Tame the Fires of Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune Disease is a major health problem in our society. One in twelve people in general, and one in nine women, will be diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. There are over one hundred different autoimmune disorders, including multiple sclerosis, Lupus, Rheumatoid arthritis, Inflammatory Bowel diseases and Celiac disease. Together these conditions affect more people than cancer or heart disease and can rob patients of their quality of life, mobility and even take their lives.

Scientists worldwide are puzzled over the alarming rise in the rates of autoimmune disease, particularly in the Western world. The rates have more than doubled in the last three decades. Genetics can no longer be blamed as the only cause of autoimmune disease since our genetics can’t change that quickly.

As a naturopathic physician, I have treated many patients with a variety of autoimmune diseases in my years of practice. The familiar story is one of misdiagnosis, dismissal and frustration with limited treatment options. In half of all cases, women with autoimmune disease are told there is nothing wrong with them for an average of five years before receiving diagnosis and treatment. Once a diagnosis is made, treatment is focused on reducing symptoms but not treating the underlying factors that may have caused the disease. Commonly used immunosuppressant treatments can be lifesaving, but can also lead to significant long-term side effects.

The path to a long lasting recovery from autoimmune conditions focuses on correcting the underlying stress factors that may have caused the immune dysregulation that drives the disease.

Exciting research was recently presented at a gastroenterology convention I attended in Victoria. The immune system has well developed mechanisms to attack foreign invaders. In autoimmune disease, the immune system loses its ability to differentiate our own normal tissues from foreign invaders. That ability to temper the immune system’s inflammatory reactions to invaders is something our bodies must learn. And strangely enough, in fact, the teacher lives in our guts. The bacterial lining of the intestines (the intestinal microbiome) is responsible for educating our immune systems, letting them know when to attack and when to cease fire.

The delicate intestinal bacterial lining is made up of over 1000 species of bacteria and weighs about three pounds in an adult. We are created in a sterile womb, devoid of bacteria and acquire our first dose of beneficial bacteria in the birth canal. In the western world, there is an ever increasing trend towards delivering babies by C-section. Without that first dose of beneficial bacteria from the birth canal, the baby’s microbiome is different than a baby born via vaginal birth. Abundant research has shown that there are increased rates of asthma and autoimmune disease in those delivered by C-section. Researchers concluded that a C-section (or Caesarean section) raises the risk of type 1 diabetes by 20%. They also crunched the data from 23 studies and showed the same increased risk for asthma—20%—in children delivered by C-section.

Antibiotics are the other western phenomenon that disturbs the intestinal microbiome. We know not what we do when we take an antibiotic for an infection without consideration of the trillions of beneficial bacteria that form an integral part of our digestive and immune systems. Mice given antibiotics were more likely to develop inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis.

Naturopathic physicians have long emphasized the importance of correcting deficiencies in the intestinal microbiome. Programs to repair the intestinal mucosal lining, replenish probiotics and kill off harmful elements of the microbiome have long been a mainstay of the treatment of autoimmune disease.

Vitamin D deficiency in northern countries have also been linked with increased rates of autoimmune disease. As we spend more time indoors and lessen our exposure to sunlight, thus using sunscreen more often (as those with paler skin tend to do) when we are outdoors, we play an active role in depleting our Vitamin D stores. Vitamin D has also been shown to play a role in the regulation of inflammatory fires of the immune system. Vitamin D helps tell the immune system to tolerate our own cells. Some studies show that Vitamin C inhibits induction of disease in autoimmune encephalomyelitis, thyroiditis, type-1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), lupus, rheumatoid and Lyme arthritis.

For my patients with joint pain associated with autoimmune disease, laser therapy is an excellent way to manage pain, reduce joint destruction and improve joint function. A recent Canadian expert panel determined that this painless laser therapy is an effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. I have been using a high tech laser light treatment for my patients for years. It is very effective for most patients with osteoarthritis and is part of an overall treatment for inflammatory arthritis too.

Natural anti-inflammatory medicines may reduce the dependence on harsh prescription drugs. A turmeric extract called Meriva has been shown to be a safe and defective pain reliever in arthritis. Fish oil is considered an essential part of auto-immune treatment in that it helps alleviate the inflammation that drives most symptoms. Most auto-immune disease involves high levels of oxidative stress, so sufferers who incorporate anti-oxidant foods and supplements into their daily regime are making a wise choice. Kale and blueberries are my favorite high anti-oxidant foods; grape seed extract and resveratrol are my favorite supplements.

Fatigue is often a crippling element of auto-immune disease. I also work with patients to support their adrenal gland through teaching them meditation and relaxation techniques using herbs like rhodiola.

Science is beginning to shed light on the complexities of the immune system and ways that we can influence the health of it. Take care of your immune system, and if you have an autoimmune disease, learn ways to tame your inflammation – naturally.

Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a naturopathic physician who has been practicing medicine for 16 years in downtown Courtenay. For more information, contact the Macdonald Centre for Natural Medicine at (250) 897-0235 or via this website.

