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 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. 250 897-0235.



Stop the Pain of Endometriosis Naturally

Menstrual cramps are part of life for many women, but extreme, debilitating pain during the menstrual cycle and beyond can be a sign of an underlying condition called endometriosis. This condition has mystified doctors and deeply affected the lives of millions of women. There have been breakthroughs in the understanding of the mechanisms that drive this painful condition. Treatment options designed to target the underlying cause of this condition are helping women to reduce pain and improve fertility.

Endometriosis is a condition where uterine tissue flows in the wrong direction, up the fallopian tubes, and ends up in the abdominal cavity. That wayward tissue should be detected and destroyed by the immune system, and in fact, that process regularly occurs for many women. But for women with endometriosis, the immune system turns a blind eye to the uterine tissue that has gone astray. These small bits of uterine tissue can adhere to the bowel, the ovary, and other organs. They are sensitive to the same hormones as the regular uterine tissue, so they fill with fluid and blood, which is released during menstruation. The lesions can cause pain throughout the cycle, but when the fluid is released into the abdominal cavity, the pain can be debilitating.

The real question isn’t how come the uterine tissue flows backward, as that seems to be common. The question is, why doesn’t the immune system recognize and destroy the lesions; why are they left to grow unchecked? There is a complex interaction between the hormones and the immune system that is to blame for this problem. It turns out that for people with endometriosis, the immune cells that usually prevent us from attacking our own tissues are working overtime. These T-regulator cells tell the immune system to back off, causing the endometrial lesions to evade surveillance and destruction. But T-regulator cells are just taking instruction from certain immune-suppressing chemicals called cytokines. And those cytokines are influenced by a common hormone imbalance where there is too much estrogen and not enough progesterone. This “estrogen dominance” at the heart of endometriosis can be influenced by a number of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors.

The other mechanism that drives the growth of endometrial lesions is the presence of naturally occurring chemicals that encourage growth of this specific type of tissue. People with endometriosis have more Vascular Endothelial Growth Factors (VEGT) in their abdominal cavity. VEGT stimulates the uterine cells to proliferate, helps the tissue to grow more blood vessels and ultimately makes the endometriosis lesions grow. People with endometriosis are also found to have more oxidative stress markers in their abdominal cavity as well as increased inflammation. These three factors create a favorable growth environment for the painful lesions.

Treatment is designed to reduce pain but also to try to reduce the size of the lesions or eliminate them. Some treatments provide immediate pain control while others try to address the underlying cause by balancing the hormones and promoting a proper immune response to the lesions. Surgery can be done through a minimally invasive procedure that basically zaps the lesions. While this treatment can provide some relief, I’ve seen patients who just keep developing more lesions. Hormone therapy should be aimed at correcting the estrogen dominance. Oral contraceptives contain estrogen, and while they can help to some degree, progesterone only pills and uterine implants are preferable. The later can help reduce the amount of blood build up in the lesions and reduce pain. However, they prevent ovulation and therefore pregnancy, which may not be suitable for a patient trying to have a family.

The naturopathic treatment strategy can be used alone or in combination with conventional medical approaches. It endeavors to address the mechanisms that drive endometriosis. Firstly, we target the immune dysfunction that allows the lesions to evade detection. Herbal medicine and antioxidant nutrients can target the hormonal imbalance, oxidative stress, immune imbalance and pro-inflammatory state that typifies this condition. Secondly, hormones and immune system are affected by the intestinal microbiome; the trillions of bacteria that live primarily in the intestine. Our diet influences the microbiome so naturopathic physicians encourage a diet that is low in sugar and refined flour and may give probiotics and other treatments to bolster the microbiome. Thirdly, healthy fats, like omega 3’s have been shown to help prevent and treat endometriosis lesions and reduce pain.
Finally, hormone balance plays a critical role in the naturopathic treatment of endometriosis. To balance the estrogen dominance typical of this condition, there are nutrients that help the body to eliminate old estrogen and herbs that assist the body produce more progesterone. It is also important to support the liver during this process, as it plays a major role in the elimination of old estrogen. The role of environmental toxins in endometriosis is an area of significant concern. Many environmental toxins, like pesticides and plastics, can actually act like super-estrogens once inside the body and have long term effects. Hormones in red meat and dairy may also tip the delicate balance of hormones for women. Reducing exposure to these external sources of estrogen is critical to the prevention and treatment of endometriosis.

