Dementia Prevention

According to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, in 2020, 124,000 Canadians were diagnosed with dementia.  By 2030, it is projected that upwards of one million Canadians will be living with Dementia.  These are staggering numbers.

There are many causes and multiple types of dementia, including vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  While there is no cure, there are factors that can be addressed to reduce one’s risk.  As a naturopathic doctor, my aim is to help you identify risk factors and develop a plan with you to address them.  A comprehensive bloodwork panel can test for a number of risk factors, including blood sugar, inflammatory markers, homocysteine, and more.  Genetic tests can also be ordered as a part of Alzheimer’s disease risk.

Reducing risk factors is an important step, including making dietary changes to support blood sugar and heart health.  One particular way of eating called the Mediterranean diet, reduces inflammation, is rich in antioxidants, and is known to improve both diabetes and cardiovascular disease risk.  All of these are aspects to address with dementia. 

A Mediterranean diet includes fish as a major component, many of which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.  One consideration when eating fish is to avoid those that are higher in mercury.  This is because mercury has toxic effects on the body, especially on the brain.  Lower mercury fish include shrimp, salmon, pollock, and canned light tuna. 

Lifestyle choices can also be impactful for dementia, including eliminating smoking, reducing excessive alcohol consumption, and exercising.  Exercise can improve memory, brain function, and increase blood flow to the brain.  Not to mention, exercise can improve blood sugar and heart health (those risk factors I talked about above).  There are different ways to exercise and various types to enjoy, but enjoyment is the key factor.  Like anything, the chance of you continuing to exercise is highly dependent on whether you enjoy the activity.  So, the first step with exercising is picking something you enjoy doing.

One of the key aspects that I address with patients looking to prevent dementia is to reduce chronic inflammation.  This is because inflammation that affects the brain is a contributor to the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s.  When thinking about a foundation for optimal brain health, we turn back to what we eat.  A diet that is rich in plant foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds) tends to include more antioxidants, which reduces inflammation in the body. 

On top of diet, there are herbal medicines and supplements that are anti-inflammatory.  Two examples include curcumin and fish oil, both of which help to reduce inflammation.  There are various types and qualities of curcumin and fish oil on the market, so ensure you pick the right one for you.  If in doubt, your naturopathic doctor can clarify.

Dr. Shawn Peters, ND is a naturopathic doctor practicing in downtown Courtenay.

Book a Complimentary 15-minute, no-obligation appointment with Dr. Shawn to see if Naturopathic Medicine is right for you!

Finding Relief from Headaches

Headaches are a common experience for many and effect all sexes, genders, and ages around the world.  Globally, it is estimated that 20% of people at any particular moment have a tension-type headache.  Migraines, which can feel quite severe, effect up to 12% of people.  25% of Canadian households experience migraines.  There are many types of headaches but migraines and tension-type are two of the most common and often treated with medications.

In naturopathic medicine, we aim to identify both the type of headache and the root cause so that we can provide optimal relief.  One’s physical alignment and posture, for instance, can play a role.  So can dehydration, skipping meals, stress, and tension.  For women, menstrual headaches and associated hormone changes can lead to headaches.  Other aspects, like digestion and liver health, allergies, and food triggers can all cause or worsen headaches.  All of these can help naturopathic doctors determine connections and get to the root cause.  In this way, we may help lessen your need for medication and afford some relief.

Tension-type headaches often have a stress component.  Stress can lead to muscle tension and postural changes.  Stress can cause us to skip lunch when we are busy or reach for another cup of coffee.  All of these are aspects to consider when suspecting a headache is linked to stress.  In these cases, Rest and Relaxation (R&R) techniques can help.  It could be listening to music or pursuing creative endeavours, like painting or writing.  It could be a warm bath or massage.  For others, laughing with friends, doing yoga, or physical affection with pets or loved ones can help.  There are a multitude of options to relieve stress.  These and other options such as herbal medicines, nutrients, supplements, and mindfulness techniques, are all what naturopathic doctors are trained to provide.