The Gut / Brain Connection

Have you ever had a ”gut wrenching experience?” Have you felt butterflies in your stomach, or had a “gut feeling?” We all have experienced the influence that our thoughts and feelings can have on our stomach, but research is now showing that our guts can influence our mood, behaviour and thinking more that we had previously realized.

The stomach and intestines are so rich in nerves that the gut’s nervous system, the enteric nervous system, has been called the “second brain.” Surprisingly, there are about 100 million nerve cells in the gut, as many as there are in the head of a cat. Nervous stress can affect digestion from a number of angles including reducing blood flow to the digestive organs, altering secretion of digestive juices, changing gut motility, increasing the leakiness of the intestine and, most importantly, altering the intestinal bacterial lining called the microbiome.

The enteric nervous system also informs our state of mind. “A big part of our emotions are probably influenced by the nerves in our gut,” says Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor from U.C.L.A. It turns out that the main cranial (brain) nerve for controlling the digestion, the vagus nerve, uses 90% of its fibers to send information from the intestines to the brain. Electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve, a useful treatment for depression, may mimic these signals. The enteric nervous system, like the brain, uses neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. In fact, 95% of the body’s serotonin is found in the bowels. So is there a link between impaired digestive function and mental or emotional disorders? The link is clear in autism and research suggests a link in depression, schizophrenia and more conditions of the mind.

Exciting research has emerged on the role of the bacteria in our guts and how it affects the brain. I recently attended the annual national conference of the Canadian Association of Gastroenterologists. Exciting research was presented on what is considered the most important work being done in the field of biology today. The Human Microbiome Project is an international collaboration to map the DNA of the trillions of bacteria that live in the human body. These bacteria are a critical determinant of digestion function, immune function, prevention of autoimmune disease and, as it turns out, mood. Changes in the intestinal microbiome can have profound consequences on our physical and mental health.

For instance, people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome have different wiring in their gut-brain connection. It has long been established that people with IBS have an amplified perception of pain from the intestines. Research now shows that it is their altered intestinal microbiome that is responsible for messing with the nerve signals from the gut.

In animal models, alterations in microorganisms of the intestines have been show to influence brain function including memory and anxiety. Studies on mice show that changes to gut bacteria can actually affect behaviour. If you take the gut bacteria from bold mice and put it into shy mice, the shy mice become bold and vice versa. Mice treated with good bacteria (probiotics) exhibit less anxiety and show changes in the hippocampus of the brain. They have more brain growth factors necessary for learning and higher thinking.

Researchers have found that people with major depression have alterations in their small intestine microbiome. Namely, they show signs of Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). My patients with SIBO often have been told they have Irritable Bowel Syndrome and suffer from bloating, constipation or diarrhea, fatigue, fibromyalgia and more. A simple breath test can help diagnose SIBO; with a long term complex treatment regime, relief of both physical and mental symptoms can be achieved.

Antibiotics significantly alter the delicate and complex intestinal microbiome. Not only does this disturbance have an impact on digestion and the immune system, but it has also been shown to affect behaviour. Mice that are given antibiotics are more daring, having lost their natural instinct to hide from predators. Studies have shown that post antibiotic mice have impaired learning. Also, changes in the critical areas of the brain, the amygdale and hippocampus, have been demonstrated with antibiotic use. Since 30% of human newborns are exposed to antibiotics before they even go home from the hospital, and with many more children are given antibiotics in childhood, the implications for brain development and learning are disturbing.

Stress can also alter the microbiome, leaving us more vulnerable to bowel issues, inflammatory conditions and mental effects of these changes. When mice are separated from their mothers at a young age, their microbiome changes and they are more likely to develop inflammatory bowel issues later in life.

There are other digestive factors that have a ripple effect on the brain. Food allergies can activate immune cells called mast cells. These mast cells can release inflammatory chemicals that can have an impact on the brain causing mood, energy, and learning issues. For some people with celiac disease, the autoimmune response to gluten in common bread and pasta products can cause calcifications of brain tissue that can be devastating.

If you are suffering from both digestive issues and mood issues, there may be more of a link that you had previously thought. Treating the digestive issues by correcting the underlying cause may open up doors to improved mood and mental clarity. Naturopathic physicians have a long history of working with patients to enhance the digestive system, through optimal diet, avoidance of food allergies, enhancement of the intestinal microbiome and much more. Don’t let your guts get you down. Take charge of your mental and physical health.

Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a naturopathic physician who has practiced medicine in downtown Courtenay for 16 years. For more information, contact her office at (250) 897-0235 or via this website.

Think Straight, Feel Great: The Gut Brain Connection

Have you ever had a ”gut wrenching experience?” Have you felt butterflies in your stomach, or had a “gut feeling?” We all have experienced the influence that our thoughts and feelings can have on our stomach, but research is now showing that our guts can influence our mood, behaviour and thinking more that we had previously realized.

