348: How to Minimize Your Exposure to Toxins & Effective Detox Protocols With Dr. Sandison From Neurohacker

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Katie: Hello and welcome to “The Wellness Mama Podcast.” I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com and wellnesse.com. That’s Wellnesse with an “E” on the end. It’s my new line of personal care products like hair care and toothpaste.

This episode is all about toxins and detox. I’m here with Dr. Heather Sandison, who’s the founder and the medical director of the North County Natural Medicine and the founder of Marama, which is a residential care facility for the elderly. The reason I wanted to have her on, she specializes in neurocognitive medicine and neurohacking. And she’s been trained to specifically address things that affect the brain like autism, ADD, depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s, and she has a really unique system for doing that and her elderly care facility is doing this with patients and seeing incredible results. So, in this episode, we talk about how you can minimize your exposure and how to effectively detox from the three big toxins as well as how to support your natural detox systems in the body. It’s a really fascinating and far-ranging episode. Without further ado, let’s jump right in. Dr. Heather, welcome. Thank you for being here.

Dr. Heather: Thanks for having me.

Katie: I am so excited to jump in with you and talk about different types of toxins and how to effectively detox. But I also always love hearing the background, especially someone I’ve just met and can’t wait to talk to. So, to start off, can you explain a little bit about your background and how you became a naturopathic doctor that specializes in this?

Dr. Heather: Yes. So I had my own personal health issues. When I was an undergrad, I was doing pre-med and then came up against an autoimmune disease as well as TMJ. I couldn’t open my mouth even enough to brush my teeth. And so I went to the medical doctor and had a horrible experience. And then I went to anyone who would listen. I went to the dentist, multiple dentists, I went to acupuncture. I went to the psychiatrist, you know, the psychologist. I went to pretty much anyone who someone said might be able to help. And finally, I ended up seeing a DO, she was actually a doctor of osteopathic medicine. And she and I chatted, she did craniosacral work and then said, “Hey, have you ever heard of naturopathic medicine? If I could do it all over again, that’s what I would do.”

And so she turned me on to naturopathic medicine. And when I heard just the perspective of naturopathic doctors and the approach that they took to medicine, really looking at the cause of disease versus putting a band aid on it in the form of surgery or medication that had side effects, I was like, ah, this is what I’ve been imagining for so long, I didn’t realize that it already existed. I didn’t have to create it, somebody else had already created this system of medicine. And so then at that point, it just became a matter of when I would go to naturopathic school not if.

Katie: Nice. Yeah, and I think there’s…I would guess most listeners pretty well understand what a naturopathic doctor does and how that differs from other types of medicine. But can you just kind of give a little bit of an overview there as well?

Dr. Heather: Absolutely. So we do the same four years of medical school and we have step one boards after two years. Those first two years are deep dives into the biochemistry, physiology, anatomy, we have a gross lab where we have to dissect a human body. You know, a lot of it is the same. And then we take this big exam that lasts for an entire day at the end of two years. And then at the end of four years, we have, you know, multi-day exams to become licensed.

And the second set of two years and the four-year medical program for us is different from conventional medicine. And then instead of doing rotations, we are in a teaching clinic and we’re learning about modalities, things like hydrotherapy, and herbal medicine, lots of nutrition, lots of the foundations of health.

And so instead of learning about surgery and delivering babies, we are in a clinic where we’re talking to people about their diet and nutrition and lifestyle. And then we can also provide, you know, referrals to surgery. We can also write prescriptions. So we’re trained and licensed as primary care providers but our specialty is more in the lifestyle things that can help prevent people from getting on medications or potentially even help them get off.

Katie: I think that’s awesome. And that was a big part of my own puzzle piece, early on after I started having kids I had what I would eventually find out was Hashimoto’s. But it took years and I had been to many, many doctors who tested…I would guess what the standard of care tests were mainly just T3, I don’t remember what else they tested, but they wouldn’t test antibodies or TSH. And it wasn’t until I found a naturopathic doctor that I was able to actually start figuring out what was wrong and working to correct it.

And it blew me away to realize, after being in the conventional medical model for so long, and it being more just lab tests and prescriptive and even being told by doctors, you know, “Your diet doesn’t really have any impact on your health other than weight.” To work with a naturopathic doctor and be asked about lifestyle, and stress, and food, and sleep, and so many other factors. And that was when I was researching as well and learning just how intricately involved all those things are.

So I think for a lot of people, especially someone with a complex health issue, finding a practitioner who’s willing to look at all of those pieces is super important. And I know, from researching for this interview, that you have done a lot of research specifically in the area of toxins and detox and how to mitigate things like that. So let’s start broad and can you kind of explain…I feel like that word encompasses a lot of things. But explain the nature of kind of what toxins are and what’s happening when they interact with our bodies?

Dr. Heather: So for a minute, I just want to take even one more step back. So I talked about being really inspired to go into naturopathic medicine because naturopaths really value treating the cause of disease. So complex chronic disease like Hashimoto’s, or a lot of what I treat, which is like, autism, brain-related things, autism, Alzheimer’s, even depression, anxiety, these things all have…there’s a cause. If we look at the human body, it’s a complex system and these chronic complex disease states come from an imbalance…and really any complex system, right, if it’s the financial system, or if it’s agricultural systems, whatever complex system we’re talking about, if there’s a glitch in the system, it’s usually because of an imbalance.

