The Heart of Health by Brenda Watson
Brenda sits down with Marvin “Rick” Sponaugle, MD, founder and medical director of Florida Detox and Sponaugle Wellness Institute about the link between toxicity, the gut hormone dysfunction, and the heart.
Brenda Watson: Dr. Sponaugle, your background includes board certification in addiction medicine and anesthesiology. Your ability to correct brain chemistry patterns associated with addiction led to your finding the connection between underlying toxicity and an array of chronic health conditions. Could you expand on that?
Our Medical Director, Rick Sponaugle, MD is an integrative physician who attempts to prioritize treatment through quality forensic medicine. Performing an analysis of 400 numerical bio-markers in his initial consultation, Dr. Sponaugle's goal is to diagnose and treat the underlying cause of your multiple symptoms.
The majority of Sponaugle Wellness patients require simultaneous treatment for multiple medical disorders including Mold poisoning, Industrial Toxicity, Gut Toxicity, Lyme Disease, Bartonella, Babesia, Protozoa infections and intestinal parasites.
To more effectively treat patients with Lyme disease, Dr. Sponaugle uses experience acquired from working 20 years in critical care medicine and brain expertise derived from treating thousands of patients with brain and neurological disorders.
Dr. “Rick” Sponaugle has been recognized throughout the world as a leader in the integration of modern brain science into his addiction treatment model. He has been featured in the national media spotlight on such shows as the Dr. Phil show, Suzanne Somers show, Ricki Lake show, CNN, Anderson Cooper, FOX News, ABC News, CBS News and NBC News and PBS.
Interview With Dr. Sponaugle and Brenda Watson
RS: If I may provide a historical perspective, in 1998 I used my intensive care skills to design a relatively painless detox. Patients loved my detox, but too many of these patients still relapsed*. Their brain chemistry was such that they felt more normal on drugs like OxyContin and Xanax. Hence, I began performing addiction research that compared changes seen on SPECT (single-photon emission computed tomography) brain imaging with brain chemistry patterns and drug craving patterns. Amazingly, no one had ever performed this practical research. My research quickly proved that patients use some drugs to stimulate their underactive brain regions and other drugs to calm overactive brain regions.
Additional research proved that gut toxicity is the number one cause of the threefold increased prevalence of depression, anxiety. insomnia, and panic disorder that has occurred since 1980. The more severe the gut toxicity, the more Inflammation and the more over-electrified the brain. Gut-toxic patients are sitting in rehabs throughout America because they use OxyContin and Xanax to calm their anxious brains.
BW: What toxicities do you commonly find in people facing chronic illness?
RS: Fifty percent of my patients are non-addicted patients who suffer from a chronic illness*. They typically suffer from a combination in addition to mold toxins from water-damaged buildings, all working to shut down the immune system, decreasing their ability to defeat pathogens like Borrelia and Mycoplasma.
We diagnose gut toxicity in 90 percent of our patients*. Gut toxicity causes a multitude of autoimmune diseases: psoriasis, arthritis. multiple sclerosis, and more. We also diagnose mold toxicity in 80 percent of our patients*. Gut toxicity and mold toxicity cause symptoms of depression, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, anxiety, insomnia, and panic disorder*.
Mold toxicity is an emerging illness that was much less common just 50 years ago. It wasn’t until the 1970s that we began producing airtight energy-efficient homes and office buildings. When buildings suffer water damage, mold begins to grow rapidly on cellulose material of gut toxicity, mold toxicity, industrial toxicity, and, less often, toxicity derived from intracellular bacteria like Borrelia (Lyme disease) and Mycoplasma. The pattern we see in this chronic illness, chronic fatigue patients is a combination of yeast and bacterial gut toxins such as drywall. Prior to 1970, walls were made out of plaster and plywood, on which mold grows slowly. The advent of the use of drywall and the production of energy-efficient homes that can’t breathe has left many Americans living in what is essentially a toxic gas chamber. Various molds grow in water-damaged buildings, and most produce toxic gases.
One out of four Americans has specific genetics that leaves them unable to produce antibodies to mold toxins. It’s interesting that 85 percent of my patients have mold genetics: HLA-DRBQ genetics*. Mold toxicity can cause a multitude of brain disorders, neurological disorders, intestinal dysfunction, and more. Mold toxins can destroy every cell in the body.