The stomach and intestines are so rich in nerves that the gut’s nervous system, the enteric nervous system, has been called the “second brain.” Surprisingly, there are about 100 million nerve cells in the gut, as many as there are in the head of a cat. Nervous stress can affect digestion from a number of angles including reducing blood flow to the digestive organs, altering secretion of digestive juices, changing gut motility, increasing the leakiness of the intestine and, most importantly, altering the intestinal bacterial lining called the microbiome.

The enteric nervous system also informs our state of mind. “A big part of our emotions are probably influenced by the nerves in our gut,” says Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor from U.C.L.A. It turns out that the main cranial (brain) nerve for controlling the digestion, the vagus nerve, uses 90% of its fibers to send information from the intestines to the brain. Electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve, a useful treatment for depression, may mimic these signals. The enteric nervous system, like the brain, uses neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. In fact, 95% of the body’s serotonin is found in the bowels. So is there a link between impaired digestive function and mental or emotional disorders? The link is clear in autism and research suggests a link in depression, schizophrenia and more conditions of the mind.

Exciting research has emerged on the role of the bacteria in our guts and how it affects the brain. I recently attended the annual national conference of the Canadian Association of Gastroenterologists. Exciting research was presented on what is considered the most important work being done in the field of biology today. The Human Microbiome Project is an international collaboration to map the DNA of the trillions of bacteria that live in the human body. These bacteria are a critical determinant of digestion function, immune function, prevention of autoimmune disease and, as it turns out, mood. Changes in the intestinal microbiome can have profound consequences on our physical and mental health.

For instance, people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome have different wiring in their gut-brain connection. It has long been established that people with IBS have an amplified perception of pain from the intestines. Research now shows that it is their altered intestinal microbiome that is responsible for messing with the nerve signals from the gut.

In animal models, alterations in microorganisms of the intestines have been show to influence brain function including memory and anxiety. Studies on mice show that changes to gut bacteria can actually affect behaviour. If you take the gut bacteria from bold mice and put it into shy mice, the shy mice become bold and vice versa. Mice treated with good bacteria (probiotics) exhibit less anxiety and show changes in the hippocampus of the brain. They have more brain growth factors necessary for learning and higher thinking.

Researchers have found that people with major depression have alterations in their small intestine microbiome. Namely, they show signs of Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). My patients with SIBO often have been told they have Irritable Bowel Syndrome and suffer from bloating, constipation or diarrhea, fatigue, fibromyalgia and more. A simple breath test can help diagnose SIBO; with a long term complex treatment regime, relief of both physical and mental symptoms can be achieved.

Antibiotics significantly alter the delicate and complex intestinal microbiome. Not only does this disturbance have an impact on digestion and the immune system, but it has also been shown to affect behaviour. Mice that are given antibiotics are more daring, having lost their natural instinct to hide from predators. Studies have shown that post antibiotic mice have impaired learning. Also, changes in the critical areas of the brain, the amygdale and hippocampus, have been demonstrated with antibiotic use. Since 30% of human newborns are exposed to antibiotics before they even go home from the hospital, and with many more children are given antibiotics in childhood, the implications for brain development and learning are disturbing.

Stress can also alter the microbiome, leaving us more vulnerable to bowel issues, inflammatory conditions and mental effects of these changes. When mice are separated from their mothers at a young age, their microbiome changes and they are more likely to develop inflammatory bowel issues later in life.

There are other digestive factors that have a ripple effect on the brain. Food allergies can activate immune cells called mast cells. These mast cells can release inflammatory chemicals that can have an impact on the brain causing mood, energy, and learning issues. For some people with celiac disease, the autoimmune response to gluten in common bread and pasta products can cause calcifications of brain tissue that can be devastating.
If you are suffering from both digestive issues and mood issues, there may be more of a link that you had previously thought. Treating the digestive issues by correcting the underlying cause may open up doors to improved mood and mental clarity. Naturopathic physicians have a long history of working with patients to enhance the digestive system, through optimal diet, avoidance of food allergies, enhancement of the intestinal microbiome and much more. Don’t let your guts get you down. Take charge of your mental and physical health.

Autoimmune Disease and Naturopathic Medicine

Autoimmune Disease is a major health problem in our society. One in twelve people in general, and one in nine women, will be diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. There are over one hundred different autoimmune disorders, including multiple sclerosis, Lupus, Rheumatoid arthritis, Inflammatory Bowel diseases and Celiac disease. Together these conditions affect more people than cancer or heart disease and can rob patients of their quality of life, mobility and even take their lives.

Scientists worldwide are puzzled over the alarming rise in the rates of autoimmune disease, particularly in the Western world. The rates have more than doubled in the last three decades. Genetics can no longer be blamed as the only cause of autoimmune disease since our genetics can’t change that quickly.

As a naturopathic physician, I have treated many patients with a variety of autoimmune diseases in my years of practice. The familiar story is one of misdiagnosis, dismissal and frustration with limited treatment options. In half of all cases, women with autoimmune disease are told there is nothing wrong with them for an average of five years before receiving diagnosis and treatment. Once a diagnosis is made, treatment is focused on reducing symptoms but not treating the underlying factors that may have caused the disease. Commonly used immunosuppressant treatments can be lifesaving, but can also lead to significant long-term side effects.
The path to a long lasting recovery from autoimmune conditions focuses on correcting the underlying stress factors that may have caused the immune dysregulation that drives the disease.