I would even go so far as to say it’s always because of an imbalance, too much, too little, in the wrong place, or at the wrong time. And if we can help to correct that imbalance, then we can create more harmony in the system, so that it behaves better, right, you get more optimal function from it. And so the five things that I believe cause complex chronic disease, it really can be distilled down to imbalance in these five areas., toxins, structure, stress, nutrients, and then infections.

And I’ve chosen to really dive deep into the toxins. And that’s because, from the conventional perspective, like you discovered with your Hashimoto’s journey, the conventional medicine, they completely ignore this unless it’s extreme toxicity, right. Unless somebody’s like swallowed a can of paint, right, then they don’t really want to hear about any of these long-term insidious kind of low-level toxins that may be disturbing certainly endocrine function.

So I really feel like it’s almost like my responsibility to go deep into these toxins because so many of my patients have been told that conventional medicine has nothing for them. They don’t know why there’s nothing that they can do, but they have all of this fatigue or headaches or insomnia, autoimmune diseases coming up. And so what can we do about that? Well, from my perspective, there are essentially…I call them flavors like ice cream. There’s three flavors of toxins. And I look at them in these categories because it’s what’s easiest to test.

So the first flavor is heavy metals. And I tend to do that using provocation. So I do wanna get some sort of provocation agents so that we know what’s in the system over time because some of these get stored. They’re not alive so they’re not procreating, so you don’t get more and more and more in your system unless you’re consuming, excuse me. So if you’re ingesting heavy metal either through eating copious amounts of like fish, especially the predatory fish, so things like shark or tuna, swordfish, those have high levels of heavy metals in them.

And then the other way that people are exposed to metals is through their dental amalgams, and often getting them out is one of the highest sources of exposure. And so doing that with a dentist who really understands how to mitigate your risk is important. So heavy metals and then mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are like heavy metals in that they’re not alive. So myco is yeast or mold, and it’s the toxins that yeast or molds produce. So again, with that, I tend to provoke…and I’m mentioning this provocation part because there is disagreement in the field. So if you talk to different experts, some will wanna provoke and others will not. But you know, my pattern is to do it, it’s how I was trained, and it’s the way I’ve done it for so long. But when I look at a lab, I know what it means when I’ve done it my way.

So with mycotoxins, we tend to provoke with some glutathione and with some sweating, and you can do that from home. And then you collect urine and we can see how many mycotoxins are in your system or get a sense of how many mycotoxins are in your system. And potentially even which type of mold created that mycotoxin.

So, Stachybotrys, or you may have heard of this as black mold, that can produce certain types of mycotoxin. And then Chaetomium a different type of mold and that produces different types of mycotoxins, as does Aspergillus or Penicilliums. So if that has been growing in a, you know, office building or in your bedroom or bathroom, a building or a room you spend a considerable amount of time in then those mycotoxins can certainly accumulate in your system.

And then the third flavor of toxin that we look for is the chemical toxins. So I look for about 20 of these in a lab test I run and again, we use a little bit of provocation, through glutathione or sweat. And these ones… I’m sure you’ve heard there’s like 80 something thousand chemicals on the planet, at this point. We don’t test for all 80,000 but we get a sense of okay, what are the petrochemicals, or the ones that are associated with gasoline and you know, are burning fossil fuels. So what are the petrochemicals? What are the parabens or PCBs? Some of the things you might see showing up in personal care products, do you have a few?

So we measure a few of the petrochemicals, a few of the parabens, PCBs. We measure glyphosate, which is what we think of as the active ingredient in Roundup. So pesticides and herbicides, we measure a handful of those but certainly glyphosate. And then we can also look at things like styrene that comes from styrofoam and chemicals that might be associated with getting your nails done a lot.

So we look at a handful of these, about 20 of them, but from different categories. And for me, this is often very eye-opening. I have a patient who… She’s just absolutely amazing, very committed to an organic, non-toxic lifestyle in her home. And we ran this test because I couldn’t figure out why she was so fatigued. And sure enough, after doing some digging, after doing this test, I was like, “Why are your pesticides and herbicides off the charts, higher than any ones I had ever seen and you’re eating an organic diet?” And she was like, “Oh, I do Ikebana” which is Japanese flower arranging.

So this amazing woman, she like…for low-income families, she creates these beautiful flower arrangements to send to the hospital for these people who have been hospitalized but couldn’t afford to get like a beautiful flower arrangement, right. So she does that two days a week, she volunteers, and she’s up to her elbows in the pesticides and herbicides that we won’t even spray on food. So we had no idea that this was gonna pop up. I had no idea to like ask her the question, right, do you do flower arranging? But when we ran the test, it popped up. It surprised us both. But she was then able to wear gloves, you know, a very simple intervention that totally reduced her exposure and then changed her symptoms.

