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#07 – The Locations Effect, Mold Avoidance, Curing Chronic Fatigue and the Healing Power of Nature with Erik Johnson

What if physical location was the single greatest factor in determining your state of health? Many of the debates in the health world center around food choice. One food food is said to be inflammatory, another healing. However, location is almost never discussed. Our guest for episode #7 says that the “inhaled factor” far outweighed the “edible factor” in his road to healing from chronic fatigue syndrome. Erik Johnson is the co-author of a Beginner’s Guide to Mold Avoidance and the founder of a movement known as the Locations Effect, a system for using pristine natural environments to help calm down the immune system so the body can heal from chronic illness. In this episode, we talk to Erik about the mold avoidance protocols he used to transition from debilitating chronic fatigue to climbing Mt. Whitney in the span of just 6 months.

Listen on Google Play Music


This Episode Covers:

  • The “Tahoe Flu,” Chronic Fatigue and CDC Involvement [7:00];
  • The darkest days of Erik’s illness [12:00];
  • Mold avoidance vs. traditional allergy [15:42];
  • Discovering mold avoidance and the locations effect [18:00];
  • Unmasking: why people choose mold avoidance [24:00];
  • Why some people get sick when moving to Austin [29:00];
  • Which molds Erik avoids and why plus how he chooses locations [30:34];
  • Nanoparticles and World Health Organization funded labs [35:30];
  • Mold and mental illness [38:45];
  • Erik on limbic system retraining [42:25];
  • Reprograming the immune response and the benefit of altitude[45:26];
  • Inhaled factor vs. edible factor [50:00];
  • Erik on the Locations Effect maps [56:20];
  • The Unrest Documentary and lab tests to run [58:30];
  • The myth of indoor vs. outdoor mold [1:05]


What a fun and powerful interview. Although many in the medical community remain skeptical, the core of Erik’s theories are not all that controversial. The basic idea is that the immune system reacts to the ambient air. You needn’t look any further than your local allergists office to prove this theory. Further, the scientific community is recognizing that air pollution is particularly damaging to health which is why you see tools like this one from the LA Times that help people in Southern California determine just how close they are to the nearest interstate. Against that backdrop, Erik’s take is that the combination of Stachybotrys chartarum (both indoor and outdoor) is combining with an increase in air pollution (nanoparticles) and that the two together are creating particularly virulent toxic substances that are making people very ill. Just as some of us cannot stand the faintest hint of a peanut product, Erik’s position is that certain among us are hyper sensitive to the combination of mold toxins and air pollution. The presence of these toxins can drift. Nanoparticle pollution is carried into an area, feeds existing molds and makes them more powerful, which creates plumes that carry the mycotoxin. Before these plumes dissipate, the nanoparticles become a delivery mechanism for the mold, which then stays in the body causing a chronic response from the immune system. This is well established with indoor mold, but Erik believes it is an issue for ambient mold as well. The idea with mold avoidance is that the body gets an opportunity to heal when it is removed from environments that trigger an inflammatory response from the immune system. Erik used his protocols to heal his body and move from a state of chronic illness to climbing mountains. His theories should be studied and taken seriously.

Studies and Further Reading:

Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker’s website: Surviving Mold

Back From the Edge – a book by Dr. Lisa Petrison about Erik’s like.

Paradigm Change website.

A Beginner’s Guide to Mold Avoidance by Erik and Dr. Petrison.

Another account of mold avoidance as a healing protocol.

The Unrest Documentary

In the comments section to episode #2 with Dr. Neil Nathan, Dr. Keith Berndtson, co-founder of the International Society for Environmentally Acquired Illness, offered these studies (both performed in animals) in support of Erik’s theories.



To quote Dr. Berndtson:

My main concern has to do with research on mice and primates showing that Satratoxin G toxins, produced by Stachybotrys chartarum, not only damage the epithelial cells that line the mucous membranes in the nasal and sinus spaces, they can also damage and kill olfactory sensory neurons.


John: Welcome to the “GeneFood Podcast”. I’m your host, John O’Connor. Hey, everyone. Today, we have Erik Johnson as our guest. Erik is the co-author of two books, one called “Back From The Edge”, which details his life story recovering from chronic fatigue syndrome by essentially inventing a lifestyle called mold avoidance. He’s also the co-author of a book called “A Beginner’s Guide to Mold Avoidance”.

And Erik is somebody who we wanted to have on the podcast for a few reasons. One, he fits in very well with the message at Gene Food, which is that we’re trying to encourage people to find what works for them as individuals. We don’t wanna advocate for any one-size-fits-all position when it comes to food or lifestyle. The real mission here is to help people on a path to discovering how their own unique physiology works and then having the courage and intuition to follow that. And Erik fits in perfectly.

He developed severe chronic fatigue syndrome after living in a series of moldy buildings and after time in the military, where he was exposed to mold. And he devolved into an illness that can only be described as debilitating. And it was through his careful observation of how different locations affected his health that he developed this protocol called mold avoidance, which essentially, involves going out into pristine parts of the world, and giving the body time to get clear of locations that are particularly troublesome.

Now, for the people out there that are skeptical of Erik’s theories, he is one of the first in line to ask that they’d be better studied. And so I wanted to get him on the podcast, especially at the request of our audience, highlight his story, and just get into the details of why he avoids mold, why certain locations are healing for him, why others are not, and highlight what is a very interesting story for our audience. So without further ado, here’s Erik.

If you don’t mind, let’s just get started. This will be the start of the episode. We can chat about anything and everything that you wanna get into because the story is incredibly interesting and fascinating. I think the place to start is your early life in the military and the series of events that led up to you developing this chronic fatigue syndrome that you eventually were able to cure yourself of. What did that look like? I know in the book, it seems as though the first exposure was at this military base that you were working in in Germany, where different soldiers were getting sick, and nobody quite knew why.

Erik: Yeah. The book didn’t mention this but I actually had a prior exposure in 1964 at an old hotel that was insulated with newspapers. And we were cutting through a wall to install a walk-in refrigerator, so we could expand the restaurant. And the moment we cut through this wall, these moldy newspapers spilled out. And I had an instant and severe reaction. So, I was aware of my problems with mold from 1964 onwards.

In fact, part of my decision to join the military was hoping that I could toughen myself up a little bit, spent the healthy life outside, and maybe get over this strange problem, where mold was kind of affecting me no matter where I went. And unfortunately, I wound up being stationed in Germany in a bunker that was built to be a foreign command center for the invasion of France.

And when this basement armory flooded, the cardboard boxes down in storage all got incredibly moldy. And my entire unit became ill, and I became horribly ill. My unit actually became the first nuclear missile unit to be withdrawn from active duty, the active service roster, just for sheer rate of illness. And nobody could figure it out. My commanding officer called the Biological Warfare Investigations Division to come out and have a look. And they were completely mystified. They attached no importance to the black mold, just said we may as well clean it up that we continue investigating.

Unfortunately, for me, I was part of the details send down into the bowels of the armory to clean this up. And I was worried about the mold, and I asked my commanding officer or I asked my section chief if we could possibly wear our gas masks while we were doing this cleanup. And he thought that was a good idea. We were obviously having a problem down in that basement. And he went up to battalion headquarters, asked for permission, and they denied it saying these filters are for warfare and shouldn’t be wasted on anything as trifling as an allergy. So within several hours of working to clean up this black mold, carrying these cardboard boxes out, just dripping with this black gooey mold.

John: Wow. You could physically see even items that were stored in the basement that were dripping with presumably black mold?