Exciting research was recently presented at a gastroenterology convention I attended in Victoria. The immune system has well developed mechanisms to attack foreign invaders. In autoimmune disease, the immune system loses its ability to differentiate our own normal tissues from foreign invaders. That ability to temper the immune system’s inflammatory reactions to invaders is something our bodies must learn. And strangely enough, in fact, the teacher lives in our guts. The bacterial lining of the intestines (the intestinal microbiome) is responsible for educating our immune systems, letting them know when to attack and when to cease fire.

The delicate intestinal bacterial lining is made up of over 1000 species of bacteria and weighs about three pounds in an adult. We are created in a sterile womb, devoid of bacteria and acquire our first dose of beneficial bacteria in the birth canal. In the western world, there is an ever increasing trend towards delivering babies by C-section. Without that first dose of beneficial bacteria from the birth canal, the baby’s microbiome is different than a baby born via vaginal birth. Abundant research has shown that there are increased rates of asthma and autoimmune disease in those delivered by C-section. Researchers concluded that a C-section (or Caesarean section) raises the risk of type 1 diabetes by 20%. They also crunched the data from 23 studies and showed the same increased risk for asthma—20%—in children delivered by C-section.

Antibiotics are the other western phenomenon that disturbs the intestinal microbiome. We know not what we do when we take an antibiotic for an infection without consideration of the trillions of beneficial bacteria that form an integral part of our digestive and immune systems. Mice given antibiotics were more likely to develop inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis.

Naturopathic physicians have long emphasized the importance of correcting deficiencies in the intestinal microbiome. Programs to repair the intestinal mucosal lining, replenish probiotics and kill off harmful elements of the microbiome have long been a mainstay of the treatment of autoimmune disease.
Vitamin D deficiency in northern countries have also been linked with increased rates of autoimmune disease. As we spend more time indoors and lessen our exposure to sunlight, thus using sunscreen more often (as those with paler skin tend to do) when we are outdoors, we play an active role in depleting our Vitamin D stores. Vitamin D has also been shown to play a role in the regulation of inflammatory fires of the immune system. Vitamin D helps tell the immune system to tolerate our own cells. Some studies show that Vitamin C inhibits induction of disease in autoimmune encephalomyelitis, thyroiditis, type-1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), lupus, rheumatoid and Lyme arthritis.

For my patients with joint pain associated with autoimmune disease, laser therapy is an excellent way to manage pain, reduce joint destruction and improve joint function. A recent Canadian expert panel determined that this painless laser therapy is an effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. I have been using a high tech laser light treatment for my patients for years. It is very effective for most patients with osteoarthritis and is part of an overall treatment for inflammatory arthritis too.

Natural anti-inflammatory medicines may reduce the dependence on harsh prescription drugs. A turmeric extract called Meriva has been shown to be a safe and defective pain reliever in arthritis. Fish oil is considered an essential part of auto-immune treatment in that it helps alleviate the inflammation that drives most symptoms. Most auto-immune disease involves high levels of oxidative stress, so sufferers who incorporate anti-oxidant foods and supplements into their daily regime are making a wise choice. Kale and blueberries are my favorite high anti-oxidant foods; grape seed extract and resveratrol are my favorite supplements.

Fatigue is often a crippling element of auto-immune disease. I also work with patients to support their adrenal gland through teaching them meditation and relaxation techniques using herbs like rhodiola.

Science is beginning to shed light on the complexities of the immune system and ways that we can influence the health of it. Take care of your immune system, and if you have an autoimmune disease, learn ways to tame your inflammation – naturally.

Mental Health and Naturopathic Medicine

The Integrative Approach to Mental Health

One’s mental health is a reflection of both the mind and the body. There are effective, long term strategies to improve mood, increase energy, decrease anxiety, and balance neurotransmitter function. Creating an individualized program to address the underlying causes of mood and mental disorders is a powerful path towards greater health and happiness.

When I am working with a patient who is suffering from mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, of psychiatric illness, the first step is to do a thorough health assessment. The brain is an organ like the liver, heart and lungs. For the brain to function optimally, it needs to be supported by a healthy physical body. Much insight can be gained through a good history, physical exam, and assessment of lab work. Getting to know the patient, their goals, and their history helps us to co-create a program to enhance mental and physical health.

The next step is to address possible underlying causes of physical and mental issues. When the body is supported to function at its best, there is greater balance in the body and mind. Each of the following medical issues can profoundly affect mood and mental functioning.

Nutritional deficiencies – Patients receive coaching on how to optimize their food intake, focusing on creating a diet that fuels the brain at every meal. Specific nutrients are required for optimal functioning of the neurotransmitters that govern mood and more.

Hormone balance – Changing levels of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and more can affect our mood and both mental and physical functioning. Naturopathic programs to enhance hormone function naturally or with bio-identical hormones can provide a much needed boost.

