Breakthroughs in Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBS pictureIrritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS as it’s commonly called, may not be the most exciting topic to read about. But for the 5 million Canadians who suffer from it, learning about breakthroughs in treatment is definitely news worth reading. Medical research has made the connection now between IBS and the microbiome, the immune system and the nervous system. While stress and food intake may confound an IBS problem, breakthroughs in our understanding of the microbes in our intestines are helping to solve the deeper issues that can drive this health condition.
IBS symptoms can include bloating, excess gas and burping, some degree of constipation, diarrhea or both, and often an element of abdominal pain or discomfort. As a naturopathic physician, I regularly treat patients who have been told they have IBS, and that there’s not much they can do about it. The fact is, there are potential solutions to these issues. My first step is to explain that IBS is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning we must rule out overt infection, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, reproductive issues and more. Once we’ve done that, we can take steps to find out what is causing that person’s IBS.
Some of my patients respond well to avoiding certain foods, so we usually work to identify food triggers. Some MDs are sharing the research out of Monash University about the FODMAP diet which are foods known to cause IBS symptoms in some people. These foods can provide the fuel to our intestinal bacteria to make gas. But people with a healthy gut can handle those foods just fine, and many FODMAP foods are healthy foods, like broccoli, apples and garlic. If someone feels better on a FODMAP elimination diet, I see that not as a solution, but as a clue that their intestinal microbiome needs work.
By far the most common cause of IBS in my experience is an imbalance in the bacterial lining of the intestines called the microbiome. The large intestine is supposed to have a lot of bacteria and it is normal to ferment the leftover foods there. But the 12 feet of the small intestine are supposed to be relatively bacteria-free. Even if bacteria that is normal to have in the large intestine ends up growing in the small intestine, these bacteria will ferment the normal healthy foods we eat and create gas, intestinal irritation and nutritional issues.
What can cause bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine? There are many factors, but the most common one is a history of gastrointestinal infection. Even a case of traveller’s diarrhea, food poisoning, or viral gastroenteritis that resolves nicely can trigger an autoimmune reaction in about 20% of people. That autoimmune reaction can attack the nerves that stimulate the muscles that cause the sweeping motion inside the small intestine that moves food along between meals. Without this motion, food pools in the small intestine, bacteria can migrate upward from the large intestine, a ‘compost’ is formed, and excess bacteria blooms. Studies of military personal showed that prior gastrointestinal infection was a much stronger predictor of who would get IBS than stress level. Other studies have shown that GI infections can lead to motility disorders in the esophagus and intestines.
Brain injuries are also a potential cause of Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). The brain orchestrates the motility of the small intestine, so a brain injury can hamper its ability to coordinate the flushing of the small intestine, allowing a bacterial overgrowth to ensue. Autoimmune disease can also be connected, as well as abdominal surgeries, long term diabetes and more.
Fortunately, there is a specialized test for SIBO that can be ordered through naturopathic physicians. The gold standard test is a series of breath tests that looks for hydrogen and methane gases that have formed in the gut, been absorbed into the blood and are then breathed out. If a test comes back positive, I coach my patients on a four-step program. The first step is to prepare the intestine by opening up the biofilm that the bacteria hide out in. Then we use prescription or herbal antibacterial agents that exclusively target the bacteria in the small intestine. When that phase is complete, patients’ IBS symptoms are significantly better and we work on addressing the underlying cause, which is the motility disorder in the small intestine. There are prescription and herbal “pro-kinetic” agents that rehabilitate the muscles of the inner small intestine so the problem will stay away for good. In addition, we work to heal the intestinal lining to make it more resilient using natural medicines and SIBO specific probiotics.
People who live with IBS deserve to understand why they have these symptoms and what they can do about it. The goal is to repair the gut once and for all, not just manage symptoms. When we understand and treat the underlying issues, lasting resolution is possible.

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

6 Ways to Reduce Stress and Improve Health

Eat mindfully
I’m always working on my relationship with food to make it more about physical nourishment than fulfilling my cravings or stuffing emotions. The more I eat whole, unprocessed foods, the less I am drawn to processed foods. Menu planning gets me excited about what I can eat, and less focused on what I can’t eat. Taking a moment to breathe before I eat and feeling gratitude for the beautiful, colourful, natural food I’m eating elevates the process (and helps digestion.)