Katie: That’s amazing. Yeah, I think it’s important…that’s why testing is so great to realize…like, who would have thought to even test for that, you know? Like, finding those things that can make such a big difference. So understanding toxins, I think, like all of these inputs that can come in, I’ve always thought of the analogy a little bit like a bucket. Like, we all have a point at which things will overflow, and you can kind of put a lot of stuff in, and whatever you put in eventually when you reach the top, it’s gonna overflow and something’s gonna happen. And that’s kind of how I’ve always thought of sort of toxins, and for my case, autoimmune disease that probably a lot of factors went into that for me like stress and exposure to certain environmental toxins and lack of sleep, and poor diet, and a lot of things.

And then for me, it manifested in Hashimoto’s, but I think that part of the equation seems different for everybody potentially. So what are some ways that you see, clinically, this overflow of toxins manifesting in people?

Dr. Heather: You’re absolutely right, and you bring up such a great point, right. It’s not only what’s going out, but it’s what’s coming in. And I would even start with 75% of environmental illness, 75% of my job is identifying what’s coming in and turning it off. So turning…I think of it, like turning off the faucet that’s filling that bucket. It’s such a great analogy. So how I see this manifesting, you know, my… This is my bias, of course, because this is what I do. But I really think that everyone should be sort of evaluating what degree of toxins they’re exposed to.

So looking at, what is all this stuff I put on my skin, you know, what am I choosing to consume in terms of my diet? My mom came… I had a baby about 18 months ago. My mom showed up at my house for six weeks to help me. And she had been complaining about her memory loss, so she was forgetting names that she would have never forgotten before. She was having to write down grocery store lists, when usually she’s so good at that, missing appointments, little things. At this point, she was just joking about it but she was scared, I could tell she was afraid that she was losing her mind.

So she showed up at my house and I, of course, was adamant there was not one thing that wasn’t organic coming into my house. So every single thing in the house was organic. And she was not committed to that beforehand. So she showed up, we ate only really, really good food because, of course, I had a newborn, and my mom stopped complaining about her memory loss by the time she left just six weeks later. So things like anxiety, depression, of course, autoimmune disease, it’s very hard to link them directly to toxic exposure, because it manifests in so many different ways. Toxins, they’re ubiquitous in our environment, right, you cannot avoid all of them.

But there are some certain things that you can avoid, like certainly what you choose to consume in terms of food, what you choose to put on your skin, you can change that. You can educate yourself about that. So there are some things that we can change and others that we can’t. But taking control of the things that we can change is so important and can have a profoundly big impact on our disease states and our wellness state, how good we feel even.

Katie: Absolutely. Okay, so let’s go deeper on that. I’d love to kind of delve into each of the three different types a little bit more because I think they’re not super well understood yet, or at least there seems to be a lot of confusion on some of them and how we’re exposed, and then how to undo the damage if we’ve been exposed. So let’s start with heavy metals first, can you give us a little bit more detailed overview of what are considered heavy metals, and where are we most commonly interacting with these?

Dr. Heather: Yeah, absolutely. So the big ones that you wanna be kind of most afraid of are lead and mercury, and these tend to be very neurotoxic. So lead…like everyone’s heard of Flint, Michigan, and how there was lead in the water and that led to lower IQs in the children who were exposed. So this is really, really, really important that we’re not exposed to lead. Lead used to be in paint. And in the ’70s that was outlawed so that no longer happens. But if you live in an old house, it’s not that I think people are, you know, licking the walls of the house, but it’s every time you open or close a door, open or close a window, it’s the rub, that friction that’s created, that can release a little bit of paint particle into the air and then you can breathe it in.

So, lead also can come from…you know, if you’re someone who makes jewelry, or if you are somehow exposed through some industrial process, right. If you’re working on cars or welding, you know. So most people aren’t exposed at high levels unless it ends up in the water. At least not… Now, I will say that people who were raised overseas because lead came out of the fuel, out of the gasoline also in the ’70s. But it tended to stay around in Central America and India and more of the third world countries, it was in the fuel for longer. And so I have patients who are in their ’60s and ’70s and they have very high levels if they were, say, raised in another country. And some people also of that generation who were raised in the U.S.

And then Mercury, like I had mentioned before, usually fish and then also the metal amalgams in the mouth. And then, unfortunately, coal power plants they produce mercury as well, so it can be in the air. And that’s one of those things we just don’t have control over. Cadmium is another big one and that tends to come from cigarette smoking. And those are kind of the three big one’s. Aluminum, tin, those come up as well. Gadolinium is a heavy metal that’s found in….if you get a lot of MRIs it’s in the contrast dye. And so I’ll see people with really high levels of that if they’ve had a lot of orthopedic MRIs.

And then, getting rid of those…you know, really all of these in terms of getting rid of the heavy metals, what you wanna do is open up your emunctories. Emunctory is the fancy naturopathic word for organs of elimination. And there are five organs of elimination, your liver, bowels, kidneys, lungs, and then skin and lymph. And I would love to go into the details about how to support each of those.