American universities, with the exception of Michigan State and Texas Tech, appear to be at least 10 years behind European medical centers with regard to knowledge of mold toxicity. I see approximately 40 new patients every month. Alarming is the fact that I am diagnosing so many mold-toxic patients with multiple sclerosis. I have diagnosed five women, ages 38 to 51, with multiple sclerosis in the last two months*. Most of these patients thought they were coming to my clinic simply for addiction treatment. As It turns outpatients suffering significant mold toxicity often use drugs like OxyContin to calm their toxin-induced anxiety.
BW: From your perspective, where do you think this gut toxicity is coming from?
RS: Since 1980, anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), insomnia, and panic disorder have tripled. It is my opinion that the increased prevalence of these psychological disorders is mostly derived from the ever-increasing number of Americans suffering from gut toxicity, which results from intestinal dysbiosis, or an imbalance of gut bacteria. To understand from a historical perspective why so many Americans are suffering from intestinal dysblosis, we have to ascertain the origin of modern-day antibiotics.
In the late 1930s, a British scientist named Fleming proposed that we could make an antibiotic out of Penicillium mold. Ultimately the first mass production of penicillin occurred in 1944, and when the war ended in 1945, penicillin was touted as a miracle drug. Unfortunately. by 1945 poultry farmers had moved their turkeys and chickens into poultry houses instead of raising them free range. Because of this, when one chicken developed pneumonia, hundreds died. American poultry farmers embraced penicillin with great fervor. And thus our poultry has been tainted with antibiotics for 65-plus years. Milk farmers followed suit They discovered that milk cows produce more milk when given antibiotics. Beef farmers were next. They found they could get more money for a tender steak-meat with more fat and less muscle. To accomplish this, they began penning their cattle in Kansas City stockyards so crowded the cattle couldn’t move. Standing in stockyards in their own manure, if they were not given antibiotics, they developed hoof rot. In summary, since the post-World War ll days, Americans have been regularly imbibing antibiotics from their food supply.
Today city water is often pulled from ground water contaminated with antibiotics from farm runoff and reclaimed irrigation water runoff. The FDA does not require that cities filter anubiotics or any other medications from drinking water, suggesting they have already approved these medications for human safety. Therefore, when peopie drink the water in most major cities, they are readily drinking antibiotics. A recent study found that Philadelphia city water had significant levels of amoxicillin, azithromycin, and trimethoprim/sulfamettioxazole. Americans no longer need antibiotic prescriptions to develop gastrointestinal dysblosls; antibiotics In the water and food supply constantly destroy the good bacteria that prevent overgrowth of pathogenic Candida yeast and bacteria like Bacteroldes, Kiebsleila, and Enterobactertaceae.
BW: How does gut toxicity play a role in poor health?
RS: Pathogenic bacteria in the gut make an enzyme called urease, which hydrolyzes urea from dietary protein into ammonia, raising the intestinal pH and causing even more overgrowth of potentially harmful yeast and bacteria. The endogenous production of ammonia by these pathogenic bacteria is extremely problematic for the brain. Ammonia itself is a neurotoxin and destroys brain tissue. When excessive ammonia levels break down the blood brain barrier; the brain becomes inflamed.
In addition, the liver works diligently to conjugate estrogenlc toxins in bile acids so they will be expelled from the body, yet pathogenic bacterial enzymes such as beta-glucuronidase undo this work by the liver. hydrolyzing the conjugated estrogens in bile acids. Deconjugated bile acids are extremely toxic to the colonic epithelium (colon lining), causing increased permeability. or leaky gut syndrome. Destruction of colonic epithelium also plays a role in ulcerative colitis and increased prevalence of colon cancer.
My research has proven that gut toxicity causes excessive electrical activity in the brain via toxin-induced deficiencies of two calming brain chemicals: serotonin and taurine. Gut toxicity also causes deficiencies of magnesium and potassium, both of which relax the brain.
When the intestinal tract is overgrown with Candida, r1etabolism of the Candida proteins yieids another brain toxin, beta-alanine. Betaala ‘line inhibits brain development growth factor. a particular concern in younger children who are still in the brain development stage. Beta-alanine also competes for reabsorption of taurine in the kidneys. When taurine is wasted in the urine, it drags magnesium and we can better understand how gut toxicity can cause severe serotonin deficiency. Pathogenic bacteria also produce a bacterial enzyme called tryptophanase, which converts tryptophan into a carcinogenic phenol, preventing the normal conversion of tryptophan into 5-hydroxytryptophan, the amino acid that becomes serotonin in the brain.
Patients who suffer from gut toxicity will initially derive some benefit from serotonin-enhancing antidepressants. However, the SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants do not increase production of serotonin; they simply sit on the serotonin recycle wagon and prevent serotonin from returning to serotonin storage units in the brain. Gut-toxic patients ultimately end up with minimal serotonin in their brain and thus have no serotonin for the SSRI medications to work with. This explains the poor efficacy of these medications in many Americans.