Erik: Yeah. And I could feel that I was having a reaction to the boxes as I was carrying them out. In the meantime, the other members of this cleanup team are using gallons of bleach on the floor where the boxes were sitting, which as we now know, only makes it worse. The combination of bleach and toxic mold is a very bad combination. And I reacted extremely severely to this until finally my squad leader said, “Johnson, get out of here before we have to carry you out.”

John: Wow. With the hotel exposure, so you knew right away that that was mold-driven or…?

Erik: Yes.

John: Okay. You’ve always had this radar for, “I know this is mold. I don’t know that…maybe this could be formaldehyde or some kind of off-gassing of something.” You’ve always known just…did you know intuitively that it was mold that you were particularly sensitive to?

Erik: Well, just by sheer experience, I had enough encounters with it that there was no doubt.

John: Right. And then so you’re in the military, you have these exposures. It seems as though from the account in the book, “Back From The Edge” that you had almost a progressive decline into what became the most acute form of your illness where you were still functioning, you’re still able to exercise to a certain degree. At what point did this go from something that was periodic bouts of fatigue or symptoms when you’re directly exposed to mold and blossom full on into something that was debilitating?

Erik: Well, that was in August of 1985. I finally got out of the military because I was so afraid of being stationed in more moldy places and not being able to control my environment. I discussed this with my commanding officer and he fully agreed. I am certain that he was being affected himself, because he was completely sympathetic for my reasons for leaving the military. And in the years, despite my efforts to stay outside, lead an active healthy lifestyle, I kept running into these plumes.

And in the Bay Area, in the early 1980s, the San Francisco Bay Area, I kept running into more and more toxic houses, bad buildings, and even areas of sewer mains, as I was going through Berkeley and San Francisco that have an incredibly toxic effect on me. Lower and lower on the power curve until I got so desperate that I was really unable to continue working a full-job, moved back up to Lake Tahoe, where my family lived just in time for a terrible flu to move into the Tahoe Basin.

A couple of local doctors were alarmed by the effects this flu was having and called the CDC for help. And by chance, one of the doctors, in fact, the first doctor to call the CDC, Dr. Paul Cheney, happened to be the doctor that I was seeing for my mold exposure. So when the CDC came out and investigated this terrible flu, all the doctors and all the researchers were concentrating on the effects of the flu itself. And they failed to notice that the clusters of illness were concentrated in moldy buildings, two high schools and a casino. And they didn’t ask why the same flu spared people in other buildings and really concentrated on areas that had a reputation for being somewhat moldy.

John: So your thinking is that the exposure to the mold is what predisposed or almost softened the immune systems of these people so that when they were hit with this particularly virulent toxin in Lake Tahoe, they had this outsized reaction that others that did not previously have toxic mold exposure didn’t suffer from?

Erik: Yeah. If you examine the progression of the Tahoe mystery of this, anyone who is aware of the effects of toxic mold can see the connection, it’s so obvious. Not only did it happen in specific moldy buildings but in certain portions of those buildings. Like the basement of the casino and in the original chronic fatigue syndrome cohort, in the Truckee teachers’ lounge. It was literally 10 teachers, all in the same lounge, that had the chronic form of the disease, while pretty much everybody else in the entire rest of the school recovered from the flu normally.

John: Interesting. And how long did they stay ill?

Erik: They stayed awhile.

John: Wow.

Erik: So I proposed to Dr. Cheney, that this toxic mold had such a dramatic effect of changing a transient flu-like illness into a chronic devastating disease that that elevated the mold up to a level of critical co-factor.

John: And the chronic illness that the teachers suffer from and that you ultimately suffered from, does that illness fall under your definition of chronic fatigue syndrome or is it something of a different species?

Erik: Well, if you read the chronic fatigue syndrome definition, Dr. Gary Holmes described that one must not fall into the trap of thinking of CFS as the name of a bug or the name of a disease. It’s a research instrument. It’s a tool that is designed to recognize the outward appearance of an unknown phenomenon for purposes of identification and study. And if you think of chronic fatigue syndrome as a dataset, as the evidence that this syndrome was coined to solve, then very clearly, chronic fatigue syndrome is mold illness.

John: And, what I wanna do is talk about, we know that these teachers became terribly ill, there’s this mystery illness in Tahoe. You ended up suffering terribly from a version of the same illness based on your mold sensitivity and your mold exposure. And then in the span of six months, you end up climbing Mount Whitney, based on the protocols that we’re gonna get into that I’m completely fascinated by.

We had a previous guest on the podcast, Dr. Neil Nathan, who when I asked him about the locations effect seemed to say that he felt as though that these issues could be solved primarily with limbic system retraining. There’s some physicians that then added comments to that last podcast episode in defense of your protocols, as did a number of people. You have a lot of very passionate followers.

And I wanna get deep into the weeds on the protocols that you’ve discovered that work so well for yourself. But before we do, what did it look like when this reached its darkest place for you? Can you walk us through a day of this type of illness and try to explain to somebody that’s never experienced that just what that looks like?

Erik: Well, at my worst, I was unable to walk to the bathroom at all. I was on my hands and knees crawling. And in my particularly hard times, I wasn’t even able to elevate myself up to hands and knees position. I had to low crawl, literally dragging myself on my stomach, or I would pass out. I had all the symptoms concurrent with the description of chronic fatigue syndrome, the photophobia, the inability to tolerate sound. I lost my memory. I couldn’t think.

I was unable to retain any information at all and would fall asleep or into a semi-comatose situation in a manner reminiscent of narcolepsy, literally in the middle of a conversation, just drift away and completely lose consciousness. My motor control was such that I could not grasp the utensils or manipulated a cup to drink. And my family was taking care of me by literally having to spoon-feed me.

John: Wow. And then against this backdrop, there’s these people that are suffering from similar situations. And there’s a drug that comes on the market. In the book, this is discussed, Ampligen, which showed promise for some people but you didn’t fit the criteria. Why was that?

Erik: Well, actually, I fit the criteria perfectly. Dr. Peterson assured me that I was absolutely the perfect, his own words, the perfect case of classic chronic fatigue syndrome. And he wanted to enroll me in the Ampligen program based on my immunological parameters and poor oxygen uptake. But there was a bit of a problem in that I had already aggressively started pursuing the strategy of mold avoidance. And by the time it came around for me to actually get the drug, I was already recovered to the point of being ambulatory. That is to say, I could walk.

John: Right. That’s what it was. Okay.

Erik: And they really wanted to see those who were bedridden, those who could not really get out of bed and function normally. And just at that particular time, I was already starting to walk again. I can walk maybe a quarter mile without completely collapsing. And that was sufficient to move me from the fully funded hemispheric experimental study into the cost recovery program.

And at the time, I believe, it would have cost about $60,000 to re-convince Hemispherics for the Ampligen, and there was no way I could afford that. So I proposed to Dr. Peterson that since the primary irritant or trigger that had set this in motion was the toxic mold, that if I devised a strategy of extreme mold avoidance, treating it almost as if it were a peanut allergy, that perhaps I could reduce my constant reactivity by various exposure to this and calm down my immune system.

John: Right. But…

Erik: Dr. Peterson…

John: …one of the things, just you mentioned that word. Sorry, I want to just go off on a little tangent here. You mentioned the word allergy. I think it seems as though when you read your work…I’ve read both books, “Back From The Edge” and the “Mold Avoidance” book, and it seems as though you wanna be clear that this level of sensitivity to mold falls outside of the scope of allergy. You do not wanna characterize this as allergy. Is that correct?

Erik: That is correct. Though, it’s ironic that the classic use of the term allergy was to refer to any strangely uncontrollable immune response to a substance. And over time, as antibody programming was discovered, the concept of allergy became compressed into a program, adaptive reaction to antigens.

