Do you suffer from illnesses with multiple symptoms, such as diarrhea and constipation, chronic fatigue, skin problems, joint pain and muscle stiffness, shortness of breath, light sensitivity, mood swings, or blurred vision?
Have you sought medical attention only to be told by your doctor that it is all in your head?
Do family and friends brush you off and think you’re just starving for attention?
If you fit the above, despair not, my friend, because the rainbow at the end of this storm shows that this is not all in your head. And there is hope because you may be suffering from a condition known as Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS).
To most, CIRS is a complicated jumble of medical terms, but let’s break it down into something we can all understand.
What is CIRS?
In simple terms, CIRS is like an overzealous security system in your body. It’s an immune dysfunction disorder, meaning your body’s defense mechanism is in overdrive. Imagine your immune system mistaking harmless substances as dangerous intruders and reacting excessively. This can happen when you’re exposed to certain toxins, like mold spores or toxins from tick and spider bites. These toxins or biotoxins attach to the immune system to trigger an inflammatory response and induce hormonal changes. In response, the immune system produces excess cytokines (small proteins crucial in controlling the growth and activity of other immune system cells and blood cells). The excess cytokine production can lead to the immune system attacking
its tissues, causing inflammation and other associated symptoms.
The Culprit: Biotoxins
Before we continue, let’s discuss precisely what biotoxin is: Biotoxin is a harmful, poisonous substance produced by a living organism that can travel from cell to cell without entering the bloodstream. We are exposed to biotoxins daily. Imagine walking through a cloud of invisible, tiny particles that could make you sick. That’s what biotoxins are like. These harmful substances, produced by living organisms, can move around your body stealthily. Normally, our bodies can handle them, but for about a quarter of us—including myself—these biotoxins are troublemakers. You see, our genetic makeup, particularly our HLA type, plays a role in how we react to these biotoxins.
HLA Type: The Genetic Key
Think of HLA, or Human Leukocyte Antigen, as your body’s ID card that helps your immune system recognize its own cells. Your immune system uses these markers to identify which cells belong in your body and which do not.
Some of you may now be wondering what exactly leukocytes and antigens are. Leukocytes are simple white blood cells and are part of the immune system, participating in the humoral innate immune response defense system. They circulate in the blood and mount inflammatory and cellular responses to injury or pathogens. Antigens are a toxin or other foreign substance that induces an immune response in the body, particularly the production of antibodies. If you have a specific HLA type, your body might struggle to deal with these biotoxins, leading to CIRS.
When an individual with one of the susceptible HLA types is exposed to large amounts of biotoxins from either mold, Lyme, Babesia, or Candida, it can cause the immune system to malfunction. The immune dysfunction that is triggered results in seemingly unrelated symptoms that are often misdiagnosed as conditions such as Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Anxiety, Leaky Gut, POTS, and even Chronic Lyme Disease. The reason behind the broad range of symptoms is because the immune dysfunction can manifest in the following ways:
- Increased autoimmune processes result in conditions such as lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, and Interstitial Cystitis. These autoimmune processes, often triggered by microbes in the body, are common and nonpathogenic.
- Allergies to food and environmental triggers
- Excessive cytokine production leads to multiple issues, including loss of appetite, fatigue, sleep disturbance, and hormone receptor resistance, affecting nearly every hormone system in the body.
- Immune suppression leads to persistent infections or frequent acute infections.
It is my personal belief that a diet rich in foods with high oxalates led to me being more susceptible to CIRS, but that is a discussion for a later time. In addition, I believe that exposure to toxins can cause symptoms regardless of your HLA type. This is because our bodies are not equipped to handle high levels of toxins over time. In other words, inhaling and absorbing toxins faster than the body can eliminate them is possible.
Symptoms and Misdiagnoses
CIRS can feel like a health puzzle with many pieces. It can show up as fatigue, body aches, brain fog, or something as specific as a metallic taste in the mouth. Because it’s so varied, it’s often mistaken for other conditions like Fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome. This misdiagnosis can lead to a lot of frustration and unanswered questions for those suffering.
The Discovery of CIRS
The chronic inflammatory response syndrome was initially discovered by Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker, a family physician in Poco, Maryland. Dr. Shoemaker first published a study concerning this syndrome in 1988, according to publishing from Restorative Medicine, and has since published over 20 papers validating the physiology of this syndrome.
