Mold Illness + Candida Overgrowth: My Story
I want to start this off with full transparency.. I’ve been putting off writing this blog post for months now. I kept telling myself ‘I can’t share my story until I am on the other side of this and I’ve fully overcome everything’. But your messages keep flooding my inbox asking what I’m doing to detox + heal myself naturally and I can’t deny that when I was in the depths of my health struggles, I wished I had a blog post like this to turn to for guidance and support.
If you’re reading this right now, chances are that you or someone close to you is currently dealing with mold exposure or candida overgrowth. And so my friend, this blog post is for you.
I must first disclose that I am a certified Holistic Health Coach with The Institute For Integrative Nutrition. I am not a medical doctor nor a naturopath (though I have worked closely with both for the past 6 months). I am also not giving health advice in this post. I am simply sharing my story and all that I have learned from battling these health conditions for the past 2 years of my life.
Ok, here we go.
The Background Story
From 2014 – 2016 I followed a primarily raw vegan diet, high in fresh fruits + vegetables. I’m not going to lie, when I first went raw, I felt an insanely positive shift in the way that I felt compared to the standard American diet I was consuming prior. My diet was pretty high in carbohydrates and I remember learning from people in the HCLF (High Carb, Low Fat) movement that the human body functions optimally on this diet because it runs on glucose. It made sense to me at the time and so I continued down that path for a couple of years, convinced that I was nourishing my body in the best way possible.
Flash forward to 2015 when I first moved to The Big Island of Hawaii. I landed on a fruit farm called Kanekiki where I lived in a small screened hut deep in the rainforest. I remember one of the first things I was told when I arrived was that I had to store my clothing and all personal belongings in an airtight plastic bin that was provided for me there. Everyone at the farm was encouraged to do this because mold was a massive problem in this damp, humid part of the island.
The first real sign of my sensitivity was shown to me when I was experiencing some congestion whilst living on the farm… Nothing too serious but it was definitely more than I had ever felt in my life up until that point. I infer the reason it wasn’t too, too bad was that the hut I slept in had constant airflow since it was screened in so there wasn’t the ability for the mold particles to be stagnant in the air as they would be if the room was enclosed.
After 3 months living in the hut, I moved into a utility van because it was a dream of mine to travel around the island and be completely location independent. When packing up my belongings, I remember being completely amazed by the fact that the few items that I did not store in the airtight container were legitimately covered in mold. This is something I never knew was possible until I was exposed to life in the jungle.
When I moved into the van, this is when I really started to notice my allergies take a turn for the worse. There were so many days that I was completely overtaken by sneeze attacks, itchy eyes, congestion, and brain fog. Though since I was living in the van, I did also spend so much time out and about, exploring the island. After a couple of weeks I started to notice that my allergies were related to being INside the van. I ended up staying in the van for 3 months. Saying goodbye to van life was initiated by my chronic allergies that were heavily impacting my day to day life.
After the van, I moved into an air conditioned apartment on the sunny, dry side of Big Island and my symptoms immediately improved. The van was still my only mode of transportation so I was still inside of it often and therefore did still experience ‘allergy attacks’ every now and then. A few months went by, I was feeling way better, but definitely not thriving. I decided to move back to the rainy side of the island because all of my friends lived over there. My congestion returned, and grew stronger. Keep in mind, I am still eating a diet very high in fruit at this time. The home I moved into was a fairly old home and very close to the ocean. During the 6 months that I lived in this space, I remember feeling like I was constantly sick with a cold or allergies but I had no idea what was causing it.
I started juicing a ton, trying to eat as “pure” as I possibly could to fight off the symptoms I was experiencing. But no amount of juicing or clean eating helped. I took prescription strength over the counter allergy medicine daily for 2 months straight (don’t recommend this) and it helped keep my allergies at a livable level until my body built up a tolerance and it no longer made an impact for me. I was also experiencing HIGH levels of emotional stress at this time (relationship probs) – which looking back on now I see how this was the perfect breeding ground for everything to flourish.
High amounts of sugar, High amounts of stress, + High amounts of environmental toxins (mold) are some of the top contributors to candida overgrowth in the body. And lucky me, I had all three.
After 6 months of living in this home I was reaching a point of extreme confusion and frustration with my health (or lack thereof). I thought I was doing everything right.. Eating clean, working out, plenty of water + sleep. But my health was deteriorating and I had no clue why. Was is pollen from Hawaii? Was it the vog in the air (volcanic smog)?
