Concrete Steps for Conquering the Unique Health Challenges Sparked by Mold Toxicity
There are times when I get really excited to share treatment information and insights with you from medical professionals who are working “in the trenches” of the environmental and mold illness space. I love learning about their wonderful, out-of-the-box therapies that are successfully helping patients to conquer chronic illness and to recover. Today, is one of those times! I am honored to introduce you to Dr. Jill Crista, ND.
Dr.Crista is a naturopathic doctor, best-selling author and nationally-recognized health educator. Her passion lies in improving health through education by closing the gap in understanding between medical research and clinical practice. She writes books and conducts online courses for anyone looking for concrete steps to conquer unique health challenges. She focuses on conditions that cause injury and inflammation to the brain and nervous system, including, but not limited to concussion, mold, Lyme disease, and autoimmune encephalopathies.
Dr. Crista graduated with honors from the National University of Naturopathic Medicine in 2003, and completed a program with the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society. She is passionate about herbal medicine and completed the advanced botanicals course with Dr. Jillian Stansbury. For over a decade, she was director and practicing member of two integrative medical clinics in southern Wisconsin. There, she had the opportunity to collaborate with many specialty physicians including integrative medicine physicians, naturopathic doctors, acupuncturists, chiropractic doctors, physical therapists, and massage therapists. In doing so, she experienced the synergy and efficacy of a team approach to patient care using several modalities. Now she focuses on researching, teaching and writing to incorporate what she has learned to educate both doctors and patients.
The topic of this post is Dr. Crista’s latest book, “Break the Mold.” In it, she walks patients through the weeds of mysterious illness and chronic symptoms caused by mold–from diagnosis, to treatment, to remediation, to future protection from re-exposure. She carefully organizes each chapter to bring the pieces of this debilitating illness together, giving actionable and practical steps towards solutions and wellness. I believe her accessible approach to treating mold illness will resonate with readers from medical professionals to the layperson–literally anyone can get something out of her clinical wisdom and personal experience of being mold-sick herself and with treating mold-sick patients in her practice.
What follows is my interview with Dr. Crista:
(Note: This is a long one, chock-full of valuable and useful mold wisdom. If you are suffering from chronic mold sickness, this is a must read. Consider printing out or taking a few sessions to really read it. You will appreciate all the insights and treatment tips shared by Dr. Crista! I have noted in BOLD section headings for each topic to make navigating easier to what interests you most or for future reference easier.)
Me: Hi, Dr. Crista. Thank you so much for agreeing to speak with me today and for agreeing to explore and go deep on some of the topics in your new book. I found it incredibly helpful and easy to understand. It’s a book about mold and mold illness that is literally easy to sit down and just read—which is rare. This is coming from someone who has read at least 30 books on the topic. And, then, it’s also a good reference when you need to find information that you want to revisit, because you are struggling with a symptom or something in particular. The way you structured and outlined the book makes it easy to do that, because you can turn right to the correct section or topic and don’t have to wade through a bunch of information that you don’t need, or that maybe that does not necessarily apply. I also like all of your personal stories and patient stories in the book. They really help convey the message and help to make certain points more memorable.
Dr. Crista: Exactly. Yeah. Thank you. Well, that’s how I wrote the book because I was kind of frustrated by what was out there and trying to send patients to resource books, and not really finding a lot of help. I mean Neil’s (Dr. Neil Nathan—find my interview with him HERE) book Mold and Mycotoxins was the best up to that point. And now there are a couple of others that have been really good. But at the time, I was like, “Ah, I just need more resources, and something that teaches people the way I approach it or natural medicine approaches it, which is different than how Dr. Shoemaker does.” That’s also why I broke out those stories because so many times I get frustrated reading health books. And the stories aren’t pulled out. So, you have to kind of wade through to figure out, where does the story start? Where does it end? And where does it get to the stuff that I was interested in? Because when you read a story once, you don’t really often need to go back to it. So that’s why I wanted to pull those out so that someone can find the information part of the book versus the story part of the book.
Testing and Diagnosis
Me: And with this illness, personal stories can be very important. There’s so much anecdote that’s actually helpful, because there is a lot of science, but there’s also not a lot of science, in terms of what works and what doesn’t. Hearing from people who have been through it and are on the other side is really helpful and hope-inspiring for others who are in the middle of it and struggling. So, that actually brings me to my first question regarding diagnosis and how you begin with your patients. When someone first comes to you who suspects mold is making them sick, or who has many mold-related symptoms, do you begin immediately with lab testing? If so, what testing do you use?
