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 doctor practicing in downtown Courtenay.

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

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

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.

Healing Concussion and Traumatic Brain Injury

Every year about 200,000 Canadians suffer concussions.  Sports injuries and car accidents are two common causes of brain injuries, but for seniors, falls are a common cause.  The good news is that the brain can usually 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 a 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.



The symptoms of post-concussion syndrome can include 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. We need to institute neuroprotection strategies that promote healing, and it’s never too late to start.



There are about seven known mechanisms we can target to help heal a damaged brain.  Neural inflammation is a significant cause of loss of brain cells after head injury.  Oxidative stress on the brain cells damages delicate structures. 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.  Mitochondria are the furnaces of the nerve cells, producing needed energy.  After brain injury, the mitochondria can’t supply as much energy to the neurons. The brain’s natural healing may be compromised, so we want to stimulate the parts of the brain that can regenerate by enhancing neural stem cells. We need to promote the lymphatic drainage to clear away the normal waste products that build up in the brain daily.  The brain is intimately linked to the digestive system.  Having a healthy digestive system will help brain function.  Naturopathic physicians are trained in methods to address each of these seven mechanisms to enhance brain healing after concussion.



Other treatments for concussion are also getting much needed attention.  Brain training can help make new connections in the brain.  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 research clinic and human clinical trials are underway.  This painless treatment has been shown in animal studies to enhance brain healing after traumatic brain injury.


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.

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.


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.


Help for Diverticulitis

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



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



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



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



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

Stroke Prevention

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



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



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

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

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

After a year of coaching and treatment, Brent’s blood sugar and insulin levels were back to normal. His cholesterol levels were lower, but not low enough. He had tried Statin drugs for cholesterol in the past, but suffered leg pain as a result. I recommended natural medicines that further lowered his cholesterol while also being easier for his body to tolerate. I also recommended fish oil, Coenzyme Q10 and other natural medicines to prevent damage to his cardiovascular system from inflammation, oxidative stress and mitochondrial issues.
Brent looks and feels like a new man. His children will likely have their Dad around for many years to come. Stroke awareness is important, but prevention is critical. We can all benefit from living a stroke prevention lifestyle.

Mitochondrial Function Key to Health

Have you ever wondered why the body ages or why you seem to have less energy as you age? It turns out the answer lies deep within the cells in a tiny organelle called the mitochondria. They are the energy producers of the body. They turn our food into the fundamental fuel that drives cellular activity. It is in the mitochondria that carbohydrates, protein, and fat are metabolized, producing cellular energy called ATP. The ATP provide the energy to allow cells to do what they do; it keeps the brain working, fires muscles, repairs tissues, and more.



The more energy a certain tissue requires, the more mitochondria those cells contain. The brain and heart have the highest concentration of mitochondria because they require large amounts of oxygen and energy. The heart muscle is packed with mitochondria. Any dysfunction on the level of the mitochondria has a significant impact on the functioning of these organs especially.
As we age, our mitochondria produce about 40% less ATP and therefore our organs feel the effects of decreased energy production. Mitochondria get damaged over time. The rate of their decline can be influenced by a number of lifestyle factors.



Malfunctioning at the level of the mitochondria has now been shown to be at the heart of a host of degenerative diseases, including diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease; neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, as well as cancer. Mitochondria dysfunction has also been shown to be related to chronic fatigue syndrome and has implications for affecting athletic performance. Interventions to stabilize mitochondrial function and enhance ATP production will be the new medicine of the future.



The formation of ATP is dependent upon proper intake of vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids and plant based nutrients. Deficiencies of these nutrients can alter mitochondrial function. Antioxidants like Vitamins C, E and A protect the mitochondria. Other nutrients like resveratrol from grape skins, green tea EGCG and curcumin from tumeric also have strong protective effects.
Exercise protects the mitochondria as well. A well-trained athlete has more than twice the muscle mitochondria than a sedentary person. Exercise stimulates the production of more mitochondria in the cells thus providing an anti-aging effect, especially where we need it most: the brain and heart.



