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By | Functional Medicine, Origins News | No Comments

Sleep: the elixir of life! We all want more and better quality, but how do we go about it? Insomnia is a multifaceted problem. Sleep is a biological imperative and insomnia is always a symptom of an underlying physiological imbalance. This study shows us how one simple supplement may help you get the sleep you need.

About two-thirds of american adults are deficient in Vitamin D..  Because we think of vitamin D as a “vitamin” its far reaching influences on our health is often underrated.  Vitamin D is a hormone and plays key roles in neurotransmitter regulation, mood, immune health, and much more.  Our bodies produce its own Vitamin D with ample sunshine and cholesterol (not a bad word!)

It seems like every week I hear of another potential health issue related to D deficiency.  But, one I had not directly seen was sleep!  As you can see by this study posted in Nutritional Neuroscience inadequate Vitamin D led to problems in almost all aspects of  sleep.  I make Vitamin D part of my daily supplementation in the Designs for Health Twice Daily Essential Packs and I also try to get a half hour minimum sun exposure to my arms, legs, and face.

Remember that insomnia is a symptom of an underlying health imbalance.  Pharmaceuticals are proven to be poor at creating restorative sleep and are potentially addictive.  Proper lab testing and history is the path to uncovering the root cause.  Then a proper prescription of supplements, Chinese herbs, and lifestyle change can restore your basic biological right: to sleep!


In Health,

Duncan Macdonald, L.Ac.

How to clear Brain Fog with Functional Medicine

By | Functional Medicine, Origins News | One Comment

For many of us our mental acuity defines our personal and professional lives.  We strive to connect deeply in our relationships and push ourselves to new levels of professional creativity.  That is why it is so scary when we find ourselves fumbling for words, forgetting our train of thought, and unable to break through that next creative barrier.  Where once we were admired as the sharpest member of a professional team we now stumble to remember where we parked the car in the grocery store lot or fail to recall the name of an important business acquaintance at social function.  Our thinking feels mired in a thick soup of brain fog.  Many of us fear that this is perhaps the first sign of cognitive decline we have observed in our aging parents.  But, the truth is much more complicated.  The brain is an integrated part of our body and affected by all biological systems.  When brain fog can be caused by anything how do we begin to know what to do?  The answer is simple: test don’t guess!  This is where Functional Medicine steps in and shines!

What is Functional Medicine and how will it help you recover your sharp thinking and memory?  Functional medicine uses advanced lab testing to test the hormonal status, digestive tract, nutritional status, detox function, neurotransmitters,  chronic inflammation, and metabolic health of the entire body.  By measuring the health and performance of these critical systems we see exactly how they are affecting the brain and cognition.  Paired with a thorough health history this creates a personalized roadmap of how to restore health to the brain and body.  

This information is gathered through three main simple lab tests that are performed in the privacy and convenience of your own home.  Let’s take a brief look at each of these tests and how they provide the critical information needed to lift the brain fog.  

For the next three sections of this blog we will look at a case study… me (Duncan Macdonald)!  A few years after having my son I was not feeling right.  I had a wonderful happy toddler, but I felt so overwhelmed by brain fog I worried that the parenting experience was passing me by.  My sleep was poor, my mood depressed, and I felt as though I couldn’t even string words together.  Practicing medicine is dependent on logical and complex problem solving.  I was worried I’d need to find a new career!  Luckily for me I had the access to my mentor Dr. Dan Kalish and he ran the same three tests we use on every new patient.  Each test assesses a different aspect of physiology which, when combined, can give a clear diagnosis of the root cause of brain fog.  

Let’s see how my poor brain and body were faring after the wear and tear of new parenting.


BioHealth 201: How the stress hormones affect the brain, Lab cost $150


The first step in assessing any case of brain fog or cognitive problems is to examine the stress hormones.  Cortisol is a “Goldilocks” hormone, meaning it shouldn’t be too high or too low.  In proper amounts cortisol governs our alertness, mood, concentration, inflammation and sleep.  When cortisol is too high we feel intensely stressed and if that stress is not resolved the high cortisol dysregulates into a chronically low pattern.  This leaves us depressed and foggy headed and , yet, without the ability to properly rest.  Patients often describe this as “tired and wired.”  