Keep things in perspective
We can deal with a lot more than we think, but only “in the moment”. Some planning for the future is prudent, but too much forward-thinking these days can get you down. Trust that whatever comes down the pike in the future, you have the inner strength to deal with it, if and when it happens. Then let it go and focus on the preset.

If worries about the future are getting you down, try switching mental channels. Regularly take stock of what you have to be grateful for; appreciating the big and small things can make you feel better. After her husband suddenly died, Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, would ask herself each day, “what are three things I did well today”. Even little things can count. It’s about being kind to yourself (but not easy on yourself) – that’s my mantra!

Get active outdoors
Staying active, especially outdoors, boosts brain chemistry and helps your immune system.
Getting natural light these days is essential for our brain and mood. Getting the blood pumping is like an anti-depressant without side effects (as anyone who exercises regularly will enthusiastically tell you!)

Take a few supplements
Even with the best lifestyle, natural medicines can help you be your best now and in the future. Some of my favourites are Vitamin D, fish oil, probiotics, resveratrol, and curcumin (turmeric extract). They all have abundant research showing benefits for health. For patients experiencing stress and burnout, I recommend a formula called Adrenal 2. For people concerned about their immune resilience, our herbal formula of Elderberry and Astragalus is generally safe for long-term use.

Reach out to others
Is there someone in your expanded circle who might need a call? Hearing a human voice these days can mean the world to someone else, and it always feels good to help others. While awkward at first, using video calls can create a sense of connection almost as good as the real thing. Or maybe let the people in your circle know that you could use some support? Have some time that could be used for volunteer work? Search online for COVID friendly opportunities.

Seek professional support
Seeing a naturopathic physician might be just what you need to focus on a plan for optimal physical and mental health. We take the time to listen, help you understand your health issues, and make a plan for better health in the safest, most natural way possible. We all need to up our game these days and having a trained professional on your team makes good sense. It’s a sign of strength to ask for help. Don’t just put up with so-so mental or physical health; with some focused strategies, you can feel better.

Want to see Dr. Macdonald or her
wonderful new associate ND Dr. Shawn Peters?

Click here to get started booking an appointment.

We look forward to seeing you!

Extended health insurance benefits ✔

Acupuncture for Men’s Health

Men may experience a number of changes throughout their lives.  Some of these changes may be in the realm of sexual health (such as erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, and prostatitis) but many men also experience other health challenges, such as low back pain, depression, and insomnia.  Acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment for all of these conditions.  Through the use of fine needles at specific points along areas of the body, acupuncture works to stimulate the body’s own healing responses by addressing the root causes of disease, as does naturopathic medicine.  This makes these two health systems a wonderful fit.

As a naturopathic doctor certified in acupuncture the unique opportunity I have when using acupuncture is that I can utilize many other treatments at the same time.  Low back pain, depression, insomnia, and sexual dysfunction are all well treated with a combination of therapies…acupuncture plus nutrition, herbal medicine, supplementation, spinal adjustments, and/or pharmaceutical prescriptions.  Being certified in prescriptive authority, I have access to all of these treatments to best help my patients improve their health.  Naturopathic doctors can also order lab tests, perform physical exams, and customize treatment options to round out the best program for you.

Many men experience low back pain and know how impactful pain can be on their life and work.  Finding effective treatments is important.  Both traditional acupuncture and ear acupuncture can help improve low back pain and decrease the sensation of pain.  This can lead to improved function and get you moving well again.  Acupuncture used alongside other therapies such as spinal alignment and soft tissue massage may further increase the chance of success.

Depression, anxiety, stress, and insomnia are experienced by many people and still, it is difficult for many men to talk about it and seek help.  Acupuncture has been shown to reduce symptoms in some experiencing depression.  Ear acupuncture can be effective at reducing anxiety.  Stress is closely tied to mental health and has impacts on both sleep quality and mental wellbeing.  Both traditional and ear acupuncture work to reduce stress by improving parasympathetic tone (our “rest and digest” state), which may address the root cause for some with insomnia.  In conjunction with other strategies to promote mental wellbeing, like diet, exercise, herbal medicine, and supplementation, a combined protocol takes into account the unique situation affecting you.

