Equine Therapeutics: Using Biochemic Tissue Salts in Healing

Tissue or cell salts may sometimes be thought of as the “red-headed stepchild” in holistic therapeutics. They are triturated yet they are not true homeopathic remedies, and in fact they work within the Law of Opposites, not the Law of Similars. They are not really understood by many naturopaths, and many ‘classical’ homeopaths shun them because they are outside the context of the “totality of symptoms” approach. Yet these little tablets of twelve various mineral salts can be invaluable in certain therapeutic situations…we simply have to understand what they are and know when to use them.

Tissue salts were developed by Dr. Wilhelm Heinrich Schϋssler in Germany during the mid to latter part of the 19th century. Dr. Schϋssler was born and raised during a peak time of conflict between natural science and the burgeoning materialistic approach to science. He was both a homeopath and a medical doctor (for humans). Like Samuel Hahnemann before him, he was disenchanted with the ignorance of fellow doctors who were becoming more and more enveloped by the materialistic realm, and was becoming disenchanted and frustrated by consistent lack of successful treatment of his patients utilizing the prevailing conventional methodology. Even though he practised as a homeopathic doctor for seventeen years, including writing a book on homeopathy, he was very restless with applying the Law of Similars principle and employed “Contraria contrariis” – treatment via antidoting, or what we now call the Law of Opposites. What Schϋssler apparently failed to realize at the time, is that Hahnemann viewed the Law of Opposites as a valid natural law from a non-disease aspect; and what Hahnemann did not comprehend enough to bring to light was the biochemical process that the body goes through in utilizing minerals.

During his university years, Schϋssler was exposed to the teachings of Justus von Liebig, a chemistry teacher, as well as Rudolf Virchow, the founder of cellular pathology, who taught that changes in function or condition of cells in the body can result in illness. Through von Liebig we gained the knowledge of the “law of the minimum”, particularly with respect to nutrient minerals: if one element is missing or deficient, (plant) growth will be poor, even if the other elements are abundant.1 (This can apply to growth of any organism that requires minerals for sustenance.) It was Schϋssler who coined the term “biochemistry”.

In order to develop his understanding of mineral requirements, Dr. Schüssler performed studies which allowed him to determine which mineral elements remained after a person or animal had died. He burned cadavers and examined the contents, establishing that 12 minerals remained in the ash, and depending on the state of health of the cadaver before death, found that certain minerals would be lacking. What is interesting to note is that the tissue salts that Schϋssler determined as being crucial to sustain life are the same minerals that we now label as essential to organic life. These minerals are also called electrolytes due to electrical charges that separate them.

Since ingested minerals must go through the digestive tract, and utilizing his knowledge of biochemistry, he realized that the body requires time to break down and metabolize crude (or coarse, as he called them) minerals. Dr. Schϋssler also understood that when the body digests food (at least of the kind it recognizes) it is essentially dynamizing and potentizing that food – and all of its components – to become assimilated into self. From his knowledge of homeopathic principles and then by applying this same theory to minerals, he was able to formulate a delivery method of single minerals that the body recognized as already having been ‘digested’. Therefore, Schϋssler tissue salts bypass the digestive process and are transported directly into the blood stream which in turn allows them to pass to each cell as needed. He called these dynamized tissue salts “fine” minerals, as opposed to “coarse” (or crude) minerals. We have a process today of chelating crude minerals that helps facilitate absorption over simply feeding ‘rock powders’, but these “fine” tissue salts work much faster than even chelated minerals; depending upon the exact form, coarse minerals may take up to three months before any difference is noticed in the organism.2