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s such an important part to understand is that the body has channels to detox this and how we can support that. And for people listening who are thinking like okay, I don’t think heavy metals are an issue for me, I like that you went into there are common sources of exposure. And I actually had an uncommon one that ended up being part of my puzzle piece, which was in high school, I worked in a stained glass shop. And I didn’t even think about the fact that the metal that we used between the pieces of stained glass, and then the stuff that we would melt to make those stick together had lead in it. So that was something I had to deal with, as part of my own health journey. But yeah, walk us through how we can support all the different organs in that detox system.

Dr. Heather: You make such a great point, I ask people about their hobbies not only because of my patient who was doing the flower arranging, but also ceramics, the glazes often had lead in them. So like stained glass, glass blowing, jewelry making, some of these really fun, creative, wonderful hobbies can lead to exposures if we’re not savvy about what’s in these things.

So the Emunctory, no matter what your flavor of toxin is, that you’ve potentially been exposed to…of course, we wanna identify it, we wanna be able to identify it and get specific about how we get it out. But opening these amantrees and supporting these organs of elimination really is something that anyone can do.

So the lungs, detox breath work, there are lots of, you know, yogic breathing, yoga breath practices, there is online support that will take you through different breathing practices that help you to detoxify, right. If a cop pulls somebody over for driving funny on a Friday night, they are going to do a breathalyzer because one of the ways that we get rid of the toxins that we produce through drinking alcohol is by breathing them out. So this is true for many toxins. And we sort of forget, I think, that we can get rid of so much through our lungs. And it is certainly a pathway to take advantage of.

Now the flip side of that is that we can certainly inhale a lot of toxins. So one of the cheapest interventions and the best interventions is open your doors and windows in your house for at least an hour a day. And if possible, open the window of your office. The indoor air quality, it’s kind of…I think of it like a pool versus the ocean, right. There’s so much more air outside that is diluted of all of these toxins. So if you can open the windows and let that fresh air come in and dilute the indoor air, you’re gonna increase the air quality.

Now, of course, if you live or work right on top of a freeway, then that’s not gonna work as well. But for most of us, if we open the doors and windows, we can really increase the indoor air quality. So what we’re breathing in, again, we can reduce the particulate count in that.

The other thing that you can do is…particularly if you’re concerned about indoor air quality is you can get an air filter. And so I’ve had lots of patients whose symptoms have improved just by adding an air filter. And they don’t pay me but my favorite one is the GC Multi by IQAir, I really think that’s a very high-end quality one. There’s a lot out there that are very expensive, and they don’t work very well. So when given the opportunity, I do like to turn people on to that one, because it works. So that’s the lungs. Some ways that we can really increase our ability to detox through the lungs is one take breaths in and then two detox breath work.

The kidneys certainly water, water, water, water, water, and minerals. So having enough electrolytes in your system. And I don’t recommend distilled water, that doesn’t have enough of those minerals in it, but good high-quality spring water. And even having your water tested. I live in San Diego and we’re at the end of the Colorado River. We don’t have fabulous water quality for what’s coming out of the tap but we do have access to great spring water. So I recommend that people drink good high-quality mineral water that is out of glass, ceramic or stainless, not out of plastic and particularly those soft plastic bottles that have been sitting in the sun. That is a recipe for ingesting a lot of plastic chemicals, so definitely avoid those.

Drinking plenty of water. And if you don’t love water, then adding a little bit of lemon or adding a bit of mint or cucumber is something that makes it more flavorful for you. And detox teas, of course, can be very, very helpful. Certainly dandelion and thistle are good for both the kidneys and livers. So adding that to your daily routine can be very, very helpful. So that’s lungs, kidneys. Liver, so great things for the liver are certainly dandelion, milk thistle, and then we need all of those good nutrients to help the liver to detoxify.

So the liver, in all of its wisdom, if we don’t have enough of the nutrients that are necessary for phase two detox, the liver will slow down phase one detox. And this is because… Alcohol, again, is a really good example. When we drink a glass of wine or something it goes to the liver and the liver converts it in phase one detox into acetyl aldehyde. That acetyl aldehyde is what makes us hang over, that’s actually more toxic than the wine that we first consumed. And so the liver just blows my mind, this divine design, it’s so incredible. The liver stops phase one detox if we don’t have all the nutrients that are necessary to get that acetyl aldehyde, that toxic intermediate, fully conjugated and eliminated from the body.

So having plenty of those nutrients, things like NAC, the B vitamins, minerals, glutathione, can be very, very helpful. All of those things help to make sure that there isn’t a glitch in the system there, that there’s nothing gumming it up. And then the liver… So getting plenty of that liver support is super helpful. And then the livers spits out a toxic sludge called bile. And that goes into the gallbladder, if you’ve got one, and then into the gut. So ways that we can help support the gut are primarily through fiber. Fiber is one of the best things that you can do, as long as you’re getting plenty of water and it doesn’t turn to concrete. Having a bowel movement every day, at least once a day… If you’re not, it’s constipation and needs to be addressed.

