The Importance of Mold, Limbic System & Vagus Nerve When Healing Chronic Lyme with Dr. Christensen

Dr. Chistensen Image

Today on the Heal Podcast, we have Dr. Margaret Christensen and she’s a Dallas-based certified functional medicine practitioner. A personal health journey led her to the medicine-based holistic approach of functional medicine, where she’s passionate about educating clients on how to heal the whole person. Her focus lies on treating hormonal imbalances and illnesses by discovering the root cause versus simply treating symptoms and myth medication. Her practice Carpathia Collaborative helps people heal from chronic disease by implementing full lifestyle changes. And Dr. Christensen teamed up with Dr. Gill Clayton to create the mold diet detox course, which teaches people how to heal from mold illnesses, something she personally has dealt with. 

If you are interested in her Mold Detox course make sure to listen to this Heal Podcast episode to learn more about her journey and treatment approach as well as head over to the Mold Detox Course page.

Mimi: Dr. Christensen, thank you so much for coming on today. I’m excited to learn more about your practice and specifically your specialization in mold. So thank you so much. I would love for you to talk about how you transitioned from being an OBGYN into the functional medicine field and kind of approaching chronic illnesses.

Dr. Margaret Christensen: Well, like many, many, many of my colleagues who are doing functional medicine, ourselves, or somebody in our family got sick and we couldn’t get better with how we were trained. And that’s exactly what happened to me. I started having really severe chronic fatigue symptoms, fibromyalgia, whole body pain, couldn’t sleep, real difficulty concentrating, felt like my brain was on molasses. And I got so bad that I had to close my practice. And when I went to get help from my good-hearted colleagues who were smart and well-trained in their different specialties, it was all, honey, you’re depressed. Here’s some antidepressants, you’re just too stressed out and here’s some pain medications go see the physical therapist.

And then nothing was getting any better two years later and somebody handed me some nutrients and some nutrition. And I said, well, that’s expensive urine because that’s how I was trained. And yeah, but sure enough, about three months later I was feeling a whole lot better and I’d decided, well, I don’t really need to take these. And then I quit. And then I promptly just crashed again. And that’s how I got into the functional medicine realm. But unbeknownst to me, it actually took eight years to figure out that why I was sick, and many members, actually all of the members of my family, I had four children at the time, were affected in a different way. And as was my spouse. And it turned out it was toxic mold exposure was a big piece of it, but it took a long time to figure that out.

I got better without knowing that’s what it was just because I changed my diet and I started implementing some functional medicine principles. I started taking function medicine courses, and then eventually I ended up teaching for the Institute for Functional Medicine. But it wasn’t until I got re-exposed about eight years after that initial exposure in a very fancy house that I was able to look back and say, oh, that’s why everybody was sick and why I was sick. And then I had to go through a whole new regimen of detoxing and understanding. That’s really when I went down the whole mold rabbit hole. By this point, I was already doing functional medicine from a hormonal standpoint and with my OB-GYN BRAC around. But I really got deeply into the psychiatric aspects, the neurodegenerative aspects, the autoimmune aspects, et cetera, because of again, family members. And then what I was seeing at this point, I’d become fairly advanced in my abilities at, in terms of what I had learned and experienced in functional medicine.

Mimi: So your mold, was it in your home? Is that where you were exposed to it?

Dr. Margaret Christensen: Yeah, it was in my home, and then subsequently it was also in my office. It’s incredibly common. It’s very ubiquitous. Water-damaged buildings are super common. The problem is wet sheetrock because that is the food where the molds grow. This is different than the molds that we’re talking about that are outdoors. It’s a mold that grows on a wet sheet of rocks. Can produce a lot of toxins and they can also get inside air conditioning systems, particularly in what’s called the supply plenum of the AC units, and then can be blowing around in the house or apartment building or even in your car. That’s another one. Dorm room, schools, terribly notorious for having issues.

And then if you’ve lived in a place where there’s been a lot of flooding, for whatever reason, whether it’s been hurricanes or even fires, all these fires that have happened everywhere. And then people’s sprinkler systems go on inside their house. And so it’s really super common and it’s unfortunate because it can be underlying many, many, many chronic illnesses and it can impact every single physiologic system in our body.

Mimi: And so out of most of the patients that come see you that either have a chronic illness or a specifically Lyme, what percentage would you say actually have been exposed to mold or mold is the issue.