Now, let’s take a look at a real life adrenal stress profile from BioHealth labs and see how my cortisol was looking after 3 years of parenting!

This test measures four separate saliva samples taken at intervals during the day.  The levels are measured of cortisol, our main stress hormone, and DHEA, our main anabolic hormone and the precursors of our sex hormones, such as testosterone.  We feel our best when we are at the high end of the references ranges for our samples.  We get a surge of cortisol in the morning, which wakes us up, then we should have a predictable drop until we go to sleep.  As you can see I was at the top end of the range when I woke up, which corresponded with the fact that I was waking at 4:30am everyday and unable to fall back to sleep.  Yet, my cortisol on all three afternoon and evening measurements were flat and on the low end of the spectrum.  This corresponds with the flat, foggy, and unengaged experience that were my days.  My poor little boy had to deal with a dad who was almost asleep the whole day!  Talk about brain fog!  My DHEA was also on the low end of the spectrum.  This is an excellent indicator of long term and grinding stress.  These levels would be robbing my body of testosterone, leaving me unmotivated and depressed.  Not a pretty picture, so what can we do with this information?  How did I get my hormones back in line?

Based on the labs we are able to create individualized therapeutic supplement programs to reset the body’s stress response.  These supplements include hormone precursors, adaptogenic herbs, and substances that can either lower or raise cortisol thereby correcting rhythm disruptions.  We are not looking to take control of the body’s hormones, but rather encourage the body to resume natural production by mimicking normal output.  This process can take 6 months or longer to stabilize, but patients usually notice an uptick in mood, mental clarity, and memory even within the first few weeks.  

For me it felt like someone turned the lights back on in my brain.  I felt as though I could think critically again and I didn’t stumble for words in conversation.  However, the story doesn’t end there.  In Functional Medicine we are always concerned with finding and correcting the root cause of the health issue.  Why were my stress hormones so out of whack?  For that we run our next test.


BioHealth 401H or Diagnostic Solutions GI MAP, Lab cost $350

When we think of stress we usually think of emotional stress, such as a fight with our spouse, work trouble, etc.  But, one of the biggest hidden stressors our bodies face are low grade infections of our gastrointestinal tract.  They cause a constant immune and inflammatory process.  This inflammation leads directly to brain and cognitive issues.  One of the hottest areas of medical research right now is around the gut biome and what is known as the Gut-Brain axis.  It is a fascinating topic that will get its own blog post in the future, but other common infections, such as H. Pylori are directly linked to anxiety and depression.  The brain fog you are experiencing may be due to a long standing and undiagnosed bacterial or parasitic infection.  In my case I was lucky enough to be hosting a significant H. Pylori infection.  

Besides, occasional heartburn I had no idea this infection was causing constant inflammation, anxiety, and increased cancer risk to me!  A pathogen screening is a simple test to do at home.  It is done with a single stool sample which is shipped directly to the lab.  The kit is hygienic and keeps the “ick” factor to a minimum.  The test checks for common bacterial infections, parasites,  biome imbalances, and the health of the immune barrier of the gut.  There is nothing more frustrating than to work with a patient for months restoring the balance to their stress hormones only to discover that they have had an underlying infection the whole time undoing our best efforts.

Different infections require different interventions.  Occasionally, we need to prescribe antibiotics for particularly nasty infections, but the vast majority of infections can be cleared using natural medicine antimicrobial and anti parasitic protocols.  Typically, infection clearing protocols take about two months, as many of these infections have a cystic phase where they will be dormant in the gut lining.  A recent study done at the Mayo Clinic using these exact protocols showed an over 90% clear rate.  For me the protocol worked almost immediately.  

My heartburn completely resolved and even more remarkable the background anxiety that I had come to associate with my brain fog cleared.  This may seem like a remarkably low bar for medicine, but I feel it’s not too much to ask that our patients be free of chronic burdensome infections!


Genova Organix – Comprehensive, Lab cost $410

Once we have checked the body for nasty parasites or infections we run our last major test, the Genova Organix.  An Organic Acids Test (OAT) measures the acids in the urine formed as byproducts from physiologic activity.  My measuring these acids we get a profound deep dive into the health status of the patient.  We get a direct look into how the body is utilizing fat, carbohydrate, and protein as energy, nutritional deficiencies, gut biome information, oxidative stress, insulin resistance, liver detox, and most importantly, for my poor brain, neurotransmitter activity.  

