Hormone Health For Women – Naturally

Hormones are an integral part of a woman’s health and vitality, influencing everything from mood and energy levels to reproductive function and overall well-being. As a naturopathic doctor with a focus on women’s health, I emphasize the importance of maintaining healthy hormones throughout a woman’s lifespan. In this article, we’ll explore practical tips to support hormone balance.

During early life, hormones promote growth and maturation. Proper nutrition, care, and a nurturing environment are crucial to foster healthy hormonal development in these formative years. During adolescence, hormones play a key role in puberty, influencing emotional well-being, skin health, and of course, menstruation. Many young women are told that it is just normal to experience PMS, painful periods and excessive flow. But these can be signs of hormone imbalances that can be corrected with natural methods. My favorite herb for teens with period problems is Chaste Tree, or Vitex Agnus Castus. This remarkable herb aids the pituitary gland in balancing hormones and has been proven to safely help some menstrual cycle problems.

In adulthood, hormones like estrogen and progesterone regulate the menstrual cycle, fertility, and libido. Hormone balance is essential for reproductive health during these years. In an age where more women are choosing to delay pregnancy, fertility challenges have become increasingly common. I guide my patients in understanding their body’s rhythms and how to optimize their fertility if that is their goal.

Of course, balanced hormones are critical for a healthy pregnancy, and particularly in the postpartum period. Nutritional support and stress management are vital, and naturopathic physicians can provide guidance to women on the safe use of natural medicines during and after pregnancy.

As women approach middle age, menstrual issues and PMS can become more pronounced as the hormone glands struggle to regulate the cycle during perimenopause. This is when active intervention with naturopathic approaches can be pivotal. For instance, natural anti-inflammatory herbs like ginger have been shown to significantly reduce blood flow in menstruating women. Menopause can be a relief or a challenge as rapid hormone changes can give rise to a range of symptoms, including hot flashes, mood swings, and insomnia. There is so much conflicting information out there about hormone replacement therapy, but the most recent scientific findings indicates that it can be used safely long term, and it can help prevent some diseases of aging like cognitive decline and osteoporosis. If it is done right. (See my detailed blog post for more information.)

As women age, we need to keep in mind other hormones that can affect our health and wellbeing. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, when imbalance, can contribute to lowered immunity, abdominal weight gain, blood sugar imbalance and more. Maintaining blood sugar with the hormone insulin can be more challenging but is critical for disease prevention. Hypothyroidism affects up to one in six women in their lifetime, and the risk increases with age. So just because you were “fine” five years ago, doesn’t mean that your fatigue, depression and weight gain aren’t attributable to low thyroid hormone now.

The body’s hormones are all interconnected and are influenced by our immune system, our digestion (think microbiome) and our lifestyle. Key lifestyle factors that can improve your hormone health include moderating caffeine and alcohol intake, embracing whole food nutrition, regular exercise, ensuring adequate sleep, effective stress management, and maintaining a healthy weight. As a naturopathic physician I often recommend natural medicines and bioidentical hormone prescriptions to help women optimize their hormones.

Empower yourself with knowledge. Stay well-informed about hormonal health and its impact throughout the lifespan. A naturopathic physician with a focus on women’s health can serve as an invaluable resource for guidance and education.

 

Early Cancer Testing You Should Know About

Part of being a health-conscious person is being aware of the early signs of cancer and taking advantage of cancer screening. Cancers caught early are often treatable. An estimated two in five Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime and about one in four will die from cancer, making it the leading cause of death in Canada. Having a relationship with a doctor who can provide regular checkups, blood work, and cancer screening simply saves lives. But because fewer people in the Comox Valley have a family doctor, these non-urgent conversations happen less often. People without a family doctor often only use the walk-in clinics for urgent concerns and miss out on regular screening. And what woman wants to go to a stranger at a walk-in clinic for intimate exams? As a naturopathic physician, more of my patients are accessing my services for basic medical screening tests and exams and I’m glad they have options. Here I’ll remind you of the key symptoms you should watch for and tests you should do regularly to screen for cancer. 

Paying attention to changes in your body and not ignoring them is important. It’s better to have a symptom checked out and found to be normal than ignore it and have it progress into overt issues. Symptoms that warrant investigation include unexplained: fatigue or weight loss, persistent lymph node enlargement, persistent hoarseness or coughing, bladder changes, any vaginal bleeding after menopause, easy bleeding or bruising, difficulty swallowing, unusual lumps, digestive issues, night sweats, neurological symptoms, changes to moles, white areas in the mouth and more.

Regular testing offers the chance to pick up cancer before it becomes serious. For women, PAP smears test the cervix for abnormal cells that can be or become cervical cancer. Current guidelines are for women aged 25-69 to do a PAP smear every three years. MDs or NDs can offer this service. Only about 75% of eligible Canadian women are up to date on this important test. 