And it kind of weeded out and forgot that we can have reactions to chemicals as well. And that became known as anaphylaxis, although originally was part of the allergy paradigm. But now allergist have separated their profession into whatever they can give you shots for, and completely forgot about the multiple chemical sensitivities and the possibility that mold can produce mycotoxins that can elicit a powerful immune reaction.

John: Yeah. And I think that’s a great point. If you look at the traditional metabolic reaction to an allergen, you have mast cells that are de-granulating, that are releasing histamine. But mast cells will de-granulate in response to pollen or, you know, an IgE mediated allergen, as you pointed out, an antigen, but they will also de-granulate in response to toxic substances in the air.

But the research that I’ve done on histamine and mast cell disorders and some of these conditions, this whole hyperreactivity to ambient intruders or ambient immunogens, whatever you wanna call them, makes perfect sense to me. Like I think that’s a point that’s very well taken. We do know that the immune system reacts to what’s in the air, period, full stop.

So you’re armed with…you’re very sick but you’re armed with this sense of things that when you’re in the Bay Area, and you hit a bad pocket of area, you don’t feel well. You kind of start to realize that your location is driving, to a degree, this illness. And you’ve created this system called mold avoidance. Tell the audience what that looks like and how you use that system to basically restore your health.

Erik: Well, this really started my full awareness of locations effect and avoiding developing an avoidance strategy at Truckee High School when I was reacting to that very spot where the 10 teachers got sick at the teachers’ lounge. And we were aware that this area of the school affected us very badly, and if we stayed away from it, we could do a little bit better.

And I started trying to assess how far away from that lounge I would have to stay in order to evade the long-term effects from it. I went into the school by the east entrance. And if I was forced to use the front entrance at all, I would hold my breath and run through as quickly as I could. But even getting outside, sitting out on the front stairs wasn’t really out of the zone.

So I started moving further and further away to find out just exactly where that point was where I could feel good, not having lingering reaction. And in the book, “Osler’s Web” by Hillary Johnson, who describes this incident, it turns out that one of the teachers who sensed that the room was making himself ill went out and sat in his camper, and he was the only person of that Osler’s group to have a full recovery.

John: Do you attribute that to…? You alluded to it just a minute ago, this whole idea of…you call the power curve. So your idea here is that if you can get to a location where you’re free of an environment where your immune system is having this hyperreactivity, and you can spend some time there, the body will heal itself. It’s not clear to me the mechanism there to the extent we know, but your whole theory is that time spent in pristine locations or just removed from these really bad exposures is what the doctor ordered to recover from these illnesses. So we when you say this teacher was out of the building, would you classify that as sort of a power curve or…?

Erik: Absolutely. And he was obviously aware of it, because when he went on to sit in this camper, he didn’t just sit in this parking lot. As described in the book, he would drive a quarter mile to the west to Donner Lake and sit there, drinking coffee and grading papers and enjoying the fresh air. And Donner Lake absolutely upwind. So that was the closest direction to go to escape this toxic zone. Various locations in Incline Village were affecting me in a similar way, and I simply applied the same technique of trying to move around those areas and take a shower after I passed through, that I painfully learned at Truckee High School.

John: Right. And the protocol involves, so you have this example of the teacher, and he goes out to Donner Lake, he gets clear, he’s in a place where the air is good and he’s able to have his immune system calm down under the locations effect way of thinking. And with your protocol, because you were an extreme case and for aside, like I know in our email, back and forth, you mentioned that you just been on basically a mold avoidance sabbatical with some colleagues and friends kind of fine-tuning the theory.

You all take fairly extreme measures in that you need to get clear, not only of locations but also of possessions. Can you speak to that in terms of just…because you’ve developed a very meticulous protocol? So can you speak to some of the details that you’re implementing on this strategy?

Erik: Sure. Well, in the army, we were trained in biological warfare protocols by using tear gas, essentially, CS gas. And this tear gas, it’s a sensitizing agent. Once it gets on your clothes, you really have to wash your clothes or you will have a strong reaction the next day.

And we were warned that once you’ve been sensitized, it may appear that it wasn’t all that bad, it didn’t feel like it really affected your immune system. But as our trainers told us, “If you fail to wash all of the equipment that was exposed during the course of this exercise, we will know, and we will punish you, because your immune reaction will give it away.”

And sure enough, people thought they were tough, and they didn’t wanna have to pay to have their field jacket washed. So they just go ahead and hang it up in the locker, and the next day in formation, they would turn bright red and start screaming. And I realized that the mold was acting in the same way, that having once been exposed, if I didn’t get it off me, and I didn’t wash my clothes and my hair, that the next day I could have an even more powerful reaction. Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker refers to this as “sicker quicker, ” immune system is primed and it’s trying to move into more protective response by an even stronger reaction.

John: Right. And Dr. Shoemaker is recognized as one of the leaders in the field, if not the leader in the field of mold sickness and recovering from these illnesses. And he included you in his book, “Mold Warriors”, I believe, his 2007 book and described your story in detail. I think the thing that’s interesting about these mold doctors, and it seems like it’s a matter of policy, like public policy, they don’t want to acknowledge too readily that different locations can impact people in the way that they’ve impacted you, because they don’t wanna encourage people to start moving around.

I think it’s something where they fear that they’re going to encourage, you know, every one of their patients who’s gonna get up and move as the result of these mold avoidance protocols. What’s the dividing line for when you think mold avoidance is the right protocol and when you think it’s not the right protocol?

Erik: Well, when you fall low enough on the power curve that your possessions start to bother you, then you’ve got a terrible decision to make, how extreme do you wanna be in dealing with this problem. So I really have a clear definition for what a moldy and what an extreme mold avoider really is.

And up until the point that you make the decision that you really have to do something radical about it, this mold avoidance concept is seen as failure, as surrender, as giving up. Whereas when you finally make the decision that you’re going to start sensing and dealing with contaminated possessions and locations, and do what it takes to avoid them, you’ve gone from thinking of this as surrender to taking control of your life. I think a person who is on the edge of becoming a mold avoider would do everything possible to avoid being drawn into the strategy, whereas somebody who has crossed over that line wouldn’t dream of doing anything less.

John: And that’s because of this phenomenon that described as unmasking, right, where you get clear of these toxins that are influencing your immune system for whatever reason, and you feel so good that essentially, you can’t believe you experienced this new normal and you’re like, “Okay. Wow, I didn’t know I could feel this good.” And so, therefore, the euphoria of getting to a place of health that probably many people experience without even thinking about is so addicting that you’ll essentially do anything to maintain that. Is that basically what the unmasking looks like?

Erik: Yeah. Once you see a path out of this terrible illness, it becomes quite a fixation, which leaves doctors who don’t really appreciate the extraordinary effects of mold avoidance as being some kind of hysteria or obsession.

John: Right I think…

Erik: [crosstalk 00:26:01] out of being bedridden and wind up mountain climbing, it’s a pretty good thing.

John: Yeah. We’re gonna get to all that in a minute. I wanna talk about altitude. You know, it’s funny, like you talk to vegan doctors, for example. They get very upset when people mentioned sensitivity to lectin in oats and beans, because they wanna set a public policy of, “You should be eating these foods because the…for the vast majority of people, these foods are very healthy.

And we don’t wanna make the general public afraid of lectin, because if we make the general public afraid of lectin, they’re not gonna go vegan, they’re not gonna eat plant-based. That’s not gonna be good for their animal rights movements. That’s not gonna be good for their nutrition movements. They see that on a whole as being the healthiest option. I think that’s the same as true here as I’ve thought about this.

The doctors that are treating these patients don’t want to set this as a policy, and I think that’s been the big thing that stood in the way of it being adopted, is that…you know, I think it’s clear with you that it has the potential to incredibly powerful. But I think the doctors are afraid of it because they don’t wanna be the person that said, “Hey, you should move out of your house and go live…” I mean, you must admit, you know, going and living out in the desert in a tent to the uninitiated does appear to be an extreme move.