Dr. Crista: I’m not Shoemaker-trained, so I don’t really start by doing the full panel of labs on anybody. Actually, up to this point, I don’t think that I’ve ever ordered all of the Shoemaker tests. I was Crinnion trained (Note: Walter Crinnion is considered one of the foremost experts in the field of environmental medicine and started the environmental medicine classes at Bastyr University, University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine, and the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine) and Lyn Patrick trained (Note: Patrick is a licensed naturopathic physician with over 30 years of clinical experience and is a well-respected and published author and speaker on the topics of environmental medicine, liver disease, endocrine disruption, and metal toxicology, just to name a few) and my training is based more on a clinical diagnosis. What Doctor Shoemaker’s labs do is to look for indicators for possible mold, but are not really ever finding the smoking gun. So, I will use and have ordered some of those labs if I need clarity, but I don’t usually start there. For example, if I know it’s mold, now we have mycotoxin-testing that’s better science–what Great Plains does now in their spectrometry has become such an ace in a hole. (Note: The new, highly sensitive GPL-MycoTOX Profile gives a precise identification of all of the mycotoxins being analyzed, which prevents having false positive errors. The test can detect amounts in the parts per trillion, which is about 100-fold better than any other test currently available. It currently measures eight different mycotoxins, from four types of mold, making it the most comprehensive test on the market.) Not everybody passes mycotoxins in their urine. Even though some people are really sick, you don’t always see it in a urine panel. For most of my patients, I’ve been running Great Plains since that’s been available, and I’m finding that by just doing some basic labs with that, that I can find information that is very useful for treatment. And then, I can throw in one of the Shoemaker-recommended labs if there’s still something that just doesn’t make any sense. So, if I need clarification on something, like, “Wow, this person’s brain fog is really bad.” Then, I can run a TGF Beta, and also investigate brain injury or some of those other things. But I do think that what he (Shoemaker) did, was really innovative at the time and helped to bring academically interesting data to biotoxin-triggered illness. That has become less clinically useful at this point, though, because of the greater acceptance of mold, the better testing for buildings, and the ability to quantify the toxins.
Me: How is the new Great Plains mycotoxin testing different than the typical urine mycotoxin panel? Is it looking for the same things or is it totally different?
Dr. Crista: So RealTime Labs was the first on the scene offering urine mycotoxin testing and that’s an ELISA test, which relies on antibodies, so you can miss quite a bit of mycotoxins with that method, and you have to provoke the mycotoxins to make them sort of show up. That’s what I used to run all the time, and I found that very useful. And you kind of get used to the fact that you have to have people prep–I had people avoid mycotoxin-containing foods and beverages for three days before doing the test, and then we would provoke. And now with Great Plains, it’s called a mass spectrometry or a mass spec, and what that does is find the color band, basically, and this is dumbing it down, but the color band indicates that a mycotoxin is there. The nice thing about their method is that they see the precursors to the mycotoxin and the metabolites of the mycotoxin. So, in essence, you get a better spectrum of how that mycotoxin is existing in that person’s body.
Dr. Crista: Because, you know the mycotoxins are really complex. They’re all very diverse. So, the body might be converting it into something that isn’t the direct mycotoxin, but is one chemical step away from it. The mass spec method is catching all of those. So, you get a better view of what’s going on. What I’ve learned by doing split-sample testing is that, if you provoke the Great Plains Lab, you can actually make the mycotoxins look negative. For example, for provoking, we’ve used glutathione, or, like an IV glutathione or a liposomal oral glutathione. But, if you do that with the Great Plains, I’ve actually had patients clear those mycotoxins very efficiently, making their lab look more normal than it really was. So, I don’t do any kind of provoking now with the Great Plains method.
Me: I am also really interested in the stool testing that you mention in your book. I hadn’t heard much about stool testing as a mold illness diagnosis tool before that.
Dr. Crista: So real quick back to lab testing in general. I also always run a Natural Killer Cell count and a Natural Killer Cell function lab, because that is so important in catching those people that could still have a normal Killer Cell count. Your body tries to compensate for the low function by increasing total numbers. So, we want to really enhance that person’s Natural Killer Cell function. When I have that number, there is one miraculous method to raise your Natural Killer Cell function, and it has nothing to do with what you put in your mouth. It has to do with where you place your body. It’s now called forest bathing or Shinrin-yoku. If you get out and appreciate trees even a half hour a day you can raise your Natural Killer Cell function by 10 times.
Me: Oh, that’s incredible.
Dr. Crista: Isn’t it incredible? It’s just beautiful to me, and that effect can last. It’s not that high for 30 days, but the rise effect can last for 30 days. So, when people say to me, “Well I don’t live anywhere where I can do that.” I say that, even if you can get somewhere on the weekends and really appreciate the trees, be out and fully notice them. Just notice and appreciate. By just doing that, their Natural Killer Cell function can come up. I think that that’s just absolutely beautiful, because so many mold sick people are so toxic, and if all it costs you is a bus trip once a week to be outside, then that’s huge.
Me: Agreed. I mean, it’s so interesting too, because I think, and your book actually touches on this, that the mold, it almost becomes this weird driver when it’s in your body. The mold seems to almost take over and to drive you to do all of the wrong things.
Dr. Crista: Yes, yes, yes, exactly.
Me: I mean, when you are mold-sick, you do things like staying inside and staying in the darkness and feeding your body with things that feed the mold, but starve your body. And it’s really interesting in that way and makes it scary. But, once you become cognizant of it, there are times during recovery when you’re like, “Okay, is this the mold or is this really me?” You know?
Dr. Crista: Right. I feel like that’s what mold does, so you have to get out of it. I encourage everybody, if you can to do it, a minimum of a half hour every day, to just be outside and appreciating– even if you live in the city, there is a city tree somewhere you can go hang out with and love on. And it’s true that I think when you get out, you start to see a little more clearly and you’re out the influence of this really negative force that wants you to stay put so it can compost you. Which is kind of creepy.
