Now you can overcome chronic health concerns,
pain and stress using safe,
Buyer Beware of Chemicals in Your Home
There are an estimated 84,000 different chemicals in our environment and 700 new ones are released every year. The majority of these have never been tested for safety. Chemicals that are tested are done in isolation, yet in the real world are bodies are bombarded by hundreds of chemicals and it is the total toxic burden that overwhelms our body’s natural defences. These chemicals enter our bodies every day through food, water, air, health and beauty aids, furniture, clothing and more. Scientific evidence is pointing to chemical exposures as major contributors to cancer, reproductive problems, early puberty, autoimmune disease, Autism, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other neurological and metabolic disruptions.
Our bodies have not yet evolved the mechanisms to defend against the assault of modern chemicals. I had a patient who was a very tough military veteran. He had survived the unimaginable and was quite psychologically resilient. But the mosquito coils that he slept with for years in while posted in Germany emitted a potent neurotoxin intended to paralyze mosquitos. Unfortunately the mosquito coils also poisoned his nervous system and was the likely cause of the rare neuro-muscular disorder he developed, and eventually succumbed to. As tough as he was as a person, his physical systems had never evolved the mechanisms to withstand these toxins.
Canadians spend 90% of their time inside, which means we spend most of our daily lives exposed to chemicals found in common household items and dust. We all have of toxins stored in our body and are passing them to our children. Babies are being born with chemicals in their system. In a US study, there were an average of 287 chemicals detected in umbilical cord blood, 217 of which are toxic to the brain and nervous system. At Simon Fraser University, research showed that those babies whose mother’s had the highest concentration of chemicals had a lower IQ at age five.
Some chemical exposure is beyond our control, but we can choose which chemicals are entering our homes through the products we buy. Environmental Defence, a Canadian organization that promotes environmental health, has created a list of the chemicals in consumer products that cause the worst damage to human health. These “Toxic Ten” include flame retardants, parabens, phthalates, petrolatum, silicone (the latter four are commonly found in over the counter skin and hair care products), and perfluorinated compounds (PFC, PFAS – found in water resistant products such as Scotchguard, Gore-tex, Teflon, raincoats, food wrappers, and microwave popcorn bags).
According to Health Canada, flame retardants are found in many consumer products including foam in mattresses, pillows and stuffed toys, in fabrics such as clothing, tents, rugs, and upholstery, and other products like computers, plastics, paint, foam used in construction, glues and more. Health Canada states that the health effects of these chemicals may include effects on development, reproduction and increased risk of cancer. Research has shown that they are hormone disruptors, can alter thyroid function in pregnant women, and can cause neurodevelopmental problems in children (such as lowered IQ, Autism, and ADHD).
Parabens can easily be absorbed through the skin and are commonly found in lipstick and other make-up, skin care products and deodorant. Parabens are strong estrogen mimickers, androgen (male hormone) disruptors, blockers of detoxifying agents in the body, and more. For instance, they are known to disrupt five out of the seven mechanisms cells use to protect themselves from breast cancer.
BPA’s are found in plastic food and water containers, tin / soda can lining, cash register receipts and more. They are known hormone and immune system disruptors, and the newer BPA substitutes may be just as bad. Consumers have demanded the reduction of BPA’s in food packaging and are buying metal water bottles instead of drinking from plastic water bottles. Educated consumer using their buying power will be what moves our society from a toxic soup to a cleaner world.
These household toxins combine to create an unprecedented toxic burden to our bodies, and I haven’t even gotten started talking about pesticides in foods, chemicals in medicines, and the toxins we knowingly ingest in artificial sweeteners, cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. They all adds up. But you can make a difference. Knowledge is power.
Naturopathic doctors help their patients to prevent and address disease by engaging them in strategies to remove stresses on the body, including the build-up of chemical toxins. We can test you for toxic burden (“CORE” by Genova Diagnostics) and support you in a program to detoxify your home and your body. Next month we’ll talk about steps you can take to reduce your exposure to toxins in your home. Also check out the Toxic Ten Pocket Guide at environmentaldefence.ca.