Erik: Yeah. It sounds very extreme. In fact, the whole concept of mold avoidance has been entirely misrepresented, because I undertook this strategy so that I can fine-tune my ability to maneuver around these bad locations and toxic buildings so that I wouldn’t have to be out in the desert in a tent. This is the strategy that enabled me to stay in town and live a normal appearing life.

But people who aren’t really in favor of this denigrate it, saying that I pretty much spend all my time huddled in a tent in the desert and avoiding all contact with people. But if you see my actual movements and where I live, the opposite is true. This has enabled me to live in extremely close proximity to these bad zones with no ill effects whatsoever. So I’m still living in exactly the same place I was when the Lake Tahoe outbreak began. And I can deal with it with no problems at all because I know where the bad locations are, and I decontaminate after I pass through.

John: And you can get clear. And that break in the pristine air is what you need to feel good and then ultimately rejoin civilization. I think that’s a… Look, having lived in Austin, Texas, I don’t know if you’ve spoken to people in your groups who’ve lived in Austin, Texas, or Texas Hill Country, or Dallas, Texas, but that is an environment where certain people…look, I think it’s probably a small percentage of people, but it’s a significant percentage of people.

I spoke to my Chase banker once. You know, he’s in retail, and he interfaces with a lot of people. And I asked him just, “What are you seeing in terms of movements of people in and out of Austin based on the fact that the mold spore count there can reach 20,000 on some days? And some of the species of mold in that city I believe are like Alternaria and certain species that if they were to be found in someone’s home would need to be remediated.”

And he said, “Look, I’ve seen seven people in the last six months leave Austin just because of ‘allergy.'” You know, having moved there, I never would have…I just never would have thought that location could have such powerful impact on someone. I haven’t suffered from chronic fatigue. I haven’t suffered from anything nearly as bad as what you have. But I know that I’ve moved around enough to know that certain locations are suboptimal for me. This is something that I very much appreciate and understand after my experience in Austin. And I know there’s people listening who have moved to Austin, which is a phenomenal city.

I think Austin is arguably the best city in the country if you can tolerate some of the stuff that’s in the air, but they’ve moved there, and they felt very poorly. You know, I have a lot of friends. And so it’s a very live option for me that people would have these issues in certain locations. It makes perfect sense to me.

Erik: Well, thanks to my early experience with direct contact with the black dreaded toxic mold, which I later identified as Stachybotrys chartarum, I found out that it’s not all molds that I have to avoid, just a few specific ones. But these are so bad that the adverse effects from even microscopic, minute contact with this mold, up-regulates the immune system so I start responding to other chemicals, other molds. And this is what confuses mold experts.

And they tend to blame all molds in general, when so far as I can tell, there’s only a very few initiators that really set this cytokines cascade, this immunological out of control response in motion. And if I avoid the sensation that I associate with only the dreaded toxic molds, I have no problem with any of the other molds.

John: Are you using any tools when you go to these locations? It seems as though you’ve developed for yourself in terms of doing what you need to do as an individual to be healthy, which is one of the reasons we want to have you on. I think that…you know, our podcast is trying to highlight unique health journeys, people that understand that they’re different, and that they need to do…they need to have a protocol that’s different from someone else to feel at their best.

Dr. Shoemaker, I think speculated that, you know, some of your issues could have been some of these mold genes. I think the mold genes are, you know, not really all that proven at this point. Do you have any way of measuring for these super toxins and the species of mold that you need to avoid that you’ve referenced, or are you just going based on a sixth sense?

Erik: I’m purely operating based on my own perceptions, my own symptoms that I’ve learned to associate with the most problematic of these molds.

John: You mentioned one. Which are the worst species for you? What are your worst locations, like what are the places you’ve gone where you’ve just felt the worst?

Erik: Well, by looking carefully at people’s stories, despite the efforts of mold remediators and mold testers to blame all species equally, when patients get so sick that they start collecting samples in a bag, in a Ziploc bag and carry it to their doctors, there’s almost always Stachybotrys chartarum. So, my thought is that something very specific changed about that particular mold in the 1980s, because prior to that, there really is no record of toxic mold in the literature at all.

John: Right. This is called mold avoidance. But as I was reading your book and reading both books, I almost thought of this…I almost started to think of this as sort of like toxin avoidance. I think if you zoom out, the theory is basically that in today’s world, with what’s happening with the air quality, as the air quality goes down, there are certain canary in the coal mine individuals that are having very difficult reactions to certain locations.

Which to me, although I think we would all agree there needs to be further study, and that’s one of the things you’ve been lobbying for and been having trouble getting, is very plausible. But how do you divide between these mold species and the “super” toxins and all these…because I hear you referencing different things in the air. How have you come to understand the triggers for these location-driven illnesses?

Erik: Well, as I said, when I looked in the literature and found there was no record of toxic mold at all, no descriptions that approximated mold [inaudible 00:34:04], I treated this as a new paradigm and wondered what possibly changed. I went to various concepts of thinking that mold was combining with chemicals, such as flame retardants and pesticides, resulting in these secret toxins.

But another concept emerged, that what is really increased in the atmosphere is the prevalence of nanoparticles. And it turns out that mold is very capable, in fact, even utilizes nanoparticles as part of their normal processes. But we have supplied mold with much more powerful, dense, energetic nanoparticles, which probably have caused mold to behave in more pathogenic ways than we’re accustomed to seeing. So that’s my working hypothesis at this point is that the enhanced pathogenesis of toxic mold was directly related to the increase in nanoparticle pollution.

John: I know you are in touch with some officials from the World Health Organization because…you know, for the listener at home, one of the things Erik has tried to do to his credit, frankly, he’s made these observations for himself. And then he’s gone to researchers repeatedly and said, “Hey, you know, I would love to try to design some studies to understand what’s been happening with me and why this happened.”

And I know that when I was reading, I believe it was “Back From The Edge”, they talked about you had been in touch with or it could have been some of our email correspondence. But you talked about how you had been in touch with the World Health Organization. And I believe it was related to this issue of nanoparticle. And they said that you were on the right track. What did the World Health Organization say about this when you corresponded with them?

Erik: Well, this was a laboratory that studies nano-pathology under the auspices of the World Health Organization. They weren’t directly affiliated but they received funding to pursue their research. And when I proposed that toxic mold can actually collect and concentrate nanoparticles and serve as a source point for exposure, they said that this was entirely feasible, and the new contradiction could possibly rule this out that it simply hadn’t been thought of before.

John: And nanoparticles are just non-visible…I mean, you can get nanoparticles from forest fire pollutants and things of that nature, correct?

Erik: Not really. The nanoparticles that are really a problem are only produced by high heat, such as explosions or smelting industrial applications, jet engines, things that go up 3 or 4,000 degrees. And they produce these incredibly ultra-fine particles of dense heavy metals that approach a small size to where their density has so little surface area to dissipate the energy of its vibrating atoms, that the electrostatic force of these particles starts to have a pathogen associated with molecular pattern that tricks the body into thinking it’s a virus.

The body can recognize the surface energy of these particles as something foreign but doesn’t know quite what to do about it because these things are not something that were really produced by forest fires or any normal sources of heat. They were produced in volcanoes but mostly biome, which our body is very familiar with and utilizes, whereas the modern industrial age has produced all kinds of alloys that our body is not used to dealing with. And it fits with the concept that we can see mold doing something extraordinary, when genetically speaking, it hasn’t really changed in any way. It’s just carrying on its business as usual but we gave it rocket fuel to work with.