Me: It is creepy. But, very true. So, where does the stool testing come in and why does it help?
Dr. Crista: Yes, the stool testing is something that I was trained to do as a naturopathic doctor when I went to medical school. If you ask a naturopathic doctor if you have to pick one organ system that dictates your wellness it would be the gut. So, we were trained in stool testing. That was sort of a regular order of business for me for people who had not just GI problems, but all manner of problems from skin disease to joint pain, or joint disease to immune deficiency and getting sick all the time to, of course, then GI problems as well. Those are sister tissues to the gut lining. The gut manages the majority of our brain chemistry, so if somebody was having depression or anxiety, we would do a stool test. So that’s how I was trained. That’s the core or the foundation of my training, and we find so much useful information by doing that. We not only detect maybe if the person has some sort of malabsorption problem, but, quite often in my mold sick people, I was seeing fungal overgrowth, and we would treat it. But if they were in a moldy environment, they would get worse with the treatment. They would get mental meltdown. I see that mold goes right to the brain. It really can cause you to feel completely overwhelmed like you need to end it all. It can be really strange in how it affects your brain chemistry. When I started to realize there were some people that had this Candida overgrowth that wasn’t actually due to their diet, that sort of created the beginning of the spark that was, “What else is going on here?”
Me: Was that also what first sparked your interest in exploring mold illness more?
Dr. Crista: Well, first, I became a specialist in Lyme’s disease. And there’s a lot of cross-over between Lyme disease and mold toxicity from a water-damaged building. And here was this group of chronic Lyme patients that were not getting better. They were doing all the right things that everybody else was doing and who were getting results, but I had this group of patients, that just were not moving. And then one of those patients found black mold in his home. His case started to just make all kinds of things fit together in my head. Like, “Oh, that’s why you got sicker when we tried to fight Candida. That’s why he has chronic toe fungus. That’s why he has pelvic pain. Oh, my gosh.” So, things started to come together. Then, as I learned about mold, I was, like you, trying to hit every book I could find and trying to find research, and there was just so little human research, it was very frustrating. So, I started to ask the question of if these other chronic patients in my practice actually have mold illness? And it was true for all but one. So, yeah, I was just like, “Oh my gosh.” Not that all my Lyme patients had mold, but all the stuck people that were doing everything right but that just weren’t getting anywhere– they weren’t getting the results, they ended up having molds in their homes.
Me: I think the concept of stool testing just really drew me in, because that was something that could’ve really helped me. The parasites and the GI stuff just wouldn’t resolve, even after we were out of the mold, but we didn’t do stool testing. When we finally did, I was full of parasites. But I don’t know if that was before or after the mold. And the mold just– because I had no immune system, they were just able to sort of take over.
Dr. Crista: That’s right. I mean, in many cases, that’s because we eat parasites all the time, but we normally have a robust enough mucus layer and intestinal lining and good, hardy stomach acid that we can eradicate most of them by burning them out and then shoving them out. When you have mold, mold mycotoxins start to wear away the lining of the digestion from the mouth all the way down. Anywhere you have mycotoxin exposure, it can start to wear away that mucus lining, so then you don’t have the protections and those parasites have a direct blood system access. They love that, and then they bring friends along. So, we see that a lot–people with mold illness have these rotating parasitosis. You’ve got to care of both. Just like in my book where I have the five steps, and we get to the killing phase with the antifungals, a lot of times, I’m also having to do anti-parasitics at the same time. It’s so common to have something that also takes advantage of that compromised immune system.
Me: I definitely could not get over the hump, until we resolved that. I mean, I was getting foodborne illnesses constantly from eating the same things my family was eating. I was even diagnosed with ulcerative colitis during a hospital stay for Salmonella. I was pretty horrible for a while.
Dr. Crista: I didn’t put this in my book, but I do have it in my doctor course that– I’ve had a couple of cases of ulcerative colitis get better after realizing it’s mold, getting out of the environment, and then treating. And it’s like the ulcerative colitis was exactly what you’re describing, that they had this long-standing mold exposure, it created ulcerations, and then there were parasites that were living within those ulcerations that kept them open to keep an access point to the blood. If you aggressively treat both, and I’m sure, like you said, mold, once you have, you’re kind of always– your warning systems are up all the time, you probably have to take things to keep yourself held together. But, if you do that, then the ulcers eventually do heal and the colitis heals, so you don’t have a chronic condition anymore, which is so beautiful and amazing. That is true treat-the-cause medicine.
Dr. Crista’s Mold Questionnaire
Me: I am going to shift gears a little to the Mold Questionnaire in your book, which is, obviously, very helpful. Is the questionnaire available on your website, or is it only in the book?
Dr. Crista: It’s in the book, but if they want a printable copy of it, they can just email through the website. It will send them a questionnaire, because we tried to send it with a little bit of, I don’t know, warning. Visually, this could be other things, and to try to have people not get too freaked out about it. It’s a guide. It’s a tool that I created in clinic, because as I started learning about mold, after my patient who found black mold in his house, and it started to answer all these questions– well, I didn’t even know some of these things were connected to mold. They just got better after we started remediating his house and treating them. And I was like, “Ear ringing is connected? Wait. Pelvic pain? Why is that connected to mold?” And so that’s how many of the things ended up on this questionnaire. It was just from experience of watching it get better.