Hope for Parkinson’s Disease
Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox are famous people who have Parkinson’s disease, and one in 500 people in Canada will join their ranks. Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a degenerative neurological disease that slowly affects the ability to control movement. Symptoms can include tremors, difficulty walking and speaking. Early symptoms can include decreased thirst, loss of smell, constipation, anxiety and decreased arm swinging while walking. This condition was thought to be chronic and progressive and could only be managed with medications. Now, with a deeper understanding of the factors that contribute to nerve cell damage, there are targeted strategies that can slow or even reverse the disease to some degree. Many of these principles are just smart preventative lifestyle strategies for all of us who want to protect our brains from degeneration.
Dr. Laurie Mischley is a naturopathic doctor who works with people with Parkinson’s disease in Seattle. The average Parkinson’s patient has a symptom score of 500 at the time of diagnosis in a standardized test for Parkinson’s, and their score goes up by 38 points per year on average. In contrast, Dr. Mischley’s patients have an average 200-300 point decrease in their score over one year of treatment. Those numbers got my attention when she spoke at a recent brain health conference I attended.
Dr. Mischley is emphatic that Parkinson’s does not have to be a progressive, irreversible disease. Progression can be slowed and sometimes reversed to a degree if we seek to understand what is stressing the neurons and remove those stresses while supporting optimal brain health with targeted lifestyle strategies and natural medicines. Dr. Mischley says that by the time PD is diagnosed, the processes that created it have been in the works for twenty years or more. Science has shown us that risk factors include drinking well water with high manganese or pesticide runoff, head trauma, heavy metal exposure (welders), dairy consumption, pesticide exposure, certain viral or fungal infections, intestinal microbiome imbalances, autoimmune processes, high iron, low B12, smoking, drinking and more. If we can identify and target these neurological stress factors, we can improve brain health.
Lab tests can help us identify the stress factors associated with Parkinson’s disease. These include inflammatory markers (CRP), blood sugar work up, iron, vitamin B12, food allergies, heavy metal testing, intestinal testing, brain auto-antibody testing, vitamin D, oxidative stress tests, (low) cholesterol, homocysteine, DHEA-S, thyroid function and more. Naturopathic physicians can order these types of lab tests and provide thorough analysis.
Dietary interventions include eating more plant-based foods, such as fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds and healthy oils. Fish and organic chicken are encouraged, while dairy, red meat, flour and sugar are discouraged. Exercise can play an important role in Parkinson’s treatment, and our local recreation centres are providing classes specifically for this condition. Natural medicines are also vital for creating an environment in the brain where the nerves can thrive. Coenzyme Q10 and fish oil are associated with better outcomes in PD. Glutathione precursors provide protection against oxidative stress in the brain, which is critical for PD. Targeting heavy metal elimination, autoimmune balancing, gut microbiome restoration, mitochondrial repair, and homocysteine-lowering are the types of individualized treatments on which naturopathic physicians can coach their patients. Medications that promote dopamine are an important aspect of the management of PD, but knowing that you can also address the causative factors and take charge of the progression of this condition is empowering.
Understanding Food Allergies and Sensitivities
Have you noticed that more and more people are avoiding certain foods for health reasons? It turns out that food allergies and intolerances are more common than we once thought. Identifying and eliminating food allergies can solve a broad range of health problems. I have had hundreds of patients find that once they learn to eat a diet free of their triggering foods, they can get off prescription medications and enjoy much better health. It turns out good scientific studies are backing up this treatment method.
The symptoms of food allergies can be obvious, such as when people have anaphylactic reactions to peanuts or shellfish. These food allergies are usually easy to identify. Other allergic reactions are much subtler and can be delayed, making it challenging to figure out which foods are causing symptoms. For instance, acid reflux is commonly aggravated by eating certain foods, but the reaction may come the next day. I have had many patients who determine that dairy causes their sinus congestion, but it may take two days for their sinus headache to set in. Therefore, to identify most food allergies, careful testing and dietary experiments are necessary. Food reactions can range from fatigue, depression, post nasal drip, ear infections, constipation, diarrhea, skin issues, headaches, joint pain and more. In my twenty years of naturopathic medical practice, I have found that helping people eliminate food allergies has been one of the most successful interventions that we can make to help people feel better with less medication. I am happy that medical science is confirming my clinical experience in several studies on food allergies.