John: Okay. So the concept of certain air pollutants making ambient mold all that much more dangerous. One of the things I wanna also zoom out a little bit and touch on is, you have this chronic illness, you go out into the…you have an RV that you called your mobile environmental containment unit. So you’re basically searching for different parts of the country where you’re gonna feel better, where you can get clear, the opportunity to get clear is what helps you heal.

And then you said in the book that one of the things that you would notice when you would come back to an environment that you didn’t feel well in was the depression response. You wrote or at least documented a good bit about how different environments can impact on your mental health. Can you speak to that?

Erik: Yeah. When I was trying to study the characteristics of this toxic mold, I actually took a sample of Stachybotrys out to the desert, waiting until I got as good as I could possibly feel, and then began sleeping in closer and closer proximity to it, to try to detect what the earliest warning signs were. This is how I familiarized myself.

And to my surprise, rather than the headaches and toxic sensation that I anticipated, the earliest warning signs was simply depression and a lowering of mood, a sense of dread and despair. And it occurred to me that if the body wanted to warn an animal to remove itself from a toxic exposure, what better emotions to induce than that of discomfort, distress, anxiety, and the desire to leave that area.

John: I wrote down this in the notes to ask you about. You say, “Ignore the depression response at your own peril.” And in this way, when we had Dr. Nathan on, Dr. Nathan, prior to getting into this discussion of the locations effect, which again, as a matter of policy, I don’t think he wants to advocate for, he said, in light of the rapidly changing environment, his opinion is people, in general, should follow their intuition, pay attention to how their body reacts to different stimuli.

And you have, like I’ve mentioned, have a lot of fans. The people that are advocates of your protocols wrote in after the episode and said, “Well, this applies to the locations effect as well.” In that, you know, if you get into a situation where you’re feeling some unexplainable depression or, for example, you mentioned you go on vacation. You know, I have friends, they go on vacation to Croatia, Mediterranean environment, they feel a ton better, their mood lifts. This is something that in your thinking you can just tie back to an inflammatory process driven by the immune system in its response to a specific location as the primary factor.

Erik: Yeah. And I believe that the brain retraining programs are the exact antithesis, the opposite of paying attention to your body.

John: And just for the listeners at home, there seems to be a debate in some of these mold circles. You know, there’s people out there, they’re just having a really difficult time. Like Erik story, there’s a lot of them, and they wanna get better. And people are saying, “Well, you don’t need to do these mold avoidance protocols. You can just retrain the limbic system.” We had a doctor who wrote in, Dr. Keith…I might be mispronouncing his name, Berndtson?

Erik: Keith Berndtson.

John: Right. MD, and he wrote in on your behalf, essentially quoted some studies about how these species of mold that you’ve been talking about can have really damaging impact on people and saying, “If you don’t get clear of these toxins, no amount of retraining of the fear centers in the brain is gonna help you.”

And the training that these people are advocating for is basically to say that your fear reaction in the limbic system is kind of got stuck on heightened alert. And if you can retrain the brain to feel safe more often, you can get over some of this stuff. I wanna give the listener that way of background. So, what say you on this limbic system issue?

Erik: So like I say, it’s the exact opposite of my approach, because rather than try to stop those sensations, or ignore them, or suppress them in any way, I use them as my primary indicators. And by acting in accordance with what I feel, I can simply remove myself, often no more than a few feet, and get out of exposure. Now, Dr. Berndtson paid attention to my work and he has come on board with the nanoparticle theory. And I believe he mentioned in that post how these nanoparticles have the ability to penetrate the olfactory nerve, send inflammatory signals directly to the microglia in the brain.

So, if this concept is true, and we think it is, then these extremely subtle symptoms of brain activation are things that we really need to attend to, not only for our own benefit but to understand why this doesn’t fit the paradigm of allergists who believes that there’s a certain dose relationship to this. If we can grow into a plume and be affected by minute amounts that defy the scientific principles, maybe we need to develop new scientific principles that explains it.

John: Are you seeing people who are practicing mold avoidance and who have become very ill and who are obviously very sensitive to these mycotoxins, but they don’t test positive on a traditional allergist given like IgE allergy panel? Is that what you’re saying?

Erik: Yeah.

John: So they test negative for actual mold allergy, but they’re clearly having some [crosstalk 00:43:58].

Erik: If mycotoxins can be transported on nanoparticles directly into the brain, then we can completely discount all the ideas of the dose relationship. This is purely one of immune activation by amounts that are far too small to show up on these kinds of tests.

John: We haven’t even gotten into this Mount Whitney issue yet, which is really cool, because that was your way of showing the world, “Hey, I healed myself with this protocol.” You do mold avoidance, you go from, I believe it’s in the span of six months. As you’ve described, you can barely move, your family’s feeding you, you’re searching for locations that are acceptable for you to thrive in.

And then you get clear long enough…in other words, you avoid…you live in an environment that’s suitable to your immune system for long enough, they are then able to climb Mount Whitney. And I guess you’ve done that multiple times. Can you just tell us, over that period, what did that progression look like for you?

Erik: Well, by trying to get as clear as possible, spending the most time in a pristine location, I unmasked and my sensitivity increased. I could feel this much plainer, and yet the profound nature of my reactivity kept fading away. I could feel it more, but it affected me less. So, there was something about getting clear. It was reprogramming the immune system and fine-tuning my senses so that I could become the ultimate mold avoider.

The whole idea behind the Whitney demonstration was that the [inaudible 00:45:32] program was restoring oxygen uptake on the level of about 18 to 20%. And I thought, “If I could show that I’m up to 14,500 feet with no altitude sickness, no problem, this would surely gain the attention of chronic fatigue syndrome researchers,” because it doesn’t get more dramatic than that.

John: And you’ve climbed the mountain multiple times since, right?

Erik: Yeah, 11 times so far.

John: There was a quote directly in the book that said, essentially, for you that…two things. One, that you felt like you couldn’t have gotten better without the healing power of exercise. I wanna speak to that. And I also, I wanna have you talk about why you think high altitudes are particularly helpful for certain people who have these issues and why those can be particularly good locations.

Erik: Well, the exercise, the sweating, helps remove the nanoparticles. This laboratory that I was working with has actually tested the sweat of people with similar syndromes and found that sweating removes the particles that only penetrated as far as the blood. It doesn’t do much for those that made it into the brain or are embedded in the tissues. But for the type of exposure where it’s still processing, going through the lungs, going through the blood, sweating goes a long way toward removing those.

Now, Dr. Shoemaker describes in his book that I stumbled over an effect whereby gradually increasing altitude while staying within my aerobic threshold, I was pushing the blood for an adaptive response of a pulse of erythropoietin, the EPO, the enzyme that we produce when we move to higher altitudes that tells the blood to produce more red cells, the body to produce more red cells. So, anybody knows that if you move up to Lake Tahoe level, you have to acclimatize. After a couple of weeks, you’ll get an increase in red blood cells, and then you have no more altitude sickness.

John: How high is Tahoe? Is that like 7,000 feet, something like that?

Erik: Six thousand feet.

John: Six thousand?

Erik: Yeah. And Dr. Peterson had predicted that at my low level of oxygen consumption, I would have to move to a lower altitude to survive. Essentially, I was too sick to escape that altitude any more.

And by getting clear and doing these hikes that would reprogram my oxygen uptake, I was able to increase my ability to go to higher altitudes until my altitude sickness completely disappeared. My oxygen uptake returned probably to better than normal. And this was really my way of trying to make a statement that chronic fatigue syndrome researchers couldn’t ignore.

John: Because you’re from the Truckee-Tahoe area. Of course, that’s home for you. I think you said you live in somewhere near Reno or Tahoe. Is part of the reason why you choose to be in Tahoe because of the fact that you find these higher altitudes to be a place where you can…where you feel better?

