Breaking the Mold: Dr. Jill Crista on Mycotoxin Dangers & Naturopathic Solutions

by | Aug 8, 2023

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Synopsis

In this insightful episode of The Modern Vital Podcast, hosted by Dr. Ben Reebs, the discussion dives deep into the topic of mold illness with guest expert Dr. Jill Crista. A pioneering naturopathic doctor, Dr. Jill stands at the forefront of diagnosing and treating mold-related illnesses. She is a recognized educator on complex chronic diseases such as mold sickness, Lyme disease, post-concussion syndrome, and PANDAS. As the author of the best-selling book “Break the Mold,” Dr. Jill has also empowered over 500 doctors to become mold literate.

Dr. Jill shares her intriguing journey into the world of mold research. She began by treating Lyme disease patients in Southern Wisconsin, a region notorious for environmental illnesses. Upon discovering that a subset of these patients had mold in their history or current environment, her focus shifted. Delving deeper into the topic, Dr. Jill learned about the harmful impacts of mycotoxins on human health. Often overshadowed by their more commonly discussed counterparts – mold spores, these toxic compounds can drastically alter our body’s microbiome. The result? A continuum of health issues ranging from mold exposure and pathogenic biofilms to full-blown fungal infections.

Drawing from both personal and professional experience, Dr. Jill highlights the need for holistic approaches to treatment. To effectively combat mold-related illnesses, she emphasizes the importance of addressing mold exposure before progressing to treat associated conditions like Lyme disease. The episode concludes with a crucial message: identifying and removing oneself from mold-contaminated environments can significantly improve health outcomes.

If you’re looking to dive deeper into understanding the intricacies of chronic disease and its impact on your overall well-being, consider checking out Dr. Reebs’ book, “The Serpent & The Butterfly: The Seven Laws of Healing.” In this book, he discusses the laws of healing essential to resolving chronic disease and much more to help you on your journey to optimal wellness. Click here to purchase your copy: https://modernvital.com/products/the-serpent-and-the-butterfly-the-seven-laws-of-healing

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Complete Transcript of Episode 13370687

Dr. Ben: On today’s episode of The Modern Vital Podcast, our topic is mold illness or mold sickness. And today’s special guest is Dr. Jill Crista. Dr. Jill is a leading expert at the forefront of mold-related illness diagnosis and treatment, and she’s a pioneering naturopathic doctor, a renowned educator on complex chronic illness, including mold sickness, Lyme disease, post concussion syndrome, and pandas.

And she’s the author of the highly acclaimed bestseller, Break the Mold: Five Tools to Conquer Mold and Take Back Your Health. And 500 doctors, helping them up level their skills to become mold literate. Welcome to the show, Dr. Jill. 

Dr. Jill: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a great, great honor to be on your podcast.

Dr. Ben: Thank you. I’m really excited to have you. So,  my first question is really what is your journey with mold? How did you get into mold? 

Dr. Jill: Yeah, well, I found myself practicing in Southern Wisconsin, which turned out to be surprise, surprise, a hotbed of environmental illness. Um, and also Lyme disease. And I didn’t really know much about Lyme, so to get more information and training, I went and did the physician training program with ILADS, which is a, um, a Lyme organization that does education.

And, you know, amazingly, you find and treat the cause with naturopathic medicine. Once I was administering the cause, or the treatment for the actual cause, which was Lyme disease, people got better. Except this small group of people that weren’t responding to the treatment. And so it went against the typical naturopathic treatment.

The experience that I had had, which was when you find and treat the cause and you remove the cause, people tend to get better. And in one of those patients, that small group, they found black mold in his home on a remodel. And it got my wheels turning about, I wonder if mold is why he’s not responding to the typical Lyme treatment.

And it turns out, absolutely, that’s what it was. And the more I opened that Pandora’s box, the more I realized that almost all of my Lyme, chronic Lyme, non responder Lyme patients, had mold in their history or current exposure. And that just started my journey with learning then more about Lyme, just digging into the research.

And as you know, there’s not a lot of human research on mycotoxins. There’s a lot on the mold spores, allergies, and that kind of thing. But it’s considered an allergy. And then rather than encouraging people to remove the exposure, they’re sort of managed in an allergy way. And unfortunately, that also puts people in harm’s way with the other things that mold can do to a body and the other ways it can make people sick, which is through mycotoxins and chemicals.