There are really two ways of measuring the neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, etc.) in the brain.  One is to do a spinal tap (not recommended) and the other is to measure the byproducts of these neurotransmitters after they are broken down and recycled in the liver.  The cause of brain fog can often be found in the deficiency, imbalance, or inflammation of these brain chemicals.

In my case this test was done when I was a couple years into parenting and making the major transition of incorporating Functional Medicine into my practice.  My stress level was extremely high.  I felt as though I was coping, but still was plagued by brain fog and recall issues.  On top of that I had terrible insomnia, often awakening at 4am with an inability to get back to sleep.  My toddler was now sleeping fine through the night, but not Dad!  When I ran my Organix these were the brain related results.

Marker 22 and 23 (vanilmandelate and homovanilate) are breakdown products of dopamine.  Dopamine is the main excitatory and reward neurotransmitter.  The combination of high and low readings on these show a marked dopamine depletion in this brain.  This explains the low mood, lack of motivation, and fuzzy headedness I was experiencing.  Marker 24 (5-hydroxyindoleacetate) is a direct marker for serotonin.  Serotonin has many functions in relation to the brain, but it is commonly associated with mood.  This is the neurotransmitter that is targeted by most antidepressant drugs.  

Marker 28 (p-Hydroxyphenyllactate) indicates oxidative stress systemically affecting my body, including my brain.  We sometimes see this marker elevate in hardcore endurance athletes because of the oxygen turnover in their bodies.  That certainly wasn’t me at that time!  This elevation is likely due inflammation caused by the H. Pylori infection in my stomach at the time.

Treatment of neurotransmitter related brain issues is multifaceted, but straightforward.  It requires using specific amino acids that are the precursors for the neurotransmitters.  At the same time the body requires higher doses of B-vitamins and detox and methylation support.  These lab based protocols are quick to act, profound, and often we will see changes in mood, memory, and alertness in a few weeks.  

The information gathered by running these three labs and the subsequent lab based protocols I credit with giving me my life back.  Between the staging of the hormonal program, infection program, and neurotransmitter program I was on supplements for about 9 months.  During this time I felt like someone turned the lights back on in my brain!  My sleep returned, my thinking and memory sharpened, and my enthusiasm for life returned.  Many of us accept that being foggy headed, low energy and depressed is just a natural part of aging and parenting.  This is a sad lie we tell ourselves.  It’s not that we are getting older.  It’s that we’re getting more rundown.  With proper investigation and treatment we can do something about it!

In Health,
Duncan Macdonald, L.Ac.

Energy Drinks and their true cost

By | Functional Medicine, Origins News | No Comments

The last decade has seen a successful and masterful effort by beverage companies to sell us energy drinks.  They promise to provide us limitless energy to power us through our busy schedules or party all night.  But, what is their hidden cost to our health?  What should we know about the dangers of these drinks before we pop the top on our next bottle?  A recent study hopes to shed a little light on this question and you can find it here.

Fundamentally, when we turn to stimulants we need to realize that we are asking our bodies for something they cannot easily provide.  Extra energy does not appear out of nowhere.  Some system of the body is taxed when we make this unnatural demand and the system that takes the biggest hit is our endocrine system and the delicate balance of our stress hormones.

Chinese medicine has always recognized the concept of excess or deficiency of a system.  It always documented how a system could become run down and then lose function.  It’s only been in recent years that modern medical science has caught up to this concept by creating lab testing of hormones.  When we habitually turn to stimulants we over tax the cortisol of the body and the catecholomines (adrenaline, dopamine, etc).  This will give a rush to a non depleted person and to someone with adrenal insufficiency it will pull their lagging cortisol to a level that makes them feel functional.

If we feel as though we need coffee or energy drinks to function in the morning it is a dead give away that we our stress hormones have become dysregulated.  The answer is not to demand more of the system, but rather to treat the body with respect and honor its natural rhythms.  If improving sleep, nutrition, and relaxation do not restore the pep to your step then testing and correcting the hormone output of the body may be required.