Thyroid levels – Assessing the thyroid is a complex task requiring detailed knowledge of the biochemistry of the body. Often low thyroid levels are missed, and this common cause of mood disorders is overlooked. Naturopathic strategies to optimize thyroid function help to increase mood, energy, mental acuity and more.

Digestive Issues – Without optimal digestive function, the brain function will be compromised. The digestive organs are where we take in the nutrients essential for neurotransmitter function. It is also where we eliminate waste and toxins from the body. Many patients experience better mood, greater mental acuity, and increased energy when their digestive concerns are addressed in a real and lasting way.

Food allergies – Many people don’t know that there are foods they eat that are creating fatigue or worse symptoms. In fact, at least 30% of people with schizophrenia are allergic to gluten (celiac disease), vs. only .3% or the total population. Celiac disease can decrease circulation to the brain, cause atrophy of parts of the brain, and cause calcifications of the brain. Proper assessment of celiac disease and coaching on the complexities of gluten elimination, are essential for recovery in these people.

Adrenal function – The adrenal glands produce hormones like adrenalin and cortisol that are intimately linked with brain function and nervous system regulation. Chronic stress, chronic pain, excess stimulants and allergies can all deplete or deregulate the adrenal glands. With a program of lifestyle changes, pain management, and natural medicines, the adrenal glands can become better regulated. Anxiety is reduced, energy is enhanced and mental processes are optimized.

Pain – Chronic pain is a major source of depression for many people. Naturopathic physicians are trained in physical medicine and can assess and treat chronic pain with a variety of techniques. Laser therapy is an excellent choice for degenerative and arthritic issues, as well as other muscle / tendon / nerve issues. A program to reduce inflammation in the body can help to reduce pain and enhance health.

Sleep Issues: Insomnia can rob you of your vitality and push a delicate nervous system seriously out of balance. Many people can overcome insomnia through good sleep habits, relaxation techniques, behavioural therapy and natural medicines. Pharmaceutical medicines are a last resort and are associated with a significant increase in pre-mature death from cancer and other causes.

The next step in overcoming mental health issues is stress management coaching and counselling. I’ve spent many years developing a powerful tool kit for helping patients manage stress and enhance their resilience to life’s challenges on the physical, emotional and spiritual planes. For instance, at the Macdonald Centre for Natural Medicine, I lead weekly relaxation classes. During this nine week series of noon-hour classes participants experience guided visualization for self healing and mindfulness training. Alternatively, patients can enjoy individualized relaxation sessions. During these one-on-one sessions, I discuss the patient’s particular stresses then guide them through an individualized relaxation and visualization session. Patients feel relaxed and refreshed and come away with practical tools for coping with daily life. More in-depth trauma counselling, addiction counselling and marriage counselling is available through an in-house referral to a trained counsellor.

Finally, there are natural and pharmaceutical medicines that can enhance the nervous system and balance neurotransmitters. I work with patients to help them assess all their treatment options, from herbal medicine, amino acid therapy, nutritionals and pharmaceutical medicines.

Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a licensed naturopathic physician who has been practicing for 16 years in downtown Courtenay. She received her psychology degree from UBC and her medical doctorate from an accredited naturopathic medical school in Portland, Oregon. For more information contact her office at (250) 897-0235 or via this website.

The Beneficial Bacteria within – The Human Microbiome

The Human Microbiome: The Beneficial Bacteria Within

Time magazine, Scientific American, and National Geographic have all recently published articles describing exciting new research on the human microbiome, the trillions of bacteria and other microbes that call our bodies home. There are over 1,000 species that make up the human microbiome and all together, they weigh in at about three pounds. Science is showing that these beneficial bacteria play a critical role in the healthy functioning of the body. However, studies also show how easy it is for helpful bacteria to get caught in the crossfire between antibiotics and their intended targets. The wide spread use of antibiotics and other aspects of modern life have significantly altered the human microbiome. There is now strong evidence that the inadvertent destruction of beneficial microbes in the human bacterial ecology is likely a contributing factor in the increase in obesity and immune related diseases in Western society.

The complex ecosystem of the microbiome contains trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that inhabit our skin, genital areas, mouth and especially intestines. These good bacteria in our intestines help us digest our food, particularly our fiber. They help us absorb nutrients like vitamin B12 and biotin. Bacteria throughout the body are part of the defensive team against harmful bacterial overgrowth like staph infections, meningitis, traveller’s diarrhea and more. Good bacteria help the immune system to mature and to maintain a balance between pro and anti-inflammatory immune responses. Therefore, they help prevent allergies and auto-immune responses, where the immune system attacks our own tissues. Good bacteria even help moisturize our skin.