Mammograms save lives. Women can just call the Comox Valley North Island Hospital. They can use an MD or an ND as the doctor who receives the results. Since one in five cases of breast cancer is found in women under 50, I agree that women in their 40s should be screened every two years.

The FIT test is a simple stool test that picks up invisible blood in the stool, which can be a sign of colon cancer. About one in 17 Canadians will get colon cancer, so it makes sense to regularly screen for it. Your MD or ND can provide the requisition for this test.

Prostate cancer screening is controversial because the harms associated with testing for and treating prostate cancer can outweigh the benefits. That said, research shows that screening blood tests do save lives, especially for high-risk populations.

I regularly provide skin cancer checks as part of a yearly physical exam, especially a patient has light-coloured skin, eyes and hair, has many moles or freckles, or report having had several blistering sunburns as a child. MDs can refer patients to dermatologists or skin specialists for diligent tracking or treatment of suspicious spots. 

I also recommend an annual full basic blood work-up, physical exam and discussion of any health issues that may be cropping up. It’s not possible to do good cancer screening when patients can only bring up one symptom, since it is often the constellation of symptoms that provides the clues needed to suspect cancer. Plus we want to be discussing healthy lifestyle practices to increase the chances of living long and well.

Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a naturopathic physician who has practiced in downtown Courtenay since 1997. 250 897-0235 or www.getwellhere.com

PCOS – Androgen Excess

I’m a naturopathic physician, but I’m also a woman who had a hormonal imbalance called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and who comes from a family of women with PCOS. I’ve spent decades learning about this hormonal imbalance and treating women who have it. If women want to really turn PCOS around there are strategies that can improve symptoms, improve fertility, and set them up for better mental and physical health long term. There have been three major breakthroughs in our understanding of PCOS that have come about since I was diagnosed 30 years ago. Naturopathic physicians are leading the way to find real solutions to this issue, which is the number one cause of infertility in North America. 

Firstly, I have to say that the name Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a lousy name.  Women with PCOS don’t even have to have cysts on their ovaries to get a diagnosis! A better name being proposed by experts in the field is Anovulatory Androgen Excess, meaning that these women have too many of the “male” hormones, or androgens, which can hijack the menstrual cycle so that it slows or stops, and ovulation is less likely. There are also receptors for androgens in the skin, which can result in acne and excess hair growth on the face and body. Lesser-known symptoms of PCOS are anxiety, depression, brain fog and increased risk for cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.

Secondly, there are several different types of women that can have these symptoms which we call PCOS, depending on what’s driving the issues. In women who may be slim and have inherited the issue the root of the problem is in the pituitary gland.  These women tend to have normal blood sugar metabolism. In contrast, for some women, PCOS is very closely related to adult-onset or type 2 diabetes in that they have high insulin levels which drive up testosterone.  The good news for these women is that normalizing body weight, eating a low-carb diet, and having regular exercise can make a real difference in their hormones. 

The third breakthrough is that we’ve expanded the ideas around treating PCOS. It used to be that the only treatment was oral contraceptives.  Yes, “the pill” can help control some symptoms.  But it does nothing to restore fertility, reverse dark hair growth or teach women how to balance their hormones in a real and lasting way.  My goal in working with women with PCOS is to engage them in a program that can do all those things and set them up for good long-term health.   Firstly, I run blood tests to dig deeply into their hormones and blood sugar to see which type of PCOS they may have. Then we create an individualized program with diet, exercise, and stress management at its core.  There are also herbs and natural medicines shown in clinical studies to balance hormones, reduce symptoms and help fertility.  There are times when pharmaceuticals can help, especially when excess dark hair growth is the issue. When women with PCOS go off “the pill”, their symptoms come back. But with these other medications, the positive effects can remain after the pills have been stopped. I am so grateful that a naturopathic physician helped me get a handle on my PCOS 30 years ago and I have learned so much in helping my own daughter and many other women manage their PCOS with the help of our modern understanding of this complex condition. 

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.

5 Things to Know about Infertility

More and more couples are starting families later in life and thus the number of people experiencing infertility has gone up significantly over the last two decades. People can have trouble having their first child, but equally heartbreaking is the inability to conceive or carry a second or third child. Naturopathic physicians are in a unique position to help couples uncover the cause of their infertility and enhance their health to increase the chances of becoming and staying pregnant. Depending on the cause, treatment strategies can incorporate healthy options like lifestyle changes and natural medicines to enhance male and female fertility. There are five things you should consider if you are trying to conceive. 

