Tame the Fires of Autoimmune Disease

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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.

Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a naturopathic physician who has been practicing medicine for 16 years in downtown Courtenay. For more information, contact the Macdonald Centre for Natural Medicine at (250) 897-0235 or via this website.

Breast Cancer Prevention

Breast Health Tips for Women:
Early Intervention Strategies in Preventing Breast Cancer

In Canada one in nine women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in her life and the incidence of the disease is rising each decade. In the 1940’s the risk was one in twenty. If we increase our awareness of the causes of this disease and start early with prevention strategies we can help to protect ourselves, our daughters and future generations from breast cancer. Examine the tips below and change what you can each month. 


  • Spend an hour a week in the sauna to eliminate chemicals stored in your fat cells. Do an 80 hour sauna detox program before you plan to have children so you don’t pass on your body burden of chemicals on to the next generation.
  • Exercise at least 40 minutes each day.
  • Sleep in a dark room, and keep electrical devices at least 3 feet from your bed. Use a night light in the washroom, and avoid turning on a bright light at night.
  • Meditate, or do slow long deep breathing exercises for at least 11 minutes before bed to increase melatonin levels.
  • Take regular relaxation breaks every 2-3 hours throughout the day for about 20 minutes to alleviate stress.
  • Switch to non-toxic cleaning products, like baking soda and vinegar.
  • Avoid cosmetics unless they are free of chemicals and preservatives.
  • Drink filtered water, with the chlorine and pesticides removed from it.
  • Drink water stored in glass rather than plastic. The plastic often leaches chemicals that act like the hormone estrogen.
  • Maintain an appropriate weight. Seek help to lose weight if required.
  • Seek a dentist who will use porcelain fillings in your teeth. Avoid mercury amalgam fillings.
  • Do not use the birth control pill, but consider barrier methods.
  • Use a looser cotton bra rather than an underwire bra. Avoid tight bras.


  • Use 30 grams of fibre each day to ensure at least 2 bowel movements a day – add 2 Tbsp. bran to your breakfast cereal, eat legumes daily, use more whole grains, less bread.
  • Add 2 Tbsp. of freshly ground flaxseeds daily to your cereal, juice or fruit smoothie. (Use an electric coffee grinder to grind them).
  • Use 8-10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Eat some raw broccoli, cauliflower, kale or cabbage daily.
  • Eat organic food whenever possible.
  • Decrease meat consumption, replacing it with legumes and soy.
  • Decrease dairy consumption, replacing it with organic soy products.
  • Minimize fish consumption unless you know it is free of chemicals and heavy metals. Salmon is an excellent choice.
  • Use extra virgin oil for cooking. If you are frying, use a little water first, before adding the olive oil. Minimize other oils and fats except coconut oil.
  • Minimize sugar, sweets, pastries and desserts, using fresh fruit instead.
  • Spice your food with turmeric regularly.
  • Use onions and garlic with gusto.
  • Use 2 Tbsp. of seaweed daily (nori-sheet, dulse powder) or use a kelp tablet daily.
  • Store your food in glass or stainless steel, rather than plastic.
  • Avoid canned food when the cans are lined with clear or white plastic – this is bisphenol-A, which acts like estrogen and stimulates breast cells to divide.


  • Use a multivitamin daily that contains 100-200 mcg of selenium and at least 30 mg of zinc.
  • Supplement with calcium citrate, magnesium citrate and vitamin D daily, with about 800 mg of calcium.
  • Take a total of about 2000IU of Vit D a day.
  • Use 2000 mg of Vitamin C daily. This will help prevent the accumulation of toxic metals, and improve immunity.
  • If you are unable to eat 8 servings of fruits and vegetables, use 1 Tbsp. daily of a green powdered supplement, rich in carotenes and protective plant nutrients.


  • Encourage your partner and/or neighbors to discontinue pesticide use on lawns and gardens.
  • Use fewer electrical devices so we rely less on nuclear power. Conserve energy.
  • Spend less time on the computer or watching television, to decrease exposure to electromagnetic fields.
  • Avoid products containing PVC (polyvinyl chloride), such as raincoats, shower curtains, vinyl furniture.
  • Use alternatives to plastic.
  • Take cloth bags or bins shopping to avoid using plastic bags.
  • Find out who the polluters are in your area by logging on to www.pollutioncontrol.org and write letters of lobby to decrease local pollutants.
  • Host an environmental film festival each year to educate yourselves and others.
  • Celebrate Rachel Carson Day, May 27 each year by doing what you can to protect the environment on that day. Clean up your little corner of the earth.


  • Find ways to express your anger constructively and let it go. If you have a backlog of anger, seek counseling.
  • Invest your energy in activities, hobbies, volunteer work or causes you feel excited about that develop your skills and abilities.
  • Learn to define your needs and develop assertiveness.
  • Connect with groups of like-minded individuals throughout your life who support and validate you.
  • Find a spiritual practice that connects you to others and to the universal energy or God and use that practice or worship to strengthen faith, hope and love.
  • Resolve conflict as it occurs, rather than holding it inside you, or let it go.

These suggestions are outlined in more detail in the book The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Breast Cancer, by Sat Dharam Kaur, ND, published by Robert Rose Inc. in 2003.