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28/12/2007

Humidity at home can cause depression

People living in a moldy home may be more likely to suffer from depression, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the Brown School of Medicine in Providence, R.I., and published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Researchers examined data from World Health Organization interviews of 5,882 adults residing in eight different European cities. They found that those who lived in damp, moldy homes were more likely to report symptoms of depression, including sleep disturbances and lowered appetite or self-esteem.

The reason for the observed correlation between mold and depression is unclear. The researchers speculate that mold may be one factor leading to a perceived lack of control over one's surroundings, which may lead to depression. In addition, mold may cause depression-inducing health problems, such as asthma, coughing and wheezing. Approximately five percent of the population is allergic to mold.

Beyond allergy, molds may induce other health problems.

"Some molds are toxins, and exposure to these toxins may hypoactivate parts of the brain that deal with emotions," said lead author Edmond Shenassa.

"[The study] suggests that healthy homes can lead to healthier lives. The take-home message is that housing conditions can influence health."

Some scientists have challenged the results of the study, criticizing the methodology for relying on self-reports instead of carrying out inspections of houses to objectively assess moldiness.

"The biological link between mold and a neurotoxic effect that might lead to depression is very tenuous, in my opinion," said Pat Breysse, director of the environmental health engineering division at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

But Breysse agreed with Shenassa that there are plenty of other reasons to keep mold out of one's home.

"Bad housing is not healthy for lots of reasons," he said. "That should be the message, not that mold causes depression."

"The homes of most consumers are toxic waste containers," said consumer health advocate Mike Adams. "It's not just the mold, it's the chemicals in air fresheners, furniture varnish, carpet glue, compressed wood furniture and various cleaning products including antibacterial soaps. If consumers want to live in healthier environments, they're going to have to work harder to get the chemicals out of their homes."

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