Erik: Well, actually, it’s home for me. My family’s there. It’s where I grew up, and I love the place. And I really don’t see any problem with being there. It’s where all the good hiking is, it’s where the best mountains are, so why not?

And also, that’s where the history is. When you look over the prehistory of chronic fatigue syndrome, how this entire paradigm developed, the battles with the CDC, the clues, the circumstances, it’s all there. So that’s why I take people on a chronic fatigue syndrome, mold history tour, and explain the progression of how all this came to be.

John: Because for you…and that’s one of the things that I think is really cool about your story is you had this time, as we’ve, you know, talked about it here today, where you had to be very vigilant about avoiding different locations that were not healthy for you. So that means going out essentially into the desert with new possessions, washed clothes in an RV in a tent, and taking the time to let your body heal, you can feel it healing.

And then after enough time, you’re…one of the things I think is fascinating is, I have this in my notes too, is you say that for you, the inhaled factor is so much bigger than the edible factor. When you were suffering from mold toxicity, you had all these food sensitivities. And then once you removed yourself from that environment, you know, you’re now able to eat, you know, whatever you want without any reactivity, including flour and all these different foods that used to give you a hard time.

Erik: Yeah. If you examine the literature, up until the 1990s, mold was considered only an ingestion problem. You literally could not get sick from mold, unless you ate it. And even if you did, it would be cancer and you might get some kind of long-term illness.

But this inhalant type of exposure was completely unprecedented in the literature. So this demanded an explanation, and that’s what kind of led me to the nanoparticle theory. What changed? What could have caused toxic mold to change its property so dramatically that it would from a non-problem into the problem it is today?

John: And when you go out on these mold avoidance trips, how are you choosing locations? Like give somebody at home who’s interested in…I mean, even if somebody doesn’t have chronic fatigue or isn’t considering living a mold avoidance lifestyle, I think one of the things that you’re really tuned into, because you spent so much time thinking about it and you have a sensitive system, I think you’re tuned into where the best pockets of pristine air and locations are in the country. So, what are some of the locations that you’ve felt the best in, and what are some of the locations other than during the Tahoe illness and the Bay Area that you felt not so good at?

Erik: Well, I pay no attention at all to the idea of vast locations effects or maps that try to do any areas. I find this to be a source point problem. And thanks to my acute perceptions, I can move as little as 15 feet and be out of a bad zone, and I may have to decontaminate afterward. But to me, that’s as far as I have to go. So, the people that are condemning entire states or large regions as being problematic are probably, in my view, simply failing to decontaminate after they encounter a source point.

So, part of the mold tour is teaching people not to worry about how things look on the map or how other people responded but to use their own perceptions to detect and avoid source points. It really doesn’t matter where I take people on this tour. It’s more useful to do it where the history of the chronic fatigue syndrome occurred because then they can connect the phenomenon with these events as it makes sense to them. But really, we can do this anywhere.

John: That’s another good point, I think, to emphasize for somebody who’s listening at home who’s not initiated in this whole world. What I hear you saying is that this is a very, very, very specific protocol for a very specific illness. You’re not encouraging most people to take these steps. It’s just if you have something that’s in this realm of the Tahoe illness, and you have these major problems, then you need to be cognizant of this. I mean, it’s gonna go down in the granularity to 15 feet. I mean, that’s a very specific border to be.

Erik: Yes, extremely specific. And the other point I’d like to make is that chronic fatigue syndrome has absolutely nothing to do with chronic fatigue. The CDC was so worried about this outbreak that they saw fit to disguise it in order to spare the Lake Tahoe economy from being bankrupted.

So they deliberately dumbed down the evidence, they ignored the circumstances, they declined to investigate, and they gave the obligatory research instrument which they had to develop since they had done an investigation and encountered an unknown phenomenon by a really bad name and very poor definition. And the most astounding thing of this whole episode is that in all the years since this syndrome was coined, not a single chronic fatigue syndrome researcher has ever returned to get the facts straight from the people who originated the syndrome.

John: In Lake Tahoe?

Erik: Yeah.

John: And is it your thinking that that’s a contagious illness that’s brought on as this species of mold combined with environmental toxins spreads across the country. And that’s what’s giving people this stuff?

Erik: Well, during the 1980s, there was a whole series of very powerful influenzas that raked the country. I think you remember the swine flu outbreak in the 1970s. It seemed almost like viruses were becoming more powerful at that time. And these outbreaks were reported, but most people recovered.

And we started to see a phenomenon where these influenza outbreaks would pass through, and people weren’t recovering. So, instead of the flu being the trigger that initiated it, it’s looking more like this was actually the result in a world where the toxic mold was becoming more powerful. So that switched my emphasis over to what microbes might be doing, and what possible mechanism could have potentiated them.

John: But again, you think that there’s some uniformity to the people that are suffering from the condition that you had. You see some uniformity there based on common toxins, mold toxins that have become more powerful based on their combining with inorganic nanoparticles. And that that is what is at the root of most of these diseases.

Erik: Yes.

John: Wow. And so to the person who’s out there who says, “Well, I have terrible allergies in this place,” like I was just documenting in Austin, that’s one thing that I think is a good message is that look, this has very little to do with allergy. These are not even showing up as IgE mediated allergens.

You’ve said that you think that the maps…because it is a common thing in the locations effect groups, they have maps. You know, prior to Dr. Nathan episode and then for this episode of research those and chatted with people, and they have maps where they have…you know, it’s very N=1. It says, “Well, I felt great in Miami, but I felt terrible, in, you know, Denver or whatever the case.” You’re saying that in your view based on the specific illness you’re talking about and the specific mold avoidance protocols you created, those maps have no real bearing on what you’re doing.

Erik: None whatsoever.

John: Wow.

Erik: I think the reason for this is because nanoparticle pollution drifts across an area, gets into the water supply, feeds these molds. And for a short time, these molds become more powerful, and they pump out what I call plumes, which is a combination of the increased density of nanoparticles, plus their associated mycotoxins. And then the nanoparticles, which are extremely toxic to microbes stop the production. They kill the mold essentially, and the event can go away as quickly and as mysteriously as it came. So, even during the outbreak, I would lead people to the absolute worst places and find the effect was almost gone. And then later, again, it might start to act up again.

John: As we’ve touched on a couple times in this episode, you know, I really wanted to have you on because you are…there’s a lot of people that hold you in very high esteem for the observations that you’ve made, and frankly, for the bravery of stepping out and saying, “Hey, this is how I’ve been affected. I’d like more research on this topic. But look, I’ve observed this. This is a thing. I want people to be aware of this.”

And so there’s people as a result of your advocacy for this lifestyle that hold you in very high regard. We had a lot of people after the Dr. Nathan episode who said, “You need to have Erik Johnson on. He is the man that you need to talk to.” And people are very passionate about this subject matter. And they believe deeply in it.

What else can we get out there to the public about mold avoidance, what it is, what it isn’t? Just anything else you have to say that’s detailed that people can hang their hat on in terms of trying to create some consistency and uniformity around these protocols that you’ve created?

Erik: Well, if you’ve watched the documentary, “Unrest,” Jennifer Brea gives a demonstration of mold avoidance.

John: And who is she?

Erik: Oh, the documentary maker who is currently showing the “Unrest” film to medical audiences and the CDC, educating them about the history and evidence of encephalomyelitis, the chronic fatigue syndrome. And in this, she gives an actual demonstration of putting up a tent and then being very wary of her husband, Omar, coming out and contaminating her tent.

John: Because of the fact that he was carrying some sensitive material on his clothing?

