Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to the veterinary students at my alma mater, Texas A&M University. My lecture focused on homeopathy and homotoxicology.
As budding scientists, these students demanded proof that these forms of natural medicine really work, and I was able to meet their demands and present them just a small amount of the large volume of proof showing the effectiveness of these two popular natural therapies.
I was happy to see that these future veterinarians really care about healing their patients. While they are not opposed to using conventional medications when necessary, it was exciting to see that they were open-minded enough to appreciate the limitations of conventional medicine and be willing to use natural therapies that can offer deeper healing for their patients. Additionally, I’m excited to see that the veterinary school is starting to respond to their demands and may soon offer an elective course (which I hope to team teach) for students interested in learning about integrative medicine.
Of course any such course must focus on both the pros and cons of integrative medicine, as well as be science and evidence-based.
Despite the fact that skeptics still say there is no proof any natural therapy works, I was happy to prove them wrong during my talk with veterinary students as we discussed the biochemistry of how some of these homeopathic medicines actually work.
Thankfully, there are volumes written detailing the proof of these therapies. Even now as I begin working on a new book written specifically for veterinarians showing the proof behind herbal medicine, I’m amazed at just how much proof is really in the literature, and equally amazed as skeptics continue to deny that such proof exists.
At the very least our future veterinarians demand proof and accept it when offered. Their questioning minds prevent them from accepting things blindly but they are not afraid to be open-minded and consider alternative approaches to healing.
Our profession is indeed in good hands!
One of the most common arguments against natural medicine put forth by skeptics is that all “alternative” or natural therapies work simply by the placebo effect. According to the skeptics, none of these natural therapies possess true qualities which allow for actual healing. For many years I’ve discussed the fact that there are actually two placebo effects.
The first placebo effect, which commonly occurs in people but can never occur in pets, is often referred to as the “power of suggestion” effect. Basically, if you think you are going to get better, you may get better simply because of your expectations regardless of any effects of the therapy chosen. For example, let’s suppose that you are suffering from the pain of arthritis and have difficulty walking. If your doctor prescribes a remedy for you, and tells you that you should feel better within 24 hours, you may feel better simply because you were told you should feel better, regardless of any effect of the remedy the doctor prescribed. This obviously can’t happen in pets. Regardless of how much you tell your dog or cat that he should feel better as a result of the remedy you administer to him, either the pet will get better or it won’t regardless of you telling the pet he should get better.
The second placebo effect happens in people and pets in most diseases. Simply put, all of our bodies have the ability to heal themselves. Many patients will get better regardless of the effectiveness of the remedy that is prescribed. Unless you or your pet is suffering from a life-threatening disease which requires potent medication for healing, people and pets will recover from most diseases regardless of the therapy chosen.
A recent study reported in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine showed that the placebo effect may be the reason some dogs recover from their illness.
Briefly, a meta-analysis of 3 known prospective, placebo-controlled canine epilepsy trials was done. The number of seizures per week was compiled for each dog throughout their participation in the trial. Twenty-two of 28 (79%) dogs in the study that received placebo demonstrated a decrease in seizure frequency compared with baseline, and 8 (29%) could be considered responders, with a 50% or greater reduction in seizures.
The authors concluded that a positive response to placebo administration (decreased seizure frequency) was observed in the epileptic dogs. As a result of this conclusion, the authors expressed concern that results from drug trials evaluating medications for effectiveness in controlling canine seizures might be overstated as a certain proportion of dogs which respond to the new medication might have responded regardless of the medication due to the placebo effect.
This is pretty eye-opening! It means that at least in these trials, a decent percentage of seizures in dogs were improved by taking nothing more than a sugar pill. For skeptics who question the effectiveness of natural therapies, these research findings suggest that the same skeptics should also question the effectiveness of conventional medications in controlling seizures.
While I truly believe, based upon my own clinical experience, that natural medicines can work as well as if not better than conventional medicines for controlling seizures in dogs and cats, let’s suppose for the sake of this discussion that my clinical observations of the effectiveness of natural therapies are incorrect.
Let’s suppose that the natural therapies I have used in my practice for many years to help pets with epilepsy really don’t work and the reason that my patients have responded positively is due to nothing more than a placebo effect.
So what? Wouldn’t you rather give your pet a natural therapy that costs less and produces fewer side effects than a conventional drug that also might be ineffective in controlling your pet seizures? And since not every dog with epilepsy responds simply as a result of the placebo effect (some are actually helped by conventional medications or natural therapies,) wouldn’t it make sense to at least try a natural therapy that might work? If the natural therapy doesn’t work, we always have conventional medications we can use to help these patients.
My hope is that research will continue to show that conventional medications may not be necessary for many disorders, and will instead encourage the use of natural therapies instead of conventional medications if and when a remedy might be needed to help the patient recover from its illness.
As you know, the FDA is charged with ensuring that drugs that make their way to the marketplace are both safe and effective. Unfortunately, this has not always proven to be the case.
Additionally, due to regulations that at times are onerous, certain drugs that can be lifesaving take many years to make it to the market, and in some cases never pass FDA testing and become available to help patients.
