Meal Planning: The Key to Healthy Eating

It’s never to late too embark on new healthy habits, especially regarding nutrition and menu planning – a concept I wholeheartedly support in my practice as a naturopathic physician.

Menu planning might sound like a chore, but its benefits are far-reaching.  It’s a powerful tool to enhance your nutrition, save time and money, and foster family involvement in the kitchen. I find it’s one of the best ways to improve your nutrition or stick to a new dietary regime. When you plan your meals, you take control of what goes into your body. Menu planning allows you to make conscious choices about ingredients, ensuring a balanced and nutritious diet. You can incorporate more fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains into your meals, leading to improved health. It saves you time and money. How often have you found yourself wandering the supermarket aisles, aimlessly grabbing whatever looks good? Menu planning eliminates this wasteful habit. Creating a shopping list based on your weekly menu not only saves you money but also precious time. No more midweek grocery store rushes. You’re also less likely to cave in and eat out, pick up fast food or order food in, which will save both your money and your waistline. Menu planning also helps engage family members and models and is an important life skill to children. I recommend involving your family or roommates in the process. It’s a wonderful way to bond and instill healthy eating habits in children. Plus, it takes the pressure off the primary cook. Get the kids to help choose recipes and assist with food prep. 

Whether you’re feeding a family or flying solo, these practical tips can help you get started with menu planning. For families, I recommend gathering your family for a weekly meal planning session. Discuss everyone’s preferences and dietary needs. Try theme nights when you dedicate specific nights to themes like Taco Tuesdays or Meatless Mondays. It adds variety and simplifies planning. Then you can meal prep together; kids can wash veggies, while adults handle the cooking. For singles, I encourage preparing larger quantities of meals and freezing individual portions for future use. It reduces cooking time during the week. For ideas, explore meal planning apps like that offer single-serving recipes and shopping lists tailored to your needs. Plan to repurpose leftovers into new meals to reduce waste and save time. For instance, baked chicken breasts can be made into a chicken salad or stir-fry the next night. Roasted vegetables are delicious in a salad the next day. 

I underscore the importance of menu planning in my naturopathic practice. Menu planning is a cornerstone strategy when I coach my patients on nutrition. It empowers them to make lasting changes to their eating habits and supports their overall well-being. So, if September feels like your chance to embrace a fresh start, then try scheduling a time each week to practice menu planning. You’ll reap the rewards of improved nutrition, time and money savings, and enhanced family involvement in the kitchen. Happy menu planning and bon appétit!

Intestinal Hyperpermeability (aka “Leaky Gut”)

The prevalence of intestinal hyperpermeability, also known as “leaky gut,” has gained attention in recent years.


Normally the small intestine aids in digestion of foods and absorption of nutrients, while also acting as a barrier to harmful substances.  These functions become compromised when the lining of the small intestine becomes excessively permeable, allowing harmful substances to enter the bloodstream. Factors such as dietary choices, chronic stress, certain medications, infections, and digestive microbiome imbalances can compromise the intestinal barrier integrity.


Naturopathic medicine offers a comprehensive approach to addressing these factors, with a focus on individual health goals and tailored strategies. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, incorporating specific practices into one’s lifestyle can improve intestinal hyperpermeability.


As a naturopathic doctor, my role is to help patients identify and achieve their health goals through personalized plans. To support “leaky gut”, some strategies have shown promise:


  1. Dietary Adjustments:  Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet is essential for healing the digestive lining. Emphasize whole, unprocessed foods rich in fiber, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids. On the other hand, it is important to minimize or avoid foods that can exacerbate digestive inflammation, such as refined sugars and processed foods.


  1. Nutritional Support:  Certain nutrients play an important role in restoring digestive health. L-glutamine, an amino acid, aids in intestinal cell regeneration.  Omega-3 fatty acids, from fish and algae, possess anti-inflammatory properties.  Herbal medicines possess healing properties and can aid in soothing the intestinal lining.  See your naturopathic doctor to help you choose the right supplements.


  1. Digestive Microbiome Balance:  Balancing the digestive microbiome is important to protect the intestinal lining. Probiotics introduce beneficial bacteria, while prebiotics feed these bacteria. Incorporate fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and tempeh into your diet and consider high-quality probiotic supplements.