With proper guidance, many women with endometriosis can have less pain, better quality of life and preserve their fertility.

Why am I so tired? Thyroid Issue May be the Cause


Every week people arrive at my clinic wondering if their thyroid is okay. They’ve often had their conventional doctor check their thyroid, and are told that everything is fine. However, they aren’t convinced. They feel tired, cold, achy, and gain weight easily. They have headaches, depression or constipation, all symptoms that may reflect low thyroid function. Experience has taught me that evaluating the thyroid is complex. Low thyroid function can be caused by the immune system itself and by the dysfunction of other hormone glands in the body. It can be also affected by stress, toxins, and nutritional deficiencies. Evaluation of the thyroid is so much more than just running one test.

The thyroid gland is a small gland in the front of the neck that produces the hormone that sets the metabolic rate of every cell in the body. These hormones tell your body how fast to burn calories, influence stomach acid production, determines moisture levels in the skin and so much more. The thyroid gland is also the most common site of autoimmune disease in the body. The immune system can sometimes attacks the thyroid gland and interferes with its ability to provide the hormones needed for normal tissue function and repair. I had a patient who had gained 47 pounds in one year, despite good diet and regular exercise. Her doctor insisted that her thyroid was functioning properly, according to the one test, the TSH level, that he can run. We ran further tests which showed that she did indeed have antibodies to her own thyroid that were blocking her thyroid from making the hormones she needed to burn calories normally. Once that deficiency was corrected, she had to work hard to lose weight, but it was possible for her to do so.

Another patient came to the clinic already taking thyroid replacement medication but reported feeling as tired and achy as she had when she was first diagnosed as hypothyroid years ago. Again, her TSH test was normal. We dug a little deeper and ran a reverse T3 test. This test determines if her thyroid hormone was being converted to active T3 or a dud version called reverse T3. Elevations of reverse T3 are important if you are sick and need to conserve energy and rest. However, there are other conditions that can trigger this downstream activation of reverse T3. High stress levels, low iron levels, and chronic inflammatory states can all drive up reverse T3 and make you feel unnecessarily tired. In this case, the patient had experienced chronic stress and had an elevated reverse T3. We changed her thyroid medication slightly and gave her additional natural medicines to balance all her thyroid hormones, thus giving her back the vitality she was missing.

Naturopathic physicians prefer a full panel of thyroid hormones to accurately diagnose thyroid problems. This panel includes the relatively stable pituitary hormone TSH, free T4 (inactive thyroid hormone), free T3 (active thyroid hormone), reverse T3 and a thyroid antibody called TPO. Often we are able to unveil issues in the complex dance of the thyroid hormones, which can then be treated in a variety of ways, both holistic and pharmaceutical.

Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a naturopathic physician practicing in downtown Courtenay. 250 897-0235 or

How to Overcome Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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Q:  I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) 8 years ago and I am no closer to understanding why I have this problem.  Do I have to just live with it?

Laxatives for constipation, anti-diarrhea medications, and antacid pills are not the answer for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).  Over the last 20 years I have helped hundreds of patients become free from the troublesome symptoms of IBS without using medication to mask symptoms.  IBS is characterized by abdominal pain or bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea, gas, nausea, and is often accompanied by varying degrees of anxiety or depression. Since many other conditions can mimic IBS, I first make sure to rule out more serious diseases like cancer, colitis and ovarian cancer.  Then I interview, examine, and test my patient until I have an idea as to the real, underlying cause of their symptoms.

There are several potential causes of IBS that affect people in varying degrees. The most common cause of IBS that I have observed clinically is food allergies or intolerances. With proper identification of offending foods and coaching to change the diet, many of my patients have found lasting relief from their symptoms. New research shows that IBS is commonly caused by disturbances in the bacteria that line the intestine, called the microbiome. These imbalances can be corrected with the right interventions.  Some people with IBS have trouble digesting certain starches and artificial sweeteners.  Often IBS is a result of a poorly functioning upper digestive system. If the stomach lacks adequate hydrochloric acid, foods are not broken down properly and can cause symptoms in the lower digestion. IBS can occur after having gall bladder surgery since bile is now able to drip into the intestine in an unregulated fashion. The intestines become irritated by the bile which can cause IBS. So there is no need to suffer for years.  Address the root cause of IBS and you’ll be free from this challenging condition.