Minerals first need to come through food – and that means a species appropriate diet. However, it is no secret that many of the Earth’s soils are minerally depleted. If the soil is depleted whatever is growing in that soil will also be lacking. We can also find that the animal suffers a functional deficiency even when there is sufficient quantity of a given mineral in the food. This can occur due to many things, not the least of which is a history of traumas to the system such as vaccinations and other conventional drugs. The first step is to clear these traumas (a subject not addressed here), but sometimes the body needs a little ‘push’ in the right direction – this is where tissue salts can have a significant therapeutic advantage. We can think of tissue salts as cellular ‘superfood’. While they do not replenish a lacking of a particular mineral, they provide a blueprint or model for which the organism can then regain functionality. In some very chronic cases we may need to rely on these fine mineral forms (to correct function) as well as more coarse forms (to replace a mineral that is missing). This is why I always recommend having available a good blend of chelated powdered (not block form please!) minerals, as well as loose Celtic or Himalayan salt and quality kelp meal, that a horse may partake of free choice; allowed an appropriate lifestyle, he will instinctively know when to do so.

Tissue salts are generally triturated up to D12, but more commonly one finds them in D6 and sometimes D3 potencies. Any dilution past D24 (24X/12C) exceeds Avogadro’s number, so these biochemic tissue/cell salts contain some amount of crude mineral substance and are therefore used to ‘oppose’ a deficiency; they do not treat ‘disease’ as regular homeopathic remedies do. Below is a list of the twelve primary tissue salts with a short description; I am listing the full name as well as the abbreviated version of the name; also please note that the tissue salts go by number and that the numbers may be different between US and European pharmacies. Before utilizing, please do more reading as this article is but a brief introduction. One good book is Schϋssler Tissue Salts for Horses; Hans-Heinrich Jӧrgensen, 2007, Cadmos Verlag GmbH, Brunsbek (This book addresses the typical human-centric “use” of horses; obviously that is an etiological factor that needs to be stopped, thus reducing the need for so much therapeutic intervention.)

#1 Calcium fluoride (Calc fluor) – affinity for the bones, teeth, skin, connective tissues, and the elastic fibers of the veins and glands (i.e. the form of the organism); respiratory issues may be helped with this remedy especially when there is loss of elasticity in the lung area.

#2 Calcium phosphate (Calc phos) – affinity for the bones and teeth especially; also glands, nerves (particularly through spinal area), blood, gastric juices, and connective tissues; is an excellent restorative remedy for the convalescent; main function is to process protein; foals that may not be growing well for some reason may benefit from this remedy.

#3 Calcium sulphate (Calc sulph) – liver (including assisting with drainage/detoxification), gall bladder (which horses don’t have but nevertheless can help with excess acid reduction), spleen, and testicles; this mineral is mostly found in tissues of skin, blood, and mucous membranes; can help loosen mucous as well as sclerotic processes in the body. Please note: in original literature this remedy may be omitted as Schϋssler placed it at the end of his list and later removed it (leaving only 11 biochemical salts); however it was already established in use by that time; in the US it is listed as #3.

#4 Iron phosphate (Ferrum phos) – iron transports oxygen in the body and primarily found in all blood vessels as well as intestines; is an indicated remedy for anemia; it is also a primary remedy for inflammatory/fever processes (although keep in mind that some inflammation is necessary as a healing process).

#5 Potassium chloride (Kali muriaticum) – is a component of muscles and connective tissues, nerve cells, blood, mucous membranes, glands, and brain cells; helps to form fibrin; may bind to toxins but does not eliminate them.

#6 Potassium phosphate (Kali phos) – an energy carrier helping to build new cells and helps to prevent cellular breakdown; regulates metabolism in muscles; is a component of the nervous system (brain, spinal cord, etc); may be appropriate for some nerve-related emotional issues.

#7 Potassium sulphate (Kali sulph) – assists in the conversion of oxygen from blood into cells; detoxification with main action on spleen, liver and GI tract; is also found in the skin and mucous membranes; a primary use is in skin issues as well as mucosal related complaints.

#8 Magnesium phosphate (Mag phos) – has an affinity for the nerves, muscles, and heart, and is a good remedy for cramps and spasms of all kinds; may help with flatulence as it binds gases and helps to eliminate them.