My research has proven that serotonin and taurine deficiency derived from a toxic gut will drastically change a patient’s brain scans*. The gut-toxic brain exhibits an overactive emotional center called the deep limbic system, and an overactive anterior cingulate, which causes excessive worry; they become extremely anxious about life In general. They also become stubborn, unforgiving, and hyperfocused on the negative. In severe cases, patients develop symptoms of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorden. Also, the autistic children I have personally treated have all suffered from antibiotic-induced gut toxicity. They all had excessive electrical activity in these two brain regions. When we correct their brain chemistry and. ultimately, their gut toxicity, they respond extremely well to our treatment*.
Excessive electrical activity in the emotional center. or the deep limbic system, can cause severe depression and myriad symptoms. The deep iimbic is called our “emotional center” because it stores our emotionally charged memories. This brain region is saturated with GABAergic (gamma-aminobutyric acid) neurons. Serotonin and taurine actually enhance GABA receptivity. or the ability of GABA to activate GABA brain receptors, which has a calming effect. Serotonin and taurine deficiency derived from gut toxicity produces the following symptoms: depression, moodiness, irritability. negativity, hopelessness, excessive guilt, social anxiety. and the tendency to become easily offended. Many Americans suffering from gut toxicity use drugs like OxyContin and Xanax to calm these overactive brain regions. After we “fix” their gut-toxic brain, they no longer crave these drugs*.
Based on my practice, I believe all Americans suffer some level of gut toxicity. It’s interesting that we often hear people say that America is the most overfed and yet undernourished country in the world.
BW: Yes, it’s so true! How is food addiction related to drug or alcohol addiction?
RS: The ever-increasing prevalence of neurotoxicity (brain toxicity) in Americans is a fundamental cause of the obesity epidemic in America. Let me explain the domino effect regarding the role of toxicity as the underlying causation of America’s battle with obesity. The dopamine 02 receptor located in the brain’s hunger center must undergo activation or we do not experience satiety, or the feeling of fullness.
Dopamine receptivity. or the ability of dopamine to activate the 02 receptor; is controlled by thyroid hormone and testosterone. When these hormones are at suboptimai levels, patients experience diminished actMty in their hunger center. This makes them overeat In their attempt to reach satiety. Eating triples 02 actMty in the hunger center for approximately 90 minutes, Every bite of food gives our reward center’ another dopamine hit.· In neurotoxic patients, gut toxins, mold toxins, and environmental toxins down-regulate the pituitary stimulation of the ovaries, testicles, and thyroid; hence, neurotoxic patients suffer reduced 02 activity. As a result. they often binge on food. In their attempt to raise 02 actMty to normal. Patients suffering diminished 02 activity often eat something every 90 minutes attempting to reach a state of satiety. They may say they are eating out of boredom. Furthermore. toxin-Induced hypothyroidism disallows effective calorie bum, explaining why neurotoxic patients can often eat much less than others yet are unable to lose weight.
BW: How else are hormones related to this toxicity?
RS: Neurotoxicity causes global hormonal suppression. Candida mycotoxins, mold toxins. bacterial endotoxins, industrial solvent toxins, and pesticides induce slowing of electrical impulses In the brain’s hypothalamus, which causes a reduction in pituitary hormonal output and, subsequently. diminished stimulation of downstream glands: the thyroid gland, adrenal glands, and sex organs.
Because my medical practice is inundated with neurotoxic patients, I have treated many women in premature menopause. Toxin-Induced growth hormone deficiency prevents the repair of every cell in the body. thus causing premature aging. Every decade we are seeing younger American women suffer from early menopause. It is not uncommon in my practice to see 35-year-old women who have stopped menstruating*. Many of these neurotoxic women have needlessly spent thousands of dollars on infertility treatment.
Neurotoxic patients suffer inadequate production of the pituitary hormone ACTH, which stimulates the adrenal glands, causing severe chronic fatigue. Eighty percent of the female patients treated at Sponaugle Wellness Institute suffer from neurotoxin-induced TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) deficiency. Their brains are too toxic to produce TSH and therefore they develop toxin-induced hypothyroidism.
Fat-soluble toxins migrate to. and deposit in, the fattiest organ in the human body: the brain. When these lipophilic toxins deposit in brain tissue, they displace gcxx:I fats, such as the omega-3s. thus weakening the integrity of brain tissue. Myelin, the insulation on brain nerves, has an 80 percent fat content. When brain myelin becomes inflamed-or worse. destroyed from toxin infiltration-patients develop multiple sclerosis. Loss of myelin results in a slowing of electrical impulses in the brain.