Me: How exactly does the scoring work and why is it ordered the way that you did it?
Dr. Crista: The reason is that the first category are things that are pretty commonly seen with mold but also commonly seen with other conditions. So, they don’t really get scored very high. Then as you go up in category, these are things that are more closely correlated with mold and more severe. So, those get scored heavier. That’s where I came up with that scoring system. I just tested a bunch of my patients to come up with the numbering system. I consider this questionnaire a work in progress. It’s not definitely at its final stage, and it hasn’t yet been scientifically verified. That’s my next goal–to have statisticians verify it against people with known mold illness and see if the numbering system is right. Most of the symptoms I have already correlated with scientific study. I have a questionnaire version for doctors that has the studies that I used to come to that awareness. For those that aren’t scientifically backed, I told you about the ear ringing and the pelvic pain in my patient with those combinations, and it got better after treating mold. I thought, wow. I wouldn’t have found that. I wouldn’t have even thought to check that. So, there is my clinical experience for those symptoms. But, that’s what that’s all about and how I score it.
Addressing a Patient’s Environment
Me: Let’s talk a little about the environmental piece of treatment. How do you approach that?
Dr. Crista: Because I am trained as an environmental medicine instructor, and the first three rules are avoidance, avoidance, and avoidance. I was really picky about avoidance. I was really picky about remediation. We called in one of the best remediation or certified inspectors in Madison near where I live. She came and worked on these people’s houses. She taught me a ton. And, so we were able to do really, really good avoidance for these patients. I was then able to see these strange medical conditions that people can’t really figure out get better. It was happening two, three, four times. I thought, “Oh, my goodness. I think this is related to mold.” So, I’d do a med search on the symptom, and there’s just all of this animal research. I mean, just like with your personal experience with the ulceration. And there’s so much inflammation. They see that with ingestion of Stachybotrys trichothecenes in animals, but nobody’s talking about it in humans. It’s just amazing to me that that isn’t happening. So, I’m hoping, too, with my book that it spurs more conversation and research and really demand for human studies.
Me: I have found the same hurdles with my own research. I have also found hurdles in addressing avoidance with people. There’s a point where you have to address your environment. If you do not get out of the mold, you’re not going to get better. And maybe it’s sort of the mold taking over and people not wanting to listen to that, but it’s just so hard sometimes to convey to people that, maybe just put everything in a plastic, sealable bin and figure it out later if you’re not ready to let go, but leave.
Dr. Crista: That’s exactly what I recommend to people is you just go to Wal-Mart, get cheap plastic bins, everything goes in, you put it in storage, get yourself out, and then you figure it out. Take your bare essentials and get out. And then you’ll figure the rest out when you have energy and you feel better.
Me: Do you find in your practice that when people do that and they start to regain their health, they have an easier time walking away from a toxic home and toxic belongings?
Dr. Crista: Yes. But, if you tell people that initially, they will resist it because they’re attached. And I know. Mold did it to me. I infected my car by being so attached to certain things that I wanted to move it to storage and look at it later. I was already so sick. So, my sister came and loaded it all up. There is dust even on the outside of the plastic bins. And it infected my car. I ended up having to get rid of my car as well. So, I know. I have personal experience with that. Whatever mold does to your head, it wants you to keep it around, keep spreading spores and bringing it along with you. Now that I’m healthy, I am getting rid of so much junk, even stuff that I was able to remediate and bring with me. I’m just peeling and peeling and peeling. And it’s interesting, the more as I was in the sick home, I accumulated and accumulated and accumulated. Not to a hoarder standpoint at all because I love neat spaces, but I was always feeling like I was depleted. And I think I was trying to fill that with more stuff. Now, I feel like that was the mold saying, “Give me more food. Bring me more things to metabolize in your space.”
Me: I don’t know if you buy into this, and I don’t know if there’s a scientific or clinical proof or anything to back this up, but I found from my personal experience, of the things that we could save–things that were in this space when it was really, really toxic, even after some of them are cleaned, it was like because they were exposed to the mold toxin that made me so sick, my body remembered it unlike anything else. And I would have an immediate, very visceral reaction to some things. Whereas now I can have mold exposures. I’ll walk into some place and be like, “It’s not good.” I’ll feel bad, and I’ll get some of the brain fog and stuff, but it’s not quite the same.
Dr. Crista: I think you nailed it. That’s what I’m trying to describe to people. It is the biofilm of that water-damaged building. All the locks and keys that represent that biofilm, of all the keys, you have a perfect lock, and that key can just fit right into it and open up illness for you. I don’t know if it’s energetic or if it’s mycotoxin, because they’re incredibly small and they do accumulate on materials. For some people, it was just something where it was like, “No, I can’t be with that.” For others, it is more of a physical reaction. So, who knows? There are probably nanoparticles that we don’t even know to test for. But I have also found that the people who fair the best and who recover the quickest are those who leave and take almost nothing with them.
Protecting the Body From Mold
Me: If someone is not really ready to do any environmental work, but wants you to help them, is there anything you can do or is there any place that you start with patients like that, or do you say you’ve got to get out of the mold before we can start?