It’s important to note that CIRS is not a disease within itself. Instead, the symptoms are categorized into 13 unique clusters. If a person has at least 8 of these symptoms, they could almost certainly have CIRS.
The 13 Clusters of CIRS
- Fatigue: CIRS can result in persistent and chronic fatigue. Chronic fatigue coupled with other symptoms could be an indicator of CIRS.
- Body aches, weakness, headaches, light sensitivity, and brain fog.
- Joint pain, morning stiffness, and cramps.
- Disorientation, tearing of the eyes, and a metallic taste in the mouth.
- Congested sinuses and shortness of breath. According to an article published by Medicine.Net, the nose and sinuses are the primary spots that produce mycotoxins that could interfere with breathing.
- Impaired memory and decreased word-finding (trouble thinking of and using words).
- Skin sensitivity and tingling (one of the most common symptoms), including rashes and pins-and-needle tingling.
- Ice-pick pain, red eyes, blurred vision, sweat, and mood swings.
- Difficulty concentrating: When inflammation reaches the brain, difficulty concentrating is one of the most common symptoms.
- Vertigo and static shock resulting from a weak immune system.
- Excessive thirst, cough, and confusion.
- Difficulty regulating body temperature, increased urinary frequency, and appetite swings.
- Abdominal pain, diarrhea, numbness, and leaky gut: Abdominal pain is one of the most common inflammatory symptoms of CIRS.
Although CIRS within itself is not a disease, it can result in many different diseases. For example, If enough inflammation develops around the myelin sheath, it can lead to Multiple Sclerosis; inflammation in the brain’s basal ganglia area can result in Parkinson’s’.
How Do You Get Exposed to Biotoxins?
CIRS isn’t picky about how it enters your life. The following are the most common routes biotoxins take to wreak havoc on your body:
- Water-damaged buildings can create conditions conducive to the growth of fungi, bacteria, and actinomycetes (a diverse group of gram-positive bacteria). Exposure to these organisms can occur through inhalation or skin contact, potentially affecting our health.
- Ticks or spider bites – can also release biotoxins that lead to CIRS. Ticks carry various infections, such as Lyme disease and Babesiosis.
- Fish poisoning — Ciguatera is the most common fish poisoning, often found in barracuda, grouper, and snapper.
- Contaminated water– direct contact with water contaminated with neurotoxins can lead to CIRS.
How do I know if I have CIRS Due to Biotoxins?
Diagnosing CIRS isn’t straightforward. There isn’t a simple blood test for it. Doctors often have to piece together the puzzle by examining the damage to various organs and considering your symptoms. If you believe that you have CIRS, getting proper treatment is essential. So, if you are suffering from any illness and believe mold exposure may be the leading cause, removing yourself from the exposure is of the utmost importance; for some people, that may mean moving, getting a new job, or removing the mold from your living or workspace. I will list some resources below for testing and treatment of mold.
CIRS might be complex, but understanding it is the first step in addressing it. If you suspect you’re dealing with CIRS, it’s crucial to seek proper treatment and, importantly, avoid further exposure to the triggering toxins. Remember, your health journey is unique, and you’re not alone. Stay informed, stay proactive, and most importantly, take care of yourself.
Diagnosis and Awareness
The purpose of this article is to bring awareness. However, I am not the subject matter expert in CIRS, Mold, or Lyme disease, but if you feel that the symptoms you’re experiencing fit what I’ve shared in this article, I have provided some valuable references below for further research. CIRS might be complex, but understanding it is the first step in addressing it. If you suspect you’re dealing with CIRS, it’s crucial to seek proper treatment and, importantly, avoid further exposure to the triggering toxins.
I know from personal experience that having a chronic illness can be frustrating, exhausting, and a financial burden. Nevertheless, don’t let anyone tell you that what you are experiencing is all in your head. Remember that you know your lifestyle and yourself best. So, take charge of your health by researching and seeking information to understand your condition better. As always, take care of yourselves, and happy healing.
Harlan Bieley, MD, MS
Links for Lyme Disease
Hydration Essentials: Why Water is Key to Health & Wellness
Mineral Deficiencies: The Root Cause of Human Diseases
Body Invaders: The Reality and Dangers of Human Parasites
Battling Lymphatic System Disorders