Children who get ear infections often have food allergies that cause excess mucous in their middle ear, setting them up for infection. A clinical study showed that 94% of ear infection prone children who avoided their food allergies had fewer ear infections.
Many factors can cause migraine headaches, and food allergies can be one of them. In a study of chronic migraine sufferers who avoided food allergies, 85% became headache free. In another study, patients with rheumatoid arthritis who avoided food triggers fared much better than the placebo group who ate normally. In a follow-up study 10 years later, of the 100 rheumatoid arthritis patients who avoided food allergies, one-third were still well on a food allergy free diet alone, without medication, which is remarkable.
Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition I see frequently and know it to respond well to naturopathic treatments, including food allergy elimination. In a study published in the Lancet medical journal, 14 out of the 21 patients with IBS who went on a hypoallergenic diet for one week became symptom-free.
Celiac disease is a special type of food intolerance where the immune system not only reacts to gluten, but it can send out anti-bodies that affect healthy tissue, like the intestinal lining, the brain, the thyroid and more. Screening for this food reaction is available through an MD or an ND through blood testing, and a diagnosis can be confirmed by a biopsy taken by a specialist. Anyone with digestive issues should be tested, but so should people with autoimmune, neurologic and psychiatric conditions. For people with Celiac disease, avoiding gluten containing food, such as wheat, can be life changing. While true Celiac disease is uncommon, more people have non-celiac gluten intolerance or a simple wheat intolerance. These people also fare better off wheat and / or gluten containing foods.
While it may take some careful testing and experimenting to figure out which foods are contributing to a health issue, it is certainly worth the additional effort. When I coach my patients on how to avoid their food allergies and enjoy healthy alternatives, they are often thrilled that something so simple can make such a difference to their wellbeing.
Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a naturopathic physician whose practice is in downtown Courtenay. Contact 250 897-0235 or www.getwellhere.com.
Healing Concussion and Traumatic Brain Injury
The human brain is a remarkable feat of engineering. But with the consistency of Jello, it is quite vulnerable to damage from injuries. Every year about 200,000 Canadians suffer concussions. Sports injuries and car accidents are two common causes of brain injuries, but for seniors, concussions are more likely to be caused by a fall. The good news is that the brain can recover from minor concussions within a short time. But for multiple concussions or more traumatic brain injuries, the path to recovery can be long and winding. Post-concussion syndrome can persist for years without the proper help. Research is showing that there are many ways to enhance healing of the brain. No matter how long it’s been since the brain injury, it’s never too late to jump-start more repair of those delicate structures of the brain that run our mind and body.
Concussions are difficult to diagnose with imagine like an MRI or CT scan, and the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome can be easily attributed to other things. I often ask my patients about concussions and sometimes find that they do indeed have symptoms of post-concussion syndrome such as: fatigue, memory loss, cognitive issues, headache, depression, anxiety, irritability, sleep issues, sensitivity to light or sound, issues with sight or hearing, nausea, dizziness and more.
The best approach after a brain injury is to minimize the damage and promote brain healing as soon as possible. To do that, we have to understand how the brain cells actually get damaged with brain injury. Then we can use treatments that target those processes. Most medical professionals are not versed in strategies to address what’s really going on in concussion and brain injury, and so these processes are left to damage the brain especially in the critical first few days after concussion. We need to institute neuroprotection strategies that promote healing, and it’s never too late to start.
Neural inflammation is a significant cause of loss of brain cells, and the connections between them, after head injury. There are a number of natural products that help to regulate neural inflammation such as curcumin, the DHA portion of fish oil, and green tea. Aerobic exercise also has tremendous benefits to the brain.