There are many generic drugs on the market which were in existence at the time the FDA was created. The government has allowed these “unapproved” but successful medications to continue to be sold to patients (they were “grandfathered” when the FDA was created.) However, a legal loophole in the law allows any drug manufacturer to take one of these generic drugs, go through the required FDA testing, and get approval for their own brand of the generic drug. This “approved drug” now becomes the official drug that is legally allowed to be sold on the market.
Recently the generic drug colchicine, which has been safely and effectively used for over 1400 years, was just made an “approved drug” by pharmaceutical manufacturer URL Pharma. URL Pharma did the necessary studies to confirm colchicine’s safety and effectiveness. As a result, the drug, now sold under the brand name Colcrys, costs approximately $5 a pill, compared to just a few pennies per pill when it was sold by other drug companies as the old standby generic drug. As a result, many senior citizens who take colchicine for gout now are suddenly facing severely increased pricing. And URL Pharma is now suing generic drug companies which have been making colchicine for many years, claiming they are breaking the law by selling unapproved versions of the drug.
Keep in mind that there is nothing really new about the “approved version” of colchicine; only the price has dramatically increased.
Unfortunately this is yet another example of what goes wrong when a government agency seeks to increase its control over our lives. More regulation and increased cost of medications do not make us any safer or better.
In addition to providing scientific arguments to back up your desire to choose a more natural form of health care for yourself and your pets, I also want to provide you some moral support. Not a day goes by that someone isn’t saying something negative about natural medicine. While most doctors and healthcare providers are open to natural care and support your choice and the type of medicine you desire, sadly there are still many that will come up with any argument and do anything to prove to you that your choice is wrong.
Here are some of the latest arguments I’ve seen posted on websites that seek to undermine your desire to offer your family members a more natural form of medicine.
1.“Doctors rely on their personal experiences, intuition and, anecdotes as evidence to justify implausible or simply “made up” theories and practices.”
This is partly true, but it’s also true for doctors who practice conventional medicine as well. In the good old days before strictly controlled, well-funded (usually by the drug companies seeking approval for their latest drug) studies, ALL doctors learned and shared knowledge based upon their personal experiences with various medications (both natural and conventional.) There is nothing wrong with learning from experience and sharing these experiences. Yes, we all would love to have well researched studies “proving” what we already know to be factually correct. However, the company funding the study determines which studies are ultimately published. While most companies are ethical, there have been some well-publicized incidents of companies ignoring negative studies and only publishing positive studies showing benefits for their medications.
*Evidence is evidence. Either a treatment works or it doesn’t. While skeptics selectively ignore evidence showing the effectiveness of natural therapies, they never seem to ignore evidence showing natural therapies don’t work.
2.“I would be very interested in how much “objective” measuring of outcomes doctors using natural therapies actually do. They often seem to imagine they can “eliminate” subjective owner assessments in practice, but I find this hard to believe.”
Let me quickly answer this objection by sharing with you two recent cases. One involves a dog with elevated kidney enzymes that did not respond to treatment by his prior conventional veterinarian. The other case involves a cat with elevated liver enzymes and also did not respond to treatment by her conventional veterinarian. After using several natural therapies, follow-up blood tests showed that the kidney and liver enzymes returned to normal.
There is nothing subjective about this. The laboratory, which did not know what kind of therapy I used on these patients, reported the results objectively.
*Either the laboratory tests are accurate or they aren’t.
3.“Vague claims such as “improved quality of life” (compared to what?) are also very popular, but usually don’t hold up to scrutiny.”
Improved quality of life refers to how the patient feels and acts. While this can be somewhat subjective, once again either the pet feels better, is no longer lethargic, and resumes eating. Or it doesn’t. Even when natural therapies fail to “cure” a disease, it’s hardly subjective to notice that the pet who was once not eating and not moving around very much is now acting like a puppy or kitten again.
*Either the pet feels better as a result of our natural medicines or it doesn’t.
Hopefully these points will give you some more ammunition whenever someone tries to talk you out of your choice for a more natural approach to healthcare for yourself, your family, and your pets. Don’t give up despite objections against your choice.
Due to the very unusual weather patterns over the last few months, allergy season is already proving to be tough this year for people and their pets. As visits to allergists and dermatologists are increasing, so too is the use of conventional medications. Fortunately there are some natural therapies that can help you in your pet through this difficult time.
Here are my tips to help you and your pet deal with seasonal allergies and minimize the need for potentially harmful medications.
*Take high doses of fish oil. The EPA and DHA in fish oil are anti-inflammatory and quite helpful for treating allergies.
*Use antioxidants. Antioxidants such as quercetin and bioflavonoids reduce cell damage and can minimize allergy signs.
*Detox. Many people find it very helpful to get in a dry or (even better) wet sauna and expel toxins from their systems. The wet sauna is especially help to liquify the airways and encourage expectoration of mucus which is produced as a result of seasonal allergies.
*Clean your airways. Using something such as a Netti pot removes allergens from the upper airways, humidifies the upper respiratory tract, and can loosen thick nasal and sinus secretions.