Male sexual health concerns can also be addressed using acupuncture.  Studies have shown positive results in reducing urination difficulties in those with prostatitis (inflamed prostate).  It can also be effective at improving premature ejaculation and some types of erectile dysfunction.

The number of health concerns that acupuncture can be utilized for, either alone or in conjunction with other therapies, along with being safe and with few side effects, makes it an excellent treatment choice for many men’s health concerns.  To find out if acupuncture and naturopathic medicine is right for you, contact Dr. Peters for a free “meet and greet”.

Dr. Shawn Peters, ND is a naturopathic physician who works at the Macdonald Centre for Natural Medicine. 

Call now to book an appointment or a “meet and greet” visit

250 897-0235

As always, this is purely general health-related information and is not meant to substitute for a visit with a regulated healthcare practitioner.  Always consult your licensed naturopathic doctor or medical doctor should you have any questions or concerns

Hormone Testing: What it Really Reveals

In my naturopathic medical practice, I commonly have patients come in who want to have their hormones tested. They feel something isn’t right. They don’t feel their best, and they suspect that hormones are to blame, so they want to be tested. But hormone testing isn’t as simple as it seems. We have to find the right type of test for the individual. The good news is that there are more options than ever for investigating hormone imbalances in men and women. With the right information, we can target our therapies to directly address the core of the issue and get better results faster.

When premenopausal women have something clearly abnormal going on with their hormones, it’s a good idea to do blood hormone testing. For instance, if a woman rarely or never menstruates, we need to rule out conditions like pituitary tumors, autoimmune diseases of the ovaries, and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (a.k.a. Anovulatory Androgen Excess). I generally run an extensive panel of pituitary and ovarian hormone levels in those cases.

If a woman is menstruating normally but still feels her hormones are off, the utility of blood testing is questionable. Testing must be timed with the cycle to make any sense of the numbers. But the reference ranges of what is considered normal are so large that most times women will be told they fall somewhere within what’s considered the “normal” range. That’s not helpful for someone who is infertile, or who suffers from serious PMS, low libido or chronic fatigue.

In cases where we need more information to get to the root of the hormone imbalance, urinary hormone panels are proving to provide a lot of nuanced information. The advantage of a comprehensive urinary hormone metabolite analysis is that it not only gives information about the typical hormones like estrogens, progesterone, androgens, cortisol and melatonin, but it also looks at their precursors or parent hormone. So if any levels are off, we can look upstream to see where the problem started. Urinary hormone testing also shows how the hormones are being metabolized or broken down. Sometimes it’s the breakdown products of the hormones that are the problem.

We also know that all the hormones are deeply connected. The thyroid, pituitary, ovarian/testicular, and adrenal hormones all affect each other. Urinary hormone testing can give insights as to the interplay of these four systems. Then we can target our efforts to get the greatest ripple effect on the whole hormone system.

Salivary hormone testing is another option for hormone testing, but it just isn’t the best way to test for hormones like estrogen and testosterone. I reserve this method for testing the adrenal hormones cortisol and DHEA. For people with insomnia, chronic fatigue, or anxiety, getting insight on the hypothalamus/pituitary/adrenal axis can shed light on these chronic issues. Since cortisol levels change throughout the day, it’s great to be able to collect a simple salivary sample four times a day. That said, urinary hormone metabolite panels also can be done four times a day, and they provide all that information and much more.

To monitor hormone levels in women who need to take prescription hormone replacement therapy in perimenopause and menopause, blood testing or even urinary testing can be utilized. Naturopathic physicians can order these lab tests for their patients, and extended health insurance often helps cover the costs. Our local Lifelabs offers both blood testing and urinary hormone testing.

So if you have been told your hormones are “normal” but you suspect that something is not quite right, there may be other ways to get answers.