Help for Diverticulitis

Last year a 73 year old man we’ll call David came to my clinic with acute abdominal pain. Doctors know that the cause of acute abdominal pain can be as benign as gas pains or as serious as cancer. I set out to diagnose his pain by asking questions and examining him. His lower abdomen was tender, his stool had changed and he felt ill. Blood work hinted at an infection, so I sent him to emergency where my diagnosis of diverticulitis was confirmed. Diverticulitis occurs when pouches form in the colon and then get inflamed and infected. It is very common to have diverticulosis, which is the presence of multiple tiny pouches in the colon. In fact, at 60 years old, 30% of the population have diverticuli, increasing to 50-80% by the age of 80. The vast majority of divertuli never cause any problems. Only about 5% of those pouches will ever get infected and be called diverticulitis, but when they do get infected it is considered a medical emergency and is generally treated with antibiotics.

When David returned to my office 10 days later, our goal was to heal the intestine and prevent future infections. Since he had taken intravenous antibiotics, I gave him high doses of quality probiotics to replace the good bacteria in the intestines. These probiotics serve as a natural slow release antibiotic, preventing future infections. They also help to prevent a serious side effect of antibiotics, called c. difficile diarrhea. This debilitating and sometimes life threatening bowel infection can occur when strong antibiotics wipe out the protective bacteria in the intestine and allow an opportunistic overgrowth of a common strain of bacteria.

I also counselled him on a nutritious but gentle diet once he was ready to introduce food. We used herbs that sooth and heal the intestinal lining and assist in digestion. Two weeks later he was feeling much stronger and his stools had returned to normal. The goal at this point was to prevent future flare ups of diverticulitis. He will always have pouches, but we can prevent them from getting infected. In the past, doctors advised patient like him to avoid nuts and seeds that could become lodged in the pockets. While this advice makes intuitive sense, it hasn’t held up in clinical research. Eating a high fiber diet and avoiding constipation does reduce relapses, but avoiding nuts and seeds does not.

Reducing inflammation in the intestine is also important for preventing diverticulitis. Ironically, some drugs that reduce inflammation in the joints can increase inflammation in the intestines. The common anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen, diclofenac and naproxen, all can increase the risk of diverticulitis. Also, eating foods one is allergic to, high fat foods, and sugar are all pro-inflammatory to the bowel. There are herbs that reduce inflammation in the bowel and help to maintain the integrity of the intestinal lining.

After the pain that David had experienced with his acute flare up, he was very motivated to change his diet and take natural medicines designed to prevent reoccurrences. However, he was reticent to stop taking daily ibuprofen because he suffered from arthritis in his knee and hated to miss his morning dog-walks on the beach. We treated his arthritic knee with a safe and effective treatment for arthritis called cold laser therapy, which allowed him to subsequently get off ibuprofen. A year later he returned to treat a shoulder injury (caused by the dog) and reported that his knee was still pain free and he’d had no bowel problems since getting on the naturopathic protocol. This case shows that sometimes the best solution is a blend of conventional and naturopathic medicine.

4 Tips for Becoming an Empowered Patient

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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 better 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 20 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 St. Joe’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.

The Real Skinny on Dietary Fat

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Is butter the new broccoli?  For years we’ve been told to cut back on animal fat to improve cardiovascular health.  Now, headlines in the Globe and Mail and dozens of Paleo diet books are telling us that fat is back; saturated animal fat may not be the problem we once thought it was.  But what is the real skinny on fat?

The meat lobby has worked hard to spin the data and to lobby policy makers to include meat in dietary recommendations.  But scientists who understand the complexities of nutritional research are holding fast to their assertion that fat is not back.  Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology (disease causation patterns) at Harvard School of Public Health, says, “Evidence from studies on thousands of people shows that if you replace saturated (animal) fat with unsaturated fat, you reduce your risk of heart disease.  If you replace saturated fat with refined carbs you don’t reduce your risk.”