We also want to decrease oxidative stress on the brain cells by ingesting higher amounts of anti-oxidant rich foods and medicines. Berries are rich in antioxidants and Vitamins C and E can be helpful too.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) is intended to only allow certain things to enter the brain from the blood, but after brain injury, there can be a breach in this filtering system. Toxins then can enter the brain and cause more damage. Alpha lipoic acid is excellent for healing the BBB and is also an antioxidant.
Mitochondria are the furnaces of the cells, producing needed energy. The brain cells are particularly dependent on mitochondria for energy. Brain injury can damage the mitochondria and especially lead to brain fog and fatigue. To heal from brain injury, we need to ramp up the mitochondrial function by taking supplements such as coenzyme Q10, B vitamins as well as eating whole foods and exercising.
We want to stimulate that parts of the brain that can regenerate by enhancing neural stem cells. Humble nutrients like Vitamin D and melatonin can help accomplish these goals.
Promote the lymphatic drainage in the brain called glymphatics. Like a Zamboni clearing the effects of ice skating on an ice rink, the glymphatics of the brain clear away the normal waste products that build up in the brain daily. This is even more important post brain injury. Sleep is the time when these mechanisms ramp up the most, so I help my concussion patients enhance their sleep.
The nerves of the brain are intimately linked to the chemistry of the digestive system. Chemicals produced by the gut bugs, or intestinal microbiome, travel to the brain and influence mood, thinking and more. Having a healthy digestive system will help brain function and naturopathic physicians are an excellent resource for tools to enhance gut health.
Other treatmentsfor concussion are also getting much needed attention.
Brain training can help make new connections in the brain.
The ketogenic diet, while somewhat arduous, has been shown to help a number of brain diseases, including post-concussion syndrome.
Neurofeedback is a sort of visual gym for learning to retrain and re-pattern disrupted brain activity (and is available in Comox).
Functional Neurology practitioners can help target the part of the brain that is malfunctioning and provide specific stimulation to heal those parts.
Cold laser therapy to the skull has demonstrated benefits to many patients at a Toronto clinic and human clinical trials are underway. This painless treatment has been shown in animal studies to enhance brain healing after traumatic brain injury. I have treated over 1000 people for various health issues with laser therapy as it helps to gently but quickly regenerate damaged tissue throughout the body.
Reducing electromagnetic fields that may not affect people with healthy brains, but may be one more stress on an injured brain. Turning off wireless at night and removing cordless phones from the bedroom are a good way to start.
There is hope. No matter how far out from a brain injury, there is always reason for hope. With the right treatment, people can improve significantly even years after a brain injury if they are willing to invest in their brain health.
To learn more about how this type of multifaceted approach might be able to help you, contact naturopathic physician Dr. Deidre Macdonald, ND at 250 897-0235 or via getwellhere.com
Bladder Infections in the Age of Antibiotic Resistance
Remember the days when you would go to the doctor and get an antibiotic for every sniffle and cough? Those days are over because overuse and overreliance on antibiotics have created bacteria which can no longer be killed by ordinary antibiotics. Doctors are now rightly conflicted because the antibiotics they prescribe may kill most of the bacteria but leave the few that are resistant and allow those strains to proliferate. Multiple antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria cause infections in one in 16 people admitted to hospitals in Canada and cost $250 million per year. The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that by 2050, there will be 10 million deaths annually worldwide caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, overtaking diabetes and cancer combined.
In my 22 years practicing as a naturopathic physician, I have seen an increasing rate of these tough infections in my patients. In particular, I have seen many women, particularly older women, who’ve had multiple bladder infections in a year, and some even need to use very strong intravenous antibiotics to treat them. The naturopathic approach to treating recurrent UTIs goes beyond just killing the superficial bacteria. It endeavors to change the environment that is allowing the bacteria to persist. It is a multi-faceted approach that is an example of how naturopathic medicine can play a role in reducing antibiotic resistance by stopping these types of tough bugs in their tracks.