However, those protective mechanisms can be overwhelmed by additional sources of bodily stress, leaving the mitochondria susceptible to damage. A diet high in processed food and high in fat as well as excess alcohol can all damage the mitochondria. Exposure to chemicals, heavy metals, and some pharmaceuticals, like statin drugs for cholesterol, can damage mitochondria.
The heart has to produce 13 to 35 pounds of ATP per day to sustain its approximately 86,000 daily beats. There has been extensive research to find ways to enhance mitochondrial function to maintain the ATP critical to heart function. In addition to exercise and high plant-based diets, natural medicines have been shown to help. CoEnzyme Q10 is a nutrient that fuels the pathway that makes ATP. In 2013, the European Society of Cardiology stated that it is the first “drug” to significantly improve heart failure in over a decade. This statement was based on research showing that there were very significant reductions in mortality in people with advanced heart failure who took CoEnzyme Q10. Magnesium and l-carnitine have also been shown to reduce death after heart attacks and more. In a recent Mayo Clinic review, acute heart patients who took L-Carnitine had a 27% reduction in all-cause mortality, a 65% reduction in arrhythmias, and a 40% reduction in angina symptoms.



Naturopathic physicians seek to understand the underlying cause of disease and use treatments that target those mechanisms. In the case of neurological disease, cancer, heart disease and more, interventions that repair mitochondrial function can help give the body the fuel it needs to promote healthy tissue function. There is so much more to health than managing symptoms with drugs. Take charge of your health with a great lifestyle and natural medicines.

Eight Important Lab Tests You Should Know About

Many of us go to the doctor and just get the basic blood work they recommend.  We may or may not hear back from the doctor regarding the results.  I recommend that patients take a more active role in their health by learning about blood tests and getting copies of their results.  (Locally, Lifelabs offers patients online access to most blood work.)  It is helpful to understand which tests to request from your conventional or naturopathic physician and optimal levels you should be aiming for.

Thyroid:  For patients dealing with fatigue or depression, I often recommend a full thyroid panel.  The thyroid governs metabolism, affecting energy and weight loss. Typically just a TSH test is run, but sometimes imbalances in the thyroid can be picked up by testing free T4, free T3 and thyroid antibodies.  If the thyroid hormones levels are borderline, I recommend supporting the thyroid non-pharmaceutically.

Ferritin:  Another important test for fatigue and depression is ferritin.  This test measures iron stores.  Lack of iron can cause anemia, which can cause fatigue.  It can also lower dopamine levels in the brain, which affects mood, motivation and food cravings.  Too much ferritin can be a sign of excess iron storage which can damage the cardiovascular system and many organs.

Insulin:  For patients with weight issues, dementia and some hormonal imbalances, checking fasting insulin is an excellent tool to understanding how the body is dealing with blood sugar.  Adult onset diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance at the cellular level.  Therefore, it takes a lot of insulin to help carry sugars from the blood to the cells.  Even before elevated blood sugar is detected, this high insulin can be a sign of insulin resistance.  High insulin levels promote fat storage and are hard on the circulation.  Programs that reverse insulin resistance can accelerate the process of weight loss, protect the cardiovascular system and more.

Homocysteine:  Patients who have a personal or family history of cardiovascular disease or dementia  / Alzheimer’s are wise to have their homocysteine levels checked.  This amino acid, if elevated, is a risk for increased strokes and Alzheimer’s. The “normal” range is stated as being under 11 umol/L, but studies show that the risk of Alzheimer’s is increased in people whose homocysteine is over 7 umol/L.

Vitamin D3:  The rate of vitamin D3 deficiency in Canada is staggering. Gerry Schwalfenberg, an assistant clinical professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Alberta, said testing showing that “the fact that 60 to 70 per cent [of Canadians] have inadequate levels [is] not good,” given that vitamin D insufficiency is being linked to so many chronic diseases.  Vitamin D is an important preventer of autoimmune disease, viral illness, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, MS and more.  Having your levels checked is therefore wise.  The optimal level of vitamin D is over 125 nanomoles/litre.

C Reactive Protein (CRP):  Inflammation is an important risk factor for cardiovascular events, like strokes and heart attacks, and it creates an environment that supports cancer growth.  It is a symptom of autoimmune disease, obesity, diabetes and other important health conditions.  The C Reactive Protein in our blood is a reflection of general inflammation levels.  While the normal range is under 5.0, the optimal range is under .8 for men and under 1.5 for women.  Breast cancer survivors are wise to monitor CRP since elevations are associated with higher reoccurrence rates.

Vitamin B12:  The levels of this important nutrient can diminish with age as absorption becomes more difficult.  Vitamin B12 can be depleted by many medications, such as metformin (diabetes), birth control pills, and antibiotics.  I am most concerned about acid blocking medications that many of my patients use for long term management of acid reflux.  I much prefer to treat the cause of this problem than to manage it with a medication that impairs the digestion and absorption of a number of important nutrients.  Acid blockers also can set up a more alkaline pH that promotes the growth of a weakened, dysfunctional set of intestinal bacteria.

Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth Testing (SIBO):  SIBO is a condition in which the wrong bacteria are growing in the small intestine, creating abnormal fermentation of carbohydrates into methane and hydrogen.  SIBO patients suffer from gas, bloating, digestive concerns and many other health conditions.  When indicated, I test patients through a university laboratory in PortlandOregon.
Be proactive with your health care by getting the blood work you need to understand your health and take steps to prevent illness.

Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a naturopathic physician who has practiced medicine in downtown Courtenay for 17 years. For more information, contact The Macdonald Centre for Natural Medicine at 250 897-0235 or via www.getwellhere.com

Memory: Solutions for "Senior's Moments"

It’s important that as people age they find ways to keep both their bodies and minds sharp. In my years of medical practice, I have witnessed patients who experience the anxiety that comes when they recognize that their memory is failing. Whether they are forgetting where they put their keys more often, are having trouble finding words or they are in the early stages of age-related dementia, there are holistic strategies that can help lift brain fog naturally.



When working with a patient, my first task is to determine whether their lifestyle is conducive to good brain function or if it is a likely cause of their “senior’s moments.” The brain is an organ that needs to be taken care of in order to function optimally. Like the rest of the body, it needs quality nutrition, proper rest, exercise and stress management in order to perform well. Nutritional deficiencies, such as lack of vitamin B12, can occur with age, especially if prescription medications like metformin (diabetes) or nexium and other stomach acid blockers are taken. An iron deficiency reduces the oxygen supply to the brain. This form of anemia can be caused by taking aspirin, or by colon issues that cause bleeding.



Exercise has proven to be one of the key factors for preserving mental function. Studies show a significant reduction in rates of dementia in people who exercise three to five times a week. Research also supports the idea that cardiovascular health in general improves oxygen and blood flow to all organs, including the brain. Another study from the Journal of Neurology found that exercise helped minimize arterial plaque buildup, and that this was linked to improved performances on memory and mental acuity tests.
The old adage, “use it or lose it” applies to memory. Mental stimulation is to the brain, what exercise is to the muscles. Engaging in social interactions, intellectual pursuits, and mental games can protect the memory. It’s never too late to learn a new instrument, figure out how to use a computer, or challenge yourself to learn some conversational Spanish.



I also assess my patients for anxiety and chronic pain, both of which have been linked to memory loss. One natural medicine derived from Green Tea called Theanine has been shown to improve mental clarity and reduce anxiety. If chronic pain is present, laser therapy is an effective treatment for arthritis, back and muscle pain.



In my clinic, I also do a thorough medical evaluation to see if there are physical reasons for the memory loss. A full thyroid panel can sometimes illuminate low thyroid function, which can also make patients feel tired, chilly and gain weight easily. Fascinating research links imbalances in the bacterial lining or microbiome of the intestine to brain function. Taking antibiotics or acid blocking medications can disturb the crucial balance in the intestinal microbiome and result in learning and mood issues. Correcting this imbalance with the help of a naturopathic physician can improve health on many levels, including the mood and mind function. For some people, food allergies can cause a brain fog due to an opiate like effect on the brain.



Finally, the factors that put people at risk for cardiovascular disease also put them at risk for dementia. Diabetes is now considered to be a major player in the development of age related dementia. Naturopathic physicians have expertise in helping diabetics achieve stable blood sugars with less mediation. High blood pressure must be addressed with lifestyle changes – not just medications – in order to significantly reduce its side effects. High homocysteine (over 7.0) levels have been found to double the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to scientists at Boston University. This inheritable risk factor is easily tested for and treated with natural medicines, yet is rarely done by conventional physicians.



I am often asked if there is a natural medicine to protect the brain from aging and memory loss. Gingko hasn’t been shown to have a preventive effect, however, studies have shown it to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. Fish oil has anti-inflammatory effects that are positive for brain function. You may have read that chocolate has flavinoids that are good for the brain. Well, only its raw form actually contains the medicinal properties, so sadly you’ll have to try raw cacao nibs to get the protective effect.



Phosphatidyl serine is the newest superstar in the natural memory aid arena. The Journal of the American Academy of Neurology published a study in which it was stated that phosphatidyl serine was a promising candidate for treating memory loss later in life.
A combination of living a healthy lifestyle, having a thorough medical evaluation by your naturopathic or conventional doctor, and utilizing natural medicines will surely help keep those “senior’s moments” at bay.