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.

Arthritis Pain Relief with Laser Therapy

Don’t let Arthritis Slow You Down

In my years of naturopathic medical practice, I have been struck by the number of people who suffer from arthritis. In fact, it is the most common cause of disability in North America. Too many of my patients are suffering from sleep issues, chronic pain and mobility issues because of arthritis. What concerns me about arthritis is the global affect it can have on a person’s health. We know that exercise is one of the key elements of achieving a long and productive life, so if arthritis is interfering with exercise the repercussions can be profound. I have seen many patients whose heart problems can be traced back to their weight gain and lack of exercise, which are a direct result of the limitations imposed by arthritis. I have seen patients whose health is being compromised by pain killing medications that provide short term pain management but create long term health problems.

Consequently, I have been on the quest for real solutions for people with arthritis pain. Also, my own 20-year-old ski injury has resulted in a knee showing signs of early arthritis. My motivation to find effective prevention and treatment of arthritis has led me to investigate a number of safe, non-toxic therapies that have proven very effective in relieving pain, increasing mobility and reducing the need for surgery.

The current treatment options typically presented to a patient by their medical doctor will include drug therapy and eventually surgery for knees, hips and some other joints. All the prescription medicines, while providing good short term relief, have significant problems associated with long term use. Aspirin causes gastric bleeding and ear problems, Tylenol (acetaminophen) can cause hepatitis at 8 pills a day, ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen are not tolerated for long for most people before they cause digestive distress, the cox-2 inhibitors like Vioxx and Celebrex are dangerous for the heart, and many other pain killers are highly addictive and have their own problems.

Surgery of course has its significant risks, including infection, adverse reactions to anaesthetic, and surgical complications. There are typically long wait times, during which patients are left to suffer and take drugs that are not appropriate for long term care. Also, since arthritis can affect any joint, including the spine, there are instances where surgery is not available. Many of the patients I see have degeneration in many spinal segments that cannot be adequately addressed through surgery.

I counsel my patients to employ a three pronged approach to addressing arthritis. The first step is to support the proper functioning of the joint. That may mean chiropractic manipulation, stretching the joint, and most importantly, strengthening the joint by engaging the muscles around it. A weak joint needs the support of strong muscles, so as soon as possible, gentle strengthening exercises are recommended. For example, strengthening the muscles of the core abdominal region is essential to prevent and treat back pain.

Secondly, I recommend low level laser therapy. This is the one physical therapy that has been proven in numerous scientific studies to significantly reduce the pain and inflammation of arthritis in a real and lasting manner. Animal studies have shown that laser treatments can stimulate repair of the cartilage in joints. I have had many arthritic patients come to my clinic for laser therapy and they have consistently received significant pain relief. Arthritic hands have responded very well to laser therapy, as have arthritic knees, shoulders and spines. Recently, a patient of mine who was recommended to have ankle replacement surgery received laser therapy and is now functioning well and has declined surgery. A meta analysis of 35 placebo controlled studies demonstrated that laser therapy reduced pain and increased mobility in osteoarthritis of the knee. Many more studies have shown similar results for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The laser treatments are painless, have no side effects, and are reasonably priced. State of the art equipment, like the Theralase laser, enhances the effectiveness of laser therapy.

The third aspect of treatment that I recommend is to take advantage of natural anti-inflammatory medicines. Examples include curcumin (extracted from turmeric), bromelain, serrapeptase, Kaprex, boswelia and more. Not only do they reduce inflammation and thus pain, this class of medicines all have side-benefits. For instance, curcumin (from turmeric) and bromelain are both cornerstones of the naturopathic medical approach to cancer treatment. Fish oil is a natural anti-inflammatory if taken in larger doses like six to nine capsules per day. Fish oil has many other health benefits and I recommend it to all my patients. Glucosamine sulfate is a building block of cartilage, which is the part of the joint that gets worn in osteoarthritis. Supplements of glucosamine sulfate take time to work, but they are thought to enhance the regeneration of cartilage.

Don’t let arthritis relegate you to a life on the couch. A full, rich life may be possible with a new approach to arthritis.

For more information about laser therapy for pain, contact Dr. Macdonald’s office at (250) 897-0235, or though this website.  

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