Autoimmune Disease and Naturopathic Medicine

Autoimmune Disease is a major health problem in our society. One in twelve people in general, and one in nine women, will be diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. There are over one hundred different autoimmune disorders, including multiple sclerosis, Lupus, Rheumatoid arthritis, Inflammatory Bowel diseases and Celiac disease. Together these conditions affect more people than cancer or heart disease and can rob patients of their quality of life, mobility and even take their lives.

Scientists worldwide are puzzled over the alarming rise in the rates of autoimmune disease, particularly in the Western world. The rates have more than doubled in the last three decades. Genetics can no longer be blamed as the only cause of autoimmune disease since our genetics can’t change that quickly.

As a naturopathic physician, I have treated many patients with a variety of autoimmune diseases in my years of practice. The familiar story is one of misdiagnosis, dismissal and frustration with limited treatment options. In half of all cases, women with autoimmune disease are told there is nothing wrong with them for an average of five years before receiving diagnosis and treatment. Once a diagnosis is made, treatment is focused on reducing symptoms but not treating the underlying factors that may have caused the disease. Commonly used immunosuppressant treatments can be lifesaving, but can also lead to significant long-term side effects.
The path to a long lasting recovery from autoimmune conditions focuses on correcting the underlying stress factors that may have caused the immune dysregulation that drives the disease.

Exciting research was recently presented at a gastroenterology convention I attended in Victoria. The immune system has well developed mechanisms to attack foreign invaders. In autoimmune disease, the immune system loses its ability to differentiate our own normal tissues from foreign invaders. That ability to temper the immune system’s inflammatory reactions to invaders is something our bodies must learn. And strangely enough, in fact, the teacher lives in our guts. The bacterial lining of the intestines (the intestinal microbiome) is responsible for educating our immune systems, letting them know when to attack and when to cease fire.

The delicate intestinal bacterial lining is made up of over 1000 species of bacteria and weighs about three pounds in an adult. We are created in a sterile womb, devoid of bacteria and acquire our first dose of beneficial bacteria in the birth canal. In the western world, there is an ever increasing trend towards delivering babies by C-section. Without that first dose of beneficial bacteria from the birth canal, the baby’s microbiome is different than a baby born via vaginal birth. Abundant research has shown that there are increased rates of asthma and autoimmune disease in those delivered by C-section. Researchers concluded that a C-section (or Caesarean section) raises the risk of type 1 diabetes by 20%. They also crunched the data from 23 studies and showed the same increased risk for asthma—20%—in children delivered by C-section.

Antibiotics are the other western phenomenon that disturbs the intestinal microbiome. We know not what we do when we take an antibiotic for an infection without consideration of the trillions of beneficial bacteria that form an integral part of our digestive and immune systems. Mice given antibiotics were more likely to develop inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis.
Naturopathic physicians have long emphasized the importance of correcting deficiencies in the intestinal microbiome. Programs to repair the intestinal mucosal lining, replenish probiotics and kill off harmful elements of the microbiome have long been a mainstay of the treatment of autoimmune disease.

Vitamin D deficiency in northern countries have also been linked with increased rates of autoimmune disease. As we spend more time indoors and lessen our exposure to sunlight, thus using sunscreen more often (as those with paler skin tend to do) when we are outdoors, we play an active role in depleting our Vitamin D stores. Vitamin D has also been shown to play a role in the regulation of inflammatory fires of the immune system. Vitamin D helps tell the immune system to tolerate our own cells. Some studies show that Vitamin C inhibits induction of disease in autoimmune encephalomyelitis, thyroiditis, type-1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), lupus, rheumatoid and Lyme arthritis.

For my patients with joint pain associated with autoimmune disease, laser therapy is an excellent way to manage pain, reduce joint destruction and improve joint function. A recent Canadian expert panel determined that this painless laser therapy is an effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. I have been using a high tech laser light treatment for my patients for years. It is very effective for most patients with osteoarthritis and is part of an overall treatment for inflammatory arthritis too.

Natural anti-inflammatory medicines may reduce the dependence on harsh prescription drugs. A turmeric extract called Meriva has been shown to be a safe and defective pain reliever in arthritis. Fish oil is considered an essential part of auto-immune treatment in that it helps alleviate the inflammation that drives most symptoms. Most auto-immune disease involves high levels of oxidative stress, so sufferers who incorporate anti-oxidant foods and supplements into their daily regime are making a wise choice. Kale and blueberries are my favorite high anti-oxidant foods; grape seed extract and resveratrol are my favorite supplements.