UTIs are generally created by bacteria from the feces migrating up the urethra and taking hold in the bladder. In tough recurrent cases, biofilms can form that harbor infection. Biofilms are a slimy goop that protects the bacterial community from antibiotics and the body’s natural defenses. For my patients with recurrent UTIs, the first step is to make sure they understand how to practice good hygiene. Then I teach them how to check their own urine at home with a dip stick that can show signs of infection. I use herbs that help to reduce the adherence of the bacteria to the bladder wall. These herbs essentially flush out the bacteria, unlike antibiotics which are trying to kill them. Thus, the bacteria don’t mutate to avoid the herbs the same way. I also use antibacterial herbs to reduce the population. Plus we look at ways to break down the biofilm to allow greater access to the bacteria. Scientific studies have shown that there are herbs that can do just that. For my older patients, we look at strengthening the tissues of the urethral opening by introducing a bit of estrogen locally. Repeated antibiotic use in the past has usually disturbed the natural defences provided by the good bacteria in the body. Studies show that oral use of certain probiotics bolsters the genital good bacteria colonies, which can then act as the first line of defense against migrating nasty bacteria and reduce the incidence of UTIs as effectively as daily use of an antibiotic. I also look at ways to enhance the immune system with lifestyle and natural medicines, so the body’s natural defences are in fighting shape. This type of whole-body approach can be very successful at stopping the cycle of infection and thus reduces the use of antibiotics. We all need to do our part to turn the tide on antibiotic resistance.
Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a naturopathic physician practicing in downtown Courtenay. 250 897-0235 ww.getwellhere.com
Preventing Illness while Travelling
Even though we live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, many people from the Comox Valley travel abroad for business or pleasure. Part of preventative medicine is planning ahead for a safe trip and making good choices while overseas. How far you need to go to ensure a healthy travels depends a lot on where you are going of course. For travel in North America and Western Europe, some common sense is all you need. Pack a first aid kit, make sure you have adequate travel medical insurance, and practice good street smarts. Taking a self defense course is a wise move for travelers, as criminals often lurk in highly touristy areas and count on tourists having their guard down.
If you are travelling further abroad to developing countries, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has a website where you can learn which immunizations are recommended or required for the areas you’ll be visiting. Travel medical clinics are also a great source of information. Updating your basic immunizations may not be a bad idea especially if you are travelling to areas where the population may be under-vaccinated.
Preventing food and water borne disease is important if you don’t want to spend your holiday on the toilet or worse. People on stomach acid blocking medication for acid reflux or other stomach issues are especially prone to these types of infections because stomach acid is the first line of defense against ingested bugs. Working with a naturopathic physician to find alternatives to acid blocking medications may be a wise choice if you want to stay healthy while travelling. Taking probiotics prior to a vacation can also bolter your body’s defenses against food and water borne illness. I encourage my patients to pick up some electrolyte powder and I write them a prescription for antibiotics ahead of time to tuck into their suitcase just in case they get a nasty case of traveler’s diarrhea.
Mosquitoes can be much more than just an annoyance as they can transmit disease. There are at least 17 known mosquito borne infections including Lyme disease, Zika, Malaria, and Dengue Fever. It is a good idea to pay attention to whether or not mosquitoes are known to live in the areas where you’ll be travelling. Try to cover up and use insect repellents. DEET is well known, but Picardin has some advantages. You can even invest in special clothing that has insect repellent infused in the fabric. Local work wear stores may carry these clothes. Choosing air conditioned accommodation can help too. Where malaria is a risk, there are medications that can be taken to prevent the disease from taking hold.
Sometimes people forget to pack their common sense when travelling abroad. Remember to practice hand washing, safe sex, and street smarts. The number one cause of death while travelling is motor vehicle accidents. Mopeds are especially dangerous and some travel health insurance won’t cover injuries related to mopeds. With a little prevention and travel savvy, you can enjoy your amazing adventures abroad and come home with great stories instead of ill health.