Prior to the 1980s people were eating large portions of red meat, bacon and dairy products.  The information about the inflammatory, pro-disease nature of saturated animal fat came out and generally people replaced the fat with a very high carb diet.  Remember all the muffin shops selling 1,200 calorie muffins and the flood of pasta cookbooks?  All those refined carbohydrates contributed to a surge in diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.  Too often I hear people concluding that because reducing dietary animal fat didn’t reduce heart disease rates, then fat must not be bad.  The truth is, replacing fat with refined carbs is like replacing cigarettes with alcohol:  both are disease causing.  The solution is to cut back on animal fat and replace it with whole foods, like lean protein (chicken breast, egg whites, pork tenderloin) and eat more fish, beans, raw nuts, olive oil, quinoa, brown rice and of course vegetables and fruit.

But that kind of common sense advice doesn’t sell books and make headlines.  Contradictory and controversial information makes headlines.  The British Medical Journal published a report by a reputable nutrition advisory panel that recommended the general public should reduce their intake of dietary animal fat.  That didn’t make headlines.  But an article they published, written by a journalist (not a scientist) named Nina Teicholz which was critical of the prior article, was all over the news.  Her article was full of errors and misleading statements, but it has been quoted frequently and held up as information from the esteemed British Medical Journal.  She points out that there are large studies that fail to show a correlation between reducing saturated animal fat and cardiovascular death rates.  However, a study would have to include a massive number of people to prove a statistically significant connection when you are dealing with these particular parameters.  She also points out that there is a large study showing that women told to reduce animal fat didn’t reduce their rates of heart disease, however, in that study, the women weren’t told what to replace it with.  Left to themselves, people will eat more refined carbohydrates, which is a risk for heart disease, so again, you won’t see a statistically significant difference.  The bottom line is, we need to ignore claims that large trials contradict advice on saturated fat.

Fat proponents cite studies showing that dairy products don’t raise cholesterol.  But the only studies that don’t show elevated cholesterol were funded by the dairy industry and included low fat dairy products.  Analysis of studies over seventy years that asked people to eat full fat dairy showed a clear elevation in harmful cholesterol levels.  Any evidence to the contrary is weak and poorly designed. But it does make headlines and sell books.

In all the debates on whether animal fat causes heart disease, I am always amazed that we are forgetting that animal fat and particularly processed meats have long been linked to increased rates of cancer.  In October 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer announced that based on the analysis of large amounts of research over many years, processed meats (like bacon, sausage, cold cuts and hot dogs) are “carcinogenic to humans” and that red meats (beef, pork, lamb, and veal) are “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

So does this mean we all need to become vegan?  If you are motivated to prepared and eat a lot of nutritious, whole food then go for it.  But too commonly the diet of vegans slips into a low protein, high refined carb, fast food version of a vegan diet.  Remember, white bread and potato chips are vegan, but not healthy.  I coach my patients on a nutrition plan that combines the principles of eating reasonable portions of whole, unprocessed foods, including lean meats and low fat dairy.  This lifestyle plan is low in refined carbs, animal fat and salt. It has been proven to help people lose weight and reduce blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer—plus it is do-able for most people.