#9 Sodium chloride (Natrum muriaticum) – salt regulates fluid throughout the body, and therefore also heat; it works on regeneration and renewal of tissues, cells, and fluids; may be used in both excess (edema) and deficiency (dehydration).

#10 Sodium phosphate (Natrum phos) – the biochemic acid balancer; can help with transformation of uric acid into urea and gastric upset; may assist with fat and sugar metabolism as well as blood pH regulation; the primary action is on the stomach, lymph, and tissue.

#11 Sodium sulphate (Natrum sulph) – helps with waste removal; has affinity for liver, pancreas, intestines (and gall bladder); along with Nat mur can assist in cases of edema.

#12 Silicon dioxide (Silica, sometimes spelled Silicea) – can assist in expelling nonfunctional organic matter (although this may best be done via actual homeopathic treatment depending on the situation); it is the construction material for connective tissue; acts on nerves, skin, hair, nails, cells and intracellular substances.

Administering cell/tissue salts to horses is quite easy. They are typically purchased in a bottle of small lactose tablets, and are generally quite cost effect being sold in bottles of 100 tablets. Once you have determined which one or ones need to be used, you can take the amount of tablets of each one (if more than one remedy), dissolve in a small amount of warm water (which generally only takes a few minutes). If there is a concern about too much lactose, you can let settle and pour off, leaving the lactose at the bottom of the container. This poured-off water (or otherwise entire amount) can then either be syringed directly into the mouth or simply poured over a tiny bit of hay. A typical maintenance dose for a 1000 pound horse would be about five tablets one or two times per day; a therapeutic/acute dose would be more frequently given, not more quantity per dose.

Cell salts may also be purchased as a combination of all twelve; this is a situation where they may be used to replace or balance electrolytes in total, such as after a profuse sweating, diarrhea, or other cause of loss of body fluids. One may also use the 12-combination salts prophylactically to help maintain functional homeostasis. In these situations, I would recommend doubling the amount of the tablets in a single dose, however if giving prophylactically, you may do so only once per day or even just a couple times per week. In a situation of emergency electrolyte replacement, I would recommend giving about 5 tablets dissolved every thirty minutes until the situation begins to resolve, then decrease to once every couple of hours until the horse is replenished.

1 Paraphrased from: http://www.avocadosource.com/tools/FertCalc_files/liebigs_law.htm

2 Some information here is based upon the article: “Schüssler Cell Salts and Their Application within the Heilkunst System”; Gudula Beythien, Hpathy Ezine, June, 2009.

[This article was first written for and published in the Feb 2015 newsletter of the American Council of Animal Naturopathy; it can also be found here on the ACAN blog.]

Equine Behavior: The Fence Runner

I saw this post over a year ago – in a question and answer type format – from a well-known equine trainer residing and working in Europe. I will leave names out as I have no desire to disparage anyone personally; my intent in this article is to point out a very small part of the enormous amount of misconceptions regarding equine behavior and the resulting completely inappropriate “fixes” that many people manage to come up with. This is just one of many examples across a variety of behavioral “issues”. It has been my observation that numerous horse owners – at all levels of experience – tend to look to so-called professionals for these “corrections” to their horse’s behavior. Unfortunately far too many even go so far as to idolize their chosen professional horse “guru”, becoming blinded to the animal that is actually standing in front of them. Before you say “I’m not one of those people”, please look carefully in the mirror. I almost once was years ago and I know how easily it can happen, especially when you are either or both, at your wit’s end or a newcomer to the world of horses (which in actuality, many experienced individuals are truly ‘newcomers’ from the horse’s perspective).

The issue presented was this (paraphrased unless indicated as a direct quote):
Owner had gotten a new horse (a mare) three to four months prior to writing to ask for help from the trainer. It was stated that she was “having real problems” when turning the horse out during the day. [Please note it is not specifically stated from where the mare was turned out but given horse keeping practices in this particular European country, as well as indications later in her post, it is quite likely the mare was stalled at least at night, and perhaps some during the day.] The owner went on to say that the mare did not seem to settle down during her time outside and spent the entire time walking and/or galloping up and down the fence line; she perceived the mare to be “unhappy” not to mention the gully along the fence line that had become two feet deep in parts [which could be a danger to the horse]. The owner indicated they had tried the mare “in beside another horse which made no difference”. It is assumed, although not specifically indicated, that this means there was a fence between the two horses.