So when I was starting to learn about the mycotoxins, I went into the research and found very little human research. It was usually like, Oh, oops, we found this in a Finnish school or a hospital or something. Not a lot about treatment. And there’s a lot in the animal research, and most of what they’re doing with animals is not pharmaceuticals, it’s naturopathic medicine, it’s nutrients, herbs that they’re adding to feed, and they are watching, you know, the animal having better recovery or, you know, survivability and those kinds of things, or fertility, because that’s important in animal husbandry, and I’m like, I know how to use those things, you know, I know how to use turmeric, I know how to use DHA, I know how to use quercetin in a human, and so I took the data and did my own translational research with my patients.

And started to develop a protocol of how I would handle mold. And then we had mold in my own house and it duped me. And that was when I was like, Oh, this is mold. Cause we had a slow drip of a flood. And finally the material saturated enough that it started raining in my kitchen from the bathroom above.

And that’s when I was like, Oh, okay. This isn’t perimenopause. This isn’t because my kids are going into puberty. You know, all of these things that were happening with our health. This is mold. And I knew exactly who to call for the inspector. I knew exactly which remediator I wanted to use, because I was already specializing in this.

And I knew exactly how to administer the treatment. And that’s when I felt really duty bound to write the book, because I thought, Okay, this is stuff everybody needs to know, because it can happen to anybody. If it happened to me, it can happen to anybody. And I even know to look for it. And that’s when it was really, that whole thing that I used to say to my patients is, It doesn’t have to smell bad to be a mold problem.

And that really came home when that was the case in my own house. It’s like, wow, that’s right. You know, you knew this, Jill. You knew how to do this. And you know, we, I pretested the house and all that kind of stuff. It was the classic case of a trapped building material. You know, all, everything was trapped behind building material.

So nothing was really evident that it was mold until we had the flood. Yeah. So that’s how I got into this.

Dr. Ben: Wow.

Dr. Jill: Haven’t stopped since. 

Dr. Ben: That’s amazing. I recently read your book, and it was just, it was fantastic. And, and in your book you talked a little bit about how mycotoxins are like one 500th the size of a spore.

And I know the spores are releasing the mycotoxins and he mycotoxins can literally just go right through our skin. They can invade every organ of our body. Um, they can go right through an N 95 mask. Um, and then of course, like you mentioned, You might not smell them, uh, they’re invisible, they’re silent, perhaps, or at least not seen, not smelled, um, question for you. How do we differentiate between that exposure versus, you know, actually becoming infected?

Dr. Jill: Hmm. That’s kind of difficult to do and, and there’s continuing research and continuing different labs that we can do to try to point more arrows toward one way or the other. Um, the way that I see it is, uh, and this has just been through the, through time that I’ve kind of understood or come to this understanding that it’s a spectrum.

It can go from mold exposure to where those mycotoxins are invading your respiratory passages. And then of course, if they’re there, every time you swallow. You can see the gut. So we’ve got this, you know, nasal gut lung connection skin. Um, so that will fundamentally change the microbiome of our body. And over time, that microbiome goes from being a commensal area where everybody’s working together for survivability of us.

You know, they help us at all costs, which is amazing to think about, you know, that we are this planet, all of these species, they’re more of them, in cell count and DNA count than our own tissue. And so with that exposure, what happens to them is they start to feel defensive. And then they start to compete.

And that’s where it becomes from a commensal microbiome to a pathogenic biofilm. And then they will compete with chemicals. So they will start to secrete their own source of defensive things, such as mycotoxins. And over time, the immunity of that area will deplete so much, then the fungus can move in and you become the sick building.

So that all depends on the previous exposure of that person. It could be, you know, a couple days of an exposure that sets that off, or it could be a couple weeks. It really depends on your susceptibility. There’s genetic susceptibility, there’s which mold or species you’ve been exposed to because each one has their own, um, way that they, you know, speed at which they can affect the body, your nutritional status, that’s how the animal studies taught us that, that wow, if an animal is really high in their innate DHA and bioflavonoids, they fare better than the animal that didn’t have that, so they add that to feed, so there’s all these genetic susceptibility things and so we can be…anywhere on that spectrum is still considered mold related illness from the initial microbiome changes all the way to the frank infection.

Infection is easier to pick up because usually somebody has skin manifestations of infection as well, which is going to be like a fungal rash or yeast vaginitis or jock itch or toenail fungus. I say very confidently now. I used to say a problem is and now I say most likely like almost 100% if somebody has toenail fungus, they have a mold exposure and they need to address that. 