So that’s really where I start with most of my patients it’s, if they are not having a daily bowel movement, we do not wanna start mobilizing cellular toxins. So toxins kind of…I think of it like the snow-capped mountains is the cells and then when you have a bowel movement, that’s like releasing it into the ocean, that’s the end of the river. And so we don’t wanna create a flood in the middle. And so opening up the river mouth or having bowel movements, sweating, urinating, all of those things help us to get the toxins actually outside of you. So elimination is what’s so important.

So the bowel movement, if you can take that toxic sludge called bile and bind it with binders, things like chia, flax, psyllium, charcoal, clay, chlorella, there’s a prescription when it will use, sometimes for certain mycotoxins, called cholestyramine. All of these binders it’s…I think of it like they’re giving the toxic sludge a hug and they’re holding on to it so they can take it out of the body and you can fully eliminate it through a bowel movement.

If we don’t have enough of those binders, then a process called enterohepatic recirculation will happen. And that fancy medical term basically is just saying that your gut is meant to absorb things, your colon is meant to absorb things. So if the bile sits in there too long, then your…and it’s not bound, it’s not being hugged by one of those binders, then your body will just reabsorb it. And then guess what? It goes right back to the liver. So now your liver has to take out yesterday’s trash and today’s trash, so it’s doing all this extra work. If you can just have a bowel movement every day, then your liver has much less work to do.

So lungs, kidneys, liver, bowels, and then skin and lymph. These ones are fun because you get to get a massage, okay, for all our mamas out there, you deserve one. So skin and lymph, lots of ways that we can support this, dry skin brushing even a rebounder. A mini trampoline helps to get your lymph going. Hot and cold showers, going back and forth between hot and cold, or if you have a plunge or something like that, absolutely, that’s fantastic. Lymphatic massage. A castor oil pack over the liver can also help with the liver and skin and lymph. There are so many fun things that we can do here. Saunas. Saunas are fantastic and I like…there’s some sauna blankets and there’s little saunas you can sit in that keep your head out. That tends to help people tolerate them a little bit more and they can stay in there longer.

You only need to sweat for about 10 minutes a couple of times a week and you’re getting a ton of toxins out. It is important to wipe those toxins off. So if you start sweating, you wanna either take a quick shower afterwards or use a washcloth or something, get the toxins off of you. Because when you’re hot like that, your pores are open, we’ve got toxins out, what we don’t wanna do is have you just reabsorb them. So really important with saunas to replace your electrolytes using water and then an electrolyte powder. Coconut water is a great one. And then make sure you rinse. And I typically say with cool water because that’ll get the toxins off and then it will close your pores back up.

Katie: Great advice. And a question I’ve seen come through a few times, I wonder if you might have an answer to, is some people seem to have, especially when they first start doing sauna or things that stimulate the lymph system or even from taking certain supplements that can be detoxifying, like magnesium, or greens, or algae, they’ll notice itching on their skin. Is that like a detox reaction or have you come across anyone having that clinically?

Dr. Heather: Yeah, lots. So absolutely, probably, a detox reaction. Although…you know, certainly itching we always wonder if there’s an allergy. And if you have a known allergy to something, then, of course, avoid it. But what I notice with… And I was sort of alluding to this with the analogy of the snow-capped mountains all the way down to the riverbed, out into the ocean. The analogy here is about mobilization at the cellular level, so that’s our snow-capped mountain. And then elimination at the level of the ocean or, you know, our bowel movements, urination, sweating, anything that eliminates it. So the ocean is outside of the body and our analogy of…our river is inside of the body.

So if we start to have too much snow melts, or we’re detoxing too much, at the cellular level, we’re not able to keep up, we’re not able to get enough elimination, not enough is leaving the body and so now we have more in the bloodstream. And what we see are things like rashes, we see headaches, we see fatigue, this is like the keto flu. A ketogenic diet is very detoxifying. And so sometimes people initially will have an increase in symptoms when they start on a detox diet or a detox plan.

My interpretation of that and my professional approach to that is, that is great information that tells us we’re probably on the right track, but what we need to do is slow down. Really, really important, this is not a no pain, no gain situation. This is an opportunity for us to communicate with our body about what it needs. And so if there is an increase in rashes or fatigue or headaches or anything like that, then we take that and we say, okay, let’s take less of the detox provocation agents or even less of the support and just slow things down a bit. Do the gentler approach, so spend less time in the sauna or, you know, focus on water, focus on the detox breath, focus on the things when you don’t have to add anything to the body but you’re really just focusing on elimination.

Katie: Yeah, that’s such a great point. Like I found for me…I think probably that balance is different for everyone. But when I was in the heat of the autoimmune disease, when it was at its worst, I had to be very careful with diet and eat very low inflammation. And then I had to…anything else beyond that, I had to do very slowly and make sure I was getting extra sleep. I didn’t do any really difficult workouts during that time, it was very much a period of rest and let my body rebuild slowly. And I think that’s such an important reminder is, especially when it comes to any of these things which can be very dangerous if you mobilize them too quickly. More is not always better and it’s not always just, you know, you should push through and do more to get through it quickly.