7 Strategies for Successful Weight Loss

  • #1 – Eyes on the Prize: Write down why you want to be at a healthy weight. Do you want to have less joint pain so you can play with your grandchildren? Is it so you will feel better about yourself and have less negative self-talk? Is it to have more energy? You will need compelling reasons why you want to lose weight in order to get through the summer barbecues, Halloween candy, Christmas parties and sometimes just the supermarket checkout!
  • #2 – Conscious Eating: Before you eat anything, take 3 deep breaths. Check in with your self and your body. Listen for what is motivating your desire to eat. Is it hunger or an emotion? If it is an emotion, a craving, or a body sensation other than hunger, keep breathing and find another outlet for your feelings. If it is hunger, then consciously choose nourishing food.
  • #3 – Know your triggers for overeating: Chances are by now you know where the rough spots are. Does boredom send you to the fridge, or do pot-luck dinners result in some serious grazing? Make a plan for dealing with your known trigger situations. Since most diets fall apart when we are under stress, have a list on your fridge of 10 ways to reduce emotional stress without eating. Some good examples are: going for a walk, writing in a journal, reading a spiritual book, talking to a supportive friend, deep breathing, yoga… make your own list.
  • #4 – Menu Plan: Many diet books recommend writing down what you have eaten. This strategy can be a helpful part of conscious eating. However, writing down what you are going to eat is also very important. Knowing there is a plan in place means less impulsive eating. Planning means shopping and cooking are more efficient and you will be more likely to stay on track.
  • #5 – Eat to 80% full: Many people who have dieted extensively have a “scarcity consciousness” when it comes to food and they feel they have to eat everything now because there may not be food later. Trust that it is okay to eat just enough to feel comfortably satisfied without feeling stuffed. If you do get hungry, don’t panic. If you find yourself saying, “I’m starving”, reframe that survival mode thinking with “I’m hungry, and when the time is right, there will be plenty of healthy food to eat”.
  • #6 – Eat 3 meals a day plus planned snacks: Skipping meals makes conscious eating very difficult. It is hard enough to make good food choices without dealing with the brain fog of low blood sugar. Eat three balanced meals a day, and plan on healthy snacks for mid morning and afternoon. Doing so will keep your blood sugar and energy stable to avoid the temptation to eat sugar for “quick energy”. Nuts like raw almonds make a very good mid afternoon snack.
  • #7 – Eliminate late night eating: In many cultures, the evening meal is quite small, thus not loading up the body with calories it can’t burn in the quiet of the evening. I advocate eating a modest meal in the early evening, brushing your teeth, and forgoing eating for the rest of the evening. This strategy eliminates some of the most disastrous eating patterns – eating in front of the TV and grazing all evening on quick, junk food.

Remember, our food becomes who you are. Let your food serve your health first and your taste buds second. Taking charge of your eating habits is an essential step to taking charge of your health.

Quit Smoking with Ease – Laser Acupuncture

Frequently Asked Questions about our Laser Quit Smoking Program

What is the secret to your success in helping people quit smoking?

If you have decided that it’s time to quit smoking, we can help. Our program is uniquely powerful in that it incorporates several proven interventions.  This program helps you to quit smoking and get through the initial nicotine detoxification phase and we also help you to resist the temptation to resume smoking in the future.

Step One.  “You gotta waaaaant it.”

We help you to cement your desire to quit.  We coach you to create a steadfast commitment to the process of becoming a non-smoker.

 Step two.  “Just do it.”

Quitting cold turkey is the proven strategy recommended by best-selling author Alan Carr.  But we make it easy for you.  Nicotine withdrawal can be quick and painless with laser therapy.  Clinical studies show that laser acupuncture is a highly successful method for bypassing the cravings, mood swings, weight gain and nervous tension of quitting nicotine.  We also give you natural medicines that calm your nerves and detox your body.

 Step three.  “Meet your new best friend.”

Avoiding relapse requires two things:  help in overcoming the habit of smoking and help in dealing with stress so you don’t turn to cigarettes.  We address both these challenges by giving you strategies to break the habit and teaching you mindfulness and relaxation techniques.  We give you the support and tools you need to succeed.

Who are the practitioners I’ll be dealing with?

 Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a licenced naturopathic physician who has a natural family practice in downtown Courtenay.  She has a degree in psychology from UBC (first in class) and completed her doctorate in 1996.

She is dedicated to helping people achieve optimum health and knows that quitting smoking is a critical step in that journey.

Beverly Bedard is an experienced laser quit smoking therapist. She is a certified laser technician as well as a former licensed massage therapist in Alberta.  She has helped hundreds of people quit smoking with laser therapy programs.  She shares her enthusiasm and confidence in this process and will be your main support with your transformation.

How does a laser therapy help people quit smoking?

The first hurdle in quitting smoking is to get through the nicotine withdrawal phase, which people often dread.  The laser treatments significantly reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, so people generally sail through this phase with greater ease and break their nicotine addiction.

How does it work?