Interesting research shows that even bacteria we associate with disease may be of benefit. Helicobacter pylori is a bacteria that lives in the stomach and is associated with peptic ulcers. Antibiotics that target H pylori reduce ulcers, but are associated with weight gain. It turns out that H pylori is considered part of the normal bacterial lining of the stomach and it helps to regulate ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite. People who take antibiotics for H pylori have higher levels ghrelin, and therefore are predisposed to eating more and subsequently gaining weight. Years ago, 60% of the population carried H pylori. Now only 6% of children have it due to the widespread use of antibiotics for common infections. Could this factor play a role in the epidemic of obesity in our society?

Modern medical practices have radically changed the microbial make up of our bodies and are affecting our health in ways we are just beginning to understand. The overuse of indiscriminate antibiotics is one culprit, as is the increase in c-section deliveries. For thousands of years babies have benefited from receiving their first dose of essential bacteria from vaginal deliveries. The natural birth process gives infants lactobacillales, the bacteria needed to digest milk. C-section babies lack these essential bacteria in their microbiome, and this contributes to allergies and digestive problems.

The increasing rates of allergies, asthma and autoimmunne disease appears to be linked to the changes in our modern microbiome. While genetics play a role in the inheritance of a hyper-active immune system, there is evidence that parents may pass on their altered microbiome as well. (There is an interesting article being presented at a gastroenterology conference I will be attending this spring on the connection between Crohn’s patients and the altered microbiome of their relatives.)

What can an individual do to maintain or enhance their microbiome to ensure optimal health? First, one can take general steps to improve their health and therefore reduce the need for antibiotics. Naturopathic physicians help guide and coach their patients on lifestyle practices that lead to optimal health and on natural medicines to enhance immune function.

Second, when possible avoid the use of antibiotics for infections. In my pharmacology training at UBC, our instructors emphasized that science shows many people overestimate the power of antibiotics to help common infections. For instance, taking antibiotics for strep throat and ear infections reduces the time spent in pain by only a few hours versus placebo while causing significant diarrhea for some people due to the effect of stripping the intestinal microbiome. Naturopathic physicians can prescribe antibiotics but prefer to bolster the body’s own infection fighting mechanisms with natural medicines. Ultimately, having a strong immune system and aggressive early intervention for colds and flus help prevent viral infections from setting the stage for bacterial infections like sinusitis and ear infections.

Third, many of us already have both deficient levels of good bacteria and an overgrowth of harmful organisms that have already taken hold. Antibiotics and other medications can not only strip the good bacteria, but allow for naturally occurring internal yeasts such as Candida albicans to proliferate to unhealthy levels. There are ways to re-establish the healthy microbiome in the body. Naturopathic physicians have been addressing this issue head on for decades and have successful protocols for enhancing their patients’ microbiome. Taking good quality probiotics supplements while reducing the overgrowth of opportunistic harmful bacteria and intestinal yeasts through supervised programs is very beneficial to overall health, energy and immunity.

I am very excited that science now has the tools to explore and understand the human microbiome. In my naturopathic medical practice, I have worked with thousands of patients to improve their internal bacterial environment and have seen the profound impact that doing so has on their health. I look forward to having new tools and protocols to more specifically address chronic autoimmune and digestive issues in the future.

References:
Scientific American, June 2012, The Ultimate Social Network
National Geographic, January 2013, The Secret World of Microbes
Science and Society Journal, Who are we? Indigenous microbes and the ecology of human diseases
Curr. Issues Intest. Microbiol. (2003) 4: 1-8, Studies on Colonization Resistance of the Human Gut Microbiota to Candida albicans and the Effects of Tetracycline and Labtobacillus

Wound Healing with Laser Light Therapy

Chronic wounds are a major source of disability for many people. They are notoriously difficult to treat with standard protocols. Often chronic wounds occur on the feet and lower limbs as a result of poor circulation. Diabetes and atherosclerosis are common contributing factors. Laser therapy has been proven to speed healing and resolution of skin ulcers and chronic wounds. An analysis of the research on laser therapy allowed researchers at the University of Johannesburg to conclude:

“Low level laser therapy (LLLT) is a form of phototherapy that involves the application of low power … light to injuries and lesions. It has been used successfully to induce wound healing in nonhealing defects. Other wounds treated with lasers include burns, amputation injuries, skin grafts, infected wounds, and post-surgical wounds. The unique properties of lasers create an enormous potential for specific therapy of skin diseases.”

A triple blind study at Brigham Young University concluded that:

“The laser therapy resulted in enhanced healing as measured by wound contraction. These data indicate that laser therapy is an effective modality to facilitate wound contraction of partial-thickness wounds.”

Harvard Medical School, Department of Dermatology has been researching laser therapy extensively. In a published paper researchers state:

Our laboratory has shown that a single exposure to red or near-IR wavelengths 30 minutes after wounding can stimulate wound healing in mice. Specifically, the light appears to hasten the contraction process at the edges of the excisional wound.

In my naturopathic medical clinic I have been treating patients with a high end laser therapy machine for two years and have had the opportunity to help patients heal wounds that previously wouldn’t heal. One such patient, a 60-year-old man with diabetes, had a longstanding wound on the bottom of his foot the size and depth of two stacked toonies. After a series of treatments, the wound healed completely. Six months later, the wound remained healed, and laser therapy quickly healed up another wound that was starting. The patient was able to increase his activity level, go traveling and enjoy life again.