The pan-global suppression of hormones in neurotoxic patients causes severe chronic fatigue. depression, insulin resistance. and. essentially, decreased function of every cell in the body. The pituitary gland in the brain produces a multitude of hormones; some target an end organ, and some stimulate production of hormones in the downstream glands such as the thyroid, the adrenal glands, and the gonads (testicles and ovaries).
Testosterone deficiency in neurotoxic patients causes depression and overeating. As we discussed earlier, the hunger and reward center, the nucleus accumbens, runs on dopamine; specifically, the activation of the 02 receptor. Dopamine cannot activate dopamine receptors in the brain without optimal levels of testosterone and thyroid hormone. Testosterone deficiency derived from neurotoxicity also causes insulin resistance in both men and women because testosterone is required for optimal insulin receptivity.
Testosterone deficiency in both men and women results in elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels; thus, neurotoxicity leads to metabolic syndrome. Premature testosterone deficiency in men and women has causation in depression and in reduced mental performance. Testosterone deficiency causes diminished Dl dopamine receptor activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, causing subsequent focus issues. brain fog, and, often, a misdiagnosis of ADHD.
Neurotoxicity is the common denominator in the majority of Americans who suffer with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. The brain becomes “too sick” from neurotoxicity to respond to falling hormone levels. Patients suffer thyroid insufficiency, adrenal insufficiency (cortisol deficiency), and testosterone deficiency. Dopamine and its two first cousins. norepinephrine and epinephrine (adrenaline), require thyroid hormone, cortisol hormone, and testosterone to activate their respective receptors throughout the brain and the body.
Inadequate activation of these three catecholamines (dopamine. epinephrine, and norepinephrine) precipitates the symptoms of chronic fatigue. Chronic fatigue is frequently diagnosed by traditional medical doctors and even physicians at more progressive antiaging wellness centers as a primary adrenal Issue. They fail to comprehend the concept that the neurotoxic brain is too sick to properly stimulate the adrenal glands. This explains why these patients do not respond to prescribed “adrenal fuel.”
I frequendy see chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia as codisorders because neurotoxlcity also causes excesslve glutamate production. Glutamate is the most powerful excitatory, or electrifying, neurotransmitter. Hence, patients who suffer from neurotoxicity experience excessive electrical current running through their brain and their body, characteristic of ftbromyalgia.
Deficiency of the hormone DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is also extremely common in neurotoxic patients because the toxic brain is, again, too sick to simulate the adrenal glands, which are responsible for the production of DHEA DHEA deficiency is another cause of chronic pain and fibromyalgla because DHEA is required for the production of our natural opiates, the endorphins, which decrease pain. Neurotoxic women suffer deficiencies of FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone), the brain hormone that stimulates ovarian production of estradiol. Estradiol deficiency causes significant depression in women because estradiol enhances the activity of tyrosine hydroxylase, the enzyme that converts dietary tyrosine into dopamine. In addition, estradiol blocks the activity of MAO (monoamine oxidase), the enzyme that metabolizes dopamine. Women who suffer neurotoxicity suffer more depression than men because both estrogen and testosterone modulate dopamine activity in the female brain*.
BW: What have you seen as far as the contribution of toxicity to conditions related to the heart?
RS: Let’s first discuss gut toxicity. When patients suffer severe gastrointestinal dysbiosis. they can subsequently suffer severe malnutrition . Nutritional deficiencies can lead to high blood pressure. For example, arginine deficiency is extremely common in my toxic patients, and it plays a primary role in the causation of hypertension because arginine is a precursor to nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide dilates the arteries and capillaries, thereby reducing what we call systemic vascular resistance-the resistance the heart must pump against in the blood vessel. Arginine is an essential amino acid. We must obtain it from food, but that is not enough; the intestine must also absorb It. When toxins destroy the intestinal lining, we cannot move the amino acids from our gut into the bloodstream.
Taurine is another essential amino acid. Toxin-induced taurine deficiency is common in my patients, especially those who suffer from excessive intestinal overgrowth of Candida. Taurine is the number one amino acid used by the heart. It accounts for 50 percent of the active amino acids in cardiac tissue. Taurine decreases electrical voltage in the heart’s electrical system; therefore, taurine deficiency causes what we call increased cardiac irritability, and in some patients, cardiac arrhythmias.