Erik: Yeah. She had become so hypersensitive from their contaminated possessions inside her house. He was carrying enough of this substance on his clothing that he wanted to completely be free of it, and was demanding he take a shower before he approached the tent.

I’m the one who turned Jen Brea into a mold avoider back in 2014 when she came to Incline Village to do interviews. And we went to the beach, and I told her the entire history and explained how this paradigm worked. And she actually incorporated this into her film. And I think the most important thing we need to study is that even though a clear demonstration of mold avoidance was presented in this widely known film, it has not elicited a curiosity response from researchers.

Now, one would think that a researcher would see somebody acting really wild about mold and be very definite about it and want to find out what that is all about. So, in addition to the mold phenomenal itself, what we really need to find out is why this doesn’t make researchers curious.

John: To that point, are there biomarkers? Other than these acute observable sensitive reactions that people have, are there labs that…?

Erik: Yeah. Dr. Shoemaker describes this in great detail in his books. And probably to my way of thinking, the most useful test, if you do demand a test, is the activation of complement factor four, which is the innate immune response, not the adaptive antibody programming but the body’s primitive response to chemical exposures in general that unknown and controlled response…exposure to Stachybotrys toxic mold causes people’s chemical enzyme to shoot through the roof.

Now, this isn’t specific to mold. It’s a test that has to be placed in context. But the important thing to know about complement activation factors is that it sends out a split complement activation product that’s in C4A and C4B or C3 for bacterial toxins and C3A. And what these split activation products do is up-regulate the immune system’s response to chemicals, at the same time, tell the adaptive antibody response to calm down for a little while while the immune system is busy doing its other job dealing with chemicals.

So the really striking thing about this type of illness is that researchers can measure allergic responses and find them nonexistent. They’re actually depressed, and they simply conclude that you have no allergies, not realizing that the high level of inflammation from your chemical exposure is telling your body to down-regulate your allergic responses.

John: So, it makes me think of…in some people with gluten sensitivity, one of the tests that they’ll look for is tissue transglutaminase, and they’ll look for tissue transglutaminase IgA, as well as tissue transglutaminase IgG. Some people will have a false negative for a celiac test because they have low levels of serum IgA, and some people will have…And so they actually may have celiac but it doesn’t show up on a test because they’re not producing these antibodies enough anywhere that they could be recognized.

Is that what you’re saying here? Is that basically people’s Immunoglobulin E? The traditional sort of Western allergy marker is suppressed such that it doesn’t rise to the level for molds? Or that even if they did have adequate levels of serum IgE, that they wouldn’t test positive for a mold allergy regardless.

Erik: Yeah. Dr. Shoemaker has chapters dedicated to this very subject and describes it. If you don’t have the classic celiac sprue, if you don’t have the inherited gene because of celiac disease, then perhaps your gluten intolerance was merely expressed. It was unveiled by the chronic state of inflammation. And in theory, if you can lower that inflammation enough, and that gene is switched off, you have no more gluten intolerance. And we’ve already seen that in the number of people who’ve done the desert experiment, they find out within a fairly short period of time that they can go right back to eating gluten with zero effects whatsoever.

John: Yeah. That was one of the things I thought was super interesting about your story. And this is where I struggle with to try to get some framework here for the audience because you have this issue where mold is the foundational illness that’s causing these downstream reactions. You’re saying that, Dr. Nathan is saying that, Dr. Shoemaker is saying that, everybody’s saying that.

But where there seems to be parting of company is…and it’s fascinating because, when you identify these issues, and you get rid of that foundational immune system irritant, boom, then you have some of these other downstream food sensitivities that seem to go away. That’s a pretty well-established line of thinking in the functional medicine community.

What I’m trying to delineate is where does the line exist between mold avoidance, these super toxins, as you call them, and traditional indoor mold toxicity that Dr. Shoemaker also discusses? Because those guys are really big on…you know, the people that are really getting poisoned from mold are the people who have lived as you did in this German bunker, as you did in this hotel, in these indoor places that are sickening them. And I’m trying to get a working organizational chart of this. So, what say you on that in terms of how do we categorize this a little bit better?

Erik: This is where it’s important to have a good sense of history because, if you look back on the progression of the sick building syndrome paradigm, when it was first developed in the 1970s, toxic mold wasn’t even part of it. Sick building syndrome was considered to be from Legionnaires disease or toxic carpets, thus the chemicals that were being concentrated indoors, and toxic mold wasn’t even on the radar and didn’t hit the radar until 1994 when the Cleveland sudden infant death syndrome epidemic emerged, and Dr. Dorr Dearborn and Ruth Etzel identified Stachybotrys as a potential factor in the indoor air quality environment.

And when the sick building syndrome paradigm, the experts, the indoor air quality experts attempted to assimilate toxic mold into their purview, it didn’t quite make sense because they were dealing with an indoor air problem, and mold can clearly be outdoors just as well as they can indoors.

John: Absolutely, for sure. Like I said, it’s a totally different species of what you’re talking about, but there’s a lot of people just from an allergen or just general…it never rises to the level of chronic illness, but it’s just you don’t feel as well. You don’t have as good of attention span. You feel just a little slower in places like Austin, where the mold spore count gets really high, even separate and apart from all this. That’s the thing that just happens to people, for sure. It’s not on this level.

But I guess what it comes back to is, let me pose you this question, pose it a little bit of a different way. In your opinion, if you had never had those original exposures to the hotel that was troublesome, as well as the German bunker, do you think confronted with these outdoor toxins just standing alone, you would have reacted the same way?

Erik: Absolutely. No question. That’s clear to be seen in the very first abstract, in the very first chronic fatigue syndrome cohort with that one teacher that saw fit to get away from the school in this camper. You could sense it. And the problem is that once the indoor air quality board developed this mythology that there was some kind of difference between indoor and outdoor exposures, this became so embedded that it became such a doctrine, that whenever clues, stories that affirm the toxicity of outdoor molds crop up, they’re simply dismissed.

John: Right. Okay. So your whole thing is that this distinction between the indoor and the outdoor mold is what really hides the ball for a ton of people, both the people that are…

Erik: That’s completely political. They were not based on science [inaudible 01:08:14].

John: I mean, I said a couple times in this podcast that if you’re looking for an explanation as to why a group of doctors wouldn’t want to be out in front of an argument like that is they don’t wanna set that as policy. Why do you think people fail to acknowledge that outdoor molds can have just as bad of an influence on certain people as do indoor molds?

Erik: Well, once the rumor, once the mythology that somehow there’s a difference between indoor and outdoor molds developed, it became a very hard thing to dislodge because toxins are concentrated indoors. So people do report, they get much worse outdoors.

And part of what I was doing on this mold camp, what I do on the mold tour is I lead people up to known sick building locations. And I have them try to determine at what point they are close enough to the building still outside that they can feel that zone is affected by these outdoor exposures. And that really opens up a whole new door for people, you know, mold avoidance skills because they realized that these exposures occur around sick buildings just as much as they do indoor but they’re just less discernible. That’s all.

John: Okay. And I wanna talk about that, so mold avoidance skills because that’s a fascinating topic in and of itself. Prefacing and just reminding and saying your point is still that this is a protocol that is designed for a very specific group of people who are having hyperreactivity to these molds. And if you fall into that group… And correct me if I’m wrong. You’re taking people on these mold avoidance skill teaching journeys who are in that camp, correct? They’re the people who have already documented to be hypersensitive, or are you just taking…?

Erik: Yes.