I flew to Connecticut to stay with my parents for a few weeks while I prepared to hike the Appalachian Trail. (Yes, if you couldn’t tell already, I genuinely enjoy adventures, new homes, + fresh starts). I thought for SURE when I left Hawaii my allergies MUST go away. But no, they remained. I started to feel hopeless. I struggled with chronic sinus congestion, headaches, and brain fog for the entire 3 months that I was hiking the trail. Thankfully my sinuses would clear out when my heart rate was up — so while I was hiking I felt fine. But as soon as I got to camp at the end of the day, the congestion would return full force and I could only breathe out of my mouth. This made eating, sleeping, and communicating with others extremely unpleasant and I started to feel more and more isolated over time.
When I returned to Hawaii after the trail, I moved into a brand new home overlooking the ocean (again, on the rainy side). My body was oddly not craving fruit like I imagined it would when I stopped eating tons of dehydrated hiker meals. Instead, I was intensely wanting TONS of greens and healthy fats. So as an advocate for intuition, I listened. My diet changed drastically. I began eating an abundance of greens both cooked and raw (lettuce, spinach, kale, collards, etc.) and my main calorie sources became avocados and cashews. Within one week of being off the trail and on this new way of eating, I felt the best I had in well over a year. So naturally, I continued to eat this way. I honestly felt incredible for a few months… until we approached the rainy season. This is when everything started to go downhill… fast.
With rainy season, comes mold. Living directly next to the ocean alone leads to an extreme amount of humidity.. But add relentless rain on top of that and you have the perfect environment for mold to grow. Hilo, Hawaii is the rainiest city in America (yup, even beats Seattle). It gets between 150 – 250 inches of rainfall each year, most of which is between December + March. The precipitation level inside my home was always 80-90% humidity.. And would get down to 70% with a dehumidifier. Mold became visible in the home in December of 2017 and this is when my symptoms began to multiply and intensify…
The Darkest Point
Over the next few months my health deteriorated and left me feeling completely hopeless. Most days, I fought through it, determined to keep my business running and keep shining light into the lives of others. Little did anyone know that I was struggling to take care of myself behind the scenes. I still didn’t know that mold was one of the main culprits, but I did know that it certainly wasn’t helping either. My boyfriend at the time started cleaning our entire 3 bedroom house on a daily basis in attempt to make the home environment a little better for my symptoms. He would wash the floors, counters, windows, doors, door frames, trim, and wash our bedding religiously too. But even with all of this cleaning, I was still deeply suffering.
My symptoms were no longer just chronic sinus congestion, headaches, and brain fog. But I was now also experiencing appetite loss, nausea, migraines, inability to articulate myself, and memory loss. I felt like I was losing my mind. I felt like a zombie unable to experience life. I felt like I lost my personality. I was too dazed and confused to take care of myself. I spent many days struggling to work behind a computer screen and it seemed like everything I accomplished took 10x longer than it used to when I was healthy. There were also many days that I couldn’t do anything at all. I would wake up in the morning feeling like I was legitimately dying. The pressure in my head and face was too painful to speak, go out in public, or even function in my own home. Towards the end of my time in this home, there were many days that I was bedridden. I would try to research in attempt to find out what was going wrong. But this process was not easy in the physical and mental state that I was in.. which just continued the cycle of suffering.
It wasn’t until I took a trip to visit a friend in Ohio that I realized what was going on. In the 5 days that I spent out of my Hawaii home my symptoms improved slightly and I received enough clarity to question if maybe it was my home environment that was contributing to my decline in health.
Within 10 minutes of walking back into my home my symptoms came back full force. It was now clear. I bought at-home mold tests (petri dishes) and collected the air in my home, let it sit for 5 days, and then sent it in to be tested at a lab. The results really put things into perspective for me. There were 3 toxic molds airborne in my home. Cladosporium, Geotrichum, and Penicillium. With the little insight that I currently had surrounding mold, I was determined to learn more + conquer this. But to my dismay, it was not as easy as I thought it would be.
Some of the things that I implemented immediately in attempt to remediate the mold:
- Ozone Machine (kills mold + mildew + purifies the air)
- Dehumidifier (pulls humidity out of the air, making it harder for mold to grow)
- Ozone Bath (skin detoxification + accelerates healing)
- Hyperbaric Chamber (stimulates blood flow, increases oxygen concentration in cells)
- Infrared Sauna (skin detoxification + stimulates circulation)
After a few weeks of implementing these techniques/practices I received little to no relief with my symptoms. This led me to wonder what else was involved. If I was doing all that I could to remedy my external environment, maybe I needed to also make some changes with my internal environment. What else could I change in my diet to assist my healing? I started to research about how diet + mold allergies are intertwined and to my surprise there were SO many resources online pointing me in the direction of ‘the mold diet’. I dug deeper + started to implement it.