Dr. Crista: I do go ahead and start them on things to protect. There are some things that have been studied and shown to protect people from mycotoxins. So, I start right away with bioflavonoids, resveratrol, quercetin. Getting those things into the body. Milk thistle also has been shown to protect. I would actually tell all of the remediators that I know in my area to take that and Quercetin every day. It’s been shown to actually prevent mycotoxin intrusion into the liver. The minimum effective dose is 750 milligrams every day. I just have people buy the capsules at health food stores. I also use coconut oil and DHA. There’s a good children’s DHA by Nordic Naturals. I start people on those protective things. Sometimes that will help reboot them enough to get organized and feel like they can take the next step. It’s just about getting to the next step. Then, you can start removing things and working the avoidance piece as they can handle it. We do things that are sustainable for them. It might be something like removing bread from their diet—hard to do at first, but creates profound differences in how they feel.
Addressing Your Diet to Combat Mold
Me: Speaking of bread, is there a specific diet that you like for mold patients?
Dr. Crista: It can be hard when you’re so brain fogged and so impaired to also be put on a really restrictive diet. So, we’re just trying to focus on avoiding the things that we know are going to be a problem. Just put the focus there on what things to not do. Then, as far as what things to do, really focus on getting vegetables, vegetables, vegetables, vegetables. That usually works for people. Some people come back and said, “Well, just give me a list. I just want to go to the store, and tell me where I should eat.” Then, I’ll create some weekly meal plans. But mainly, what I do is I say, “Make sure that you’re getting adequate protein, and then get tons of vegetables, and I don’t even care what kind. And then try to get some greens every day.” Those protective foods that are in the book, they’re a good guide. The stinky foods, like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, onions, garlic, curry. I think keto and paleo are going around a lot in forums, and I think that’s beneficial, because both reduce the total carb load. But I think it’s also so restrictive, and people tend not to get enough vegetables.
Pituitary and Adrenal Support
Me: What kind of things do you do for pituitary and adrenal support for your patients?
Dr. Crista: I’m also a brain injury specialist after having one myself. The pituitary is a big focus of treatment for me. The non-supplement thing to do is craniosacral therapy. It is so incredibly valuable for restoring pituitary function. There are yoga classes that focus on glands and joints. I think is the combination, but I just look for yoga teachers that know how to hit glands, and then try to refer people to those courses, or you meet with that yoga instructor and find out what poses they could be doing to nourish their pituitary. Then I use pituitary glandular, so sort of like the idea of how we do thyroid if somebody has thyroid deficiency, they go on– well, typically, a naturopathic doctor’s going to be using as much natural as possible, so we use pig thyroid gland or armour thyroid or natural thyroid. I use the same concept for the pituitary using pituitary glandular as a supplement. There’s some concern about mad cow disease with doing, so if somebody is worried about that, they need to know that’s a risk, but I have found that that’s been incredibly restorative to pituitary function.
Me: I feel like addressing the pituitary plays a big role in insomnia as well. Until I started using a glandular with Astralagus root in a homeopathic pituitary spray (CellTropin), my sleep just won’t return to normal.
Dr. Crista: That’s the thing, it doesn’t have to be a medication, and yet, by stimulating what you are lacking, it’s restoring you at such a foundational level. And the Astralagus for you too. I’m sure was helping with the viral load. Whenever you have parasites, the viruses take over as well, so Epstein Barr and all that family, Varicella and the herpes, the whole herpes family loves to take advantage of when you have mold illness. There’s actually a direct correlation between Epstein-Barr virus and mold mycotoxins and they perpetuate each other.
Mold and Stealth Viral Infections
Me: That was actually my next question: What about the mold turns those viruses on?
Dr. Crista: It’s quite common actually. There’s a research study that connects Epstein-Barr with mold mycotoxicosis, and it’s sort of– the best way I can dumb it down for my brain to understand is that they perpetuate each other. So, when there’s mold mycotoxin, Epstein-Barr can grow and persist. And when there’s Epstein-Barr, mold mycotoxins can persist. It’s like this self-fulfilling cycle of two bad guys. It’s like Bonnie and Clyde. Each one is dangerous, but you put them together, they’re way, way, way more dangerous.
Me: Do you ever address the viral component separately or do you just go for the mold and that resolves the viral component?
Dr. Crista: Well, I do both. The nice thing about using plants is they have multiple mechanisms of action. So, if I know that there’s a virus, I often will test– I told you I test immunoglobulins and Natural Killer cell function, but I also often will test for Epstein-Barr. If someone’s been in a water-damaged building, there’s that direct correlation. I’m finding it quite a bit, and if they do have Epstein-Barr, then we’ll do olive leaf extract which is both a mold killer and a viral killer.
Me: Oh, wow. Okay.
Dr. Crista: If there is a viral layer, then I also do things that are immune-boosting particularly for viruses–like, astragalus. It’s the perfect plant, because it raises natural killer cells, and it also is an anti-viral and an adrenal adaptogen, so it’s got lots of nice things for people who are sick with mold.
Peloid (Mud Bath) Therapy
Me: So Peloid therapy (therapeutic mud baths using peat mud), that was a unique one mentioned in your book. I’ve never done it. You offer great tips on how to do it, but is that sort of a detox piece, or is it giving your body something? Why does it have so many benefits?