Dr. Margaret Christensen: Well, I would say that with our Lyme clients, it’s probably a hundred percent. I mean it’s really, really super high, it’s in the 90%, for sure. Some people will have very early exposure to tick bites and all that. But yeah, again, I am not a LLMD and Lyme literate medical doctor. I’m sure all your listeners are aware of that, but I am part of an organization called the international society for environmentally acquired illness. And again, many of our colleagues in there, we are is the confluence of all the infectious, chronic infectious disease world and the Lyme docs coming in with the environmental docs and working together and realizing these are just two different sides of the same coin and all part of the same puzzle. And really when you’re talking about any of these chronic illnesses and particularly chronic viral infections and or bacterial infections, there is a toxic burden that accompanies this, that may be the underlying root cause that has suppressed the innate immune system, allowing the infections to arise.

Mimi: You had mentioned before we started that I would love to kind of review it again, your protocol. When someone comes to you, if it’s Lyme, if it’s a chronic illness, you tend to have a different approach than maybe some other doctors, how, and when you would go after the viruses.

Dr. Margaret Christensen: We end up seeing a lot of people who’ve been on multiple rounds of antibiotics for many, many years, and they keep being treated. And nobody’s asked them, A, about mold. But so I mean the number one thing we do is a very thorough history. And I have a 17-page questionnaire and we have a neurological questionnaire and all that. But we always start with gut health and making sure that before we do any kind of kill protocol, that we have your gut health upregulated, that we’ve tried to treat as much leaky gut as possible, that we have your detoxification mechanisms upregulated and working. So was first gut detoxing and then the drainage system. So that would be your lymphatic, your kidneys and your colon. All of that has got to be working.

So kind of gut and drainage, and then up-regulating detox before we either try and do any kind of kill because unfortunately with particularly if you have a chronic illness and you’ve been infected, and then you have a high toxic burden such as mold and or heavy metals and or pesticides, your mass cell system that’s what’s produced is histamine tends to be just on heightened alert and you start killing stuff off before you’ve tuned down this whole auto-immunity. And you can just get some really severe Herxheimer’s response and make people sick or, and or just, they get to a plateau and are never better.

So the number one thing we find out is, is about, first of all, healing your gut. And we do that with diet and nutrients to really support your innate immune system and decrease your adaptive, which is over-reactive. And then, like I said, then liver, and then working on drainage.

Mimi:  And then you had mentioned the different couple of protocols or treatments I should say that you do there.

Dr. Margaret Christensen: Yeah. We do again, a lot of binding protocols. So we’re using binders to help mobilize and move toxins. Like I said, we always start with gut healing. We do it first of all, taking a really good gut health history. And do you have IBS issues? Do you have sibo SIFO issues? Do you have what looks like a histamine response issues? Do you have fungal overgrowth or candida issues? So by repairing those things and turning down the adaptive immune system, that’s the over-reactive piece that makes antibodies and a lot of cytokines, we’re turning that down and where we’re lifting up and supporting the innate immune system. And in that way it allows the body’s and your innate immune system, I’ll talk about the difference between those two in a second, but allows the body’s own healing mechanisms to kind of go after the infections.

What we’re doing is actually creating healthy cells and healthy cell membranes. I use a lot of fossil lipid therapies. That’s using phosphatidylcholine and butyrate. We can take it orally, or we can do it IV. I only use the highest quality products out there because there’s a lot of crap. I’ve trained with Patricia Kane who started the quote, it’s called the PK protocol, but they prefer to call it lipid membrane therapy. And when you stabilize cell membranes and mitochondrial membranes and help to make them healthy, then you can treat anything. So here’s one of the challenges with Lyme, and or the Lyme toxins and or any environmental toxin. Our cell membranes are two layers thick. And they’re on the outside where my hands are, this is the water-soluble layer. And then on the inside here is this fat-soluble layer and they’re called fossil lipids.

This is also true for your mitochondria. That’s what produces all your energy. So fat-soluble toxins, whether they’re heavy metals, whether they’re micro toxins, whether they’re pesticides, and whether they’re Lyme toxins, get stuck inside the cell membrane layer and around the mitochondrial membrane. And it turns those nice floating layers of phospholipids into lumps of large. So you go from having olive oil to lumps of lard all through your cell membranes and your mitochondria. And that’s going to disrupt the function. You can’t get nutrients and oxygen in and you can’t get toxins out. And then that starts creating a whole lot of damaged cells.