The main things that I was eating that were not a part of the mold diet were nuts (because unless stored properly, nuts often become moldy before we consume them, in my case, this was furthering my symptoms by feeding the fungus within my digestive system). I removed nuts from my diet and experience a little bit of relief but not too much… I knew that if I really wanted to get better I needed to make some bigger decisions.
- I had to move out.
- I had to seek professional help.
To me, moving out didn’t mean just finding another home in Hilo, Hawaii… because literally all of my friends' homes had mold in them too – everywhere on the rainy side did. I wasn’t about to take a chance in another Hawaii home. I potentially could have moved back to the sunny side of Big I. but there were currently high levels of vog from the volcano that just started erupting again. I knew that if I really wanted to give myself a good shot at healing I needed to move somewhere with extremely clean and dry air. Within a matter of days I found an apartment to move to and booked my flights to Colorado. I couldn’t believe my time in Hawaii was coming to an end… but I didn’t see any other option.
Around the same time I moved I also started working with a Naturopath, Jaqi. She works side by side with a medical doctor and is very science based in her approach. From the first call I had with her I felt supported and reinspired in a new way to gain my health and vitality back. We started with a full panel of blood work + blood analysis under a microscope — which both provide deeper insight into what was going on than my symptoms alone could provide.
Basically, my health was a mess.
My candida levels were through the roof. Hormones were out of balance.
And I was either low or “low normal” with pretty much everything else…
There was a lot of work to be done.
I started following a nutrition and supplement protocol specific to my blood test results and began feeling better within a matter of DAYS. I was hooked, and eager to stick to the protocol and watch my health improve before my eyes. After around one month my congestion was almost entirely gone. I could breathe through my nose for the first time in years! My appetite was coming back, and cognitive function too. I still didn’t feel entirely back to my pre-mold illness self but I was definitely making progress, and it was happening fast. After 3 months of sticking to my mold free diet and taking my supplements routinely, I felt unstoppable. I received another full panel of blood work and was literally head over heels excited to know that my candida levels had gone from HIGH infection to no infection, and almost all other levels had improved as well. I was ecstatic to have proof that I was successfully healing.
Little did I know how sensitive my body still was to mold. I thought for sure if my blood work showed how much I improved, I would be fine to return to Hawaii for a short trip. I was so, so wrong.
I flew to Maui for 4 days and stayed on the sunny side while I was there. I felt entirely fine and was honestly just blissed out to be back on the islands. Then, I flew to Big I. where I stayed back in Hilo with some friends for 5 days. It wasn’t more than 10 minutes after walking into my friends home that I had an insane headache, unbearable congestion, debilitating face pressure and good ole’ brain fog. My heart broke. How could this be? My health had improved so much! Why were my symptoms SO intense? I immediately texted my naturopath for advice. She advised me to alternate through a few supplements that help pull out toxins. I did this right away and it relieved my symptoms within 30 minutes. Thank. God. But after a couple of days went by everything crept back in. I was a mess. And so disheartened.
On the flight from Hawaii back to Colorado I realized that I had to simply surrender. Feeling upset about what felt like a relapse was not going to help me get better. It was only keeping me stuck in negative emotions. Which we all know does nothing for healing — if anything, it just makes it more difficult.
I gave myself permission to feel sad for a little bit. But I knew I had to make peace with the fact that I’m not fully better yet. I had to remind myself that it’s ok I haven’t achieved optimal health. I had to comfort myself and lean towards positive emotions instead. So naturally, I shifted my focus to gratitude. I tried to think about alllll of the things that were going well for me. I felt so thankful that I made the decision to leave Hawaii when I did. I felt thankful that my blood work had improved. And I felt thankful that I had support along the way from Jaqi. No, I’m not where I want to be health wise — but I’m not where I used to be either.
One thing's for sure is that I’m not giving up.
I feel more determined now than ever to break out and try new things. I am here to grow, evolve, and achieve optimal health. I’m currently feeling so inspired to learn more about the brain.. Neuroplasticity, neurotransmitters, mitochondrial stimulation, cognitive enhancements, and biohacking my health.
Every day I try to remind myself that my current struggles will one day be my greatest gifts.
I hope this story has helped you in some way or another. Whether it taught you something new, helped you understand your personal or friend’s diagnosis better, or by simply reminding you that you are not alone.
If you have any questions pertaining to my story please leave a comment down below and I will do my best to respond to as many as I can.
If you have a health condition that you are seeking support + guidance with, you can contact my naturopath here.
Sending you infinite love,