Veterinarians Team With Mother Nature for Better Results

10/25/2010 11:07 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Scientists are pretty smart, but give them a bucket of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, sulfur, iron, nitrogen and a few other miscellaneous things and see how many tomatoes they can make from scratch.

Nature is smarter.

You will not find nature studying scientists, but smart scientists surely do study nature.

Smart scientists know they can work with nature and resolve many issues. This is true in medicine, too, where smart doctors work with nature to improve patients' lives.

Scientists in the field of ethnobotany study how different cultures use plants for a variety of purposes. Pharmaceutical companies spend large budgets studying herbs in hopes of finding the next "magic bullet" antibiotic, heart or cancer fighting medication. They analyze thousands of plants and other natural substances in this search to find a novel, patentable compound to expand shareholder profits. That is laudable work and we have many modern advances because of this type of study. It is estimated that rain forests of the world hold plants that contain millions of phytochemicals that might have medical use. Every time I treat a cat for cancer with a drug called "vincristine" I am grateful to the shaman that discovered the plant and the pharmacy company scientists that refined it into a useful drug. I also worry about how many new drugs we are losing as we lose rain forest lands, but that is another discussion.

If we look at the plant called milk thistle, scientifically called Silybum marianum, we find an interesting story. This plant has been used by ancient cultures for thousands of years to treat liver disease. A Roman named Pliny the elder (AD 23-79) wrote about the use of this herb to move bile from the liver. Five hundred years later a British herbalist described use of this herb's juice for opening obstructions of the liver and for cleansing the blood. German doctors began using the herb in the 19th century and found it useful for liver disease. Finally in recent times, German doctors actually began testing milk thistle to find it useful in protecting against poisoning and in draining the bile. Dr. David Twedt, a veterinary professor and researcher at Colorado State University performed research on milk thistle for use in liver disease in animals. He confirmed it had protective effects against poisoning and recommends the use of milk thistle or an extract of one of its active ingredients in treatment of liver disease. Chemists discovered that they could alter the active ingredients a bit and that this improved absorption and we end up with a product called Marin(TM) made by Nutrimax.

Nature made milk thistle. It took us over 2,000 years to find out what was in it, but before we knew that people observed its active uses and found it helpful for treatment of liver disease. Holistic veterinarians have been using it for a long time.

We now know that milk thistle contains many compounds that work together. Tiny changes in hormone levels cause vast changes in the body's chemistry, or synergism. By combining small amounts of many different substances we see a strong effect on the body. Nature likes to do that. Whether we are talking about an ocean or a body, it takes diversity to make health. If one part goes out of balance the whole area becomes stressed in one way or another. If the system cannot reestablish order then confusion begins and disease can emerge. The symptoms we see are the body's message of what it is doing in that effort to bring back order and establish control once again.

Chinese herbalists used the principle of synergism and began combining different herbs into formulas that assist the body to heal. Some ingredients are there for strong clinical effect and others help to reduce toxicity and undesirable symptoms. This is very helpful and more effective than just giving one herb for many conditions. In a formula called Liver Happy, we find several herbs combined to assist in supporting liver function. Those trained in Chinese medicine know how to combine foods to create similar effects. They also know how to select herbs from reputable producers so that the risk of adulteration is minimized.

Western herbalists use the same principle in selecting herbal formulas for their patients. A doctor might select one herb for immune support, another for toxin drainage and another to modulate the stronger effects of the formula.

Homotoxicology uses low doses of mineral, animal and vegetable agents to gently stimulate the body's healing mechanisms. By combining these agents into formulas, a biological therapist can stimulate blood flow to an organ, improve immune function, assist with the removal of toxic materials and even support organ repair. Some of these agents may activate stem cells and affect healing directly through actions on bioactive substances like cytokines. As researchers enter these fields we are discovering a host of new facts.

Part of why this works in these different fields of healing is that the body responds differently to different doses of the same substance. Small amounts of substances gently stimulate the body's natural systems, while larger doses stimulate it harder and higher doses actually suppress the body's systems. In higher doses still we find the toxic effects which can and do kill. A well trained natural doctor can select specific agents as well as determine what doses are more advantageous for a particular patient's needs.

Veterinarians who use herbs and homeopathics study the ethnobotany, biochemistry, and energetic effects of these agents and then use various systems to combine them together in ways that assist nature in recreating or establishing better conditions of health and well being. These ideas apply to drugs as well.

The search for a magic bullet, a single drug to cure an ill often fails, and modern medicine is catching on and using combination therapies in cardiology and oncology. Use of different drugs is well established in cardiology. Integration of ancient and modern scientific knowledge gives rise to the field of integrative medicine. A recent article demonstrated that by combining a nonsteroidal antiiflammatory drug with an analog of vitamin E, human mammary cancer cells could be negatively affected while lower doses of the potentially toxic drug was used. This could lead to more effective outcomes with reduced adverse effects. For years we have known that combination chemotherapy works better for diseases like lymphosarcoma in dogs than single agents. This new knowledge allows us to better use combinations of nutritional items and drugs to treat patients with cancer. As we learn more about genetics our ability to affect many dreaded diseases is beginning to improve.

But as important as finding new drugs is the knowledge that we can prevent many of these diseases or put them off by simply eating better and staying active and lean. Eating greens can improve the liver's ability to detoxify and actually turn off genes that turn on liver cancer. It is far better to eat some fresh food than take liver chemotherapy. It's less expensive, too. The small amounts of various chemicals that we don't even know yet in one leaf of kale can prevent and cure cancer better than anything in a pill I can prescribe. Scientists are now studying kale in hopes of finding these compounds and learning how they work. For now though, perhaps we understand a bit more why dogs browse fresh grass tips and eat various plants in Nature. They may be much more right than any veterinary text book on my shelf!

As we learn more about Nature we can imitate it and achieve more harmonious and rewarding lives. Nature tends to work in cooperative efforts and in doing so conquers more and more territory. Its parts require some safe space. Once secured they take energy, combine it into more useful forms and exchange those energies within the organism and with other organisms. That exchange of energies leads to a wide field of living capable of resolving a host of problems.

When that happens in a body we call it health.

That is what we are all looking for isn't it?