By, again, by healing and supporting the cell membranes and nurturing them, and providing all the nutrients to create healthy cells, you can help raise your innate immune system and suppress your, bring down the overreacted part of the adaptive immune system. And so we do. That and then I’m using for the kill, I use IV ozone, and we also use a lot of botanical protocols. So we’re starting with gut health and then up-regulating detox mechanisms. Then we get the lymphatic system going, make sure their kidneys and colon are just really flowing. Get you detoxing through doing infrared saunas again through your skin. So we’re trying to use all those mechanisms and trying to get all of that going first before we go in and start trying to knock anything off.

Mimi: And then where does the mold fit in? Is that part of the kill strategy or is that part of the detox strategy? Where does that come in?

Dr. Margaret Christensen: Toxic mold is one of those things that get stuck in those cell membranes. And so we start really utilizing again, binders and things like glutathione, again, upregulating liver detox. We have generally on an autoimmune paleo diet because that really shuts down all the immunological inflammation that gets triggered with mold.

Mimi: Is there any medicine that you can take also for the mold?

Dr. Margaret Christensen: So we use a lot of binders and we use botanical binders and things like charcoal, clay chlorella. But we can also use prescription binders things like, Welchol which cholestepol I think is the generic name of it, and cholestyramine. I don’t use cholestyramine so much anymore because it has a lot of side effects. And I find that I can use other things.

Mimi: Now you started a course called the mold detox diet. So can you talk a little bit about that?

Dr. Margaret Christensen: Yeah. So again, for so many of our clients and I would definitely implore you if you have Lyme and you haven’t figured out whether or not you are living in a moldy space, that’s probably the number one thing you need to do. A way that you can start addressing your symptomatology is working with, again, this autoimmune paleo diet ends very specific nutrients. So that’s what the mold detox diet is. The molddetoxdiet.com, we have a whole course. So it’s Dr. Gail Clayton and I, she has a doctorate in clinical nutrition and she’s also a registered pharmacist. She almost also died from mold about 15 years ago. That’s how she got into doing this.

And so the two of us created this course that helps to walk everybody through. And it just, talks about helping to decrease the total body burden of toxins. It doesn’t matter what it is. And then specifically, how do we do it with mold toxins and how do you help with just some basic lifestyle issues. So that’s a good place for somebody to start if you haven’t, and if you’re Lyme and you haven’t done the gut repair piece, that’s all in on the mold detox diet. We also get into how to deal with the gut and then how to start doing the binding and how to do some of the cell repair using the fossil lipids.

Mimi: Oh, that’s great. Now I had posted that I was going to be speaking with you to my Facebook group. And somebody asked me to ask you, they have mold. They found out there’s mold in their apartment. They got it remedied. Do they need to get rid of everything they own?

Dr. Margaret Christensen: That’s a very complex question. I mean, part of it depends on how long were they there? Did it get wet? Is it damp and humid? Certainly, if you lived in a house that got flooded in a hurricane, and even if the clothes themselves did not get wet, but they’re sitting in a humid environment and they’re musty moldy, yes. All of them would have to go. If you had been in an apartment, part of it depends on how long you’ve been there. And again, how sensitive are you?

Probably the resource I would give you is Mike McNatt. He has a radio podcast too. He is a mold inspector and environmentalsafespace.com I think is his. Because that’s a kind of big, complex question. There are things that can be done. You can fog things. But if you have something that’s got wet and it grew something on it, then out it goes. All the other soft stuff can be washed. You can use borax. I mean, I have a whole summit on this. And so there’s a lot of things that can be done. So the answer is not necessarily yes.

Mimi: Right. Okay, good. And you had also mentioned that you have advanced training or class.

Dr. Margaret Christensen:  I’m an educator as is Dr. Clayton. And so we also put together, besides the mold detox diet, we have the advanced mold immune module to help teach people about the immune system. And it’s definitely more geared for practitioners. However, we have plenty of people who are kind of science geeks and who’ve been sick for a long time. And I know it because I have clients who come in here who know more than me about stuff. And it’s because they’ve been educated. So it’s explained in language that somebody could understand if they’re not a practitioner, but it’s fairly advanced, but it’s got a lot of really clinical information, particularly around the whole histamine issue. Because that’s a huge, huge, huge piece of folks, both with mold and Lyme.

Mimi: I know I’ve learned that. I think I’ve gotten the mast cell just from having Lyme so long that I now just get randomly hives for no reason. Usually, when I’m cold, I get literally break out in these welts, it looks like, and it won’t go away unless I take Claritin. But it’s usually if I’m walking in the freezer section at Costco, all of a sudden it just happens.