As you can probably tell I’m not a huge fan of energy drinks or how they are overly marketed to an already exhausted population.  If you are opening your wallet every morning for a 20 oz Monster Energy maybe it’s time to devote your resources to fixing the root cause of your exhaustion!  If you need us we are here to help.


In Health,

Duncan Macdonald, L.Ac

Sugar is the villain in the diet-cancer connection

By | Functional Medicine, Origins News, Uncategorized | No Comments

A few basic facts to remember are that sugar is extremely toxic to the body and must be kept in a very narrow range within the blood. This is why diabetes is such a dangerous disease! Also, glucose metabolism leads to greater oxidative stress than fat metabolism. It’s like putting racing fuel in your Honda Accord. It burns a little too hot and can wear out the motor! This oxidative stress can directly damage the DNA of the cell leading to potential cancerous change. It also damages the mitochondria of the cells. The mitochondria are the little powerhouses of the cell that use glucose and fat and turn them into energy. Damage to the mitochondria leads to further metabolic damage and potentially higher insulin to deal with excess sugar! Insulin also drives a hormone called Insulin Growth Factor. High IGF leads to greater cell division. This is great if you’re a toddler looking to grow, but in us adults it’s not so great. I think we can all certainly recognize how signaling greater cell division could be a problem for cancer and cancer risk. There are several important markers on the Organic Acids Test that allows us to directly measure how the body is dealing glucose as a fuel, insulin resistance, and overall oxidative stress to the body. It’s like getting a snapshot of your metabolism. This information allows us to steer the whole ship back on course through lifestyle change and targeted therapeutic supplements. If you’d like to know more please reach out to us!

“OP-ED It’s getting clear – the diet-cancer connection points to sugar and carbs”

In Health,

Duncan Macdonald, L.Ac.

Acupuncture for Pain: the research is in!

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Our country is reaching an epidemic problem with opioid addiction and other pharmacological treatments for pain often fall short.  By using pharmaceutical treatments we risk addiction and toxicity.

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015.

Acetaminophen overdose sends as many as 78,000 Americans to the emergency room annually and results in 33,000 hospitalizations a year, federal data shows. Acetaminophen is also the nation’s leading cause of acute liver failure, according to data from an ongoing study funded by the National Institutes for Health.

The problem is truly staggering.  What if there was a better way to treat pain entirely?  There is, it’s called acupuncture, and it has virtually no downside!

As more well trained acupuncturists have begun practicing in the United States we are seeing a growing amount of research.  There have been some recent meta-analysis performed looking at high quality studies of acupuncture for common pain conditions and the results are overwhelmingly positive.

It’s not sham, it’s not placebo, it’s effective medicine.  What is truly amazing is that many of the studies find that the benefits are ongoing, lasting over a year after treatment ceases.

A very interesting summary of the scientific validation of acupuncture’s effectiveness was published today on Medscape.  You can read about its proven benefits here.

Here at Origins Medicine we practice acupuncture, Chinese medicine, and Functional medicine together.  The synergy is phenomenal for pain.  You can read more about our unique approach for effectively treat the most complicated chronic pain cases in my previous blog on the subject here.

If you are suffering, or know someone who is, please share this.  Conventional medicine’s current strategy for treating pain isn’t working and people are dying.  It’s time for a new approach.


In Health,

Duncan Macdonald, L.Ac.

Turmeric and Curcumin: comparing the modern view of an ancient remedy

By | Functional Medicine, Origins News, Uncategorized | No Comments

Having practiced Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture for 20 years now, it is always interesting to me when conventional medicine “discovers” a new natural treatment.  One of the most popular heavy hitters on the supplement scene in recent months is turmeric, also referred to sometimes by one of its active constituents curcumin.  I thought it could be a fun exercise to look at the conditions for which turmeric has been prescribed for thousands of years, compare that to our known research, and see if we’ve discovered anything new at all!  Then I’ll share with you the turmeric product I am currently using in the clinic and how you can benefit from it.

The Chinese name for the herb turmeric is yujin and jianghuang, depending on the part of the plant utilized.  It was traditionally prescribed for: pain, arthritis, digestive disorders, liver disease, anxiety and depression, and skin disorders (acne, ulcers, etc.).