Laser therapy is a painless treatment used to heal tissues throughout the body too. It is an excellent way to speed the healing of back pain, sports injuries, arthritis, plantar fasciitis (foot pain), tendonitis, shoulder pain and more. It works by increasing the output of fuel within the cells. Specific wavelengths of light, emitted by the machine, can be absorbed by photoreceptors in the body’s cells. Photons are then transmuted into ATP, which is the fuel for the cells. Also, cell membranes become more permeable to nutrients. Thus, with added energy and fuel, cellular function is enhanced. Nitric oxide is also increased, which increases circulation. The net effect is less inflammation and rapid healing of tissue creating a real resolution of the problem. The results are quite visible in the case of wound healing and there has been photo documentation of many dramatic resolutions of gangrenous toes that were able to be saved from amputation.

To book a no-charge 15-minute no obligation consultation with naturopathic physician Dr. Deidre Macdonald, contact her medical practice in downtown Courtenay at (250) 897-0235. For more information about laser therapy, read the Frequently asked Question about Laser Therapy on this website or contact Dr. Macdonald via the website. 

FAQ about Laser Therapy

Sports Injuries and Laser Therapy

Want to know a secret that professional athletes use to get a competitive edge? In addition to hard work, genetics, and the will to win, many athletes have something else on their side: laser therapy.

 
Sports injury rehabilitation is all about getting back in the game quickly and with optimal functioning. Cold Laser Therapy is a fast, effective tool for the treatment of sports injuries. Over the past nine years I have helped hundreds of athletes and weekend warriors overcome injuries so that they can do their rehab exercises and return to the sports they love.

 
Laser therapy is used by professional sports teams and athletes to accelerate healing and provide pain relief. For the past decade, it has revolutionized treatment in the professional sports world including NBA, NFL, NHL and USA cycling athletes, as well as Ironman triathlon competitors, college athletes, elite runners and more.

 
Hundreds of placebo controlled studies have proven the safety and effectiveness of this physical therapy modality. For instance, tennis elbow completely resolved in 82% of acute cases in a placebo controlled study. Soccer players with sprained ankles showed much less swelling if they were treated with laser therapy vs. placebo treatment. Plantar fasciitis, a common cause of foot pain in athletes, has been shown to resolve more quickly with laser therapy. Many studies have shown that knee, back and shoulder injuries heal faster with laser therapy, a result I see commonly in my practice.

 
Pain is a symptom of injury. Laser therapy doesn’t just mask the symptoms, it treats the injury by activating and accelerating the healing process. Your pain is alleviated because the injury has improved or been cured. So don’t let injuries keep you out of the game. Get back into your fitness regime with the help of laser therapy.

 

FAQ about Laser Therapy

Shoulder Pain Relief with Laser Therapy

We don’t realize how much we use our shoulders until something goes wrong.  We use them for putting away dishes, lifting our kids, playing sports, trade work and so much more.  The shoulder is one of the most complex joints in the body.  It moves in more directions than any other joint.  This tremendous mobility makes the shoulder joint vulnerable to problems.  Shoulder pain is one of the most common musculo-skeletal conditions that I see in my naturopathic practice.  If you have shoulder pain, it is wise to try and determine the source of the problem and take an active role in treatment so you can get back on track as quickly as possible.  Laser light therapy is a safe, painless and effective treatment for a variety of shoulder problems.

Determining the source of the problem requires a detailed physical examination of the bones, joints, muscles, tendons, bursa, ligaments and nerves.  I can often learn a great deal through a thorough physical exam involving structural palpation, muscle testing, orthopaedic tests and measuring range of motion.  Diagnostic imaging (x-ray, ultrasound, MRI or CT) can be helpful but are not always available for people with mild to moderate injuries.

The most common conditions I see are rotator cuff problems.  The rotator cuff is a sheath that is made up of four muscle tendons:  the suprapinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis muscles.   Tendonitis can set in, the tendons can become impinged under the top of the shoulder (acromion process of the scapula) or the tendons can be partially or fully torn.  The most common tear is in the supraspinatus muscle that runs along the top / back of the shoulder, under the acromion and attaches to the top of the arm bone (humerus).   When this muscle is affected, lifting the arm up to the side is very painful or impossible.   Rotator cuff issues are often associated with bicep tendonitis and bursitis, although these conditions can occur alone.  In bicep tendonitis, the tendon becomes inflamed or fibrotic, and commonly creates a deep, throbbing ache in the front of the shoulder.  Bursitis (inflamed padding of the shoulder) can create very acute pain with raising the arm.  Tears in the labrum (cartilage cuff inside the socket) can create deep joint pain and frozen shoulder.  Arthritis, in the ball and socket joint or where the collarbone meets the shoulder, can cause pain and reduced range of motion.