Migraine headaches have a number of potential food triggers, from common everyday foods to artificial sweeteners like aspartame.  Working to determine which foods are triggers for you can help prevent your migraines in the future.  Analyzing diet and digestion can also provide clues to bring relief.  While we explore the root causes, we can attempt pain relief in the moment using nutrients, herbs, and supplements.

All of these aspects and more can unlock the clues to pain relief from headaches.


Dr. Shawn Peters, ND is a naturopathic doctor practicing in downtown Courtenay.

Contact Dr. Peters for a free “meet the doctor” visit to see if naturopathic medicine is right for you.

5 Key Supplements for High Stress

5 Key Natural Medicines to Help our Bodies Handle Stress

Temporary moments of stress are a normal part of life.  In fact, our bodies are well equipped as humans to respond appropriately to stressors around us.  It is when stressors are excessive or prolonged over time that we can start to feel the adverse impacts of stress. 

The impacts of stress can affect both of bodies and minds.  Those with mental health concerns may feel more on edge.  Burnout and our ability the perform cognitively can worsen.  Our sleep and energy can become impaired.  Weight gain can increase and inflammatory markers can rise.

Stress affects us all, young and old, whether we are students, families, or elders.  Life as a student can be a very exciting time, though not without challenges.  This is true for any student and especially those in demanding programs or during challenging exam periods. Isolation, loneliness, and anxiety are felt by many of us these days.  This may be particularly true for some of the more vulnerable folks around us, certainly as the pandemic continues to linger.  Many elders may feel particularly isolated, which can be a stressor.  Families may be feeling stress with balancing the demands of work, partners, and children, especially through changing times.

For many of us, here are some of the key considerations to help handle stress:

(As always, before using any herb or nutrient consult with a healthcare professional first).

  • Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids: Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are those healthy fats that the body itself cannot produce so we get them from foods or supplements. What makes EFAs so important is their role in both brain and nervous system health. EFAs can be found in fish, chia seed, flaxseed, nuts and seeds, and algae, as well as supplements.
  • B-Complex (particularly B5): B-vitamins play a critical role in many bodily processes, including many energy pathways. B-vitamins also play a role in supporting our ability to deal with stress, particularly vitamin B5 which is thought of as the ‘anti-stress’ vitamin.
  • Vitamin C: This important vitamin is known for its role as an antioxidant. Many free radicals can be produced during times of stress and vitamin C can help to stop free radicals. Vitamin C is used by our bodies to a greater extent under stressful conditions.
  • Ashwaganda: This stress supportive herb is considered a calming adaptogen (calms us while helping us to adapt to stress). Herbs that are adaptogens help the body deal with stress by moderating our responses to stressors.  Ashwaganda also helps to support insomnia caused by stress and can be effective for reducing anxiety.
  • Bacopa: Bacopa is also an adaptogen. Specifically, it helps with short- and long-term memory, as well as assisting general cognitive abilities, such as focus and learning.

To get the most from our bodies and minds, and maintain good health during periods of stress, it is important to work in exercise, proper sleep, and a diet rich in whole foods.  Doing so can pay off not only in our health but in our mental performance.  As a naturopathic doctor, this is true in my own life, and I see the results in my patients.

Contact Dr. Peters for a free “meet the doctor” visit to see if naturopathic medicine is right for you.


  1. Haas, E. M., & Levin, B. (2006). Staying healthy with nutrition: The complete guide to diet and nutritional medicine. Berkeley: Celestial Arts.
  2. Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: The science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
  3. Marciano, M., Dr. (n.d.). The Naturopathic Herbalist. Retrieved February 20, 2016

Long COVID and the Brain

Most people who get COVID, especially if they are vaccinated, will recover without residual symptoms. But for some people, COVID infection can result in long-term health issues. So-called “long COVID” sufferers can experience many symptoms including crushing fatigue, dizziness upon standing up or standing too long, exercise intolerance, anxiety, headaches, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, brain fog, and more. Similar post-viral syndromes can result from other viruses too, and a very similar phenomenon can happen after concussions. The common thread is that when the brain suffers a blow, either literally or via the inflammation associated with a virus, the nervous system that runs almost every process in the body can be knocked off its axis. Across Canada, researchers and physicians are scrambling to try to understand how to help this new wave of people afflicted with a condition that is untestable and for which there are no simple drug solutions. Patients often feel frustrated and isolated. A greater understanding of what’s going on can help us target solutions for symptoms and speed the healing of the brain and nervous system. 