Dr. Crista: It’s a bidirectional therapy. So, it is detox. It’s getting the mycotoxins out of that base layer, the first layer of the skin. And that’s one of our fattiest layers, because it’s what warms us up. And that’s one of the places where mycotoxins can really build up, one of the reasons why movement is so important, because you can move all of those things. The mud used for the peloid therapy will pull mycotoxins through the skin. It has a drawing effect. It also contributes certain nutrients and probiotics to restore natural flora at the skin layer. So, it’s just a perfect combination of give and take, giving good stuff, and taking bad stuff.
Me: Do you feel that many of the mycotoxins, like environmental ones, especially mold, do you feel like much of that is absorbed through the skin? I have people ask me that all the time, and I always thought it was through breathing and possibly touching and getting it in your mouth, but I never really thought about absorbing it through the skin.
Dr. Crista: Absolutely. We absorb mycotoxins most readily through the skin versus any other mode in our body. We’re just walking sponges to these mycotoxins. Inhalation is second, and ingestion is third. So, it’s fascinating to me that we’re not talking about that skin part. If you’re in a moldy building, and you’re walking around in your bare feet, our feet are most absorbable– feet and hands are very absorbable surfaces. You could be walking around in mycotoxins super absorbing them through your feet. That’s part of why remediations don’t work: people aren’t addressing the mycotoxin piece. And the skin– that’s why I love these mud baths, because you can take down that skin load and really unburden the liver and the kidneys to clear out those mycotoxins. All you have to do is take a dirty bath.
Me: Moving on to the use of whole-body, herbal antifungals for treatment. How important have you found this piece to be for recovery?
Dr. Crista: You don’t have to have a fungal infection to need systemic antifungals. Just by virtue of being exposed to a water-damaged building, you now need antifungals because the mold will find ways to colonize in your body. It’s so tenacious. I have forever used full-body antifungals, and then I added the nasal and that was the kicker. Using both at the same time are the things that really made the difference.
Me: Do you recommend people who are susceptible to mold illness cyclically take herbal, whole-body antifungals or do you tell them not to unless they have symptoms?
Dr. Crista: I do cyclically, because, even in a healthy person, there are times where Candida or fungus loves to overgrow, and if you look outside, it will tell you. So mushroom season, which is April in my area, that’s a time to go on some antifungals just to stay on top of it. Then, any time someone has had a mold exposure to a musty building or certain restaurants – hospitals are terrible – certain pools, churches, summer camp, those kind of things, to hit the antifungal nasal sprays right away, because, again, the trigger is the toxins in that air interacting with your natural flora, triggering your natural flora to feel threatened and to behave badly. I’ve had patients that went out to dinner and got whacked and now carry their antifungal in their purse or their car and then make sure that they get it right after that exposure and do just fine.
Addressing Biofilms Inside the Body and Digestion
Me: Are their barriers to that treatment, like biofilms, which make using just an antifungal problematic?
Dr. Crista: Actually, biofilm’s a big deal, and it can– well, dental plaque is biofilm. It can build in all kinds of places in the body, in the sinuses and in the gut especially. It was actually in the gut that it was first discussed in the natural medicine and chronic disease spheres, and then realizing that, “Oh my gosh, it’s in the sinuses too.” It can happen in the lungs. It can happen all kinds of places. Some people are attributing some cases of endometriosis to biofilm from the uterus and uterine lining that wasn’t able to shed, and then sort of migrates up the fallopian tube. I don’t know if that’s really the case, but we do see that there’s a strong autoimmune connection with people who have high biofilm and a strong stealth infectious burden. In order to get completely better, you have to get rid of that biofilm, and the biofilm is a collection of many different microbes, so not just mold, but mold tends to set it off. But that’s where we talk about things like MARCoNs and whatever, but I’m not so hung up on MARCoNs. I’m hung on the fact that biofilm will help each other survive, and even our normal flora starts to behave badly. When something that was normally coexisting with other microbes in your body starts to act like a bad guy and starts to encourage other bad guys that should be in small, small percentages to overgrow, it isn’t just, “Get the bug,” but it’s also, “Get at the matrix that they’re hiding in.” Some of the cholagogues like bile help to keep biofilm at bay. There are lots of techniques for trying to get at the biofilm. But you really don’t want to break that open until the body has a leg up, or the person can get very sick. That’s where I’ve made mistakes in the past.
Me: Do things like stimulating bile help?
Dr. Crista: We have a whole culture of people with low stomach acid, because we’re not eating meals in a relaxed environment. We’re not eating communally. Trashing food down our throats in the car is not a good way to digest. And we’re not eating real meals–we don’t cook a lot of times anymore. A lot of people don’t cook. So, you don’t get that odor stimulation of all the good digestive juices. I say to people, even if you’re not the one that cooked it, or you’re out at a restaurant, take a minute to smell your food. Just smelling your food before you eat it makes a huge difference in getting robust enough digestive juices. And what starts the whole cascade is salivation and smell, and then stomach acid. And if you don’t have enough stomach acid, then all the rest of the stuff doesn’t get stimulated.
Me: Do you prescribe digestive enzymes for your patients a lot? Or do you find that when they get their bile flowing correctly, it’s not as big of an issue?