Healing Concussion and Traumatic Brain Injury
Every year about 200,000 Canadians suffer concussions. Sports injuries and car accidents are two common causes of brain injuries, but for seniors, falls are a common cause. The good news is that the brain can usually recover from minor concussions within a short time. But for multiple concussions or more traumatic brain injuries, the path to recovery can be long and winding. Post-concussion syndrome can persist for years without the proper help. Research is showing that there are many ways to enhance healing of the brain. No matter how long it’s been since a brain injury, it’s never too late to jump-start more repair of those delicate structures of the brain that run our mind and body.
The symptoms of post-concussion syndrome can include fatigue, memory loss, cognitive issues, headache, depression, anxiety, irritability, sleep issues, sensitivity to light or sound, issues with sight or hearing, nausea, dizziness and more.
The best approach after a brain injury is to minimize the damage and promote brain healing as soon as possible. To do that, we have to understand how the brain cells actually get damaged with brain injury. Then we can use treatments that target those processes. We need to institute neuroprotection strategies that promote healing, and it’s never too late to start.
There are about seven known mechanisms we can target to help heal a damaged brain. Neural inflammation is a significant cause of loss of brain cells after head injury. Oxidative stress on the brain cells damages delicate structures. The blood brain barrier (BBB) is intended to only allow certain things to enter the brain from the blood, but after brain injury, there can be a breach in this filtering system. Toxins then can enter the brain and cause more damage. Mitochondria are the furnaces of the nerve cells, producing needed energy. After brain injury, the mitochondria can’t supply as much energy to the neurons. The brain’s natural healing may be compromised, so we want to stimulate the parts of the brain that can regenerate by enhancing neural stem cells. We need to promote the lymphatic drainage to clear away the normal waste products that build up in the brain daily. The brain is intimately linked to the digestive system. Having a healthy digestive system will help brain function. Naturopathic physicians are trained in methods to address each of these seven mechanisms to enhance brain healing after concussion.
Other treatments for concussion are also getting much needed attention. Brain training can help make new connections in the brain. Neurofeedback is a sort of visual gym for learning to retrain and re-pattern disrupted brain activity (and is available in Comox). Functional Neurology practitioners can help target the part of the brain that is malfunctioning and provide specific stimulation to heal those parts. Cold laser therapy to the skull has demonstrated benefits to many patients at a Toronto research clinic and human clinical trials are underway. This painless treatment has been shown in animal studies to enhance brain healing after traumatic brain injury.
No matter how far out from a brain injury, there is always reason for hope. With the right treatment, people can improve significantly even years after a brain injury if they are willing to invest in their brain health.
How to be an EMPOWERED Patient
Medical science now shows that when patients are empowered to play an active role in their health care, they are more invested in the process, which results in greater health. Medical education is redefining the doctor-patient relationship as one that respects the patient as an intelligent participant in health care decisions. The old doctor-patient relationship put the doctor in an authoritative role, as in “doctor knows best” and patients were in a passive role, as in “follow the doctor’s orders.” Now physicians are taught the principles of “shared informed decision making”; doctors and patients share information and collaborate in treatment decision. Patients are empowered with information and take ownership in creating their health. Here are four tips for becoming a more engaged and empowered patient.
Firstly, knowledge is power. You need to understand your body and any issues that you have. Ask your doctor to write down any words that are new to you, such as the name of a diagnosis, a test or treatment. Ask them to explain anything that you don’t fully understand, or work with a naturopathic physician to deepen your understanding of your health conditions. The internet can be a wonderful source of information, but, without the context a physician can provide, it can be overwhelming.