A patient I’ll call Emily had previously been in good health, so when she contracted COVID as an unvaccinated person ten months ago, she thought she would recover well. She did get over the acute symptoms of cough and congestion but was left with a mysterious assortment of symptoms that derailed her life. She has profound fatigue, dizziness when she stands up or stands for more than ten minutes in one place, and daily headaches; in addition, her mental processing and memory are impaired. When she tries to exercise, she crashes and is exhausted for two days. She has nausea and IBS. Her fingers go white when she gets cold, and her skin can be blotchy. Her periods are irregular for the first time. Anxiety seems to hit randomly, day or night, and depression is creeping in. 

Emily’s symptoms indicate that the nerves in her brain have been damaged. The brain governs the autonomic nervous system, which runs all the automatic processes in the body such as blood pressure, heart rate, circulation, balance, energy production, hormones, adrenalin release, sleep cycles, digestion, and more. When this critical system isn’t working right, we refer to this disorder as dysautonomia.  As a naturopathic physician, I treat people with complex, chronic conditions every day, so I have seen similar symptoms before triggered by both viruses and concussions. 

There are strategies to manage symptoms, such as wearing compression stockings to prevent blood from pooling in the legs while standing. Since the nervous system is intimately involved in digestive processes, such as motility of the intestines and secretion of digestive juices, in people with dysautonomia, we often see irritable bowel syndrome symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, or constipation. Without proper motility, food ferments in the small intestine, causing an overgrowth of bacteria where it shouldn’t be. Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) can cause bloating, constipation or loose stools, as well as brain fog. There are excellent ways to test and treat SIBO through a naturopathic physician trained in this area. 

Brain healing requires a more comprehensive approach because the brain is highly sensitive to what is happening in the rest of the body. Emily started naturopathic medical protocols for dysautonomia include addressing the gut-brain connection through avoiding inflammatory foods, enhancing nutrition, and balancing the microbiome. She took natural medicines to target the mechanisms needed to heal the brain, including enhancing energy production (mitochondrial health), reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, promoting nerve healing, and helping the brain filter toxins. After three months she is feeling much better. Programs can also include hormone balance, stress-reduction training, physical therapy, and visual therapy can all also help address dysautonomia. 

Like most viruses, most people who get COVID make a full recovery. But for those whose lives have been turned upside down after this infection, it’s important for them to understand that there are strategies that can help.

Bringing Hope to Mental Health Challenges

Mood and mental health challenges affect many of us, either personally or with those we know.  The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that “in any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness.”  Not only that but they further state that “by age 40, about 50% of the population will have or have had a mental illness.”

A common feeling people suffering from depression or anxiety have is that they are alone, there is a stigma attached to experiencing mental illness.  Many people do not feel like they can talk to their friends or family about what they are experiencing.  Whether or not one has a mental illness, it is typical for all of us to face mood fluctuations and challenges with daily life stressors.

You are not alone.

It is important for us all to realize that mental health challenges affect people from all walks of life, regardless of sex, gender, age, education, and income.

Nearly half of those experiencing depression or anxiety in Canada never see a doctor for help.  As a naturopathic doctor, I focus on supporting those who experience mood and mental health challenges.  I strive to work with you to provide the foundation for good mental health.  This means utilizing diet and lifestyle considerations and top supplements for depression and anxiety.  Counselling and talk therapy, along with nutritional support and supplementation, is an excellent combination.

Challenges with mental illness can be supported effectively with naturopathic treatments.  There are many specific nutrients and herbal medicines that can achieve similar effects as prescription medications for anxiety and depression with fewer side effects.  What treatment works best for any given person is highly individualized and requires consideration of the whole person.

Often, depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances co-exist.  Treating the whole person will involve considering all of these factors holistically, as well as the role of stress.  Stress can worsen mental illnesses.  For both depression and anxiety, supporting the body’s stress response is crucial to attaining a balanced approach to mental health.

