) CIRS presents a framework that explains how your illness develops and an evidence-based treatment hierarchy that’s been clinically shown to improve your symptoms.
Correcting low VEGF is just one of the many steps involved in treating Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome. But often it’s the part of the treatment that brings about the greatest improvement in energy levels. And now you know why — VEGF is essential to supply your tissues with oxygenated blood. If that doesn’t happen, you’re going to feel fatigued.
How do you increase VEGF?
For a deep dive into the best supplements for chronic fatigue, click here. Below, I’ll offer my thoughts on three ways to improve VEGF specifically. Improving VEGF levels may very well be exactly what you need in order to improve your fatigue!
But please note, treating VEGF needs to be done in a very specific order. In this post, I go through the correct order of how to treat toxic mold and CIRS. Before treating VEGF, you need to get rid of the toxic mold!
The only way to create a long-term resolution in your VEGF levels (and therefore fatigue levels) is to identify the root cause. Often, lowered VEGF is caused by toxic mold and/or Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome. Should mold be the root cause of your fatigue, you’re going to need to find a mold-literate practitioner to help guide you back to health. Properly remediating CIRS and/or toxic mold is a complicated, multi-step program. Please ensure your practitioner is well versed in mold illnesses.
Before you start doing all you can to increase your VEGF levels, please make sure you are screened for cancer. VEGF increases the number of blood vessels and therefore the amount of blood flow to an area. (12) While this is great in conditions like chronic fatigue, it can have a costly effect if you have cancer.
Cancer needs a healthy supply of blood to thrive. As a tumor grows, its cells require more and more oxygen. Which is brought about through blood flow. If your blood test shows elevated levels of VEGF, it could be indicative of cancer. So, before amping up your VEGF, please ensure you’ve been properly screened for cancer.
Three potential mechanisms for increasing your VEGF levels:
- Angelica (Dang-Gui)
I’ll explain the best way to implement each of the three mechanisms below!
If you’re at all familiar with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), you may be already familiar with baicalin. Baicalin is also known as Huang Qin. Baicalin is the major component found in Scutellaria baicalensis root. It is a common ingredient in TCM herbal preparations used to treat strokes. (13) Though recent research has suggested that baicalin may also have a profoundly positive effect on VEGF levels. Which means its the perfect herb to improve your fatigue.
One study found that Baicalin stimulated VEGF expression in many different types of cells. (14) Now, this study was done by isolating different types of cells and observing the effects after injecting baicalin into them. While VEGF levels were increased, that’s not a guarantee you or I will experience a similar benefit. I propose a long-term trial using baicalin on those with chronic fatigue syndrome. VEGF levels can be drawn at specific times throughout the trial to compare results. This would give greater evidence to whether or not baicalin is an effective means to treat chronic fatigue syndrome through an increase in VEGF levels.
At the time of this writing, research is scant on determining the ideal dose of baicalin in the context of chronic fatigue syndrome. Baicalin does have a long history of safe use (more than 1000 years) and has been studied for the last 30 years. (15) One study found that low doses of baicalin improved the proliferation of blood vessels (likely increasing VEGF levels). But the same study found that high doses of baicalin had an inhibitory effect on blood vessel proliferation. (16) Again, this study was done on cells so determining the ideal dose for you remains unknown.
Chinese herbal medicine suggests that your dose should be between 15 and 60 grams per day. (17) I recommend running VEGF levels before and after supplementation to determine exactly what your dose should be. Given the dose-dependent effect of baicalin, my recommendation would be to take a lower dose of the herb — especially if you’re wanting to improve your chronic fatigue symptoms.
Dang-Gui is one of the most common herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. (18) In China, Dang-Gui is often combined with a second herb known as chuanxiong to assist patients with ischemic heart disease. (19) In ischemic heart disease, there is a narrowing of the arteries. This results in a reduced amount of both blood and oxygen — two resources your heart needs a lot of!
Dang-Gui and chuanxiong have been shown to improve blood flow and oxygen supply to the heart. Thus, improving the symptoms of ischemic heart disease. And the way in which they do this is by stimulating an increase in VEGF levels.
Dang-Gui combined with chuanxiong created an increase in VEGF levels in rats who had recently experienced a heart attack. (20) Dang-Gui on its own also increased VEGF levels in rats. (21) Whereas chuanxiong on its own lowered VEGF levels. (22)
These studies were done on rats. So, we can’t make strong conclusions on how Dang-Gui (and/or chuanxiong) may improve chronic fatigue symptoms. Though this preliminary study certainly shows that these herbs may have a place in treating CFS via improved VEGF levels.
When you exercise, you create a state of oxygen deprivation in your muscles. The more intensely and/or frequently you exercise, the more adapted your muscles become to functioning under the strain of decreased oxygen. (23) The way your muscles adapt to the stress of exercise is thought to be (at least in part) through increasing VEGF levels. Higher levels of VEGF would improve blood flow to the muscles allowing them to train harder or longer before fatigue sets in. Exercise has been shown to be a stellar means in which to increase VEGF levels. (24, 25) The increasing of VEGF occurs whether you’re a well-conditioned athlete or a sedentary senior. (26)
Exercising becomes a frustrating endeavor for anyone with chronic fatigue syndrome. One of the hallmark symptoms of CFS is something called post-exertional malaise. Post-exertional malaise is when you feel even more exhausted after any form of exertion. In severe cases of chronic fatigue syndrome, patients cannot even stand upright. Even remaining upright can worsen their fatigue.
Please avoid graded exercise plans (GET). Graded exercise therapy has consistently been shown to worsen chronic fatigue symptoms. Instead, focus on the smallest amount of movement you can do without aggravating your symptoms. This may be as simple as clapping your hands or snapping your fingers. Consistency is key. Do whatever movement you can comfortably do every day. Even this seemingly insignificant amount of movement will improve your VEGF levels. Stay consistent. It will help improve your fatigue.
Ok, now you know a potential means through which chronic fatigue syndrome is a symptom of toxic mold illness. VEGF could be the key to finally improving your energy levels!
Now, I want to hear from you!
How has mold affected your energy levels?
Leave your answers in the comments section below!
Originally published at Fatigue to Flourish.