Herbal therapies continue to spark debate with DVMs


Denounced as quackery by opponents, herbal remedies make mark on veterinary science; call for efficacy studies

Lauren, Kan.-Dr. Randy Kidd considers himself a man of logic.

So when the practitioner with a Ph.D. in pathology sat in on two alternativetherapy classes a decade ago on a journalism stint, he never dreamed itwould lead him where he is today-head of an alternative practice and authorof herbal therapy books.

"I am, by nature, very skeptical, and traditional science demandsyou have results for what you do," he says. "So I didn't startbelieving until I was asked to treat a friend's paralyzed dog. I gave itmy best shot using natural substances, and the dog was up and walking inthree days."

Kidd is an example of many one-time conventional DVMs now using herbalremedies despite what opponents call efficacy and safety issues.

With the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) traditional hands-off approach,herbs are not regulated or standardized in terms of safety, potency andquality control as are manmade pharmaceuticals.

But even without regulatory watchdogs, use of herbs has skyrocketed astracked on the herbal sales circuit, says Geoff D'Arcy, owner of onlineherbal store D'Arcy Naturals. Whether it's over-the-counter food additivesor replacement pharmaceuticals, business has never been better, he claims.

"I probably have about 100 veterinary clients now," D'Arcysays, "and it's snowballing. Even conventional veterinarians buy fromus. We don't know a great deal about herbs and there's not much sciencebehind them, but we do know they work."

On the rise

Practitioners are turning to herbal drugs simply because they're eagerto try new approaches and are frustrated with traditional medicine, saysDr. Cyril Clarke with the American College of Veterinary Clinical Pharmacology.

In fact, there's a movement to document herbal success cases and compiledata on often-varied drugs, says Clarke, who at presstime was reviewinga book on natural anti-tumor agents for the Journal of the American VeterinaryMedical Association.

"The honest truth is that unless there is comprehensive researchdone along with follow-up data, one cannot be sure of the results of herbalremedies," he says. "I'm not for or against them. It's not thatthey don't work or aren't safe, but you're not sure."

"A total crapshoot"

But without FDA regulation, unsafe is exactly how herbal remedies shouldbe considered, says Dr. Dave Ramey, a Los Angeles equine practitioner.

Aside from "unproven results," practitioners can run into troublebecause the contents of herbs vary. They're crude pharmaceutical substances,Ramey says, with no quality control, standardized dosage or known potency.

"Tornadoes are natural, earthquakes are natural, rattlesnakes arenatural-natural isn't always good," he explains. "Herbal drugsare irresponsible. When I want to administer a medication to an animal,ideally, I would like to know how much I should be giving, its effects,its side effects and the possibility of drug interactions.

"With herbal medicine I can't do any of that. It's like herbal roulette."

Coveted therapy

But according to an American Association of Equine (AAEP) Practitioners1998 survey, many equine DVMs are willing to take the risk. Of the 737 AAEPmembers randomly polled, half of the respondents either practiced alternativetherapies or referred clients to others who do.

"This isn't do-it-yourself therapy," says Dr. Susan Wynn, whorecently founded the Veterinary Botanical Medical Association, a group thatpromotes responsible herbal practice. "Sure, it's not as straightforwardas Western drugs, but we encourage people to work with their colleaguesand do research on herbs since they can somewhat vary."

As far as the AVMA's concerned, it's a hot topic-one that's not likelyto go away, says Dr. Craig Smith, head of the group's task force for complementaryand alternative veterinary medicine.

"The AVMA's policy is that we're open to it, but without a scientificbase, we can't recommend it," he says. "But with such varied opinions,we're always looking ahead It's a policy we're willing to visit at leastonce every three years."

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