Assessment and consideration of the various aspects involved in mental health often includes the role of hormones, the impact of inflammation, and the benefits of the microbiome.  Beneficial bacteria in our digestive tract have been shown to positively impact the Gut-Brain Axis.  As a naturopathic doctor, all of these are considerations I will work with you to balance.

Want to see if naturopathic medicine is right for you?

Book a “meet and greet visit” with Dr. Shawn Peters, ND

Call 250 897-0235

Bioidentical Hormones – Research Update

The pros and cons of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for perimenopausal and menopausal women have been hotly debated for many years. As a naturopathic physician, I’ve helped women navigate the choppy waters of menopause for over two decades. I believe that hormone management should be very individualized and I  generally recommend lifestyle first, natural medicines second, and pharmaceuticals third, if possible. I recently completed a course that analyzed the research on HRT over the last 20 years. When you look carefully at the research, there is a role for hormone replacement therapy to help manage symptoms of perimenopause and menopause safely and effectively and to serve as a preventative medicine. 

First, some history. HRT was used for 70 years before the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) did the first large placebo-controlled study in 2002. This groundbreaking study sounded alarms regarding increased breast cancer risk in women who took Premarin (estrogen) and Provera (synthetic progesterone).  In addition, they found a higher rate of blood clots, potentially leading to strokes and more, so many women were unprescribed HRT as a result. 

Subsequent analysis determined that the study had major flaws. The average age of the women starting estrogen therapy was 65. We now understand there is a critical window for starting hormone therapy to maximize the benefits and reduce the risks, which is within ten years of one’s menopause, or under 60. 

Second, the estrogen used in the experiment was extracted from pregnant mares’ urine and contained non-human estrogens. Now, most prescriptions written use a bioidentical estrogen called estradiol or E2. It is processed much differently in the body and has fewer risks. The progesterone used was a synthetic cousin of our progesterone called progestin, which comes with many more side effects. Third, the route of administration of estrogen matters. Yes, taking oral pills of estrogen does increase blood clotting, especially in women over 60. However, using a patch or cream on the skin does not do so in any significant way. We’ve come a long way from 2002 to understand how to use these hormones safely. 

According to the esteemed North American Menopause Society, estrogen has strong evidence showing it helps with hot flashes and night sweats. They say it can be used for women of any age in low doses locally for genital and urinary symptoms and to improve sexual function. Systemic estrogen also helps to prevent bone loss and fracture associated with osteoporosis. The research shows this benefit is most relevant if estrogen is started within five years of menopause and the benefit is lost after ceasing the estrogen therapy. Topical estrogen therapy can slightly reduce cardiovascular disease risk but only if started early.  

The most interesting evidence regarding estrogen replacement therapy is around reducing cognitive decline. One in three people develop a significant cognitive decline in their lifetime, and ⅔ of the people with Alzheimer’s are women. Estrogen has many protective effects on the brain, including increasing neuronal growth and repair, increasing neuroplasticity, decreasing the build-up of tau proteins and amyloid plaques (associated with Alzheimer’s), and much more. Estrogen therapy seems to help slow cognitive decline, not reverse it. One study showed that women who started estrogen at 75 years old had a worse rate of decline. So, yes, there is a critical window for starting estrogen. Women who have their ovaries removed or have very early menopause may especially benefit from starting estrogen therapy right away. 

Evidence shows that estrogen may help somewhat with joint pain, muscle weakness, sleep issues, depression, skin aging, dry eyes, hearing loss, and diabetes. But what about breast cancer? Well, after years of analysis of the WHI study, it has been shown that when they started giving horse estrogens and synthetic progestin to women far older than the critical age window in oral vs. transdermal doses, after three years, an increase of less than one case of breast cancer over the placebo rate per 1,000 women per year could be attributed to the hormones. That risk is less than the increased risk of breast cancer associated with drinking two glasses of wine a day, and the same as the risk of being obese or inactive. In women who took only estrogen (women who’d had a hysterectomy), there was a slight decrease in breast cancer rate vs. placebo. Three French studies showed that when bioidentical estrogen is used with women in a better age window and coupled with bioidentical progesterone, there was no increase in breast cancer rates.  