  1. Stress Management:  Chronic stress can impair the digestive barrier by causing mast cells to release their contents.  Implementing stress-reducing practices like meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, and regular physical activity can help us reduce the impacts of stress on our body.


  1. Identifying Food Sensitivities:  Food sensitivities and allergies can contribute to increased intestinal permeability. Working with a naturopathic doctor can be beneficial to identify and eliminate potential trigger foods through an elimination diet or specialized testing.


Addressing intestinal hyperpermeability requires a multifaceted approach, and naturopathic medicine offers effective strategies. By adopting dietary modifications, incorporating digestive-healing nutrients and herbs, balancing the digestive microbiome, managing stress, and identifying food sensitivities, individuals can take proactive steps towards restoring digestive health.


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

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

Fibre – More than just Constipation

Fibre – More than just Constipation

March is colorectal cancer awareness month here in Canada.  In my naturopathic practice, I find myself thinking often about colon cancer prevention using nutrition and lifestyle.  This is because there are multiple nutrition and lifestyle-based risk factors that we can do something about to help prevent colon cancer.  These risk factors include little exercise, consumption of processed meats, regular alcohol intake, smoking, and a low-fibre diet.

As a naturopathic doctor, I often find myself recommending fibre to my patients because it is so important for multiple reasons.  Of course, it can reduce colon cancer risk.  Fibre can also help reduce high blood pressure, reduce high cholesterol levels, and improve diabetes and pre-diabetes.  Not to mention, fibre can help regulate bowel movements and provide food for our healthy gut bugs (our intestinal microbiome)!

I will sometimes recommend a fibre supplement, but often I suggest adding in more fibre-rich foods into our everyday diet.  Fibre comes from a variety of whole plant foods, like berries, lentils, flaxseed, almonds, and whole grains, like quinoa and brown rice.  The trick is, if our diet is rich in meat, potatoes, and white bread or pasta, then we are consuming very little fibre in those foods.  Fibre is an important part of a healthy diet but can be low in our standard way of eating.  Fibre is found primarily in plant-foods (grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds) and is absent in animal products (meat, dairy, eggs).


Some helpful tips I find to eat more fibre daily include:

  • Replace “white” foods with “brown” foods – instead of white bread, white rice, white flour, etc, aim for whole wheat bread, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, and other whole grains
  • A handful of almonds and/or walnuts daily is great snack
  • Ground flaxseed in a smoothie or yogurt goes a long way
  • Add beans and lentils to your favourite recipes (stews, chilis, soup, etc.)


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!

The Scoop on Digestive Enzyme Supplements

There are many digestive enzyme supplements available on the store shelves and it can be confusing to choose the right one for yourself or your customer.  Through my time at working at various health food stores, here are some helpful tips to weed through the confusion.

From what I can see, two main confusing elements exist when selecting a digestive enzyme supplement; one is selecting the right formula and two is comparing different formulas. 

Selecting the Right Formula

In most stores, there are generally two types of enzyme supplements and it is important to select the right type for the right job.  One formula tends to be made to reduce inflammation and one tends to aide digestion of foods.

Generally speaking, if an enzyme formula has as a majority, or is solely made up of, enzymes such as papain, bromelain, pancreatin or “proteolytic” enzymes (which break down proteins), then you are looking at an enzyme formula to reduce inflammation. 

On the other hand, a digestive enzyme formula will generally contain enzymes such as protease, lipase, amylase, cellulase, lactase, etc. to help with the breakdown of various food components (protease for proteins, lipase for fats, amylase for carbohydrates, etc.).  These ingredients are indications that you are looking at a formula to assist with digestion of food.

Comparing Different Formulas

Comparing enzyme supplements with each other is difficult for one primary reason; there is not a general standardized method for listing enzymes on a label.  Companies can list either the amount (weight measurement, such as milligrams (mg)) of each enzyme per capsule or they can list the activity (units of activity) of each enzyme per capsule.  In Canada, manufactures are required to list the mg of each enzyme and they may list the activity of each enzyme.  The confusion stems from the fact that an enzyme’s efficacy is measured by it’s activity, not by it’s weight.  To make a good comparison, we need to know a supplement’s enzyme’s activity.

It makes it difficult to compare different supplements because one, we want to know the activity of the enzyme, and two because some brands don’t list the activity.

Furthermore, when comparing activity of different supplements, different brands use different enzyme activity measurement units (FCC vs USP).  Thus, it is important to be able to convert between the different units in order to compare properly. 