Dr. Crista: Exactly what you just said. I will use digestive enzymes to try to get at biofilm. Once I feel like they’ve gotten a leg up on things–and some people just need digestive enzymes, because they can’t go the bathroom. They’re so constipated, because they don’t have that stomach acid happening at the right time of the day. Sometimes people with reflux actually have too low of stomach acid, because it’s been low when the food came in. And now the body’s trying to catch up. So, the stomach acid is a little late to the game. I’ll use digestive enzymes for people just to get them going to the bathroom. Because if you’re constipated, you’re destroying your inner lining of the gut with those mycotoxins. So, I always veer towards the side of more frequent stools or even diarrhea than to constipation when someone has mold illness. And then we can use digestive enzymes less and less as they get healthier. This also helps the bile to work. The bile is able to flow, because the liver is feeling better. Then, the stomach acid tends to come back, kind of the last thing. Some people I actually will have them take stomach acid when they eat, because they need that extra help. But yeah, eventually then you don’t need those enzymes as much. And if you’re eating a high-vegetable diet, there are lots of natural digestive enzymes in vegetables, raw veggies especially.
Me: I love that—just really working on stimulating the body to fix the broken digestive process, rather than just trying to fix the symptom of reflux with an acid blocker. Makes so much sense to me. I guess we can talk about detox now and how important the detox piece is. And, if detox is a step or ongoing. I sort of got the feel from your book that you don’t do a detox overhaul. It’s part of all of the things you’re doing.
Dr. Crista: Exactly. Every little piece of treatment is helping to detox. And then there are seasons when even healthy bodies benefit from detox, like in the spring. And what I find really interesting about that is that’s also when a lot of my mold patients need to do something antifungal. So, the spring is a really nice opportunity to sort of do a—we spring clean our house, just do a spring clean of the body. But it doesn’t have to be this big, severe thing. Often, if you’ve been sick for a long time, something severe is very depleting. So, we’re better off doing a little bit over time, rather than one big old cleanse.
Remediation Wisdom (Dr. Crista Has Been There Too)
Me: I love the part in your book that says, “No spray and pray.” I do think fogging with the right, non-toxic products can be helpful and extremely beneficial for mold maintenance and in a temporary living situation, but for actual mold remediation of a mold-contaminated home or building, it is not the answer. It is not treating or solving the underlying issue.
Dr. Crista: With mold, they have to remove it. It’s just like skin cancer. You can’t just put salve on it and watch it continue to grow and say, “Oh, we’re taking care of it because we’re putting stuff on it.” It’s still growing. You have to cut it out.
Me: Well, and that’s the importance of having people that understand what they’re doing come in. I mean, we’ve done a couple of DIY remediation things ourselves here, but that was when we saw an immediate water intrusion. In those cases, we stopped the moisture, cut out the drywall and cleaned the area for mold. Those occasions were before mold and microbial growth took hold.
Dr. Crista: Right. Especially if you’re already symptomatic to the biofilm of that building or home. But like you said, if you’re just removing watery materials, there isn’t any mold in there yet. That takes 24 to 48 hours. So, if you know there’s a flood and there’s been something, definitely removing all the materials–that’s one thing contractors don’t do. They remove drywall, and then they leave the insulation to dry out. And I always tell them, “Cut it out. Anything wet has got to go.” Because, you’re saving yourself so much expense later because it will grow mold. That’s just mold’s job. And then if you’re just cutting out wet building materials, you’re fine. But like you said, it’s calling in the professionals for if there’s been a long-standing problem, because you will need people who know what they are doing. Mold also gets more toxic as it dies. So, people will get an increased toxin burden if they start to mess around with mold. That’s why containment is also so important.
Me: From your experience with your house, in terms of remediation, what nuggets of wisdom can you share? Are there any key ones that you remember that just really stand out to you? Like, things you didn’t really know or think were important before you went through it?
Dr. Crista: Oh, I have a ton of them. I think that’s why I try to summarize them as rules of thumb for my book, because there are so many things I could talk about. So, it’s so many things. We had all three levels of our house remediated. It took a year and a half, because the more they dug, the more they found. And then they would remediate something, and we’d all think it was fine, and then we’d all get sick again. So, we learned a ton. The biggest one is that spraying thing. Also, the remediators will go in and remove drywall, which they usually have no problem taking out, but they’ll leave studs, and then they’ll spray it with this mold stain remover and assume that that’s taken care of. And, so I did testing. I tested a board just before they remediated it with the spray. And then they came back three weeks later. They couldn’t get me on their schedule, so it was three weeks later. They came back and the testing had come back bad, so they had to come back and remove the board and the rest of the drywall next to it. It turned out that after they sprayed it with their mold remover, it actually grew two additional species of mold that were more toxic than the previous ones.
Me: Oh, that’s so scary.
Dr. Crista: It’s so scary. It was treated wood. So, it says to me that, well, if you think mold can’t grow on those because they’ve been treated, well, guess what? They just watered it with a spray, and it brought more toxic species with it. So, I encourage everybody to take everything out. Cut it out. When in doubt, cut it out. If it looks infected in any way, at least two feet beyond the visible needs to be cut out. We had two support beams that we couldn’t cut out. So, we ended up reinforcing them with steel beams, so that they could notch out the area that was affected. They were spongy. It was not good. It wasn’t supporting the house anyway at that point. Two of the support beams were sort of mildly affected. And we had them plain off the top layer. I was watching and thinking of it sort of like a Mohs procedure in skin cancer where they just kind of shave until they get a clean base. But that’s what we were doing to two of the support beams that weren’t too badly affected. I don’t know that that really remediated it. We were just trying to take down the spore burden, and then we treated those with essential oils. So, who knows? Those could continue to grow mold if we don’t manage our humidity.