HRT isn’t for everyone, so discuss it with a conventional or naturopathic doctor up to date on the latest research analysis to see if you would be a suitable candidate and what to expect. For people without extended health insurance, compounding pharmacies can make up HRT prescriptions for about ⅓ to ½ the cost of pharmaceutical suppliers—tell your naturopathic or conventional doctor your preference.  Another advantage of compounded bioidentical hormones is various delivery methods can be used depending on the desired effects and preference of the patient. Transdermal absorption of hormones has been well established in scientific research. So the bottom line is that bioidentical estrogen with bioidentical progesterone can have a role to play not only in the management of symptoms of menopause but also in the enhancement of the ageing process.

6 Ways to Reduce Stress and Improve Health

Life is full of transitions and challenges.  Keeping our minds and bodies strong can help us navigate life with grace.  Here are the six strategies that my most resilient patients use in their lives.  See if there are some gems in here for you. 

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!)

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.)

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. If depression and anxiety are an issue, our ND’s can recommend scientifically proven natural approaches for treatment. 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?

We look forward to seeing you!

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Hope for Parkinson’s Disease

Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox are famous people who have Parkinson’s disease, and one in 500 people in Canada will join their ranks. Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a degenerative neurological disease that slowly affects the ability to control movement.  Symptoms can include tremors, difficulty walking and speaking.  Early symptoms can include decreased thirst, loss of smell, constipation, anxiety and decreased arm swinging while walking. This condition was thought to be chronic and progressive and could only be managed with medications.  Now, with a deeper understanding of the factors that contribute to nerve cell damage, there are targeted strategies that can slow or even reverse the disease to some degree. Many of these principles are just smart preventative lifestyle strategies for all of us who want to protect our brains from degeneration.

Dr. Laurie Mischley is a naturopathic doctor who works with people with Parkinson’s disease in Seattle.  The average Parkinson’s patient has a symptom score of 500 at the time of diagnosis in a standardized test for Parkinson’s, and their score goes up by 38 points per year on average.  In contrast, Dr. Mischley’s patients have an average 200-300 point decrease in their score over one year of treatment.  Those numbers got my attention when she spoke at a recent brain health conference I attended.

Dr. Mischley is emphatic that Parkinson’s does not have to be a progressive, irreversible disease.  Progression can be slowed and sometimes reversed to a degree if we seek to understand what is stressing the neurons and remove those stresses while supporting optimal brain health with targeted lifestyle strategies and natural medicines.  Dr. Mischley says that by the time PD is diagnosed, the processes that created it have been in the works for twenty years or more.  Science has shown us that risk factors include drinking well water with high manganese or pesticide runoff, head trauma, heavy metal exposure (welders), dairy consumption, pesticide exposure, certain viral or fungal infections, intestinal microbiome imbalances, autoimmune processes, high iron, low B12, smoking, drinking and more.  If we can identify and target these neurological stress factors, we can improve brain health.

Lab tests can help us identify the stress factors associated with Parkinson’s disease.  These include inflammatory markers (CRP), blood sugar work up, iron, vitamin B12, food allergies, heavy metal testing, intestinal testing, brain auto-antibody testing, vitamin D, oxidative stress tests, (low) cholesterol, homocysteine, DHEA-S, thyroid function and more. Naturopathic physicians can order these types of lab tests and provide thorough analysis.

Dietary interventions include eating more plant-based foods, such as fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds and healthy oils.  Fish and organic chicken are encouraged, while dairy, red meat, flour and sugar are discouraged. Exercise can play an important role in Parkinson’s treatment, and our local recreation centres are providing classes specifically for this condition. Natural medicines are also vital for creating an environment in the brain where the nerves can thrive. Coenzyme Q10 and fish oil are associated with better outcomes in PD.  Glutathione precursors provide protection against oxidative stress in the brain, which is critical for PD.  Targeting heavy metal elimination, autoimmune balancing, gut microbiome restoration, mitochondrial repair, and homocysteine-lowering are the types of individualized treatments on which naturopathic physicians can coach their patients.  Medications that promote dopamine are an important aspect of the management of PD, but knowing that you can also address the causative factors and take charge of the progression of this condition is empowering.