Fatigue is often a crippling element of auto-immune disease. I also work with patients to support their adrenal gland through teaching them meditation and relaxation techniques using herbs like rhodiola.

Science is beginning to shed light on the complexities of the immune system and ways that we can influence the health of it. Take care of your immune system, and if you have an autoimmune disease, learn ways to tame your inflammation – naturally.

Joint Pain Relief with Laser Therapy

Joint pain slowing you down?  There may be more options for treatment available than you know.  There is a relatively new physical therapy modality called laser therapy that can create rapid healing of joint problems.  It is a painless, effective therapy for the treatment of a wide array of muscle, joint, back and skin issues.  In my practice, it has been an invaluable tool for helping my patients.  Most of my patients who have utilized laser therapy for their joint problems have had relief from pain, increased range of motion, and are able to return to exercise and work   Also, in my experience, laser therapy is the only therapy that shows consistent benefit for arthritis sufferers.
This technology uses multiple laser diodes to bathe abnormal tissue with photons.  Photons are particles of energy that are absorbed by the cell.  Once inside the cells, light energy can be converted into biochemical energy to accelerate cell function.  The therapeutic light beam permits penetration of deep tissues without adversely affecting normal cells and the body’s natural tissue healing processes are enhanced.  The therapy doesn’t just mask symptoms.  It is curative and as logic dictates, symptoms resolve.

The Theralase laser device that I selected for my naturopathic medical clinic is a top of the line, Health Canada approved unit that is used in physiotherapy clinics and burn units around the world.  It has 9 laser diodes in one unit and allows for efficient, safe, powerful treatments.  Let’s look at a number of common joint problems and how they can be addressed with laser therapy:

Jaw pain:  In a published placebo controlled study, laser therapy was shown to significantly reduce pain, increase range of motion and decrease tender points in patients with MRI confirmed temporo-mandibular joint pathology.

Shoulders:  Shoulder pain can be caused by tendonitis (biceps tendonitis for example), rotator cuff injuries (often a torn supraspinatus muscle), bursitis, or deep joint problems.  Often several of these mechanisms can co-exist.  Laser therapy can effectively address each of these mechanisms and result in improved range of motion and decreased pain.  Many of my patients have also reported that they sleep better since their shoulders don’t hurt at night.

Golfer’s and Tennis Elbow:  These conditions are medically called epicondylitis,  inflammation of the tendon that attaches to the medial and lateral bumps of the elbow.  A placebo controlled study in Switzerland found that total relief of the pain and improved function was achieved in 82% of the acute cases.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (hand and wrist pain / numbness):   The treatment of this condition with laser therapy has been extensively studied.  In a review of 5 significant studies, it was found that the average success rate was 84%.  The patients had pain for an average of two years prior to entering the studies.  I have had several patients able to cancel surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome after about 9 treatments with laser therapy.

Bursitis of the hip:  This condition causes pain when sleeping on the affected side and also with activity.  It is the condition that I have found responds most consistently to laser therapy.  All the patients we have treated for this condition have improved, and I too have used it successfully for the same issue.

Knee Pain:  Osteoarthritis of the knee is a very common cause of significant disability for many seniors.  Who wants to wait until the condition is so bad that surgery is the only option?  In fact, studies have shown that with laser therapy, surgery can be avoided in many cases.  In humans, a meta-analysis of 36 randomized placebo-controlled trials found that 2-4 weeks of laser therapy offered significant pain relief compared to placebo controls.  Trials showed significant decrease in pain, reduction of swelling, increased range of motion and circulation.  Animal studies show that laser actually regenerates worn cartilage, increasing the thickness of cartilage.  Since real healing is what occurs with laser therapy, the results are sustained.  I have certainly seen the long term effects myself and in my patients.  Arthritis patients return for more treatments, but usually it is for a different joint!

Plantar fasciitis:  This painful condition affects the bottom of the foot.  I usually recommend stretches, exercises and massage for patients with this condition, along with laser therapy.  Research shows that patients report significantly less pain after a series of laser treatments.  A placebo controlled study found that the thickness of the plantar fascia was reduced.  Another study showed that 90% of patients experienced relief:  64% of patients had no pain and another 26% were significantly improved.  Unlike other treatments for plantar fasciitis, laser therapy is a painless process.