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Obviously, one of these toxins that you mentioned a little bit and I’d love to go deep on is mold, because this one has risen a little bit more to mainstream knowledge, I think, lately. People are starting to be aware that it can be a problem. But there’s still so much confusion about how to test for it, how to find out if it’s an issue, what to do about it if you do find mold, and if it really can actually have that dramatic of an impact on the body. So what are you finding when it comes to mold exposure?

Dr. Heather: Again, you know, the conventional community has really poo-pooed this idea for a long time. And I feel so grateful to people like Dave Asprey, Ritchie Shoemaker, and Neil Nathan, who have brought this to the forefront and really shown people that this can be a big part of what’s driving your symptom picture. And I have people who, you know, we address this, we figure it out, we address it and they go back to normal. And it’s so satisfying and I feel so lucky I get to do what I do when I get to see someone show up for their families again after treating this.

And I don’t wanna say that it’s an easy road by any stretch. Often when people come in and they test for mycotoxins and there’s a significant amount of that going on, I brace them, you know, this is a months to years long journey, not a days to weeks journey. So typically, we’re looking at about two years, maybe more depending on the amount of exposure and whether somebody is currently being exposed.

A lot of it is speculative in terms of why mycotoxins have become such a problem for people. And I don’t know, you know, if it’s a new thing, or if it was going on for a long time and we’re just kind of realizing it, the science is just catching up, or if it is really that we’re being exposed more. One of the theories is that the building materials, so things like drywall, have created more food for mycotoxins. Whereas, like old homes that were made of plaster, say, or brick, that wasn’t something that the molds like to eat as much, right, so you didn’t have as much risk.

And then the other thing that has changed is there’s a lot of fungicides in paint. And what we see is just like antibiotic resistance, you know, you add a bunch of antibiotics to the system and now the biota, the bacteria, it will change and be more resilient to that antibiotic. So with the fungus, what we think may be happening is that having so much fungicide in the paint is creating…molds are making more and more toxins. One of the things that we see is that like Candida, if you use an antifungal, if you swallow some nystatin say, then the Candida when it’s under threat will make a gliotoxin, so it’ll make a toxin. When you don’t have any nystatin in the system, and you can see this in a petri dish. When you don’t add an antifungal, the yeast, the Candida doesn’t make a toxin, right.

So depending on how threatened… From an evolutionary perspective, like if you put yourself in the role of yeast or a mold who’s on a piece wood competing with other microbes for food, then if you create toxins, then you’re gonna win for that food, you’re gonna get rid of these other, whoever you’re competing against. So you can see how adding more toxins or fungicides to the paint might increase the production of toxins for that mold. So this is all very speculative. I don’t wanna, you know, sound like we know for sure that this is going on, but it certainly can be one of those factors that’s influencing the increase in incidents of mold diseases, mycotoxin-related illness.

So for this, the way I test is I tend to use…like I mentioned, I do tend to provoke these and again, the consensus, there isn’t one. So different experts in this field have differing opinions, but it is the way I was trained and what I’m used to looking at, in terms of the results. So we’ll do a provocation using glutathione and sweating. And then people will collect their urine the next morning and send that off to the lab. There’s a couple of different labs that I use. And then, based on that, we create a plan that is very specific to the type of mycotoxin that shows up. So kind of like heavy metals, for mercury, we use certain chelating agents. For lead, we use different chelating agents.

For mycotoxins we have some degree…even though this is very new, we do have some degree of specificity that we can apply to how we treat the different mycotoxins. And so we create a plan together and then, like you said, we just go at the pace the body can tolerate because what we don’t wanna do is flood the system with toxins quicker than it can get rid of them.

Katie: Gotcha. Yeah, that makes sense. And so, for anyone listening just to make sure, because you’ve mentioned that term a couple of times about provoking. So basically, you can use different substances to provoke different things you’re trying to test for in the body. And then you can use, essentially, those same substances to help the body like continually release those things and eventually get rid of them, but you just want to be careful about the amount?

Dr. Heather: Yeah, thank you for clarifying. So, I started looking for mycotoxins years ago, maybe four or five years ago. And what I was finding is people who we knew had mold exposure, so they knew they were in a moldy house because somebody had done the environmental testing and they found the stachybotrys in the wall. They had awful symptoms that were clearly related to mold, and they might even have allergies to that mold. Well, we test their urine for mycotoxins and there would be nothing in the urine. And we were just pulling our hair out going, “Why is this? We know that they have lots of exposure, we can see that it’s in the environment, where did it go?” And what we found is that the sickest people, the reason they’re so sick is because they’re not eliminating, right, they’re holding on to these toxins.

And mycotoxins, they tend to be fat-soluble. So this is part of why they’re so dangerous for the endocrine system is because they can get glommed up in your pituitary or hypothalamus or up in your brain, in your lymph nodes, in your glands, like your thyroid, or your ovaries. So they can wreak havoc throughout the body because of their nature of being fat-soluble.

But what we found was, if we provoked them using something like glutathione, kind of…I think of it just like shaking it up, right. So you’re releasing some toxin from the cells, like the snow-capped mountains, right? And typically, not always, but a lot of times people feel a little worse after that, unfortunately. And if somebody starts to feel worse during the provocation process, we just stop it right then and go ahead and collect. Because what you’re getting is, again, back to that analogy of the snow-capped mountains, you’re releasing the snow, the toxin that’s in those cells, and now you’ve created flood.