Healing Concussion and Traumatic Brain Injury

The human brain is a remarkable feat of engineering.  But with the consistency of Jello, it is quite vulnerable to damage from injuries.  Every year about 200,000 Canadians suffer concussions.  Sports injuries and car accidents are two common causes of brain injuries, but for seniors, concussions are more likely to be caused by a fall.  The good news is that the brain can recover from minor concussions within a short time. But for multiple concussions or more traumatic brain injuries, the path to recovery can be long and winding.  Post-concussion syndrome can persist for years without the proper help.  Research is showing that there are many ways to enhance healing of the brain. No matter how long it’s been since the brain injury, it’s never too late to jump-start more repair of those delicate structures of the brain that run our mind and body.

Concussions are difficult to diagnose with imagine like an MRI or CT scan, and the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome can be easily attributed to other things.  I often ask my patients about concussions and sometimes find that they do indeed have symptoms of post-concussion syndrome such as:  fatigue, memory loss, cognitive issues, headache, depression, anxiety, irritability, sleep issues, sensitivity to light or sound, issues with sight or hearing, nausea, dizziness and more.

The best approach after a brain injury is to minimize the damage and promote brain healing as soon as possible.  To do that, we have to understand how the brain cells actually get damaged with brain injury.  Then we can use treatments that target those processes. Most medical professionals are not versed in strategies to address what’s really going on in concussion and brain injury, and so these processes are left to damage the brain especially in the critical first few days after concussion.  We need to institute neuroprotection strategies that promote healing, and it’s never too late to start.

Neural inflammation is a significant cause of loss of brain cells, and the connections between them, after head injury.  There are a number of natural products that help to regulate neural inflammation such as curcumin, the DHA portion of fish oil, and green tea. Aerobic exercise also has tremendous benefits to the brain.

We also want to decrease oxidative stress on the brain cells by ingesting higher amounts of anti-oxidant rich foods and medicines.  Berries are rich in antioxidants and Vitamins C and E can be helpful too.

The blood brain barrier (BBB) is intended to only allow certain things to enter the brain from the blood, but after brain injury, there can be a breach in this filtering system.  Toxins then can enter the brain and cause more damage.  Alpha lipoic acid is excellent for healing the BBB and is also an antioxidant.

Mitochondria are the furnaces of the cells, producing needed energy.  The brain cells are particularly dependent on mitochondria for energy. Brain injury can damage the mitochondria and especially lead to brain fog and fatigue.  To heal from brain injury, we need to ramp up the mitochondrial function by taking supplements such as coenzyme Q10, B vitamins as well as eating whole foods and exercising.

We want to stimulate that parts of the brain that can regenerate by enhancing neural stem cells. Humble nutrients like Vitamin D and melatonin can help accomplish these goals.

Promote the lymphatic drainage in the brain called glymphatics. Like a Zamboni clearing the effects of ice skating on an ice rink, the glymphatics of the brain clear away the normal waste products that build up in the brain daily.  This is even more important post brain injury. Sleep is the time when these mechanisms ramp up the most, so I help my concussion patients enhance their sleep.
The nerves of the brain are intimately linked to the chemistry of the digestive system.  Chemicals produced by the gut bugs, or intestinal microbiome, travel to the brain and influence mood, thinking and more.  Having a healthy digestive system will help brain function and naturopathic physicians are an excellent resource for tools to enhance gut health.

Other treatments for concussion are also getting much needed attention.

Brain training can help make new connections in the brain.

The ketogenic diet, while somewhat arduous, has been shown to help a number of brain diseases, including post-concussion syndrome.

Neurofeedback is a sort of visual gym for learning to retrain and re-pattern disrupted brain activity (and is available in Comox).

Functional Neurology practitioners can help target the part of the brain that is malfunctioning and provide specific stimulation to heal those parts.