How to Choose

I have been unable, as of yet, to find a complete source for comparison, nor a fully reliable one.  In the meantime, see the link below for a starting point to help you in your decision making.

See the references listed below for more information on enzymes, enzyme supplements, and comparing different formulas.


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



A brief overview of digestive enzyme facts [Pamphlet]. (2000). Thornhill, ON: NaturPharm.

Cichoke, A. J. (1999). The complete book of enzyme therapy. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Pub.

Haas, E. M., & Levin, B. (2006). Staying healthy with nutrition: The complete guide to diet and nutritional medicine. Berkeley: Celestial Arts.

(2011, January 27). Rockwell Nutrition Blog. Retrieved March 12, 2016, from

Digestive Enzymes – Why are they Important?

The Scoop on Digestive Enzymes

Generally speaking, there are 3 classes of enzymes: metabolic enzymes, food enzymes, and digestive enzymes.  Metabolic enzymes are those that facilitate in performing a number of biochemical reactions in the body.  Unless one has a condition that affects how a metabolic enzyme functions in the body most people will never pay attention to these enzymes.  Food enzymes and digestive enzymes, on the other hand, are a different story.  Many people would do well to consider these categories of enzymes and the impact they have on our health.

Food enzymes are those that are found in foods and are present to assist in digesting of that food.  An important consideration of enzymes is that they are made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins, therefore enzymes are proteins.  The function of proteins is affected by a number of factors, one of which is heat.  Heat denatures proteins which in turn affects their function.  That is to say, heat affects how well an enzyme will function.  As such, incorporating raw foods in one’s diet is a great way to support the digestion of that food.  Consuming a diet of solely cooked foods (not to mention processed and refined), as many people do, may add an extra burden on the body to produce all of the enzymes required to properly digest the foods eaten and/or actually hinder the body’s ability to produce digestive enzymes effectively.

Digestive enzymes are those that are produced by the body to assist in digesting food consumed.  The majority of enzymes required for digestion are produced and secreted by the pancreas, and many elements can impact how well this happens.  Suffice it to say, many people are aided by the use of supplemental digestive enzymes. 

Digestive enzyme supplements tend to be sourced from either animals or plants.  Animal enzymes tend to be sourced from pancreatin, which is tissue from the pancreas of an animal.  This tissue, much like it does within us, is useful at providing digestive enzymes such as protease, amylase, and lipase.  Plant enzymes, while called “plant” enzymes are typically from fungal sources; most digestive enzyme formulas are fungal-based.  Other actual plant digestive enzymes include papain (from papaya) and bromelain (from pineapple). 

Digestive enzymes are useful for a number of conditions, particularly for anything related to impaired digestion.  Basic symptoms of impaired digestion include belching, bloating, flatulence and excessive full feeling after eating.  Digestion is central to all body systems and proper digestive health is core for general good health.


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



Bateson-Koch, C. (1994). Allergies, disease in disguise: How to heal your condition permanently and naturally. Burnaby, B.C.: Alive Books.

A brief overview of digestive enzyme facts [Pamphlet]. (2000). Thornhill, ON: NaturPharm.

Cichoke, A. J. (1999). The complete book of enzyme therapy. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Pub.

Haas, E. M., & Levin, B. (2006). Staying healthy with nutrition: The complete guide to diet and nutritional medicine. Berkeley: Celestial Arts.

Smoothies vs Juicing

What is a smoothie?

A smoothie is a drink mixed of frozen or fresh fruit and/or vegetables blended to a desired consistency.  Anything else can be added to a smoothie to change the flavor or incorporate nutrient-dense foods in a fun and delicious way.

What is a juice?

Essentially a juice is a concentrated version of a smoothie, though often with nothing else added other than fruits and vegetables.  Typically, a juice is made by using a juicer and juicing any fruit or vegetable on their own or in combination.  Meghan Telpner suggests an inventive way to get around not having a juicer by blending the same fruit or vegetable combinations in a blender then straining them through a fine sieve or nut-milk bag (cheese cloth).1

How does a smoothie differ from a juice?

A smoothie is a thicker, blended drink that is larger in volume and often high in the macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbohydrates) as well as the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and enzymes, etc.  A big distinction is that a smoothie retains all of the fiber.  Much of the protein and fat in a smoothie comes from the added nutrient-dense ingredients, like hemp seeds, nut butter, and protein powder, or flax seeds, chia seeds, and various healthy oils.