So why suffer?  Laser therapy is a safe and effective tool that can help you get back to the life you desire.  For more information about Dr. Macdonald’s state of the art laser therapy machine, click on laser therapy on her website  To book a free 15 minute consultation to see if laser therapy is the right treatment for you, call her medical office at 250 897-0235.

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

Foot and Ankle Pain Relief with Laser Therapy

When our hardworking feet develop painful problems, our quality of life can be significantly affected.  Laser therapy can provide relief for people suffering from painful conditions of the feet such as arthritis, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, foot ulcers and more.  Within a few weeks of treatment with our nine beam laser therapy unit, many of my patients have reported freedom from pain and a return to normal activities.

Low Intensity Laser Therapy (LILT) has been used successfully as a treatment for an extensive range of acute and chronic musculoskeletal conditions.  This painless procedure speeds the healing of tissues, including cartilage, ligaments, muscles, bursa, nerves, tendons and skin.  It enhances DNA synthesis, cell replication, cellular nutrition, circulation and has both anti-inflammatory and pain relieving effects.  The effectiveness of laser therapy has been well established in hundreds of human and animal placebo-controlled, double-blind studies.

Arthritis of the feet and ankles

Laser therapy is an excellent treatment choice for arthritis that has been proven to work in many well designed studies.  In animal studies, laser therapy has been shown to decelerate the arthritic process, regenerate worn cartilage, and increase the thickness of cartilage.  In humans, a meta-analysis of 36 randomized placebo-controlled trials found that 2-4 weeks of laser therapy offered significant arthritic pain relief compared to placebo controls.  Another more recent clinical trial for arthritis measured a significant decrease in pain, reduction of swelling, increased range of motion and circulation compared to a placebo group that was treated with a sham laser.   Using a state of the art laser machine, we have helped many people reduce pain and increase mobility in their ankles, feet and toes.  It is very rewarding to witness patients enjoying greater mobility and reduced pain and swelling after about 9 to14 treatments.

Plantar fasciitis

This painful condition affects the bottom of the foot.  I usually recommend stretches, exercises, massage and orthodics for patients with this condition, along with laser therapy.  Research shows that patients report significantly less pain after a series of laser treatments.  A study showed that 90% of patients experienced relief:  64% of patients had no pain and another 26% were significantly improved. A placebo controlled study found that the abnormal thickness of the plantar fascia was reduced.  Unlike other treatments for plantar fasciitis, laser therapy is a painless process.

Achilles tendonitis

Achilles tendonitis can be an acute or a chronic injury.  In the chronic state, fibrosis prevents proper function and healing of the tendon.  Laser therapy has been shown in clinical studies to reduce inflammatory markers in the Achilles tendon and to reduce fibrosis.  Pain reduction during physical activity has been demonstrated, as has a reduction in morning stiffness.  Laser therapy is considered an effective treatment for Achilles tendonitis, and can be added to a program of eccentric contraction exercises for even better results.

Foot ulcers

Chronic wounds and ulcers are a major source of disability for many people.  They are notoriously difficult to treat with standard protocols.  Often chronic wounds occur on the feet and lower limbs as a result of poor circulation. Diabetes and atherosclerosis are common contributing factors.  In research done at Harvard University and other institutions, laser therapy has been proven to speed healing and resolution of skin ulcers and chronic wounds.  A triple blind study at Brigham Young University concluded that:

“The laser therapy resulted in enhanced healing as measured by wound contraction. These data indicate that laser therapy is an effective modality to facilitate wound contraction of partial-thickness wounds.”

The results from this gentle laser therapy are quite visible in the case of wound healing. There has been photo documentation of many dramatic resolutions of wounds and even of gangrenous toes that were able to be saved from amputation.

So don’t let foot or ankle pain slow you down from enjoying life.  Laser light therapy is a proven treatment that may be able to help you get back doing the things you love to do.

To book a no-charge 15-minute no obligation consultation with naturopathic physician Dr. Deidre Macdonald, contact her medical practice in downtown Courtenay at (250) 897-0235. For more information about laser therapy, read the testimonials on this website.