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Why Not Alternative Medicine? (Part 2 of a 3 Part Series)

Now that I have established the contrast between traditional western versus alternative veterinary medicine and highlighted the main reasons for our culture’s resistance to alternative medicine, I would like to get into the science of how and why various alternative treatment modalities work.  Please bear in mind that I will only be delving into only alternative therapies that I am familiar with and integrate as a part of daily practice.  Always looking to increase my repertoire of medical advances, both western and alternative, I plan on continuing my training in all aspects of medicine to offer more treatment options for my patients.  These are the main alternative treatment options I currently integrate for wellness and disease management in my patients:

Nutraceutical therapy:

Nutraceutical is a term that refers to pharmaceutical grade nutrient health supplements.  The reason pharmaceutical grade is a very important aspect in consideration of these kinds of products is that these types of health products are not FDA regulated, meaning, there is no governing body overseeing the integrity of their quality.  As such, there are alot of these types of products out there that do not have the quantities of the given ingredients that they claim, they may have the ingredients that are not processed properly to be optimally absorbed in the gut, make contain rancid products (as is often the case with fish oil supplements), or may not even have any aspect of the ingredients they claim altogether.  A few years back, DVM News Magazine conducted a random study of canine and feline joint health supplements sold over the counter at pet stores and online and found that, astonishingly, only one in four products had the ingredients that they claimed.   It was at once a troubling and telling expose of the pet industry as a whole.

So how does one avoid buying sub par quality nutraceuticals?  Ask your veterinarian.  As pet health providers, we work with and are aware of companies that have long established reputations for quality and offer transparent quality control and analysis.  These companies generally are pharmaceuticals that stand to lose a great deal if they were found to be selling bogus products.  In the case of my hospital, we work with a private lab to produce our own brand of health supplements, shampoos, and topicals to ensure that we choose what ingredients go into our products, as well as have oversight of the production and quality control.

Milk Thistle

Milk thistle is an herb that has regenerative capabilities with regard to the liver.  One can think of the liver kind of like a star fish.  If it gets damaged or loses functional tissue due to disease, it can regrow and replace the damaged portions of liver with new health liver tissue.  Mild thistle facilitates that process and therefore should be an integral component of any chronic liver disease treatment protocol.

SAM-E (S-Adenosyl Methionine)  

SAM-E is a compound that, similarly to milk thistle, has regenerative and anti-inflammatory properties with regard to the liver, properties that work synergistically when used in combination with milk thistle.  SAM-E also has anti-inflammatory activity at the level of the nervous system and therefore can be helpful in cases of cognitive dysfunction and neurological pain associated with spinal disk disease and diabetes.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a powerful anti-oxidant, and is therefore very useful in conditions where there are disease processes that lead to large amounts of free radical creation in the body. Free radicals cause oxidative damage to cells and tissue.  Vitamin E is therefore an very helpful component in treatment of cognitive dysfunction, chronic liver disease, chronic kidney disease,  and cancer.

Vitamin E also promotes the movement of oxygen, making it invaluable in the treatment of circulatory and heart disease.  Finally, Vitamin E aids in the repair of connective tissues, thereby being helpful in cases of arthritis, vascular disease, and spinal disk disease.

Glucosamine

This a molecule that is an integral component of normal, healthy cartilage and synovial fluid within the joint.  Giving this supplement therefore helps to repair damaged cartilage and increases joint fluid production within the joint to provide relief from arthritis, degenerative joint disease, and other inflammatory conditions of the musculoskeletal system.

MSM (methoxysulfonylmethane)

The exact mechanism is no known, but data suggests that it has an anti-inflammatory affect on the body, especially in the joints.  As such, it is used in the management of osteoarthritis and other inflammatory conditions of the joints.

Bromelain 

Involved in collagen synthesis and is therefore useful in treating arthritis, degenerative spinal disk disease, and other cases where damaged cartilage or other connective tissues are involved.