Dr. Ben: Okay, so if somebody has tinea corporis or tinea petis or any of these?

Dr. Jill: Just the toenail fungus, you can have the other tinea is like a skin infection from bad diet, you know, or from being put on an antibiotic and blowing out your foot or gutt microbiome, but if there’s toenail fungus, I, I don’t think I’ve ever not seen mold exposure and that can be a past exposure.

People ask me this all the time. Can I, could this have been from that moldy basement that I lived in in college and they’re, you know, 10, 12, 15 years later? Yes, because of that thing where if it’s long enough and you become the moldy building, now you’re carrying that moldy building with you everywhere that you go.

And this is based on Dr. Joseph Brewer’s study. It was fundamental to how I, it completely revolutionized how I treated mold. In this study, they tested, um, sick people who’ve been exposed to a water damage building with chronic fatigue syndrome and then healthy controls. So I always love these healthy controls.

And what they looked at is, they found that everybody has fungus in their sinuses. All of us. Sick people, healthy people, you know, so it isn’t the mere presence of the fungus. That’s the problem. The problem is they found mycotoxins in the washings of the sick people, but not the healthy people. And that’s when all the light bulbs went off for me.

I was like, Oh my goodness, this is colonization. This is something so different. And I use colonization and pathogenic biofilm kind of interchangeably. Um, I think it does, colonization can start as an easier to correct thing, and then it can become a really hard to correct thing, and then it can become infection.

So, you know, there’s that, that kind of continuum. When I read that study, I mean, they looked at, they took biopsies of brain tissue, lung tissue, sinus tissue, gut tissue, and found mycotoxins in all of those tissues in the sick people, and not in the healthy people. So that’s that colonization idea being like, Oh my goodness, this could be from a past exposure.

Dr. Ben: Wow. 

Dr. Jill: You know, and you can, you can be walking around limping, setting yourself up for worse outcomes from health from simple things like pregnancy, car accidents. Not that that’s simple, but you know, then you have something like that happen. Tick borne infection covid and your body is now depleted. And susceptible to those things becoming worse outcomes.

Dr. Ben: I’m curious, you know, you mentioned all your early cases, and then you saw the recalcitrant refractory cases that ended up being, um, that was mold behind the scenes in these tick borne illness patients. As far as the chicken or the egg, like, do you usually see mold coming first, uh, or do you usually see Lyme coming first or is it just sort of a 50/50 kind of thing all over the board?

Dr. Jill: Yeah. Yeah. But then the question I get asked a lot is, well, which one should we treat first from a practitioner standpoint? And from my experience, if you’re not addressing the mold, you’re not going to get anywhere with the line. They’re going to have worse out, you know, like side effects from the treatments.

It’s more herxing, that kind of thing. So I put mold on the list and then we add Lyme if the patient can handle it. So you can co treat this, you know, this idea of like, Oh, you have to do just one and then you move. No, our bodies are all over the, you know, we’re all an individual and they can handle more than just one focus.

Dr. Ben: Well, obviously we know that the first rule is just to remove the person from the source, identify that source and then that can really impact a person for their own benefit, just to get them out of that moldy building. Question for you on mycotoxin tests, uh, where we see these mycotoxins.

How do you tease out whether the mycotoxins are coming from the walls and from the environment versus from a colonization within the person? 

Dr. Jill: I have 45 minutes of this in my course, so I’ll try to summarize this. So when I get asked a lot, what’s your favorite test for mold? And that’s kind of not the right question.

The right question is, what’s the right test for the patient in front of me that’s going to answer the question we have in front of us? Because that’s a very different way of testing. We have at our exposure VCS testing, which is visual contrast sensitivity. That’s, I use vcstest.com. It’s a great test. 

There are serum tests for mold allergy. That’s allergy to the spores. And then there are serum tests to antibody reactions to the mycotoxins themselves. IgE and IgG. And then there’s urine mycotoxin testing. So when we look at the different ways that we might look at the mold story, It’s nice to have one of everything of that in a perfect world.

Then we have a more complete picture. So the VCS test is a great one to help answer the question, Am I being exposed to mold right now? And when my insurance moves me to a place to while I remediate my house, Did my VCS test get better or worse in that space? Is that a healthy space for me? Is that truly my safe house while the remediation is going on because you will see changes and when someone has mold and Lyme. You can see changes in the visual contrast sensitivity.