The trainer’s reply was the requisite acknowledgement of this being a “difficult situation” and causing both the owner and the mare “a great deal of stress”. He went on to state that the mare’s behavior served a purpose and that she was not “just” acting “crazy”, stating that the behavioral display of fence running was a coping mechanism for stress. He went on to say that the fence was what was preventing her from “completing a normal behavioral pattern”, which in this case amounted to her not being able to leave the field and go someplace where she felt more comfortable, according to the trainer. He then falls into the typical conditioning paradigm suggesting that the owner going to the mare when the mare is fence running did nothing but reinforce that behavior. He further stated that this was a complicated behavioral problem with many potential causes. It was suggested that the owner become a “behavioral detective” investigating all aspects of the mare’s environment: how does she behave when stabled, what was her behavior prior to her current home and did she display this same behavior there, what is her current diet, is she experiencing any pain [referring only to somatic, not emotional pain], does she have any current medical conditions. One of the particularly interesting questions the trainer suggests is – where would the mare go if left to her own devices? Once these questions (and a few others) are answered, the trainer indicates he would recommend placing the mare where she appeared to feel comfortable, even if that meant keeping her stabled. He further suggests that he would then recommend behavioral shaping (i.e. operant conditioning) and desensitization plans, the goal of which (not specifically stated in so many words) would be to suppress the reactive behavioral display of fence running. He does also suggest investigating the use of homeopathy, herbals, and/or flower essences as temporary palliative measures.

I have followed the work of this trainer off and on for several years, out of curiosity and a desire to understand the prevailing behaviorism view if nothing else. He advertises himself as a trainer who uses the “practical application of the science of behavior”. That basically translates into not using physically aggressive methods more than “necessary” and relying heavily on behavioral conditioning (shaping; stimulus/response); he is only one of many that fall into this or similar category, collectively characterized by the so-called term of “natural horsemanship” (aka, NH), or even “beyond natural horsemanship”, as some like to refer to it for a marketing twist. Yet not only do the two sides of equine training (traditional vs “natural”) each argue their side is best, we can also find within various NH camps argument of which specific behavioral modification application obtains the best results. And therein lies the issue  nothing is being done to recognize the primary underlying issue as viewed from the horse’s way of seeing, and every approach seeks to “fit” the horse into a human lifestyle so that the horse presents no overt issues during any type of equestrian activity (including the training session itself). Curiously, this false dichotomy with the horse world is not unlike many other false dichotomies involving the natural world – including that of “integrative medicine” .(1)

Horses are a highly social species and, as in many social species, mares are the ones that provide more of the nurturing aspect relative to the stallion (this is not to say stallions do not possess nurturing behavioral aspects). And so we may find that mares tend to be more reactive in displaying their dislikes of being placed in a dysfunctional situation than a gelding perhaps would be.(2) While males certainly do so as well, mares form especially close attachments and it can become very difficult on them to be moved from one home to another; this is something that many people do not seem to recognize. It is my position that we should not try to mold and shape (i.e. condition) the horse’s behavior to what we want it to be, but instead to try to understand it from the horse’s perspective and then provide the appropriate environment that would sustain and nurture a healthy behavioral response based upon the horse’s cognizant relationship with all aspects of that environment.