Chondroitin

A major component of normal, health cartilage and therefore helps with treatment of arthritis.

Vitamin C

A powerful anti-oxidant and therefore helpful in any condition that leads to free radical creation: chronic liver disease, chronic kidney disease, cancer, arthritis, skin disease, endocrine disease.

Omega-3-fatty acids

From my point of view, this is the mack daddy of all nutritional supplements.  Derived from fish oils and certain omega-3 rich vegetables, omega-3-fatty acids are a powerful anti-inflammtory at the level of most tissues in the body.  A key component to the cell membrane, omega-3-fatty acids are also invaulable in the repair of damaged or compromised tissues.  From cognitive dysfunction and dementia, to chronic allergy at the level of the gut, skin, and circulatory system, this nutrional supplement should be part of any animal’s diet.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture may be defined as the insertion of needles into specific points on the body to produce a healing response. Each acupuncture point has specific actions when stimulated. This technique has been used in veterinary practice in China for thousands of years to treat many ailments. The Chinese also use acupuncture as preventative medicine. Acupuncture is used all around the world, either along or in conjunction with Western medicine, to treat a wide variety of conditions in every species of animal. Clinical research has been conducted showing positive results in the treatment of both animals and humans, and the use of acupuncture is increasing. Acupuncture will not cure every condition, but it can work very well when it is indicated.

Acupuncture is indicated for functional problems such as those that involve paralysis, noninfectious inflammation (such as allergies), and pain. For small animals, the following are some of the general conditions which may be treated with acupuncture:

  • Musculoskeletal problems, such as arthritis, intervertebral disk disease, or traumatic nerve injury
  • Respiratory problems, such as feline asthma
  • Skin problems such as lick granulomas and allergic dermatitis
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea
  • Selected reproductive problems

Low Level Laser (Cold Laser)

MLS Therapy is a new therapy for treating pain, inflammation, swelling, and for repairing injured tissues.  With regard to pain reduction, the therapy laser stimulates the synthesis of pain reducing biochemicals in the body, specifically endorphins and encephalin.  Since the laser stimulates lymphatic drainage from a site, it also considerably reduces swelling and inflammation, which also has a pain reduction effect.  Finally, the therapy laser stimulates muscle and trigger point providing musculoskeletal pain relief.

Accelerated healing is another benefit of the therapy laser, as photons of emitted light penetrate deeply into tissues to stimulate rapid cellular reproduction and growth.  These photons also increase the amount of energy available to cells so that they can absorb nutrients while eliminating waste products faster.  As a result of all of this, tissues such as tendons, ligaments, muscle and skin are repaired more quickly.

Another phenomenon that stimulates faster healing is the opening or dilation of small blood vessels in an area.  More blood supply brings in healing cells faster, accelerating the healing process while reducing the formation of scar tissue.

Chiropractic

A chiropractic adjustment is defined as short lever, high velocity controlled thrust by hand or instrument that is directed at specific articulations to correct vertebral subluxations.  It comprises the adjustment of vertebral joints, extremity joints, and cranial sutures.  It includes evaluating the patient’s history, intended use/athleticism, health state and prior x-rays and tests.  A chiropractic exam includes a neurological exam, stance and gait analysis and motion and static palpation. 

Chiropractic is invaluable in the treatment of the following conditions:

  • Neck, back, leg, and tail pain,
  • Muscle spasms and nerve problems,
  • Injuries from slips, falls, and accidents,
  • Jaw or TMJ problems, difficulty chewing,
  • Event or sports injuries,
  • Post-surgical care,
  • Bowel, bladder, and internal medicine disorders,
  • Maintenance of joint and spinal health,
  • Healing/helping with chronic internal medicine disorders.

In my next and final installment of this series, I will give real case examples of how I integrate both western medicine and these alternative modalities in the treatment of disease.

Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne, FL and founder/CEO of Web-DVM.net.

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