If you ask someone how would you define a healthy lifestyle? Diet, exercise, sleep, and hydration- these 4 factors will definitely come up. But there are some other forgotten factors you would need to consider. To live a healthy life and keep chronic health symptoms at bay, we have to take a look into our home environment.
You can drink all the water in the world and eat picture-perfect meals, but if you’re breathing in particle-packed air and living in a toxic indoor environment, your body isn’t going to experience the wellness you’re striving for. To nurture our bodies, we need to expand our health-conscious awareness and educate ourselves.
Home Environment and Chronic Health Symptoms:
Bringing Homes Into the Wellness Conversation
The average individual breathes in 20,000 breaths per day. That’s a lot of breaths! And they’re all taken subconsciously, which is one of the many marvels of the human body. While we may not notice how much we’re breathing, an important factor to consider is where these breaths are taken and if those places are filled with healthy air. According to the EPA, “Americans, on average, spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors,” meaning that a majority of those inhalations are taken within an indoor environment.
Yet, the state of these spaces is oftentimes the very last thing we think of when discussing our health and wellness.
Our homes are supposed to be our safe spaces away from the world, but they could be an enemy to our bodies. The EPA further goes on to say, “The concentrations of some pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than typical outdoor concentrations.” That means that all of the time you spend at home hanging out with the family, cooking meals, binge-watching your favorite TV show, or having a game night could be flooding your body with unwanted harmful exposures.
What’s Actually in Your Home?
There is a multitude of things that could be in your home causing problems. We’re probably all familiar with contaminants such as asbestos, ozone, and radon, but what about other little-discussed indoor contaminants triggered by water damage? Contaminants like mold. Chances are that this fungus is not high on your home health radar thanks to the general lack of spotlight given to it in modern society, but it is becoming an increasingly common issue within homes.
Unfortunately, the lack of discussion regarding mold has led to quite a lot of misconceptions and misinformation. Mold growth triggered by water damage is a problem for many reasons. Yes, it is true that mold is everywhere, but that doesn’t mean that indoor mold growth isn’t a problem.
As mold grows, it releases microscopic spores into the surrounding area. Some species of mold also produce microscopic toxins called mycotoxins. These are harmful to the human body, which is why they’re regulated in our food. An extra layer of contamination that is often found near indoor mold growth is bacteria, as it can thrive in similar conditions caused by water damage. The longer this contamination exists within a home, the more and more particles will be released into that indoor environment.
Considering that these particles are small enough to enter the body through inhalation, absorption, and ingestion, it’s pretty easy to see how this exposure can cause health problems. The more time you spend in this toxic space, the more spores, mycotoxins, and bacteria are entering your body with every breath you take and any surface you touch.
And thanks to modern building practices pushing for net-zero energy efficiency, there’s very little airflow between indoor and outdoor environments. That means that if a colony develops indoors, a majority of the particles released remain inside the building. This level of exposure is vastly different than encountering a few particles throughout the day, and that’s not even considering all of the other harmful pollutants that can be in a home as well.
How Does Mold Exposure Affect the Body?
It’s impossible not to encounter a few mold spores, mycotoxins, bacteria, and other common microscopic particles throughout the day. When this occurs, the body will tag them as foreign invaders and deploy the immune system to get rid of them. Exposure to high levels of contaminants indoors over time, however, can lead to the immune system malfunctioning and/or getting overwhelmed, leading to chronic health conditions.
One of the main issues with understanding the impact exposure has on health is the lack of research dedicated to this topic. The truth is that no two individuals respond to exposure the same way due to a variety of factors.
- Genetics: Some individuals are predisposed to be more sensitive to mold exposure. A few studies have started linking those with the HLA-DR as more prone to developing reactions to exposure to mold because their body’s immune system does not respond properly to toxins such as mycotoxins.
- Immune system status: Those with a compromised or developing immune system struggle to keep up with how many particles enter the body. Oftentimes, they’ll experience symptoms faster and to a greater extent.
- Presence of mycotoxins: A growing body of research points to the long list of symptoms these toxins can cause. Not all species of mold produce these particles, though, so their presence alongside mold growth varies.
- The length of exposure: More particles will enter the body the longer a person is in that environment. This can eventually lead to an overloaded immune system, adverse health reactions, and toxic buildup.
- The volume of exposure: Similar to the length of exposure, if there’s a significant amount of colonized mold within a home, that means more spores and potentially more toxins and bacteria. This can lead to toxic buildup and adverse health reactions.
What Are 6 Chronic Symptoms Caused by Indoor Contamination?
With so much variability, there’s no established checklist for adverse reactions to indoor contamination. That being said, some common symptoms often pop up in those suffering but keep in mind that the mechanism behind the symptoms developing may also vary depending on the unique situation. Any individual considering whether a toxic environment may be an issue should pay close attention to see whether any of these are occurring.
The top 6 symptoms related to indoor contamination include:
- Headaches: Inflammation in the gut can lead to chronic inflammation in the brain, causing increased pain and pressure in the head. Some individuals experience chronic migraines as well.
- Allergy symptoms and persistent colds: Allergy-like symptoms and reoccurring colds are two of the top symptoms related to exposure. This can happen when the immune system is overly-sensitive to these particles and treats them as an allergen.
- Chronic fatigue and decreased physical mobility: This reaction can occur for a variety of reasons. Respiratory distress caused by exposure can limit the amount of oxygen in the body, leading to fatigue. Exposure can affect the body’s mitochondria, resulting in lower energy levels. Mycotoxins can cause hemoglobin dysfunction, hindering its ability to operate properly. The list goes on.
- Hives, eczema, skin rashes: Studies suggest that an increase in our fungal/bacterial load can drastically alter our skin and gut biome, leading to skin problems or related autoimmune conditions such as candida.
- Brain fog and cognitive difficulty: Once again, these environments can trigger inflammation in areas like the brain, leading to neurodegenerative disorders and impaired cognitive function such as brain fog, slurred speech, and acute aphasia. Research is also starting to assess the relationship between exposure and disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
- Hormone disruption and infertility: Again, exposure can trigger hormone disruption through many routes. Mycotoxins have been linked to endocrine disruption, leading to a long list of health issues. Constant use of antibiotics to treat issues such as sinus infections caused by exposure can lead to hormone disruptions. Exposure can affect the hypothalamus, the part of your brain in charge of releasing the most hormones.
Becoming Your Own Health Advocate
These symptoms are the most common, but again, no two people react the same way to exposure. One person may have a random list of reactions as the body tries to warn them that something is wrong in their environment; another may check off each of the six symptoms listed above, and a third may have no reaction at all. It’s Russian roulette.
The easiest first step towards considering whether or not toxic environments may be at fault is assessing chronic symptoms that seemingly do not go together and have no root cause. As mold illness is oftentimes not considered a possible culprit for chronic symptoms, it will often go overlooked when looking for a potential diagnosis. Until our indoor environments are brought into the wellness conversation, it’s up to us to advocate for our own health and make sure this issue is brought to the table.
Keep in mind that individuals suffering from exposure-related symptoms will not find relief until that exposure stops, so it’s important to always consider this as a potential culprit. Once you know that a toxic environment is the root cause of your problems, you can begin to take steps to resolve this issue and begin healing your body.
No one should have to suffer from chronic illness because they’re living in an indoor environment that’s waging war on their bodies.
Suggested read: How to Create a Wellness Routine with Your Chronic Illness
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