 

  1. Don’t wait to get help.  Medical workup for infertility usually begins after a year of unsuccessfully “trying.” But for women who are over 35 it is recommended to start investigations after 6 months, or sooner if they are approaching 40. Anyone with very irregular cycles shouldn’t wait at all. With my patients, I usually start with a thorough history and physical exam to look for clues. Then I recommend comprehensive lab work to look for the cause. Gynecologists can do imaging to help find anatomical issues. 


  1. Don’t forget the guy. Almost half the time, infertility is due to the “male factor”. Semen analysis can identify issues. For male infertility, once we rule out anatomical problems, there are science-backed lifestyle factors and natural medicines to improve sperm quality and quantity. For instance, the herb Ashwagandha was shown in a placebo-controlled study to increase sperm count by 167% and to increase sperm motility by 57% in three months.

  2. If a woman isn’t cycling regularly, she may not be ovulating, or may not be able to support a pregnancy. Hormone imbalance can be caused by many issues, including excess stress, weight loss, over-exercising, toxin exposure and more. In addition, PCOS is a pituitary disorder that causes excess androgens (“male” hormones). Menstruation can be less frequent or non-existent and ovulation is sporadic. Naturopathic medicine has excellent strategies to address these types of hormone issues safely and effectively. For instance, Chaste tree helps balance the pituitary gland while N-acetyl cysteine can safely enhance ovulation. Most conventional medicines for PCOS and irregular menstruation are contraindicated in pregnancy, so they are not helpful for women trying to conceive. 



  1. Heavy or painful periods can be a clue. Endometriosis can cause very painful periods and can affect fertility. Fibroid tumours are a common cause of heavy periods and can affect conception or increase miscarriages. Naturopathic physicians seek to address the underlying causes of these issues in safe ways (see my blog article and video about endometriosis). 


  1. Remember to check for autoimmune conditions.  Low thyroid can affect other hormones, anti-sperm antibodies can prevent conception, and autoimmune blood clotting disorders like anti-phospholipid syndrome can be a cause of recurrent miscarriages. 

For couples who want to take an active role in enhancing their fertility, there are ways to narrow down any issues and use safe naturopathic strategies to get on track. There’s nothing more satisfying as a doctor than helping a couple to get pregnant, and providing them adjunctive naturopathic medical care during pregnancy and beyond.

 

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.


Eat for Life: Time Restricted Eating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To book a naturopathic medical consultation with Dr. Deidre Macdonald

Stop the Pain of Endometriosis Naturally

Menstrual cramps are part of life for many women, but extreme, debilitating pain during the menstrual cycle and beyond can be a sign of an underlying condition called endometriosis. This condition has mystified doctors and deeply affected the lives of millions of women. There have been breakthroughs in the understanding of the mechanisms that drive this painful condition. Treatment options designed to target the underlying cause of this condition are helping women to reduce pain and improve fertility.



Endometriosis is a condition where uterine tissue flows in the wrong direction, up the fallopian tubes, and ends up in the abdominal cavity. That wayward tissue should be detected and destroyed by the immune system, and in fact, that process regularly occurs for many women. But for women with endometriosis, the immune system turns a blind eye to the uterine tissue that has gone astray. These small bits of uterine tissue can adhere to the bowel, the ovary, and other organs. They are sensitive to the same hormones as the regular uterine tissue, so they fill with fluid and blood, which is released during menstruation. The lesions can cause pain throughout the cycle, but when the fluid is released into the abdominal cavity, the pain can be debilitating.



The real question isn’t how come the uterine tissue flows backward, as that seems to be common. The question is, why doesn’t the immune system recognize and destroy the lesions; why are they left to grow unchecked? There is a complex interaction between the hormones and the immune system that is to blame for this problem. It turns out that for people with endometriosis, the immune cells that usually prevent us from attacking our own tissues are working overtime. These T-regulator cells tell the immune system to back off, causing the endometrial lesions to evade surveillance and destruction. But T-regulator cells are just taking instruction from certain immune-suppressing chemicals called cytokines. And those cytokines are influenced by a common hormone imbalance where there is too much estrogen and not enough progesterone. This “estrogen dominance” at the heart of endometriosis can be influenced by a number of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors.



The other mechanism that drives the growth of endometrial lesions is the presence of naturally occurring chemicals that encourage growth of this specific type of tissue. People with endometriosis have more Vascular Endothelial Growth Factors (VEGT) in their abdominal cavity. VEGT stimulates the uterine cells to proliferate, helps the tissue to grow more blood vessels and ultimately makes the endometriosis lesions grow. People with endometriosis are also found to have more oxidative stress markers in their abdominal cavity as well as increased inflammation. These three factors create a favorable growth environment for the painful lesions.