Boosting Testosterone Naturally by Dr. Shawn Peters, ND


Testosterone is a sex hormone, often thought of as the “male” hormone (though males simply have more of it, as females have more estrogen).  Testosterone often provides the spark that can be fundamental to the experience of many men, like robust energy, libido, and strength.  Decreased levels of testosterone can result in low energy, reduced libido, a loss of muscle mass and increase in abdominal fat, as well as changes in mood and cognition.

Naturopathic doctors, through lab testing, physical exam, and thorough history taking, can work to diagnose the cause of decreased testosterone levels, so the correct treatment can be given.  A common cause is called Andropause, a term that refers to the changes in hormone levels with age (akin to changes during menopause in women).  Declining testosterone levels as we age are at least partly responsible for the changes many men experience in their 30’s, 40’s, and beyond.  Not only do levels of testosterone decrease as we age, but the amount of estrogen in relation to testosterone may increase.

A thorough investigation is important to determine the root cause.  In an initial appointment I determine which of the main factors may be playing a role for you…diet and exercise patterns, stress and sleep factors, as well as any underlying health conditions.  Decreased testosterone levels may be associated with certain conditions, like obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.  Removing any obstacles to you feeling great helps provide a solid foundation for your body to optimally regulate testosterone levels.

There are many tools to help men who are experiencing changes during this time.  Working to optimize diet & nutrients, exercise, and weight management (especially abdominal weight) are all key aspects of a successful plan.

At the same time, many herbal medicines are excellent at improving energy levels and sexual function while reducing irritability and mental fatigue associated with changes in testosterone.  Herbs used successfully may include Eleuthro, Rhodiola, Pine pollen, and many more.  Hops, while being a useful herbal medicine in certain situations, are abundant in beer and too much may worsen the situation.  Herbal licorice root too should be avoided in andropause.

Acupuncture is also shown to be beneficial for male sexual health and hormone balancing, as well as boosting energy.

As a licensed naturopathic doctor, I use any and all of these tools to help every person as an individual look and feel their best.  I strive to listen and educate, assessing your needs and goals so we can work together to keep you vital and healthy in the future.  We may not be able to stop testosterone levels from declining with age, but you and I can work together so you can feel strong and vital with good energy and libido, no matter your age.

As always, this is purely general health-related information and is not meant to substitute for a visit with a regulated healthcare practitioner.  Always consult your licensed naturopathic doctor or medical doctor should you have any questions or concerns.

Dr. Shawn Peters is a naturopathic physician.  He works at the MCNM in downtown Courtenay.

Gastrointestinal Testing: Take the Guesswork out of Gut Troubles

Many people have digestive systems that give them grief. Whether it’s indigestion, ulcers, acid reflux, bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, liver problems, IBS, colitis, Crohn’s, diverticulitis or colon cancer, digestive upset is one of the most common reasons that patients come to see me in my naturopathic medical clinic. Naturopathic physicians have many tools for helping people address digestive issues, such as nutritional advice, natural medicines and occasionally prescription medications. Prescription medications are limited in this arena, often just managing symptoms without dealing with the cause, and creating more problems the longer they are used.

In this article I’d like to explain how naturopathic doctors use testing to to help take the guesswork out of treating digestive issues.

Lactose intolerance testing: This breath test helps us determine if it is an inability to digest lactose, the sugar in milk products, that is causing gas, bloating, and/or cramps and diarrhea after eating some dairy products.

Helicobacter pylori testing: This breath test detects the presence of the H. pylori bacteria, which can create ulcers.

Celiac screening: This blood test looks for an antibody called Anti-Tissue Transglutaminase, which is a marker of Celiac disease, an autoimmune reaction to gluten containing grains. Symptoms can include digestive distress, or can manifest as headaches, fatigue, anemia, autoimmune, and psychiatric or neurological conditions.

Bacterial and parasitic infections: Infections such as food poisoning or traveller’s diarrhea can be detected with a stool test.

Colon cancer screening: The FIT test can detect blood in the stool. Everyone should have this test done at least once every two years. Blood tests for anemia can also pick up blood loss, which may trigger an investigation of colon cancer.

Fecal calprotectin: I really like this test as it helps me get an idea of how much inflammation is in my patient’s colon. It helps differentiate Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) from Irritable Bowel Syndrome
All of the above tests can be run by an MD as well as an ND. Naturopathic physicians dig deep into the cause of digestive problems and sometimes need other, more subtle tests.