A juice, on the other hand, is smaller, less thick, drink that is high in the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) as well as enzymes2, naturally-occurring sugars, and other phytonutrients.  A juice does not retain any of the fiber and tends to be lower in protein and fat.  Juicing is often very good for producing enzyme-rich juices.

When to use a smoothie or a juice?

A smoothie is a quick and easy way to jam pack nutrition in to an easy and, most importantly, delicious drink.  Because one can add almost any food or powder, such as those containing protein, healthy fats, fiber, and crucial phytonutrients, in to a base of fruits and vegetables, anyone can tailor a smoothie to what they need and like.

A juice (using a juicer, particularly) is more time consuming but concentrates most of the important nutrients and enzymes from fruits and vegetables in to a small volume.  Essentially, juicing is an extremely efficient way to consume more fruits and vegetables in a small serving. 

Concentrated amounts of phytonutrients obtained from juicing different fruits and vegetables is supportive of optimal function for many body organs.3  Also, juicing can be used in conjunction with other treatments for conditions such as arthritis, allergies, and osteoporosis3, as well as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and high cholesterol.2

What it all comes down to is not the difference of smoothies versus juices as if they are a competing pair, but how can one incorporate more fresh fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious foods in to one’s diet for optimal health.  Both smoothies and juices are a fantastic way to do this.


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



1.     Meghan Telpner Inc. (2013). Smoothie on up, juice it on down [Brochure]. Author. Retrieved January 31, 2016, from

2.     Cichoke, A. J. (1999). Maximizing enzymes in your diet. In The complete book of enzyme therapy (p. 30). Garden City Park, NY: Avery Pub.

3.     Haas, E. M., & Levin, B. (2006). Detoxification and cleansing programs. In Staying healthy with nutrition: The complete guide to diet and nutritional medicine (pp. 779-780). Berkeley: Celestial Arts.

The Many Faces of Food Intolerances

We all know that eating healthy food is essential to maintaining our health. But sometimes, what is healthy food for one person, can be a cause of physical distress for another. Deciphering which foods are causing problems can be a frustrating task. But in my 24 years of practicing naturopathic medicine, I’ve found that helping my patients to identify and eliminate food intolerances can often be a powerful key to unlocking better health. 

 The trouble is that often, people’s food intolerances don’t fit the usual stereotype of a person who has an immediate and dramatic reaction to certain foods like peanuts or shellfish.  Those immediate hypersensitivity reactions are usually easy to identify and can be tested. But there are about 15 different ways that people can react to foods, and only a few of them can be tested through conventional lab tests. 

 The most common food reaction I see is delayed hypersensitivity reactions. I have helped countless people overcome eczema by identifying food reactions. Sinus or mucous-related conditions are often aggravated by food reactions, as are many digestive issues. Chronic fatigue and “brain fog” are red flags that food sensitivities may be at play. There are tests available through naturopathic physicians that can begin the process of elimination and reintroduction needed to pin down the culprits. 

 Celiac disease is actually an autoimmune disease in which gluten triggers a variety of symptoms that are digestive, neurological, psychiatric and autoimmune. A blood test or upper intestinal biopsy can diagnose this often overlooked condition. 

 In some people, the issue isn’t so much allergies as it is an inability to digest certain foods properly. For instance, people with a (fixable) microbiome imbalance in the small intestine can have excessive fermentation of certain starches which then creates gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation and more. The foods most likely to ferment have been categorized under the acronym FODMAP foods, which include lactose-containing dairy products, onions and garlic, beans, cabbage family vegetables and more. 

For my patients with chronic hives, flushing, digestive issues, headaches, anxiety and more, we also look at the possibility of a histamine intolerance. There are certain foods that contain histamine, which is normally broken down by the body. Foods that are aged or fermented like deli meats, yogurt, beer, wine and others can be especially triggering. 

Oxalates are naturally high in spinach, strawberries, rhubarb and more.  For people with chronic bladder pain, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and kidney stones oxalates can be a trigger. The intestinal microbiome is supposed to metabolize the oxalates in our foods, but an imbalance in the microbiome can prevent that process, causing a building up of oxalates in the blood and urine. 