Dr. Margaret Christensen:  A big piece of that, and things that Dr. Clayton and I use are botanical anti-histamines. And as well as, again, a lot of prescription ones. We have some really super, super, super sensitive patients who can’t tolerate anything and you have to start them, you can’t even start them with the gut stuff. You have to actually start with histamine. I probably should say, another big piece of this too, when you have been chronically ill, it impacts the limbic system and the vagus nerve. And so you have to have to do some limbic system retraining and some vagal nerve exercises.

And I have a lot of information about that on the mold summit. And we talked about it also in the mold detox diet, but that’s really critically important in order to recover. And so again, if you’re having hives on, when you’re walking in the grocery store, I don’t know if that’s something that you’ve looked into at all for yourself, but I would definitely say that limbic system retraining is critical.

Mimi: I think for anybody who, I know there’s so many people out there who have Lyme, who’ve had it for a long time, have gone to a lot of doctors and they can’t figure out how to get better. I think if they haven’t addressed or been tested for the mold, that’s a huge, huge piece.

Dr. Margaret Christensen: Yeah. So I would say mold and limbic dysfunction at the same time, because the part of the brain that’s called the limbic system has three major pieces to it. I don’t know if you’ve had somebody talking about limbic system on your show before.

Mimi: No.

Dr. Margaret Christensen: The limbic system is the reptile brain. It’s one of the parts of the oldest brain and it has three parts, three major parts. Well, there’s, it’s more complicated than that, but we’ll just talk about three major parts. The hypothalamus, which is the master regulatory center of everything. So all the body’s feedback is coming into the hypothalamus and it’s what’s telling the different hormones what to do. The hypothalamus is processing whether or not this is, is it safe to eat? Is this safe to reproduce? So it’s directing your pituitary gland, it’s directing your gut, it’s sending signals to your vagus nerve about, do we need to keep the heart pumping and keep the, so that’s the hypothalamus.

So you had the hypothalamus and then you also have the amygdala. And the amygdala is what’s scanning your environment at all times to see whether or not a tiger is going to jump out at you. So that’s the fight or flight center of your brain. And that’s kind of directly kind of hooked up to your adrenal system to dumping adrenaline cortisol. But also those mass cells are very important and it is very much a part of that.

Then the hippocampus is the memory center. So you have the hippocampus, the amygdala and the hypothalamus, all involved, all running 24 seven unconsciously in your body and regulating everything. But if you’ve gotten sick and you’ve been sick for a long time, and if you’ve had adverse childhood events, and I’ll come back to that, what we call ACUS, and you’ve had trauma, then your limbic system gets stuck in overdrive. So it is always in fight or flight. It’s always perceiving danger, the least little thing. And that memory center of the brain says, oh, that smell, oh that taste or that site, whatever it is. And there’s this hair trigger response, and it tells your amygdala to dump adrenaline. And you’re always in this fight or flight state.

Even after the mold has been removed, the Lyme has been killed off, you’re not in danger anymore, but the body doesn’t know that, it’s been stuck in that fight or flight response. And so that is what Annie Hopper’s program, which is called the Dynamic Neural Retraining System. Ashok Gupta has good training. Dr. Neil Nathan talks about this all the time in any of his work and his book Toxic. So it’s really critically important that we engage and we disrupt this limbic system that’s been stuck in overdrive.

If you’ve, particularly, I mean, for a lot of people, who’ve been really sick. They have PTSD because they’ve gone to 10, 15, 20, 25 doctors looking for help. Nobody’s believing them. They’re disappointed. And I’m sure, many of you all have experienced, oh, you’re just crazy. Do you know? And so there is a PTSD component that comes in that. And so that’s all part of what happens in the limbic system, which then impacts the vagus nerve, which is connecting your brain to your heart and lungs to your gut. And so that becomes dysregulated. So I would just say that for working on any chronic illness issue to do vagal nerve exercises and limbic system retraining is going to be part and parcel of doing anything else.

But toxic mold is probably the most important thing to screen for. And you can do it at survivingmold.com. There’s an online visual contrast sensitivity test that costs about $15. I like that particular one. That’s Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker site. He’s been one of the pioneers. Those of us who are part of iseai.org, International Society for Environmentally Acquired Illness, have a much, much broader view of mold toxicity in our protocols than Dr. Shoemaker does, and that’s why that organization was started. But that VCS test is really good and kind of give some basic information. We can do urine testing for mycotoxins. There are certain blood markers that are non-specific, but can give you information. As you know, I mean, we’re screening for Lyme and diagnosis of Lyme, that’s a whole other ball of wax. So those are the testing that we like to do initially. But the cheapest thing you can do is online VCS test.