You can also see it if they have Lyme alone. So it’s part of the story. It’s a very simple test. It’s 15 dollars, they can do it at home. They can buy an annual package if they are in a situation where they’re going to be moving around a lot. So that we can see, is that a safe house? 

Is the treatment we’re doing working? Even if they’re not having to move. Um, if it’s an occupational exposure or something. Is the treatment working? Are we seeing the normal thing? So that helps answer many questions. Um, the mold allergy, tells us how much they’re going to have, maybe an allergic mast cell part of their story, and how much of the spores they’ve been exposed to.

But people can have a completely normal mold allergy test and still be mold sick. That was the case in my house. All the spores were trapped behind building material. So we didn’t have spore exposure, but we still had mold related illness.

Then there is the serum antibody mycotoxins, so that’s like think of that like an allergy to mycotoxins, but it’s an immune response. That’s a blood test, and that’s one of the few on the market that answers the question, is my patient being exposed right now to the mold? Because if the IgE is high, that means there’s been an appreciable exposure to the extent that it will irritate the immune system in the past two to four weeks.

So I’d love to combine that with the VCS test, the serum mycotoxin antibody test. So serum IgE, typically the IgE is also positive, but not always if the body is handling it, so to speak, the body can detoxify it, but it’s going to wear the body out. And then the urine mycotoxin testing, there’s two different ways to do that.

There’s different methods or techniques, but that one is a great one to run at the same time. Because if you’re seeing a high IgE mycotoxin reaction, a VCS is messed up, and they have urine mycotoxins. That’s a current exposure. The problem with the urine is it’s an excretion test, so they may be a really bad excreter.

We can do some pre-testing, like a glutathione status. Every mycotoxin takes a different road through the liver. So, not, glutathione won’t work for liver metabolism for all. And, I have seen on the mass spec urine test that it does alter some of the mycotoxins to falsely lower them.

So, I don’t use glutathione as my provoking agent, but it is informative to know if they have low glutathione. That means they have low tissue glutathione and they can’t move and collect. All of the urine mycotoxins, so if someone has low glutathione, we might support that for a little while before we spend their money on a urine mycotoxin test, and then have them, they’ll be the people that will need a sauna at a time.

And if we have them do a sauna and collect the next six hours of urine, that will tell us then a better picture of what their load is in their body. So, and then sometimes we do the urine to say, are we done yet? You know, so they’re getting, you know, trucking along on their protocol and getting a little antsy.

And that’s usually when they need biofilm busting because let’s, let’s peel open the layers and see what’s underneath there. And that’s a really good time to use a provoked urine test to say, how much load do we have yet to get rid of? And if that’s come to zero, then we can start pulling away the antifungal treatments.

So that’s, that’s like four hours of my course. So if anyone’s not tracking, I apologize. 

Dr. Ben: Wow. Well, thank you. In your book, you had mentioned how with mold, you know, it really can stop our body’s ability to excrete. It can kind of slow down the excretion process and then obviously can throw in all these other aspects of like depleted glutathione and so on, which we know gets depleted during any chronic infection.

And then it slows down our organs of elimination, like the liver and the kidneys and so on. But I’m curious how often you see low levels of mycotoxins, but they’re actually much higher than they appear because the person’s not able to act to really move everything out. 

Dr. Jill: Okay. Yeah. Yeah.

And that’s why I like to start with the, you know, combination of a VCS, the mycotoxin antibody, which is my myco lab and a urine and choosing the urine. Mycotoxin collection method, depending on what’s going on with the patient, because if they have to be on glutathione for like a TBI or their, you know, Lyme protocol or something like that, then I don’t use the mass spec because it’s going to change the numbers.

I’ll use the real time lab that uses the ELISA method. But when we’re looking at all of that, that gives a better picture, but I’ve had more times where my mycolab is high and the urine mycotoxins was like, wimpy. Like, oh yeah, maybe this is mold. And then we start detoxifying them and we retest them in two months or so, and the mycotoxins go through the roof.

New ones that we didn’t ever see showed up. And that’s kind of how it works. It’s sort of like sedimentary layers of toxin, that the body will get rid of the easy ones first. You know, mycophenolic acid will go first. Not technically a mycotoxin. Oh, we should talk about that. Myco, a mycophenolic acid, is not a mycotoxin.

So where there’s actively living mold, there’s MPA, but not necessarily mycotoxins. So if the molds in that building are not competing, let’s say it’s just this big, wonderful, happy aspergillus colony. Then we’re going to see MPA coming out in the urine. But we may not see mycotoxins if the aflatoxin is happy, but that’s still harming the patient.