Food additives can cause an incredible range of symptoms from temper tantrums, hives, swelling, migraines and more.  Key culprits to consider are MSG (there are many ways food manufacturers hide MSG on food labels), sulphites (used as a preservative in dried fruit, wine, vinegar, commercial baking) and nitrates (found in deli meats, bacon, ham, and food dyes. Artificial sweeteners like aspartame can create issues for some, as can the sweeteners called sugar alcohols like sorbitol and maltitol. I especially see the latter causing gas and diarrhea.  

 Acidic foods can trigger irritation of already sensitive tissues. For instance, excessive orange juice intake can trigger bladder issues, and acid reflux can be triggered by caffeine, alcohol, tomatoes and more.  

 Salicylates are naturally occurring chemicals in fruits, vegetables, spices and some medicines. But for some people, they can trigger asthma and allergies as well as digestive distress and headaches. 

 So if you have a dead-end diagnosis like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, chronic headaches, asthma or Chronic Fatigue syndrome or you just don’t feel your best, consider investigating the array of food intolerances as a possible way to unlock some of your health and vitality. 

Naturopathic physicians have extensive training in nutrition and regularly use custom nutrition plans as medicine.  We make sure that you know what you CAN eat as well as help you pin down specific foods to avoid.

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

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.

Understanding Food Allergies and Sensitivities

Have you noticed that more and more people are avoiding certain foods for health reasons?  It turns out that food allergies and intolerances are more common than we once thought. Identifying and eliminating food allergies can solve a broad range of health problems.  I have had hundreds of patients find that once they learn to eat a diet free of their triggering foods, they can get off prescription medications and enjoy much better health.  It turns out good scientific studies are backing up this treatment method.

The symptoms of food allergies can be obvious, such as when people have anaphylactic reactions to peanuts or shellfish.  These food allergies are usually easy to identify.  Other allergic reactions are much subtler and can be delayed, making it challenging to figure out which foods are causing symptoms.  For instance, acid reflux is commonly aggravated by eating certain foods, but the reaction may come the next day.  I have had many patients who determine that dairy causes their sinus congestion, but it may take two days for their sinus headache to set in.  Therefore, to identify most food allergies, careful testing and dietary experiments are necessary.  Food reactions can range from fatigue, depression, post nasal drip, ear infections, constipation, diarrhea, skin issues, headaches, joint pain and more.  In my twenty years of naturopathic medical practice, I have found that helping people eliminate food allergies has been one of the most successful interventions that we can make to help people feel better with less medication.   I am happy that medical science is confirming my clinical experience in several studies on food allergies.

Children who get ear infections often have food allergies that cause excess mucous in their middle ear, setting them up for infection.  A clinical study showed that 94% of ear infection prone children who avoided their food allergies had fewer ear infections.

Many factors can cause migraine headaches, and food allergies can be one of them.  In a study of chronic migraine sufferers who avoided food allergies, 85% became headache free.  In another study, patients with rheumatoid arthritis who avoided food triggers fared much better than the placebo group who ate normally.  In a follow-up study 10 years later, of the 100 rheumatoid arthritis patients who avoided food allergies, one-third were still well on a food allergy free diet alone, without medication, which is remarkable.

Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition I see frequently and know it to respond well to naturopathic treatments, including food allergy elimination.  In a study published in the Lancet medical journal, 14 out of the 21 patients with IBS who went on a hypoallergenic diet for one week became symptom-free.

Celiac disease is a special type of food intolerance where the immune system not only reacts to gluten, but it can send out anti-bodies that affect healthy tissue, like the intestinal lining, the brain, the thyroid and more.  Screening for this food reaction is available through an MD or an ND through blood testing, and a diagnosis can be confirmed by a biopsy taken by a specialist.  Anyone with digestive issues should be tested, but so should people with autoimmune, neurologic and psychiatric conditions. For people with Celiac disease, avoiding gluten containing food, such as wheat, can be life changing.  While true Celiac disease is uncommon, more people have non-celiac gluten intolerance or a simple wheat intolerance.  These people also fare better off wheat and / or gluten containing foods.

While it may take some careful testing and experimenting to figure out which foods are contributing to a health issue, it is certainly worth the additional effort.  When I coach my patients on how to avoid their food allergies and enjoy healthy alternatives, they are often thrilled that something so simple can make such a difference to their wellbeing.

Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a naturopathic physician whose practice is in downtown Courtenay.