For your pet:
*Give them high doses of fish oil. As is true for you, the EPA and DHA in fish oil are anti-inflammatory and quite helpful for treating allergies in dogs and cats.
*Use antioxidants. Yes, antioxidants are also very helpful for pets with allergies. Antioxidants such as quercetin, bioflavonoids, and many others reduce cell damage and can minimize allergy signs.
*Bathe your pet frequently. Probably THE most important thing you can do for pets with skin disease (allergies tend to cause more skin problems for our pets, whereas they cause more respiratory problems in people) is to bathe them frequently, even daily. If you use an organic shampoo designed for frequent bathing (such as the Dr. Shawn’s Itch Relief Organic Shampoo, www.petcarenaturally.com ) you will not dry out your pet’s skin.
Regular bathing reduces itchiness, moisturizes your pet’s skin, reduces allergens, and MAY reduce your own allergies by removing pollens from the pet skin and hair.
Following these tips, as well as using homeopathics and herbs when necessary, will greatly reduce the need for conventional medications for both you and your pet and help you get through allergy season this year!
Recently Bayer began selling their prescription chemical flea and tick control products, Advantage and Advantix, to pet stores. This flies in the face of their former policy, which was in effect for many years, of selling these potent chemical insecticides only through veterinarians.
This is especially troubling in light of the recent announcement by the EPA that it is receiving reports of increased number of reactions to chemical flea and tick insecticidal products.
By making these products available over-the-counter, my concern is that we will see even more side effects, some of which can be serious, in pets who use them.
For example, these insecticides should not be used in pets unless the heartworm status of the pets is known to prevent potentially serious complications. This would require pet owners taking their pets to the veterinarian’s office for a heartworm test prior to purchasing the Bayer products. Obviously this is unlikely to happen as I don’t know of any owners who have been made aware of the potential danger of using these products in dogs which test positive on heartworm tests.
Bayer has obviously put profit ahead of the safety of the pet. Additionally, they have destroyed the good faith veterinarians have in their company by changing their long-standing policy of only selling these potent products to veterinarians and suing pet stores which illegally sold their products in the past. Basically the relationships Bayer has spent many years establishing are now reversed: they have turned their backs on veterinarians and are now selling to pet stores which they formally sued.
Fortunately there are other companies such as Merial which continue to make these potent products available only through veterinarians who have established a proper doctor-client-pet relationship.
Since flea and tick problems are true medical issues, the veterinarian is in the best position to determine if and when potent chemicals such as these topical insecticides should be used. Additionally, only the veterinarian, not the minimum-wage pet store clerk, is trained to determine if the product can be safely used in the pet and to warn owners about possible serious side effects that might require treatment.
A reader recently sent me the following information regarding some new recommendations from the FDA.
The Food and Drug Administration released this list of 10 questions to ask your veterinarian when medication is prescribed. Basically, you need to ask the same questions you’d ask your doctor about medications he prescribes for you or someone in your family.
1.Why has my pet been prescribed this medication and how long do I need to give it?
Your veterinarian can tell you what the medication is expected to do for your pet and how many days to give it.
2. How do I give the medication to my pet? Should it be given with food?
Your pet may have fewer side effects, like an upset stomach, from some drugs if they are taken with food. Other medications are best to give on an empty stomach.
3. How often should the medication be given and how much should I give each time? If it is a liquid, should I shake it first?
Giving the right dose at the right time of the day will help your pet get better more quickly.
4. How do I store the medication?
Some medications should be stored in a cool, dry place. Others may require refrigeration.
5. What should I do if my pet vomits or spits out the medication?
Your veterinarian may want to hear from you if your pet vomits. You may be told to stop giving the drug or to switch your pet to another drug.
6. If I forget to give the medication, should I give it as soon as I remember or wait until the next scheduled dose? What if I accidentally give too much?
Giving your pet too much of certain medications can cause serious side effects. You’ll want to know if giving too much is a cause for concern and a trip to the animal emergency room.
7. Should I finish giving all of the medication, even if my pet seems to be back to normal?
Some medications, such as antibiotics, should be given for a certain length of time, even if your pet is feeling better.
8. Could this medication interact with other medications my pet is taking?
Always tell your veterinarian what other medications your pet is taking, including prescription medications, over-the-counter medicines, and herbs or other dietary supplements. You may want to write these down and take the list with you to the vet’s office.
9. What reactions should I watch for, and what should I do if I see any side effects?
Your veterinarian can tell you if a reaction is normal or if it signals a serious problem. You may be asked to call your vet immediately if certain side effects occur.
The FDA encourages veterinarians and animal owners to report serious side effects from medications to FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine at 1-800-FDA-VETS. For a copy of the reporting form and more information on how to report problems, visit the Web site, How to Report An Adverse Drug Experience4.
10. When should I bring my pet back for a recheck? Will you be calling me to check on my pet’s progress, or should I call you?
Your veterinarian may want to examine your pet or perform laboratory tests to make sure the medication is working as it should.
**And possibly the MOST important question of all…is there anything other than this medication I can give my pet or do for my pet to help it recover? Don’t forget that MOST conditions can be treated with natural remedies rather than conventional medications!