Cold laser therapy to the skull has demonstrated benefits to many patients at a Toronto clinic and human clinical trials are underway.  This painless treatment has been shown in animal studies to enhance brain healing after traumatic brain injury.  I have treated over 1000 people for various health issues with laser therapy as it helps to gently but quickly regenerate damaged tissue throughout the body.

Reducing electromagnetic fields that may not affect people with healthy brains, but may be one more stress on an injured brain. Turning off wireless at night and removing cordless phones from the bedroom are a good way to start.

There is hope.  No matter how far out from a brain injury, there is always reason for hope.  With the right treatment, people can improve significantly even years after a brain injury if they are willing to invest in their brain health.

To learn more about how this type of multifaceted approach might be able to help you, contact naturopathic physician Dr. Deidre Macdonald, ND at 250 897-0235 or via

To learn more about how this type of multifaceted approach might be able to help you, contact naturopathic physician Dr. Deidre Macdonald, ND at 250 897-0235 or via

Alzheimer’s Prevention and Treatment

Our brains are made up of an intricately interconnected web of neurons, run by electrical impulses that jump from cell to cell across gaps called synapses.  Chemical messengers help transmit those impulses, and this symphony of cells, chemicals and electricity results in all the thoughts, feelings and bodily functions that make us who we are. Age related memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease are examples of neurodegenerative conditions, and affect as many as 30% of the population over 70.  Drugs for Alzheimer’s disease have limited benefit, at best slowing progression.  The cause of Alzheimer’s is too complex for us to ever find a solution in a pill bottle. The brain is intimately connected to the rest of the body. Dysfunction in the body can damage the delicate components of the brain.  Cognitive decline is the result of a long trajectory of multiple stresses on the brain, many of which can be reduced by lifestyle change and natural medicine.

When scientists study the brains of people with Alzheimer’s they find amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles from excess Tau protein. It is normal for these proteins to form, and the body has process to flush them out.  When excess amyloid and tau are formed, or not cleaned out, nerve signalling is impaired and shrinkage of key centres of the brain speeds up. Dementia was once thought to be progressive and irreversible.  We know now that buildup of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles are the result of years of stress on the brain such as neuroinflammation, oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction (energy production in cells), high blood sugar / insulin, microbiome (intestinal bacteria) imbalances and more.  New research shows that these processes can be prevented and reversed which can preserve or improve cognitive function.  There are strategies that can also increase a healthy chemical in the brain called brain derived growth factor, promote neurogenesis (expansion of nerve cells), enhance the clearing of amyloid and Tau proteins (autophagy), and build new pathways in the brain (promote neuroplasticity).

I help my patients accomplish these goals by coaching them on how to create a lifestyle conducive to a healthy brain.  Food is your best brain medicine, so that’s where I start with my patients. Lack of sleep or use of pharmaceutical sleep aids are both associated with memory loss as it is during sleep that the brain clear amyloid.  Exercise increases brain-derived-growth-factor. Sustained aerobic exercise is particularly beneficial for preventing shrinkage of the brain’s memory centres. The gut-brain connection is important for brain health too, so improving digestion is key, as is stress reduction, and brain exercises.

I also educate my patients on the use of a few key natural medicines that have been researched to improve brain health.  For instance, a study of people taking the DHA component of fish oil showed an improvement in memory after six months. Resveratrol is a grape skin extract that helps to inhibit the creation of and promote the clearance of amyloid and tau, delaying the onset and progression of cognitive impairment. Curcumin, a turmeric extract, supports neuron regeneration, reduces neuroinflammation and helps clear amyloid plaques. Coenzyme Q10, Vitamin D and many other natural medicines also have shown benefits for dementia.  A ground-breaking study was conducted on 11 people diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s disease or cognitive impairment, most of whom had the Alzheimer’s gene.  They were given a multifactorial naturopathic protocol of lifestyle changes and natural medicines.  All but the one most advanced case had reduction in symptoms sufficient to reverse the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and some showed increased brain volume on scans.  It is this multi-faceted approach to brain health that is necessary to keep our brains healthy and functioning well so we can live long and full lives.