The two primary issues I see with this situation as described above is that the horse is stalled at least part of the day and she is not allowed time with conspecifics. Many times when a new horse is brought into an existing group, the owner/manager is wary of the potential for aggression between the new member and the existing ones. Even though I heartily disagree with horses changing hands like they are nothing more than a paper commodity (which unfortunately that is all they are for many people), it does happen and occasionally there are legitimate reasons for doing so within a domestic situation. It would be hoped that the existing group already enjoyed as appropriate of a lifestyle as domesticity can allow, and it would certainly be appropriate to physically but not visually separate the newcomer from the existing group for an initial short period of time. However, this separation should be at pasture or at least with freedom to enter and leave a barn or shed at will. How long this separation time should be will likely be dependent upon the newcomer’s previous environment and experiences there. Keeping the newcomer in a stall for even part of the day will serve only to exacerbate any amount of stress she is already experiencing from being moved to a new home. Certainly some interventions with homeopathics, essential oils, and/or flower essences would help ease the transition; this is not something I look upon as palliative but can actually help in removing fears and other debilitating emotions; however, please understand that an appropriate environment is of utmost and first concern (and that includes a species appropriate diet). Under this scenario, depending upon the gender makeup of the existing group and assuming no abnormal resource pressures, physically moving a new mare into it would likely generate only a short display of physical aggression with little if any bodily harm; and this would be a completely normal reaction within these circumstances.

Unfortunately this kind of scenario seldom exists. Most horse owners and managers hold onto the existing false paradigms of dominance and hierarchy within equine groups, and thus will segregate group members based upon not just incorrect behavioristic assumptions but will allow convenience to dictate make-up of group members, especially in boarding situations. Dominance and hierarchical behaviors are resource based behaviors and manifest themselves only when it comes to horses kept in a situation in which the numbers are too great for the space allowed; these kinds of behaviors do not exist in the wild (except in situations of overcrowding and range mismanagement) and the “alpha mare” concept is a completely false one. Behavioral “problems” such as that describe above, and including other stereotypies, will continue so long as we view horses as objects of use and as “dumb” animals that respond to dominance and conditioning. It is not in the least a popular position to state that no horse (or any animal) should be used as a device toward human centric gain – but that is exactly what I am advocating. Until we are able to completely view the horse as a cognizant, sentient being instead of a means to an end, these kinds of aberrant behaviors will perpetuate. Many people profess to “love” their horse, yet they do not hesitate to replace that animal when s/he no longer fits the human’s needs, or to treat the horse inappropriately for the species’ needs. All animals are part of our human universe – they are simply “other nations”, to borrow from a favorite quote of mine by Henry Beston. The current overriding philosophical view of how an animal interacts with his environment is one in which the animal and the environment are two separate organisms. They are not; that cannot be stressed enough. For many years some researchers have held the concept that humans and animals are biologically integrated with their environment; the nervous system is not a separate system per se, but exists as such only when bound up by its environment.(3) Indeed, humans and animals themselves are biologically integrated if we view life forms from with a science of holism. This is a fundamental basis of the overarching concept of the parts-within-a-unity that I adhere to and teach, and is not a new concept, just a very little recognized one. It is a conceptual “systems view”(4) of life forms that also considers that species’ morphology.

(1) Integrative medicine theoretically integrates conventional/western medicine with natural/eastern medicine; this is a false concept based upon a lack of understanding what true disease is.

(2) Dysfunctional is defined here as a biological term simply meaning that an equine ‘herd’ can only be defined as one that is biologically correct within nature – made up of a stallion, a certain number of mares, and the resulting foals living in a species appropriate environment (meaning, not a restricted one). Almost all domestic horse groups can be defined as biologically dysfunctional. This is not to be construed as necessarily an impenetrable barrier but as a place from which to begin to understand the true nature of the horse. This is also not intended to say that a gelding cannot suffer as much emotionally as a mare can when moved from one home to another; and perhaps it is that mares may be moved around more than stallions or even geldings.

(3) Järvilehto, T., 1998. The theory of the organism-environment system: I. Description of the theory. Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science, 33 (4), 321–334.

(4) This phrase, “systems view” (of life) borrows from the title of the book by Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi, The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision, Cambridge University Press, 2014.

[This article was first written for and published in the Aug 2014 newsletter of the American Council of Animal Naturopathy; it can also be found here on the ACAN blog.]