Especially if you’re not having regular bowel movements, like you have a dam there, and now you have a flood and you can be causing a lot of destruction. So really important to have those emunctories open. But yes, that provocation process is also important because we wanna get an accurate result on the testing.

Katie: Gotcha. Okay, that makes sense. And I know that you mentioned you use a lot of this in helping people with brain-related potential issues like autism or ADHD, and that we even see links with depression and anxiety. And before we went live, you also mentioned that you do a lot of work with people with things like Alzheimer’s and dementia. So I’m curious, like, obviously, I can see the connections easily for anyone who is dealing with any of those types of issues or with autoimmune disease, but it seems like in health, anytime we find patterns that can help people heal who are in crisis, also there’s lessons we can learn to optimize, even for people who hopefully aren’t dealing with those same kind of problems. So, from your clinical work and your research, are there strategies that we can all use, even if we’re not in health crisis, to help protect and improve our brain and our body using these strategies?

Dr. Heather: Yeah, absolutely. So my work with the Neurohacker Collective we are really focused on optimizing, especially brain function, right. It’s great when we can all show up and be fully present and engaged in our work, we can be contributing. And there are a lot of people I talk to who don’t really have anything going on right now that has maybe inspired them to reach out to a doctor. Like they don’t feel like they have a pathology or nothing’s wrong on their labs, they really just wanna get the most out of their day, out of their relationships, out of their work.

And so there are things that I certainly recommend. And, like we discussed, you know, toxins are relatively ubiquitous so if we can prevent the accumulation of toxins in our body, then we can prevent disease long term. So, absolutely, you know, one of the simplest easiest things people can do, kind of like opening the doors and windows, just take your shoes off at the door. We track in so many toxins. And then if we’re wearing shoes, and then we’re barefoot later on, we can absorb those toxins through our feet. And then if you’re getting into bed, you know, it’s so gross when you start to think about it. But just taking your shoes off at the door, creating that habit, is one of the best ways to reduce the toxic burden in your home and then in your body.

But other ways to optimize, certainly brain function, is exercise, getting your circulation going. Again, it really goes back to those foundations, really good nutrients coming in, getting plenty of good circulation through exercise. Like you mentioned sleep, we do so much of our detoxifying at night when we’re sleeping, particularly in the brain. So getting really good sleep and prioritizing that, especially those hours before midnight. So if you can get to bed by 9:00 or 10:00, and get a few solid hours before midnight that’s when we get most of our deep sleep, and do a really good job detoxifying.

And then, of course, back to having regular bowel movements. You know, regardless of whether or not you’re struggling with toxic exposure, high toxic burden, having a good regular bowel movement. All of our cells eat and poop, right, so we have our basic metabolic toxicity that builds up every day. And if we’re not eliminating that, then we can get all kinds of accumulation of all the nasty stuff.

Katie: Got it. And I’d love for you to talk a little bit about the facility that you run and the results that you’re seeing there. Because that’s really astounding and incredible what you guys are doing.

Dr. Heather: Thank you. So I have had North County Natural Medicine for a handful of years now and I started seeing a lot more dementia patients. I was trained by Dr. Dale Bredesen, who wrote a book called “The End of Alzheimer’s.” And so we’re getting…really, it was surprising to me how good the results were. I had really bought it, hook line and sinker, right, this story that once you have Alzheimer’s there’s really nothing you can do, like good luck with that, right.

So I was trained by Dr. Bredesen after being very impressed by what he had to say, it was very much in alignment with the way I approach any sort of complex chronic disease. And so I brought it back into my clinic, and then sure enough, kind of created a reputation around that. And had people calling and saying, “Hey, my loved one has Alzheimer’s, and I just don’t have the capacity to take care of them any more, where can I send them? Is there a care facility where, you know, they’re incorporating this?” And what I found was that there wasn’t.

So, of course, I was like, “Well, that can’t be too hard, why don’t we just create one?” And that was how Marama was born. And so Marama, I purchased at the end of December of 2019. And we took over…it was a hospice facility so we inherited five residents. And this also completely surprised me, two of the residents did pass pretty quickly after the transition, but three residents are still there. And one of them who was bed-bound is now walking. Another got kicked off of hospice and the other is about to get kicked off of hospice.

And so, what is this? April, so it’s been five, six months. And the only things we did for those residents…because we couldn’t change anything, you know, we can’t change their meds, they have their doctor’s orders. But what we did was we changed the diet, it’s 100% organic diet, and as much as possible, kind of this keto flex or Whole30 kind of paleo diet.

So we got rid of a lot…of course, all of the candies, the Skippy peanut butter is gone, the Wonder Bread is gone. Occasionally, I get complaints about too many seeds in the bread that they do get, but it’s worth it from what we can tell. We changed the food, add lots more veggies even if we have to hide them. And we switched all of the soaps, all of the personal care products, and all of the cleaning products as well. All of that got switched to non-toxic.