Secondly, keep a health journal. A health journal is a place where you can keep a record of your health issues, tests, procedures and medication. Keeping track of your health history helps you to be an informed, knowledgeable patient. Knowledge allows you to take more control of your healthcare. The best health journals have separate tabs for pharmaceutical and natural medicine history, hospitalizations, surgeries, blood work, imaging and other tests, specialist reports, allergies, and family medical history. I encourage my patients to get copies of all their lab work. Sixteen percent of abnormal lab results are not reported to the patient in Canada. In my 22 years of practice, I have found many missed diagnoses by going over lab work that the patient hadn’t seen. You can get copies of blood work easily by having your blood taken at Life Labs and setting up an online account to view your labs, or if you have blood taken at your doctor’s office or one of the hospital’s outpatient labs you can call 1 866 370-8355 and ask them to mail you your lab work. Your doctor can also print a copy of your lab work. I encourage my patients to ask their family doctor for copies of their specialist reports as well as imaging reports (x-rays, CT scans and MRIs).
Thirdly, an empowered patient needs to ask why. Any good problem solver needs to investigate the cause of the problem in order to create a lasting solution. Yet, in health care, we are often satisfied with treatments that mask symptoms but don’t address the underlying causative factors. You can take medications to lower blood pressure, but pills are not able to address the reasons why your blood pressure went up in the first place. When I prescribe pharmaceuticals, it is often because we need to control symptoms quickly, and buy the patient some time while we implement a plan to address the underlying causes and seek a long term solution that will optimize their health.
Fourthly, you can create a health care team to support your health goals. It may serve you to consult more than one health professional to create the optimal plan for your health. Your family doctor is an essential player in helping you access the conventional medical system when you need it. Family doctors are incredibly knowledgeable and hardworking, but they don’t have the time or training to provide for all the complex needs of their patients. Naturopathic physicians are medically trained physicians who focus on optimizing health with lifestyle, natural medicines, and pharmaceuticals when needed. Counsellors, physiotherapists, and other practitioners can all add their expertise to your health care team. An empowered patient lets their family doctor know who is on their team and encourages communication between practitioners.
Alzheimer’s Prevention and Treatment
Our brains are made up of an intricately interconnected web of neurons, run by electrical impulses that jump from cell to cell across gaps called synapses. Chemical messengers help transmit those impulses, and this symphony of cells, chemicals and electricity results in all the thoughts, feelings and bodily functions that make us who we are. Age related memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease are examples of neurodegenerative conditions, and affect as many as 30% of the population over 70. Drugs for Alzheimer’s disease have limited benefit, at best slowing progression. The cause of Alzheimer’s is too complex for us to ever find a solution in a pill bottle. The brain is intimately connected to the rest of the body. Dysfunction in the body can damage the delicate components of the brain. Cognitive decline is the result of a long trajectory of multiple stresses on the brain, many of which can be reduced by lifestyle change and natural medicine.
When scientists study the brains of people with Alzheimer’s they find amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles from excess Tau protein. It is normal for these proteins to form, and the body has process to flush them out. When excess amyloid and tau are formed, or not cleaned out, nerve signalling is impaired and shrinkage of key centres of the brain speeds up. Dementia was once thought to be progressive and irreversible. We know now that buildup of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles are the result of years of stress on the brain such as neuroinflammation, oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction (energy production in cells), high blood sugar / insulin, microbiome (intestinal bacteria) imbalances and more. New research shows that these processes can be prevented and reversed which can preserve or improve cognitive function. There are strategies that can also increase a healthy chemical in the brain called brain derived growth factor, promote neurogenesis (expansion of nerve cells), enhance the clearing of amyloid and Tau proteins (autophagy), and build new pathways in the brain (promote neuroplasticity).
I help my patients accomplish these goals by coaching them on how to create a lifestyle conducive to a healthy brain. Food is your best brain medicine, so that’s where I start with my patients. Lack of sleep or use of pharmaceutical sleep aids are both associated with memory loss as it is during sleep that the brain clear amyloid. Exercise increases brain-derived-growth-factor. Sustained aerobic exercise is particularly beneficial for preventing shrinkage of the brain’s memory centres. The gut-brain connection is important for brain health too, so improving digestion is key, as is stress reduction, and brain exercises.