Food allergy/sensitivity testing: Food allergies can create a lot of grief in the gut. From inflammation to gas, bloating and diarrhea, I’ve seen hundreds of patient respond beautifully to a program of food elimination. There is no perfect test, but there are tests that can give us a starting point for an elimination / challenge process.

Intestinal permeability tests: If the intestines are too permeable, that “leaky gut” can allow toxins and large proteins into the blood and brain. Many inflammatory and immune conditions have been linked in scientific research to “leaky gut”.

GI Effects Comprehensive Stool Profile: This stool test gives us a lot of information about the ability of the digestive system to break down different types of food, the status of the microbiome (bacterial lining), and inflammation or infection in the bowel.

Small intestine bacterial overgrowth test: This breath helps us see if excess gas, bloating, bowel issues and more are due to the wrong bacteria being in the small intestine. Treatments can be targeted to regain balance and restore proper function.

With the right tests, combined with a thorough discussion of the symptoms and history, plus a good abdominal exam, we can often get to the root of the problem and start to design a plan for getting relief.

Call now to book an in-person or video appointment

250 897-0235  drdmac2@gmail.com

Hormone Tests: What They Really Reveal

Hormone Tests:  What they Really Reveal

In my naturopathic medical practice, I commonly have patients come in who want to have their hormones tested. They feel something isn’t right. They don’t feel their best, and they suspect that hormones are to blame, so they want to be tested. But hormone testing isn’t as simple as it seems. We have to find the right type of test for the individual. The good news is that there are more options than ever for investigating hormone imbalances in men and women. With the right information, we can target our therapies to directly address the core of the issue and get better results faster.

When premenopausal women have something clearly abnormal going on with their hormones, it’s a good idea to do blood hormone testing. For instance, if a woman rarely or never menstruates, we need to rule out conditions like pituitary tumors, autoimmune diseases of the ovaries, and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (a.k.a. Anovulatory Androgen Excess). I generally run an extensive panel of pituitary and ovarian hormone levels in those cases.

If a woman is menstruating normally but still feels her hormones are off, the utility of blood testing is questionable. Testing must be timed with the cycle to make any sense of the numbers. But the reference ranges of what is considered normal are so large that most times women will be told they fall somewhere within what’s considered the “normal” range. That’s not helpful for someone who is infertile, or who suffers from serious PMS, low libido or chronic fatigue.

In cases where we need more information to get to the root of the hormone imbalance, urinary hormone panels are proving to provide a lot of nuanced information. The advantage of a comprehensive urinary hormone metabolite analysis is that it not only gives information about the typical hormones like estrogens, progesterone, androgens, cortisol and melatonin, but it also looks at their precursors or parent hormone. So if any levels are off, we can look upstream to see where the problem started. Urinary hormone testing also shows how the hormones are being metabolized or broken down. Sometimes it’s the breakdown products of the hormones that are the problem.

We also know that all the hormones are deeply connected. The thyroid, pituitary, ovarian/testicular, and adrenal hormones all affect each other. Urinary hormone testing can give insights as to the interplay of these four systems. Then we can target our efforts to get the greatest ripple effect on the whole hormone system.

Salivary hormone testing is another option for hormone testing, but it just isn’t the best way to test for hormones like estrogen and testosterone. I reserve this method for testing the adrenal hormones cortisol and DHEA. For people with insomnia, chronic fatigue, or anxiety, getting insight on the hypothalamus/pituitary/adrenal axis can shed light on these chronic issues. Since cortisol levels change throughout the day, it’s great to be able to collect a simple salivary sample four times a day. That said, urinary hormone metabolite panels also can be done four times a day, and they provide all that information and much more.

To monitor hormone levels in women who need to take prescription hormone replacement therapy in perimenopause and menopause, blood testing or even urinary testing can be utilized. Naturopathic physicians can order these lab tests for their patients, and extended health insurance often helps cover the costs.

So if you have been told your hormones are “normal” but you suspect that something is not quite right, there may be other ways to get answers.

Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a naturopathic physician who practices in downtown Courtenay. For telephone / video or in-person visits, contact (250) 897-0235

Eat for Life: Time Restricted Eating

What if there was one simple lifestyle change that could increase your lifespan? Researchers who study the science of longevity and disease prevention have found that there is indeed one simple lifestyle pattern that can decrease the risk of cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and more: don’t eat at night. It turns out that our bodies are designed to process food better during the day, and when we eat at night, we rob our cells and organs of much-needed rest and repair. Studies show that while of course it matters what we eat, it also matters when we eat.

The human body evolved to eat during the daylight hours, when it’s safe to collect and prepare our food, and not to eat in the evening, when it’s dark and dangerous to be outside. Fifteen percent of the human genome works on a body clock, and about 50% of those genes are involved in the metabolism of food. We know the brain has a circadian rhythm, but so do the pancreas, intestines, liver and more.

Now with the advent of electricity and demanding work hours, we typically have our largest meal of the day in the evening and often snack after that. Our meal patterns are not in alignment with how we evolved to eat and can be detrimental to our metabolism and our cellular repair mechanisms. Does it really make sense to consume most of our calories within hours of going to sleep? It’s like showing up to a restaurant at closing time: the cooking staff will not be happy. Eating at night has been shown to raise blood sugar and insulin, increase inflammation, throw off hormones and decrease the important daily cellular clean-out called autophagy. Under these conditions the body can become fertile soil for disease.

As a naturopathic physician I regularly monitor these blood parameters and show people ways to lower their risk factors with lifestyle changes and natural medicines. One of those ways is to just change when you eat. Eating breakfast, lunch and dinner within the daytime hours, before 7 p.m., and allowing at least a 13-hour fast overnight is enough to show benefits. Some experts recommend extending that fasting window further by having a later breakfast and an earlier dinner if you can.

Time restricted eating has even been shown to reduce cancer rates. In one study, of 2,500 breast cancer survivors who tracked their food intake for seven years, a strong association was found to when they were eating. Women who had at least a 13-hour overnight fast had a 40% decrease in breast cancer recurrence and an over 15% decrease in all causes of mortality, regardless of whether they were overweight or not.

Other conditions that have been shown to improve from extended overnight fasting are gastric reflux, fatty liver, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Weight loss with this mechanism alone is modest, but it can add up over time. In a famous study, two groups of mice were fed the same number of calories, but one group was fed only during the mice’s daytime and the other could graze all day and night. The mice in the Time Restricted Feeding group lost more weight than the other mice. In similar human trials, weight loss is more significant because without even trying, people will consume about 200 fewer calories per day when they stop nighttime snacking.

Time Restricted Eating is a simple lifestyle change that anyone can implement. Your body is designed to thrive in those conditions. Pregnant women and people with blood sugar issues, eating disorders or other health conditions would be wise to consult with their naturopathic physician or family doctor before making any dietary changes.

To book a naturopathic medical consultation with Dr. Deidre Macdonald call 250 897-0235.

COVID: Finding Calm within the Storm

Coping with stress

We have all been thrust into a situation that is the perfect storm for creating stress: there is a threat to the physical survival of ourselves and our loved ones. Most of us will incur financial losses. We are all facing isolation and changing interpersonal dynamics. And there are many unknown elements and uncertain timelines. We know the world will never be the same, but we don’t know what the future will bring. These are the facts of the COVID-19 situation; the things we cannot change. What we can change is how we deal with it. We can face our fears and work through them as best we can. We can call upon our highest thinking, and bring forth our deepest strength.  We can have hope that out of this crisis, new and better ways of being will be discovered. As a naturopathic physician, I have studied psychology, various therapeutic modalities, attitudinal healing, a number of spiritual practices, and watched how thousands of my patients have risen to the challenges in their lives. From this experience, I offer you a seven step system for facing the difficult emotions of life. May it help you to navigate this storm to find a place of greater calm.

Step One: Pause and observe your mind and body. Just noticing your thoughts, feelings and body sensations in a curious way is the first step. Gently observe with non-judgemental inquiry. Just stopping, stepping back, and noticing that this train of thoughts and feeling is causing you stress allows you to separate from the process a little bit so you can look at it and question it. 