And what we’ve seen is amazing transformation in these people. And I’m not suggesting that at 88 or 94 they’re gonna go back to work or anything like that, but even their families have seen how much more alert they are, how much more engaged they are in conversation with them, how much happier they are, really, day to day. So it’s been really gratifying. And especially this guy that’s up and walking, it’s neat, it’s really fun to see.

Katie: I bet that’s incredible to watch. And it makes me think of, you know, this kind of conversation that’s come about the last few years about… You know, we’ve always had studies and related things to lifespan. And now we’re starting to see more of a focus on healthspan. And the idea of not just living a long time, but living well as long as possible, and living in a way that’s healthy and happy and has quality of life as well. And I think all this work that you’re doing is gonna be things that we start understanding all of the pieces that go into that and hopefully can avoid a lot of these problems.

And for those of us who are like navigating an autoimmune disease, there’s links there that are helpful. But also, just for those of us who want to optimize our lives in the best way possible, and create solid foundations for our kids, I think these are all really important keys to that. And with such a focus on neural health and brain health, I’m curious if you have any other tips for just kind of optimizing cognitive function for moms or for those of us working that can help us to be more efficient and effective and focused at work.

Dr. Heather: So meditation and exercise, essentially, moving meditation, I get it. I have an 18-month-old and two businesses, you know, like, there’s a lot going on. And there is, for all of us, and especially right now in this COVID crisis, you know, when our wearing multiple hats all over the place. And yet, it’s never been more important for me to get in a daily meditation and to get in some exercise. I cannot…it’s the best feeling medicine by far. Like, don’t worry about a test, don’t worry about anything else. If you can just do those things get in…and, of course, good food, you know.

There’s nothing more valuable than taking that time to reduce the stress or to really shift perspective, right. The stressors are not gonna go away but what we have control over…and this goes back to toxicity as well, right. Like, toxins are a lot about what we allow in. And we can think about this as food or as media or as, you know, the arts we allow in or the relationships. It’s what we choose to allow in is that first step of making sure we’re not overburdened with toxins. And then second, are we able to digest? Are we able to break it down into the components that make sense for us? Whether it’s a news story or it’s broccoli, right? Like, are we able to break it down? Do we have the capacity to digest it?

And then third, can we absorb the parts that serve us? So can we get the sulforaphanes out of the broccoli? And can we get the really important information from that news article? And can we get the love from our mother in law? Fourth, can we eliminate the parts that don’t serve us, right? So can we let go of whatever nastiness someone said, and take the good of the critical feedback they gave us? Can we get rid of the fiber? Can we have that bowel movement, right? Can we let go of the information that makes us more anxious and crazed?

So allowing that process to take place and giving ourselves the time, so that we have the capacity to fully process is, I think, paramount to being fully optimized whether it’s in our relationships with our in-laws, or our children, or our boss, or our colleagues, or our clients. Taking that time for ourselves away from all of the needs, and all of the hats and roles that we play, is essential. I cannot understate that or overstate that, excuse me.

Katie: I love it. And you mentioned a lot of resources in this episode, I’ll make sure I link to all of them in the show notes at wellnessmama.fm. But specifically, you also have a podcast as well, right?

Dr. Heather: Yes. So I host “Collective Insights,” which is it through Neurohacker Collective, and it’s so fun. I’m sure you have the same experience. I absolutely love…it’s one of my favorite parts of my job just to pick the brains of experts in different fields whether it’s exercise, or diet, or longevity. There was a guy I got to pick his brain about orgasms. It’s just so fun, the people that I have the privilege to talk to and, you know, getting to be on the show with you today. So that’s been awesome. Thank you for having me.

Katie: Oh, it’s been a pleasure. We’ve covered so much. I think, hopefully, helped a lot of people. Another question I love to ask, as we wrap up, is if there’s a book or a number of books that have really dramatically impacted your life, and if so what they are and why?

Dr. Heather: So, right now professionally, I mentioned “The End of Alzheimer’s” by Dale Bredesen and then “Toxic” a book by Dr. Neil Nathan is the other one. So my practice is almost entirely built around putting those things into practice for people. So my clinical practice really relies heavily on the insights that those guys have gleaned and the data collection and research that they’ve done. And those books, they’re designed not just for doctors, but for people who are struggling with toxins or with Alzheimer’s. And there’s some overlap as well of course, because Alzheimer’s one of the things we wanna check for is the toxic burdens. So those books, if anyone is struggling with mycotoxin and illness or with Alzheimer’s, those are great places to start, where you can really get a lot of quality information.

Katie: I love it. I’ll make sure those are linked in the show notes, as well as have links for people to find you and keep learning if they’d like to or find out more about your clinic or your facility. But thank you so much, this has been such a fun interview, and I’m really appreciative of all the work you do.

Dr. Heather: Katie, thank you so much for making this awesome information available to people.

Katie: And thank you, as always, for listening and sharing your time with both of us today. We’re so grateful that you did. And I hope that you’ll join me again on the next episode of “The Wellness Mama” podcast.

If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.

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