We apply a painless beam of cold laser therapy to specific acupuncture points on the ears, face, hands and feet.  The deep stimulation provided by laser therapy activates these key points.  On a chemical level, cravings are a desire for endorphins and dopamine that used to be released by smoking.  Laser acupuncture lets the body release those chemicals naturally, eliminating the physical need to smoke immediately.  Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers; they help keep the body calm, reduce irritability, help with sleep, and provide a general sense of wellbeing.  Dopamine is needed for a feeling of reward and satisfaction.  Both are provided by laser acupuncture.

How many treatments will I need?

For most people, one treatment is all that’s needed to quit smoking for life.  If you feel the need, we provide up to two free 30 minute “booster” treatments to make sure you stay on track. After that, you can book a booster session to help you relax as part of your maintenance program, but most people don’t need it unless their stress spikes.  We want you to become a life-long non-smoker.  We are here to help.

Does the laser treatment hurt?

Laser treatments are virtually painless.  It will feel relaxing.

What kind of laser it is?

We use a class 3B laser designed to stimulate and heal tissue.  These lasers are Health Canada approved.  In our clinic we have safely performed thousands of laser treatments since 2005.

 Will there be side effects from the treatment?

The laser treatment is very safe, but it’s important to know that there will be adjustments in the body when you quit smoking. It’s your body’s way of adjusting to the new you and any symptoms will pass.  You may have congestion or coughing as you detox from smoking, there may be some restless nights, but simply let us know and we’ll suggest natural medicines if you need any help.  For instance valerian is a good, safe herbal medicine proven to help with sleep.

When should I take my last cigarette?

3-5 hours before the treatment

What do I need to do to prepare for my laser quit smoking session?

  1. Remember, you will be quitting cold turkey. In the long run, it’s the easiest and most effective technique of smoking cessation.
  2. It’s time to get rid of your cigarettes once and for all. Do not carry cigarettes.  Remove all cigarettes, ashtrays and lighters from your home, car and workplace.  Clean any residue out your car.
  3. Tell your friends, family and co-workers you are quitting with laser therapy and you are not going back.
  4. Envision yourself free from cigarettes. Actually picture yourself walking away from your laser session feeling calm and at peace with your new life as a non-smoker. Picture yourself in one week, one month, one year, five years and ten years.  Let yourself FEEL the thrill of being free of cigarettes, healthier in mind and body than you are now.
  5. Give some serious thought to the questions:
    1. What are the compelling reasons I want to quit
    2. What is smoking costing me in terms of your health, self-esteem, relationships, limits on my activity, etc.
    3. Figure out the monetary cost of smoking, and how much you will save by quitting. Think about what you’d like to do with that money.

How can I assist in the detoxification process?

We will give you a month’s supply of effective natural medicines for detoxification, lung healing and nervous system relaxation.  This program will give you that fighting edge while you are getting through that critical first month off cigarettes.

How is your program better than nicotine patches or gum?

The bottom line is, you will eventually have to get off nicotine, whether from cigarettes, patches or gum, and there will be withdrawal symptoms.  Laser therapy gets you through the cravings, while nicotine replacement just postpones the inevitable.  Many people say they are afraid to quit smoking because they become cranky and miserable to be around.  Laser therapy deals with that by helping patients relax.  Others fear they’ll overeat when they quit smoking.  Our treatment protocol includes appetite suppression points to curb food cravings.  We also teach you the life-skills you’ll need to stay quit.

 For laser quit smoking programs, it is best to be off all forms of nicotine in order to detoxify.  That said, if you wish to use the patch that is fine.

What about the prescription drugs that are marketed for people quitting smoking?

Those drugs are in the anti-depressant class.  They have side effects and once you decide to you want to get off them, there will be a new set of withdrawal symptoms to deal with.  Plus, the success rate is quite poor, because taking a pill doesn’t teach you how to deal with the habit of smoking or how to deal with stresses that have made you reach for the smokes in the past. Why use a limited treatment that has side effects?

Fees and Policies

What is the cost of the program?