Step Two: Breathe. Bringing your mind’s focus to your breath helps to calm both the body and mind.  It’s amazing how just a few deep breaths can begin to shift fear, anger, anxiety and more. You may wish to try breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth, or even add a small sigh on the outbreath. Imagine the stress flowing out as your exhale. Feel your shoulders drop and feel your weight settle into your pelvis, legs and feet to help “ground” you. Apps like Insight Timer and Calm provide guided relaxation and breathing exercises to follow.

Step Three: Name the feeling. Often we get overwhelmed and just feel “stressed” in general. Here I invite you to be curious about what you are feeling in particular.  Is it grief, anxiety about the future, anger at someone, powerlessness, or fear of rejection? Try and mine down to what’s really going on and put a label to that particular pattern of body sensations, thoughts and feelings. Just naming and acknowledging the feeling is a step towards acceptance. And in the naming, we are again stepping back from the feeling to a place where we can work with it. 

Step Four: Self Compassion. Here is where we give ourselves the kindness and understanding that we often seek from outside ourselves. Dr. Kirsten Neff describes Self-Compassion Practice well in her TED talk, website and online guided exercises. You might say to yourself, “yes, of course you are feeling nervous about your health; how human is that? It’s so understandable.” Or you might say “how hard it is to feel such uncertainty about the future or adapt to so much change… yes, your sense of security has been rocked.” By leaning into the feelings instead of rejecting them, we are in a place to practice being with our feelings instead of wanting to escape, blame others, or act out in reflexive ways. 

When we are stressed and running on adrenalin, the survival part of the brain is activated and the frontal cortex, where more creative problem solving can be accessed, is shut down. We tend to react in patterns we developed as children: fight, flight, freeze or fawn.  The first four steps of this system are designed to calm the nervous system, balance the brain, and prepare us to move from reactivity to more helpful, resourceful ways of being.

Step Five: Question the thoughts that drive the feelings. Consider the possibility that behind every feeling is a thought. By identifying the thought, we can start to question it, and reframe it from a more mature, realistic, and resourceful mindset. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the world’s most researched and successful therapy technique and it is a set of tools for dealing with life stresses in a better way. The website anxietycanada.com is an excellent way to learn about CBT and how it can help you deal better with day to day life. I love the list of questions under the section “Challenging Negative Thinking”, such as “Is this a hassle or a horror?”, “Am I confusing a possibility with a certainty?”, “Have I confused a thought with a fact?” and more.

Step Six: Affirm your strength.  A lot of anxiety is really a fear that you don’t have what it takes to deal with adversity: rejection, pain, death, humiliation, grief, change, etc. I invite you to think of examples of when you have been strong in the face of adversity before, and think of what you drew on in yourself. Or think of others who have found strength in times of trouble: people you know, your ancestors, people around the world. By affirming your strength you can let go of trying to plan for every possible bad thing and how you would deal with it. You can simply trust that you will have the inner strength to face each challenge as it comes. You can focus more on the moment with self-talk like “Right here, right now, I am okay and I can deal with this moment”, “I am wise and strong”, “I am the source of the love and security I seek”. 

Step Seven: Let go and accept change. It is often said that stress is the difference between expectations and reality. The outside world is changing, your life is changing, and your future will look different than you thought. I humbly invite you to be open to the possibility that just maybe some meaning will come from this experience such as a deeper sense of connectivity and inter-dependency or a new set of values and priorities. Great growth rarely happens without great struggle. I say this with deep compassion for those who are profoundly affected by COVID-19. I am choosing to be hopeful that we will rise from the ashes wiser and stronger than before.

These seven steps can be done in one minute or in a two-hour journaling session. They can be done alone or with a trusted person. You can reach out to me via a telemedicine visit or another counsellor doing telephone / video call sessions. The more each of us can commit to staying grounded emotionally the more we can help uplift others. May you find your calm within this storm.

Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a naturopathic physician with a B.A. in psychology, who is offering telemedicine appointments. Extended health insurance applies, and discounts are available for those in need.  www.getwellhere.com 250 897-0235.

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.