Mimi: For looking at yourself?

Dr. Margaret Christensen: Yeah. Yeah. House testing you can do is dust sampling. You can use some petri dishes. Don’t use the stuff that you get from Home Depot.

You need to go to immunolytics.com or do that. But there’s never one thing, one way to test, it needs to be combined. Standard air quality testing from a lot of standard mold inspectors is about 30 to 40 years behind the time. Mike McNatt’s podcast, environmentalsafespace.com is probably good information there.

Mimi: That’s great. This has been so useful. Is there anything that I know there’s, we could talk about for hours and go into depth but is there any other last-minute takeaways or anything else that you didn’t get to cover that you would like to cover?

Dr. Margaret Christensen: Probably sinuses. I think that if you have a history of recurrent sinus infections, chronic drainage, chronic allergies, again, those chronic sinus infections are fungal, and oftentimes toxic mold creates a sinus infection for which you were given antibiotics, which kill off your good gut bacteria, which then starts a whole cascade of problems. Folks who’ve been on Lyme protocols, a lot of antibiotics, they’re all fungal. You’ve got candida overgrowth. So you got to treat that. So I would say, rinse your sinuses, be on a low candida diet. And if you haven’t done a candida treatment protocol, I would do that. And then the other thing is really nourish yourself every day at mind, body spirit levels. Have hope, focus on what’s positive on what’s nourishing, have gratitude. Look at what, what is the bigger picture here.

If you are a person of faith then tap into your particular religious background that helps support you. For the other people that would be nature, is music. I mean, it’s movement it’s really nourishing yourself at all levels because that limbic system piece tends to keep us in very negative thought loops, which actually suppress our immune system. So I would just say self-care, self-care, self-care, don’t over read things on the internet.

Mimi: I know, right? And know that you’re not alone and you’re not crazy and you’re not making it up.

Dr. Margaret Christensen: Yeah. You’re not alone. You’re not crazy. And crazy is probably another point that I would make as that many, many, many psychiatric illnesses are triggered because of toxic mold exposure. Unfortunately that is a very, very personal experience to me. I have one of my four kids is severely, severely, mentally ill, and a big component of that is an actually toxic mold that was completely undiagnosed. And it’s very difficult in our current psychiatric system.

Mimi: Can you reverse that once that happens? Once it affects you psychiatrically?

Dr. Margaret Christensen: Yes. If it’s treated. If it’s treated. And actually, there’s some amazing work Dr. Donald Dennis, he’s an ENT in Atlanta and he’s on the toxic mold summit. We have this whole talk about, again, just clearing up the sinuses, what that can do for the brain. A lot of low grade anxiety, sleep disturbances. I mean, hormonal disturbance. Remember the hypothalamus is being impacted. What I didn’t say is several things are happening when you’re living in a molding environment. Number one, you’re breathing it in through your nose. Your olfactory nerve is the smelling nerve, and it goes directly from the back of your nose, right into the limbic system. So when that gets inflamed, that’s part of what’s inflaming your limbic system. And then you’re also breathing it into your lungs where it’s activating the adaptive immune system in your lungs. And that’s the part that produces a lot of cytokines and inflammation. So you are impacting your body and immune system in several different ways. And so clean air, make sure that you have a really high quality air filtration unit. And you guys can go to my website and take a look.

Mimi: Okay, good. You have some there as well.

Dr. Margaret Christensen: Yes. Our recommendations. So anyway, yeah. I talk about four things that are really super important, clean food, clean air, clean water, and a clear mind. So it doesn’t matter what you’re dealing with, working on those areas can help you recover.

Mimi: This has been amazing. You are a source of so much information and I was blown away and I really, really appreciate your time. And thank you so much. I’ll tell everybody to go to the mold diet detox.

Dr. Margaret Christensen: It’s molddietdetox.com.

Mimi: Thank you so much.

Each week, I will bring you different voices from the wellness community so that they can share how they help their clients heal. You will come away with tips and strategies to help you get your life back. Thank you so much for coming on and I’m so happy you are here. Subscribe now and tune in next week if you want to learn how I detox and you want to check out my detox for Lyme checklist, go to Lyme360.com/detoxchecklist. You can also join our community at Lyme360 warriors on Facebook and let’s heal together. Thank you.

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