I also educate my patients on the use of a few key natural medicines that have been researched to improve brain health. For instance, a study of people taking the DHA component of fish oil showed an improvement in memory after six months. Resveratrol is a grape skin extract that helps to inhibit the creation of and promote the clearance of amyloid and tau, delaying the onset and progression of cognitive impairment. Curcumin, a turmeric extract, supports neuron regeneration, reduces neuroinflammation and helps clear amyloid plaques. Coenzyme Q10,Vitamin D and many other natural medicines also have shown benefits for dementia. A ground-breaking study was conducted on 11 people diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s disease or cognitive impairment, most of whom had the Alzheimer’s gene. They were given a multifactorial naturopathic protocol of lifestyle changes and natural medicines. All but the one most advanced case had reduction in symptoms sufficient to reverse the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and some showed increased brain volume on scans. It is this multi-faceted approach to brain health that is necessary to keep our brains healthy and functioning well so we can live long and full lives.
Help for Anxiety – Naturally
Anxiety is certainly part of the human condition. We are, after all, animals with very few physical defences, so we need an alarm system to keep us safe. The physical responses to fear make us ready to run from predators, fight back, or in some cases freeze and “play dead”. When that normal fear response becomes a regular pattern of anxiety, it can be overwhelming. In my practice, I regularly talk with patients who are experiencing a level of anxiety that is distressing to them. Once people experience anxiety, they often become afraid of experiencing it again, and go to great lengths to avoid trigger situations. The good news is that there are very effective tools for breaking free of the cycle of anxiety without having to limit your life.
As a physician, my first inclination is to rule out physical causes of anxiety, such as certain medications or health conditions. The most obvious physical trigger is caffeine intake. People who are prone to anxiety are wise to avoid caffeine as its effect on the body magnifies nervous tension. Another very common trigger, especially in young people, is low blood sugar or hypoglycemia. Skipping meals or eating refined flour and sugars can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar. When that happens, the brain tells the adrenal glands to release adrenaline, which causes rapid heart rate, sweating, and anxiety. Thyroid conditions, both hyper and hypo, can contribute to anxiety. Patients love that I am able to run up to six blood tests to rule out thyroid conditions as opposed to the one test that is generally covered by MSP. Blood tests can also help to identify anemia, B vitamin or vitamin D deficiencies, all of which can affect brain chemistry profoundly. I often hear from patients that the hormone balancing work we do helps their mood and anxiety levels.
Relaxation techniques are an important part of learning to deal with anxiety. Meditation is simply learning to observe your mind and make choices about where it is focusing. Mindfullness Based Stress Reduction is a program that has been rigorously studied to show superior benefits to anxiety over medication. Adding an element of self- compassion into your daily self-talk practice takes the process deeper and is very effective. Dr. Kirsten Neff’s Ted Talk is a good place to start to explore the practice of self-compassion.
Learning strategies for dealing with life stresses such as relationship issues, future uncertainties, past trauma, addiction and more can help to reduce anxiety. Counselling and personal development work isn’t just for people with mental illness, it’s for anyone who wants to live life more fully and be the best they can be. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a set of incredibly practical life skills for anyone wanting to be more clear and calm in their lives. The website anxietybc.com is one of the best on the subject.
As a naturopathic physician, I also offer my patients natural medicines that help to heal the nervous system, balance brain chemistry, and normalize the adrenal stress response. These herbs, vitamins and amino acids can be the leg up that people need to get a handle on stress.
Often a person with anxiety can feel overwhelmed by how their mind and body reacts to stress, and with help, they can develop confidence in their ability to be resilient in the face of life challenges.
Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a naturopathic physician who has practiced in downtown Courtenay for 20 years. www.getwellhere.com 250 897-0235.
If this sounds like the care that you’re seeking, we’d love to hear from you.
You can book a complimentary 15-minute “meet-the-doctor” visit anytime by calling the clinic. You’ll be able to ask questions, find out how we can help, and see if there’s a comfortable fit with your naturopath.
Book an appointment with Dr Macdonald by emailing us or calling (250) 897-0235
Receive valuable, monthly health tips from The Macdonald Centre for Natural Medicine.
The Macdonald Centre for Natural Medicine
448 10th Street Courtenay, B.C.