The investment in this program is $350.  The fee includes a

  • 15 minute introductory consultation with Dr. Macdonald
  • one hour laser therapy and quit smoking educational session with Beverly
  • self-stimulating ear acupressure “seeds”
  • one month’s supply of detoxification and nerve calming natural medicines
  • relaxation CD
  • educational booklet
  • stress ball
  • 2 complimentary laser acupuncture booster sessions (30 minutes)

Is this your treatment covered by my extended medical?

If your plan covers naturopathic physicians, then you can submit your receipt for payment.  They will likely cover at least a portion of the fee.

 Can I claim my treatments on my income tax?

Yes, depending on your total family income and medical expenses, it may be tax deductible and lower your tax payable.

Is there a refund?

There are no refunds available.  One aspect of motivation may be the desire to make your investment pay off.  If you smoke a pack a day, you will pay off your treatment in only about five weeks of being a non-smoker!

Cancellation fee

Once you book your one hour laser treatment and consultation, we ask that you give us 48 hours notice if you need to change or cancel your appointment.  Less than that will result in a $50 fee.

Stroke Prevention

Stroke picture

The Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation has recently raised the alarm bell to warn that stroke is not only a significant problem for Canadians, but that many of us don’t know what to look for in order to detect a stroke, and seek crucial early treatment. You’ve likely seen their ad campaign, reminding Canadians of the signs of stroke: sudden numbness or paralysis of the face, arm, or leg, slurred speech, confusion, blurred vision, trouble walking and dizziness.

As a naturopathic physician, I feel it is also important to educate the public about what can be done to prevent strokes. Strokes are typically a symptom of underlying cardiovascular disease. The main way to prevent cardiovascular disease is to live a lifestyle that promotes cardiovascular health. It is important to understand your risk factors and take steps to reduce them. A patient that I’ve worked with over the last year illustrates that journey.

Brent was a 54-year-old man who came to see me after his brother had a debilitating stroke at 57. As a father of three teens, Brent didn’t want that fate for himself and his family. He came to me for an assessment and to get help changing the course of his health for the better. I found out that he had smoked for 30 years and his waist circumference was 44” – well above the recommended 40” for men. His LDL cholesterol was elevated, as were his triglycerides, and his blood sugar was borderline diabetic. I ran an insulin test and found this to be very high, indicating insulin resistance. His blood pressure was above normal, at 147/90. Running his own business, he carried a significant stress load, which was taking its toll on his health.


I explained to him that he had multiple risk factors for cardiovascular disease that leave him at higher risk for stroke or heart attack than the average man his age. Genetics may be one risk factor, but the study of epigenetics has proven that our lifestyle affects our gene expression. So even when there is a family history of a disease, lifestyle can determine whether an individual gets that disease. We tested him for a genetic risk for cardiovascular disease, called methylation defects. About 15% of the population has a mutation of the gene necessary for methylation, a critical chemical process in the body. Without adequate methylation, homocysteine can build up in the bloodstream, causing accelerated atherosclerosis. A specific set of nutrients can help solve this problem, which it turned out he needed.


Next, I set out to help Brent quit smoking. Through a combination of herbal medicines to reduce cravings, stress-management and behavioral modification, Brent has been cigarette-free for almost a year now. It was important that he not gain weight after quitting smoking, so I coached him on a heart-healthy weight loss nutrition plan that has resulted in a 35 pound weight loss. Exercise was new territory for Brent, but he made it a family affair by getting out mountain-biking with his teenagers. He’s even keeping up with the youngest one now! As part of a stress management plan, he’s started a “gratitude check-in” at dinner with his family, where each person shares something they are grateful for from that day. This practice has been uplifting for Brent and his family.


After a year of coaching and treatment, Brent’s blood sugar and insulin levels were back to normal. His cholesterol levels were lower, but not low enough. He had tried Statin drugs for cholesterol in the past, but suffered leg pain as a result. I recommended natural medicines that further lowered his cholesterol while also being easier for his body to tolerate. I also recommended fish oil, Coenzyme Q10 and other natural medicines to prevent damage to his cardiovascular system from inflammation, oxidative stress and mitochondrial issues.

Brent looks and feels like a new man. His children will likely have their Dad around for many years to come. Stroke awareness is important, but prevention is critical. We can all benefit from living a stroke prevention lifestyle.