Now, let’s take a look of the summary of turmeric (curcumin) research from PubMed, the largest government medical study library.

Click here for summary of published research.

What do we see?  The research backs up every one of these traditional indications!  Plus, it seems to have some incredibly promising anti-cancer properties, probably due to its strong anti-inflammatory nature.  And, unlike NSAIDs, it actually protects your liver and stomach!

Turmeric (curcumin) is a powerful standalone supplement, however it was traditionally prescribed with other herbs which help its efficacy and absorption.  That is what we offer here at Origins Medicine.  The ability to seamlessly combine thousands of years of traditional medical knowledge with the latest in evidence based scientific medicine.

The supplement world moves fast and we are constantly evaluating and updating our recommendations based on the very best products in the market.  My current favorite curcumin product, which I use daily in the clinic can be found here.

You can use discount code: DFH50641 to save 25% on your first order!

You’ll notice that many of the supplements I recommend are from Designs For Health.  They are a family run, extremely high quality brand.  But, because of their stellar reputation there have been some issues with counterfeit products on Amazon, so please only purchase through their Amazon page or from our Origins pharmacy.

For general inflammatory issues try 1 – 2 capsules per day.  Remember that it is always important to discover the source of inflammation in the body, so please use this powerful herb in conjunction with a lab based program to correct your health.  Also, curcumin is best used in conjunction with synergistic herbs for specific conditions.  To learn more please contact our office.

In Health,

Duncan Macdonald, L.Ac.

The evidence against PPI medications continues to build!

By | Functional Medicine, Origins News | No Comments

Hi Everyone,

Those of you who have followed this blog know that I am not a fan of the over prescription of PPI medications to treat heartburn (GERD).  It is effectively treated with Functional and Chinese medicine, so there is no need to use these dangerous medications long term. New research released this week shows that chronic use of PPI’s alters the gut to allow for infections that can lead to chronic liver disease.  Read about this risk to the liver here.

For those of you who haven’t read my original blog post on how heartburn (GERD) can be treated effectively with Functional and Chinese medicine you can find it here.

And, finally, I’ll link to an article that came out a few months ago which really summarizes all of the risks associated with these medications.  You can find that here.

As I detailed in my original blog I struggled with this painful condition.  It wasn’t until I discovered the root cause through functional testing (H. Pylori infection) and corrected it with natural medicine protocols that I finally was free of any medications.  If you are struggling with GERD please contact us.   We can help and, quite frankly, the evidence is in that it is dangerous to mask the symptoms with medications.

In Health,

Duncan Macdonald, L.Ac.

Time to kick gluten to the curb!

By | Functional Medicine, Origins News | No Comments

Just a decade ago conventional medicine believed that non-celiac gluten sensitivity was a bunch of nonsense.  A doctor could be laughed out of the room for even bringing it up!  Now a quick search of PubMed.gov shows that there are hundreds of scholarly papers and studies from prestigious medical journals on the topic.  As we have started to understand the interplay between the gut and the immune system we have discovered that sensitivity to gluten exists on a spectrum.  Whenever we see a patient with any kind of chronic health concerns eliminating gluten is one of our first recommendations.  One of my favorite health crusaders on the subject is neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter.  He has written several excellent books summarizing the latest research on the impact of gluten on our health.  As he says:

“Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see an article either in print or on the Internet indicating that the notion of going gluten-free is entirely overblown. Typically, the conclusions often sounds something like, “While only about 1.6% of Americans, those with confirmed celiac disease, need to be on a gluten-free diet, there is absolutely no reason for anyone else to adopt this diet.””

click here to read more!

Correcting Your Stress Response: The Most Important Thing You’ll Do This Year!

By | Functional Medicine, Origins News, Uncategorized | No Comments

A proper functioning stress response is at the core of our health.  Our main stress hormone, cortisol, manages our alertness, mental focus, inflammation, digestive health, mood, etc.  It play a role in almost every system of our body.  It is intimately connected with other hormones, such as melatonin, to create the circadian rhythm which keeps us alert and productive during the day and sleepy at night.  It governs our fight-or -flight response and rallies our resources in the presence of acute stress.  This proper ebb and flow of cortisol worked well for millions of years, as life was probably pretty boring, punctuated by moments of terror.  We would either survive and our stress hormones would reset or we wouldn’t.  What the system was never designed for is the chronic day to day grinding stress we experience in our modern world.  This chronic stress profoundly dysregulates these hormones leading to a condition called adrenal fatigue (not my favorite term), adrenal insufficiency, or HPA-axis dysregulation.