What are the treatment options?  Anti-inflammatory drugs create problems with daily use.  Surgery is necessary to repair a complete rotator cuff tear, but for most other conditions the effectiveness of shoulder surgery, according to published reports, is difficult to predict at best.  Exercise and stretching are important, but may not be feasible when the shoulder is too painful to move.  Laser therapy is a very effective treatment for speeding the healing of shoulder problems.  Extensive research has shown that laser light therapy is safe and effective treatment for tendonitis, bursitis, arthritis and other issues that affect the shoulder.  It reduces inflammation, increases circulation, speeds metabolism on a cellular level, reduces fibrosis and scar tissue, and strengthens tissue.  These mechanisms result in rapid resolution of pain.  Placebo controlled studies of laser therapy for even frozen shoulder have shown significant reduction in pain and disability.   In my clinic I use a state of the art laser light therapy machine with an extra large treatment head that uses nine laser beams to bathe large areas of the shoulder in the therapeutic light.  The laser beams can penetrate deeply into the tissues to safely and effectively promote healing.  Most of my patients with shoulder issues treated with 9-12 sessions of laser light therapy heal quickly, take less pain medication and are able to resume work and normal activities.

So take care of your hard working shoulders.   With laser light therapy, stretching, and therapeutic exercise, you may be able to enjoy relief from shoulder pain.

Wondering if laser therapy is right for you? Dr. Macdonald offers a free 15-minute consultation. Contact her naturopathic medical clinic in downtown Courtenay at (250) 897-0235 or via this website.

FAQ about Laser Therapy

Neck Pain Relief with Laser therapy

We don’t realize how much we use our shoulders until something goes wrong.  We use them for putting away dishes, lifting our kids, playing sports, trade work and so much more.  The shoulder is one of the most complex joints in the body.  It moves in more directions than any other joint.  This tremendous mobility makes the shoulder joint vulnerable to problems.  Shoulder pain is one of the most common musculo-skeletal conditions that I see in my naturopathic practice.  If you have shoulder pain, it is wise to try and determine the source of the problem and take an active role in treatment so you can get back on track as quickly as possible.  Laser light therapy is a safe, painless and effective treatment for a variety of shoulder problems.

Determining the source of the problem requires a detailed physical examination of the bones, joints, muscles, tendons, bursa, ligaments and nerves.  I can often learn a great deal through a thorough physical exam involving structural palpation, muscle testing, orthopaedic tests and measuring range of motion.  Diagnostic imaging (x-ray, ultrasound, MRI or CT) can be helpful but are not always available for people with mild to moderate injuries.

The most common conditions I see are rotator cuff problems.  The rotator cuff is a sheath that is made up of four muscle tendons:  the suprapinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis muscles.   Tendonitis can set in, the tendons can become impinged under the top of the shoulder (acromion process of the scapula) or the tendons can be partially or fully torn.  The most common tear is in the supraspinatus muscle that runs along the top / back of the shoulder, under the acromion and attaches to the top of the arm bone (humerus).   When this muscle is affected, lifting the arm up to the side is very painful or impossible.   Rotator cuff issues are often associated with bicep tendonitis and bursitis, although these conditions can occur alone.  In bicep tendonitis, the tendon becomes inflamed or fibrotic, and commonly creates a deep, throbbing ache in the front of the shoulder.  Bursitis (inflamed padding of the shoulder) can create very acute pain with raising the arm.  Tears in the labrum (cartilage cuff inside the socket) can create deep joint pain and frozen shoulder.  Arthritis, in the ball and socket joint or where the collarbone meets the shoulder, can cause pain and reduced range of motion.

What are the treatment options?  Anti-inflammatory drugs create problems with daily use.  Surgery is necessary to repair a complete rotator cuff tear, but for most other conditions the effectiveness of shoulder surgery, according to published reports, is difficult to predict at best.  Exercise and stretching are important, but may not be feasible when the shoulder is too painful to move.  Laser therapy is a very effective treatment for speeding the healing of shoulder problems.  Extensive research has shown that laser light therapy is safe and effective treatment for tendonitis, bursitis, arthritis and other issues that affect the shoulder.  It reduces inflammation, increases circulation, speeds metabolism on a cellular level, reduces fibrosis and scar tissue, and strengthens tissue.  These mechanisms result in rapid resolution of pain.  Placebo controlled studies of laser therapy for even frozen shoulder have shown significant reduction in pain and disability.   In my clinic I use a state of the art laser light therapy machine that utilizes pads of light that can bathe large areas of the shoulder in the therapeutic light.  Then we use a high potency nine beam cold laser unit to penetrate deeply into the tissues to safely and effectively promote healing.  Most of my patients with shoulder issues treated with 9-12 sessions of laser light therapy heal quickly, take less pain medication and are able to resume work and normal activities.

So take care of your hard working shoulders.   With laser light therapy, stretching, and therapeutic exercise, you may be able to enjoy relief from shoulder pain.

For more information or to book a free 15-minute introductory consultation with Dr. Deidre Macdonald contact her naturopathic medical clinic in downtown Courtenay at (250) 897-0235 or via the website.

FAQ about Laser Therapy