That’s still harming the person. So if we see a high MPA on the urine, that gives us more, um, more weight toward the fact that they’re actively being exposed. So the VCS test is being messed up, the IgE, my Myco lab being high urine mycotoxin, MPA. This is someone who’s being exposed to mold. 

Dr. Ben: One more question.

Dr. Jill: Yeah. 

When we see, uh, you know, high mycotoxins on on a mycotoxin urine, uh, test. And I, I mean, I see it all the time here in the Pacific Northwest. Um, what percentage of the time do you find that people actually do have colonization? Uh, because it seems to be a lot of the time, um, I’m seeing, um, fungal evidence of fungal overgrowth, particularly on an organic acids test.

Yeah. Um, And then, of course, with regards to the other, other things you’re mentioning, like the visual contrast. 

Dr. Jill: Yeah, so the, I should have mentioned the OAT test, the organic acids test, as one of the colonization markers, that they, we do get a little bit better of a hint of that this is colonization.

However, again, back to that continuum, if I’m finding urine mycotoxins on someone, they’re colonized. That’s just as easy as it gets, and that’s what I took from the Brewer study. Is that someone’s symptomatic and their cause for symptomatology is mycotoxins, is the mold smoke. Then there’s fungal fire somewhere we have to put out.

And that’s why the most important part of that is getting rid of the, or resetting the sinus microbiome. Because that’s our first interface. So the respiratory microbiome, sinus microbiome. That’s a really important part of treatment because you’ve got to put out the fire. Otherwise, it’s just going to be continuously making smoke.

Dr. Ben: Wow. Yeah. Well, um, is, is there anything else you want to leave the audience with in terms of pearls for a mold illness or other aspects that you’ve been kind of delving into lately that you’re excited about? 

Dr. Jill: Sure, if we have time, I have two things. So just to carry on on that idea of the sinus, I get asked a lot.

People are like, but I don’t have any sinus symptoms. I’m like, that is not a requirement for sinus treatment. You have sinus exposure. We’re trying to make sure that we’re treating that. So I would say that the thing I see, I kind of have like four things for most people. If they’re not progressing on their treatment, then they may be getting binders only.

And that in my patient population is not sufficient for correcting mold related illness. So in animals, they use bioflavonoids, way before they use binders. Binders have the potential for taking nutrients out of you. So you want to make sure you’re using binders that are helping your microbiome make more nutrients that still pick up bile, which is fiber, insoluble fiber.

So I see binders and no bioflavonoids. I see no intranasal treatments of any kind are being stuck points for people not getting better. No antifungals at all. And of course we have our, so we don’t have to wait for someone to have an infection. We can be correcting this colonization issue, this microbiome disruption issue, without having to use pharmaceuticals.

Some people need them. But, you know, we don’t have to wait. We can use those things in a gentle way. Um, so, antifungals. What am I forgetting? Flavanoids. Oh, and just, just binders alone. So those are the four things, yeah. Binders alone are not going to do it. 

Dr. Ben: Oh, thanks for that. Yeah. Well, um, where can people, you know, find you online? Where can people, uh, reach out to you? Where do you live? 

Dr. Jill: Yeah, I live at drcrista.com. I’m on Instagram, YouTube, and my whole goal and mission in life is education. And, mold is so commonly the hidden cause behind so many conditions, including PANDAS and PANS. So, yeah, I hope if anyone’s interested, lots and lots of material, I have fact sheets for each mycotoxin on my website.

Dr. Ben: Those fact sheets are fantastic, by the way. 

Dr. Jill: Thank you. The doctor ones are much more complicated, but yeah, those are.

Dr. Ben: Well, thank you so much, Dr. Jill. Obviously we have a lot more we could talk about and unpack in terms of treatment and so on. So I’d love to have you back on the show sometime. 

Dr. Jill: I’d love it. That’d be great. 

And that concludes today’s episode of The Modern Vital Podcast. We would love to hear from you. We value your feedback. If you have any questions or concerns or suggestions, please reach out to me at ben@modernvital.com. And also please leave us a review. If you enjoyed this episode on Spotify or Apple, we look forward to having you join us next week for another exciting episode of The Modern Vital Podcast. 

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About Me

Dr. Ben Reebs, ND, is an award-winning, naturopathic physician with a focus in environmental medicine, which looks at how environmental factors can cause chronic disease. He specializes in chronic infections, autoimmune disease, and digestive health.

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