Treatment is designed to reduce pain but also to try to reduce the size of the lesions or eliminate them. Some treatments provide immediate pain control while others try to address the underlying cause by balancing the hormones and promoting a proper immune response to the lesions. Surgery can be done through a minimally invasive procedure that basically zaps the lesions. While this treatment can provide some relief, I’ve seen patients who just keep developing more lesions. Hormone therapy should be aimed at correcting the estrogen dominance. Oral contraceptives contain estrogen, and while they can help to some degree, progesterone only pills and uterine implants are preferable. The later can help reduce the amount of blood build up in the lesions and reduce pain. However, they prevent ovulation and therefore pregnancy, which may not be suitable for a patient trying to have a family.



The naturopathic treatment strategy can be used alone or in combination with conventional medical approaches. It endeavors to address the mechanisms that drive endometriosis. Firstly, we target the immune dysfunction that allows the lesions to evade detection. Herbal medicine and antioxidant nutrients can target the hormonal imbalance, oxidative stress, immune imbalance and pro-inflammatory state that typifies this condition. Secondly, hormones and immune system are affected by the intestinal microbiome; the trillions of bacteria that live primarily in the intestine. Our diet influences the microbiome so naturopathic physicians encourage a diet that is low in sugar and refined flour and may give probiotics and other treatments to bolster the microbiome. Thirdly, healthy fats, like omega 3’s have been shown to help prevent and treat endometriosis lesions and reduce pain.



Finally, hormone balance plays a critical role in the naturopathic treatment of endometriosis. To balance the estrogen dominance typical of this condition, there are nutrients that help the body to eliminate old estrogen and herbs that assist the body produce more progesterone. It is also important to support the liver during this process, as it plays a major role in the elimination of old estrogen. The role of environmental toxins in endometriosis is an area of significant concern. Many environmental toxins, like pesticides and plastics, can actually act like super-estrogens once inside the body and have long term effects. Hormones in red meat and dairy may also tip the delicate balance of hormones for women. Reducing exposure to these external sources of estrogen is critical to the prevention and treatment of endometriosis.



With proper guidance, many women with endometriosis can have less pain, better quality of life and preserve their fertility.

Why am I so tired? Thyroid Issue May be the Cause

Every week people arrive at my clinic wondering if their thyroid is okay. They’ve often had their conventional doctor check their thyroid, and are told that everything is fine. However, they aren’t convinced. They feel tired, cold, achy, and gain weight easily. They have headaches, depression or constipation, all symptoms that may reflect low thyroid function. Experience has taught me that evaluating the thyroid is complex. Low thyroid function can be caused by the immune system itself and by the dysfunction of other hormone glands in the body. It can be also affected by stress, toxins, and nutritional deficiencies. Evaluation of the thyroid is so much more than just running one test. 

The thyroid gland is a small gland in the front of the neck that produces the hormone that sets the metabolic rate of every cell in the body. These hormones tell your body how fast to burn calories, influence stomach acid production, determines moisture levels in the skin and so much more. The thyroid gland is also the most common site of autoimmune disease in the body. The immune system can sometimes attacks the thyroid gland and interferes with its ability to provide the hormones needed for normal tissue function and repair. I had a patient who had gained 47 pounds in one year, despite good diet and regular exercise. Her doctor insisted that her thyroid was functioning properly, according to the one test, the TSH level, that he can run. We ran further tests which showed that she did indeed have antibodies to her own thyroid that were blocking her thyroid from making the hormones she needed to burn calories normally. Once that deficiency was corrected, she had to work hard to lose weight, but it was possible for her to do so.

Another patient came to the clinic already taking thyroid replacement medication but reported feeling as tired and achy as she had when she was first diagnosed as hypothyroid years ago. Again, her TSH test was normal. We dug a little deeper and ran a reverse T3 test. This test determines if her thyroid hormone was being converted to active T3 or a dud version called reverse T3. Elevations of reverse T3 are important if you are sick and need to conserve energy and rest. However, there are other conditions that can trigger this downstream activation of reverse T3. High stress levels, low iron levels, and chronic inflammatory states can all drive up reverse T3 and make you feel unnecessarily tired. In this case, the patient had experienced chronic stress and had an elevated reverse T3. We changed her thyroid medication slightly and gave her additional natural medicines to balance all her thyroid hormones, thus giving her back the vitality she was missing.

Naturopathic physicians prefer a full panel of thyroid hormones to accurately diagnose thyroid problems. This panel includes the relatively stable pituitary hormone TSH, free T4 (inactive thyroid hormone), free T3 (active thyroid hormone), reverse T3 and a thyroid antibody called TPO. Often we are able to unveil issues in the complex dance of the thyroid hormones, which can then be treated in a variety of ways, both holistic and pharmaceutical.

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