This adrenal fatigue is an experience many of us can relate to.  We feel constantly under attack, as our fight-or-flight system is always activated.  We feel drained of energy, but also over stimulated.  This “tired, but wired” state means that we are groggy in the morning, but also anxious and buzzy when we try to sleep.  We often require coffee to stimulate us in the morning and sleeping pills to finally transition to rest..  Systemic inflammation leads to achy joints and irritated digestion.  The body loses resilience across the board.  We lose interest in hobbies and patients often tell me that “even going out to dinner with friends seems like a pain in the ass.” (pardon my language!)


I think most of us can appreciate why this hormonal balance is a priority. A proper stress response is critical for our health, job performance, and relationships.  If this cortisol production and rhythm is not corrected it is extremely difficult to make progress on other health challenges.  It is at the core of our health, productivity, rest, and happiness.  So, when it goes out of whack how do we correct it?  With a simple functional lab test called an Adrenal Stress Profile.


An Adrenal Stress Profile is a simple lab test that you can take in the comfort of your own home.  It is a saliva based test, so there’s no need for blood draws or sharp needles.  It requires 4 saliva samples through the course of the day, so we can measure not only the amount of cortisol your body is producing, but also the rhythm of its output.  Wonky rhythm leads to us feeling like we are crashing in the afternoon or waking at 3am unable to fall back to sleep.  We also test for the hormone DHEA, which is the primary anabolic (repair) hormone of the body and the precursor to sex hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone.  Once we get the results of your adrenal stress lab we can create a lab based supplement program that gently and effectively corrects the production and rhythm of these critical hormones.  You will finally feel like you have your life back!


Here at Origins Medicine, in conjunction with the Kalish Institute, we have reviewed thousands of adrenal stress profiles from all of the major labs.  We currently use the Biohealth 201 lab as our primary and if we need more specific information on sex hormones we use a DUTCH test.  We will happily explain which test is appropriate after completing a consult with you.


If there was just one thing I could do with every patient I interact with it would be to correct their stress hormones.  Many nagging health problems correct themselves when the hormones are restored and inflammation cooled.  Give us a call and let’s get you started on an adrenal restoration program today!

In Health,

Duncan Macdonald, L.Ac.

The Danger of Ibuprofen!

By | Functional Medicine, Origins News | One Comment

In the 20 years I have been in clinical practice I’ve found that there is one symptom that drives people to seek help more than any other: pain.  Pain, of course, is the body’s natural signal of injury and inflammation and it doesn’t like to be ignored.  For decades standard medicine has had one answer to the nagging pains that don’t resolve and that answer is to take NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs).  There are two main downsides to this strategy.  One is that pain is a sign that the body is trying to resolve an injury.  If it doesn’t resolve it means the body is chronically inflamed and that inflammation must be driven by some process in the body.  The true answer to chronic pain is to properly diagnose and treat the root problem which is disturbing the body and calm the inflammatory process.  This is the strategy of both Functional and Chinese medicine.  The second downside to the NSAIDS strategy is that these drugs are proving to be incredibly dangerous.  Multiple countries in Europe are now considering pulling them from over the counter sales.  We have known about toxicity to the liver and irritation to the gut lining from these drugs, but recent studies have pointed out there dramatic risk to our hearts!  Here is a summary from the Guardian:

“There have been fresh calls for restrictions on the sale of the painkiller ibuprofen after another study found it heightens the risk of cardiac arrest.

Taking the over-the-counter drug was associated with a 31% increased risk, researchers in Denmark found.

Other medicines from the same group of painkillers, known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), presented an even higher risk, according to the findings published on Wednesday in the European Heart Journal.”

To read the rest of this important and alarming article from the Guardian please read here.


In Health,

Duncan Macdonald, L.Ac.

Phone: (415) 902-0771