John: Okay. And so how can they…and even somebody like Dave Asprey, you know, Dave Asprey is the founder of Bulletproof Coffee. He’s a very credible, very excellent commentator on these issues of mold. He did the documentary, “Moldy”, and he talks about how, you know, he’ll get into a moldy building and he’ll know that he’s just in the wrong place and doesn’t feel well. So, what are some practical ways that are your best strategies for evaluating locations, in terms of this is a good versus a bad building? How do you go about evaluating that?

Erik: Well, I have a concept of a framework where I’m self-assessing my anxiety levels, my depression levels, my expectations for a good future. And as I start to approach a building, I monitor myself for any downturn in mood and anxiety. And that’s my first tip-off that I should be looking for other things.

If I approach a building, and I start to get more overt symptoms such as heart palpitations, the feeling of brain squeeze, dents in the skin, a sudden pallor or vein standing up, then I might think about turning around at that point or asking how desperately I really need to be in that building.

If it gets much worse than heart palpitations, I might turn around, retreat for a little while and try to find out if the heart palpitations and brain sensations continue, which would be an indication that I have been contaminated and facing more damage if I proceed into that building further, and I’m going to suffer long term consequences if I fail to decontaminate at that point.

John: Okay. That’s a consistent message too, is these mental cues in terms of the mold. I tie it back to Austin for people that are, you know, just looking for something that’s maybe a little more sort of…not even practical but just not in these extreme cases. There’s a lot of people in Austin when the mold spore count gets high. On a really wet day, it’s like that you’re just not gonna get as much done that day, you know.

Erik: One of the major paradigm shifts that we try to accomplish in the mold camp is that we’ve grown up, we’ve literally been instructed our entire lives that we have to be strong. And if we experience these sensations, we have to overpower them with the mind. And that if you fail to do so, it’s some kind of defect on your part. Whereas what we’re trying to instill is that these are natural and normal human, animal responses to toxic exposures. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. And by attending to them and regarding them as a normal part of life in a toxic world, we can take control of our situation.

John: Yeah. I mean, it may not be the case for every single person that this is the culprit. But in some people, it does seem as though…I mean, it’s been reported over and over again, the impact of mold on mental health on, you know, just your sense of optimism, and so that’s one of your biggest…one of your biggest cues.

I do want to try to just move back to this issue, though, of zooming out a little bit, see if I can engage you a little bit on this just…we’re getting to the end of the interview. You know, in the book, you do have…it’s chapter 39 of the “Mold Avoidance”. It’s basically “A Beginner’s Guide to Mold Avoidance.”

And you do get into, you know…for example, there seems to be a reason why you choose the desert, zero mold in the desert, it’s very dry. There’s nothing else you can share about positive experiences with certain locations other than just it’s so micro for you that you can literally…you know, for example, I’m sitting here in New York City. Have you visited New York City? Do you find you can do well in very dense metropolitan areas? Is there anything else zoomed out wise in terms of locations effect that you can share? I think that’s particularly interesting, even just anecdotally.

Erik: Well, I have found certain areas of cities that are over tolerance for me, especially if I’ve received a lot of exposure lately and have moved lower on the power curve. And it should be noted that the better I get, the more tolerance I’ve got. And even though I can still sense this, it frees me up to go pretty much anywhere without really suffering long-term losses.

I was recently in Florida. A lot of people were worried about me going there. And I found that it wasn’t really all that much different than anywhere else. As long as I avoid these source points, I do just fine. That being said, I did fly into JFK Airport. And I felt that the entire zone around that airport was sort of ambient, bad.

John: Yeah. I could see that.

Erik: That’s not to say that I couldn’t tolerate it, but it would not be a pleasant place for me.

John: Hey, I don’t think anybody’s excited to hang out in JFK for too long of a period, but, you know, we’re with you there. Yeah. So JFK. Okay. What else can we close with here? I wanna make sure that we give…you know, this is an important topic. Like I keep saying, there’s people out there. You’ve helped a lot of people.

Your message is a really uplifting one, which is that you have this chronic illness and the protocol that you designed for yourself by going to locations where you felt good about, where you felt your immune system quieting down allowed you to take what was a very dire situation and turn it into one that was very positive. And now you have a lasting health benefit that stemmed from that, which I think is very uplifting and optimistic. What else would you like to share with the audience about this world that you have if you haven’t touched on something yet?

Erik: Well, I think the main lesson to come from this, even beyond the phenomenon itself, is to look at the way the medical profession has reacted to this, because they did not respond in an objective scientific manner. And if we want to avoid having future problems with other medically unexplained illnesses that are bound to crop up, we really have to rethink how physicians and researchers go about doing their business. If something really unusual crops up, they should respond to it with the kind of curiosity that we always associate with being in the research profession, not discounting things simply because they don’t understand it.

John: Have you spoken with Dr. Shoemaker and these other mold physicians about what some of those studies would look like?

Erik: Well, everybody approaches a paradigm from their own conceptual framework. And it’s hard to discount the training we’ve had that, first of all, mold was just analogy. And more recently, well, we understand there’s a toxicity involved. But to step back and think, “Maybe there’s even something deeper, such as the nanoparticles.”

So when I would ask for a study, it wouldn’t be from looking at mold toxins, per se, but the overall picture of what molds might be doing in the ambient environment, the current levels of pollution that expose molds to substances that heretofore they never interacted with. So essentially, it’s going back to the drawing board and start over as if we never knew what mold was doing and look at it with fresh eyes to see if perhaps it’s doing something completely unfamiliar to us.

John: Studying what can happen when you combine the traditional mold spores that have been out there with the new particulate matter that’s in the air that’s caused by industrial manufacturing.

Erik: Yeah. Not just the particles either, but what might be adhering to the particles, what the particles would have nucleated and absorbed as they pass through the atmosphere and rain down on microbial colonies. And it turns out within the last couple months, some researchers actually did this by setting up an experiment where they exposed algae to nanoparticles and found that it massively enhances algal growth.

John: It’s a fascinating topic, and it would be valuable to see studies on this. It’s clear from your story in terms of the recovery that you’ve made, as well as the people that swear by the protocols that you’ve created that there’s quite a bit of value to this in people that have these hypersensitivities to these species of mold. I really appreciate you taking the time to come on the podcast and sharing your story.

And I tip my hat to you for having the courage to follow your own intuition as far as you needed to in order to feel well and to live a life that you enjoy and that’s fulfilling for you. You know, I think you’re to be applauded. It’s very brave to come out and share your story in this way, and just thanks a lot for coming on the podcast, Erik.

Erik: Well, thank you very much for your interest. And I’d like to say this interview is remarkable in the fact that you’re the first journalist to really take a serious interest in this paradigm. So thank you very much.

John: You’re welcome. We’re happy to highlight the story. Like I said earlier, our mission is to really spread the message of bio-individuality. You know, no two people are exactly the same in how they approach food. No two people are affected in the same way in terms of how they experience the environment.

And I actually think that sometime in the future, we’ll have a much more sophisticated ability to understand maybe in real-time, maybe based on lab data, exactly what in our environment is triggering our immune system and in what way. What is coming into our body that’s triggering cytokine activity, inflammatory responses, etc?

So until we have that information, until we have that data, we’re flying in the dark. This is definitely an important interview for somebody that’s out there suffering from chronic fatigue and doesn’t know why. So we’ll look forward to promoting it. Thanks again. Have a great weekend, and we’ll be in touch offline.

Erik: Okay. Nice talking to you.

John: Yeah. Bye-bye. The “GeneFood Podcast” is our attempt to synthesize the latest developments in the fields of genetics, nutrition, and medicine and offer you practical tips and stories you can use in your own unique health journey. If you enjoyed this podcast, you can find more information online at mygenefood.com.

John O'Connor

John O'Connor is the founder of Gene Food, host of the Gene Food Podcast and a health coach trained at Duke's Integrative Medicine Program. Read his full bio here.

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