The triple jeopardy in patients suffering Candida gut toxicity is that intestinal overgrowth of Candida also causes magnesium and potassium deficiencies. Magnesium competes with calcium for entry into the calcium channel of the cardiac nerves. When calcium enters cardiac cells. the cardiac muscle contracts. Magnesium therefore relaxes cardiac muscle; hence, magnesium deficiency causes increased “cardiac irritability,» as does Candidainduced potassium deficiency. Potassium blocks sodium from entering electrical neurons that stimulate the heart.
We were taught nothing about gut toxicity and how it can cause cardiac arrhythmias, but we were taught how to prescribe various drugs to reduce cardiac irritability. Amazing, isn’t it’? in my practice, we often see young women who suffer cardiac arrhythmias because they suffer toxicity-induced deficiencies of all three nutrients-taurine, magnesium, and potassium.
Mold toxins are actually more lethal mycotoxins than intestinal Candida mycotoxins. European studies have proven that the trichothecene T2 toxin produced by Stachybotrys (black mold) decreases the electrical action potential in the cardiac cells. I doubt many American cardiologists are aware of this.
The trichothecene toxin inhibits the membrane action potential in individual cardiac myocytes by interfering with the trans-membrane movement of calcium and potassium. It can prolong the action potential by 50 percent and increase what is called the repolarization phase by 90 percent. In my practice I had a 37-year- old bodybuilder who went into heart failure the day after he cleaned out the black mold infestation in his 30-foot-long fish tank*.
Trlchothecene toxicity can also cause extreme heart rate variability, whereby the patient experiences a rapid heart rate followed in just minutes by a very slow heart rate. These patients can experience constant changes In heart rate throughout the day they frequently suffer from what is called autonomic dysfunction.
In addition, when the brain becomes saturated with mold toxins, glutamate levels surge. My research has proven that mold toxins inhibit glutamic acid decarboxylase, the enzyme responsible for converting glutamate, the brain’s strongest electrifying chemical, into GABA, the brain’s strongest relaxing brain chemical. Excessive glutamate activity subsequently causes excessive electrical voltage throughout the brain and body. This stimulates increased vascular tone and excessive vasoconstriction. Increased activation of the muscular tone surrounding arteries and capillaries produces stiff arteries and elevated blood pressure.
Another mechanism by which toxicity causes havoc in the cardiovascular system is toxlnlnduced inflammation. Excessive toxin levels stimulate the production of pro-inflammatory messengers called cytokines. Thus, toxic overload induces an up-regulation of inflammatory chemicals throughout the body. Toxin-induced inflammation stimulates the blood-clotting cascade to produce excessive levels of clotting factors such as fibrinogen, a phenomenon known as hypercoagulability.
Fifty percent of my patients are at double risk for a heart attack or stroke because they suffer toxin-induced hypercoagulability*. Ironically. the clotting tests I was taught to use in my intensive care training will not diagnose the hypercoagulable state in these patients.
BW: How do you treat toxicity?
RS: My toxicity protocol is very comprehensive. First I perform an extensive evaluation of more than 300 biochemicals, including brain chemicals, hormones, nutritional factors, and biomarkers for toxicity that include various infectious agents.
After determining what the various causes of toxicity are in a specific patient we begin using both oral and intravenous modalities of treatment to restore multiple biochemicals and hormones to their optimal level. I have designed a proprietary intravenous protocol that greatly accelerates the healing process and toxin removal above and beyond what we could achieve using the quality oral medications and herbals we used for years. Our simultaneous removal of toxins and intravenous restoration of nutritional factors produces great results within just two to four weeks*, depending on the level of toxicity the patient is suffering from.
Because the mold toxins, particularly the trichothecene toxins, suppress multiple components of the immune system. our mold toxicity patients typically need treatment for undiagnosed Lyme and Mycoplasma infections. We have developed an all-natural protocol for killing these bugs with mega-dose intravenous vitamin C and oral herbal medications that optimize the patient’s kill power. We effectively treat Lyme disease in many patients who have been on five or more years of antibiotics that didn’t kill their Lyme*.
BW: What conditions have you seen improve by treating underlying toxicity?
RS: Depression, anxiety, insomnia. panic disorder, bipolar syndrome, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, neuropathy, adult-onset diabetes, hypertension, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, liver cirrhosis, and cardiovascular disease.
BW: Thank you for the interview, Dr. Sponaugle. You are a pioneer in the field of medicine, and you bring an important perspective on the importance of eliminating underlying toxicities that contribute to chronic disease. Your ability to dig deeper when assessing an array of biological imbalances is astounding. Your contribution to this book is invaluable.