Me: I couldn’t agree more that the main thing after a mold infestation is controlling the humidity to make sure that a home stays healthy.
Dr. Crista: And you had asked, do I test? I test every time I change my furnace filter. We have an HVAC system for heat and cooling. And I keep testing, because I want to make sure that we’re okay.
Me: I do too. Did you do clearance testing after the remediation?
Dr. Crista: We did post-remediation testing and everything was way clean, but my kids and I never felt well in that house, even though we had done extensive remediation. We got rid of furniture and all of that. So, we ended up selling our house. I just disclosed everything. I was like, “Here’s the deal. This is what has happened in this house.” And I had so much remediation stuff that I learned along the way that they got the cleanest, remediated house you’ll ever know. Down to the studs. We did metal studs and kept the drywall away from flooring, all kinds of stuff that I built into the house to make sure–or built into the rebuild to make sure if we ever got water, we could take care of it right away, but we never felt well in that house. So, my kids and I moved. We just sold it. It’s not worth it to me to not feel well. Now the family that’s in there are doing fine. So, I was just like, forget it. I pretested the new place, and then just watch my mycotoxins. I pretested with a certified building inspector, and then just watch my mycotoxins through time. Hopefully, nothing will happen.
Me: Is there pretesting that you can suggest for people or certain types of qualifications that you recommend for building inspectors?
Dr. Crista: Yes. To start, a lot of people in my world, the mold specialists are sort of steering away from ERMI, because you could have really high mold inside and all it’s doing is comparing to an unhealthy outside. It’s like, “Wait a minute, you better go check your pine trees. I think you’ve got problems.” I have seen that a couple a couple of times where people are like, “Well my air inside is okay. It’s not much higher than the outside.” And I’m thinking, “Well you’re in a swamp. Because that’s not healthy.” So, I do–I like to use these certified inspectors. My favorites are BBEC, the Building Biology Inspectors, and also the IICRC professionals (Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification) and ACAC professionals (American Council for Professional Certification for all disciplines of building science), those I put in the book. Just like having a doctor for your body, these building inspectors are like doctors for buildings. They’re amazing, and they can find stuff. Doing a spore trap of ambient room air is ridiculous to me. Spore trap has to be a cavity test. And the other way you’re going to get a cavity test is if you have somebody who knows how to track how water works in a building structure and knowing the right cavity to test. And even then, we ended up at my house, I tested everything. Just everything. We tested air, cavities. Whenever they would pull a material out, I’m like, “Give me a sample.” And so even sometimes where we have the right cavity, and we were doing the right spore trap, we still didn’t get the reflection of how sick that cavity was until we did a bulk sample of the piece that came out. So, I do think even spore trap analysis is underreported, the severity of it, because mold spores are sticky. You have to kind of disrupt the cavity a little bit and even with that, with a really trained BBEC inspector and all the right stuff, we were still getting underreported burden in the building. So, testing is tricky. That’s why people say, “Oh, these inspectors are so much money.”
Me: And a higher chance of just finding the actual source of the problem.
Dr. Crista: Right, yeah, good point. I think there are lots of people out there that feel like they’ve ruled mold out because of bad testing, and then they’re chasing some other diagnosis when still it’s really mold in a bad building.
Learning More and Connecting With Dr. Crista
Me: Well, thank you Dr. Crista. Thank you for talking to me and for your book. Thank you also for being such an advocate for people suffering from mold-related illness. We need all of the information and help we can get.
Dr. Crista: Thank you so much and I really appreciate it. If people want more information or are interested in the book, the best thing for them is to go is to my website. I also think we have a shortened form of the questionnaire as an online quiz, if people just want to take it without really committing to emailing me. They can do the quiz and it can tell them again, if it’s a probability that this is mold or not. I have tons of free information on my website, just like you. Your blog is beautiful and it’s also chock-full of information. Also, if people want to go to the video blog page, and they don’t want to read, they could just at least listen.
Me: Thank you. The more information, the better.
Dr. Crista: Yeah, I want to get the word out. I love all of us that are on this charge. I’m so excited that we’re finding each other, because it feels like it just amplifies the voices of reason versus the other voices that are saying, “No, no, no, no. Mold’s not a problem.” The voices of money versus the voices of reason.
For more information on Dr. Crista, to connect with her, or to order her book, please visit https://drcrista.com/. Dr. Crista is not seeing patients at this time, but is developing some group workshops for people who want to work with her. If you are interested, there is a sign-up form on her website on the ABOUT page. The first workshops will start at the beginning of June, and will be segmented into people with shared situations, i.e., also have Lyme, or sick kids. If you sign up, you will be added to the list of those interested and will receive email updates.
This is absolutely brilliant. Thank you for the great work you do.
Thank you so much! Dr. Crista is the one who is brilliant. If you don’t already have her book–get it! You will read it in one sitting. TONS of helpful info, stories, and tips.