Equine Nutrition & Lifestyle: It’s De Plane

(Please note that the following discussion applies to healthy horses, not sick/debilitated ones.)

Those of you too young to remember the TV show, Fantasy Island, may get a little lost by the article title; if so Wikipedia can explain it thoroughly. 🙂 The idea for this piece came to me after reading a post on Wild Horse Education concerning body scoring on wild horses and the natural fluctuations they go through. Sometimes it seems our domestic horses live on a “fantasy island” when our husbandry methods go contrary to their biological nature.

Body scoring on a horse was developed by Dr. Henneke et al. in the early 1980’s, as an attempt to standardize the assessment of body condition without mechanical means, using visual observation as well as palpation. Its use is primarily with horses in domestic situations but can be used to assess wild horses – IF the naturally occurring variations are taken into consideration. And therein lies the crux of the situation…we humans have a tendency to think we have “saved” the horse from the vicissitudes of the wild by giving him a warm bed and regular meals.

According to Wikipedia:

The Henneke horse body condition scoring system is a numerical scale used to evaluate the amount of fat on a horse’s body. It was developed by Henneke et al. (1983) at Texas A&M University with the goal of creating a universal scale to assess horses’ bodyweight. It is a standardized system that can be used across all breeds without specialized equipment; condition is assessed visually and by palpation. Scores range from 1 to 9 with one being poor and nine being extremely fat; the ideal range for most horses is from 4 to 6. … The system is based on both visual appraisal and palpable fat cover of the six major points of the horse. The system is used by law enforcement agencies as an objective method of scoring a horse’s body condition in horse cruelty cases. [In practice it is also used in clinical applications and by owners.]

Hennecke fat depositsThis is a pictorial guide to the various places on a horse’s body that will accumulate or lose fat. This particular horse is what has been determined to be about “ideal” (body score of 6) regarding weight and fat deposition. Obviously breed confirmation can have some effect on this.

An excerpt from the book Equine Nutrition: From a Species Appropriate Perspective (p112), and is the book used in the ACAN Equine Nutrition course:

A little recognized aspect of the nutritional ecology of the horse is that they have evolved to be able to adapt to varying planes of nutrition. What is a “plane of nutrition”? A plane of nutrition is defined as the quantity and quality of per capita food intake. In practical terms, this means that the horse is perfectly adapted biologically to seasonal fluctuations in nutrient availability. This does not translate into – “it is ok to feed my horse only one or two large meals per day”. What it means is that the horse instinctively knows he is supposed to increase his nutrient intake – and thus likely his fat deposits – prior to winter. When you see your horse put on a little weight in the fall, this is no particular cause for alarm. By the same token, when you see your horse lose some amount of weight over winter, this again is not necessarily cause for alarm. To contradict this natural biological process can have consequences that I think are not being given proper recognition. When we disrupt these innate biological processes, we can begin to step into at least the realm of metabolic imbalance if not outright disease condition. There has been much written about the biology of behavior, but too little about the behavior of biology as science has tended to take a Newtonian view that biological processes are “mechanized”.

Allowing the horse to actually lose weight over winter respects his natural biological processes. Western civilization tends to be obsessed with diet, and overeating is an all too common occurrence. This unfortunately carries over to the animals under our care; horse owners tend to panic when they see their horse losing some amount of weight over winter and will increase the quantity of feed to compensate. This is foreign to the horse whose not-so-distance ancestors were completely adapted to a decreasing plane of nutrition over winter. Those same horses also knew to increase their plane of nutrition prior to the onset of winter and would naturally gain weight during that time. Modern day horse owners will then respond to this with either increased exercise (to get that weight off!) and/or reduction in amount of food. All of this has the effect of being virtually the opposite of what the horse would naturally do left to his own devices.

There are now many factors involved in the current management situation of the wild horses in the western US states that have dire effects upon what would otherwise be a normal situation; in other words, we no longer have “normal” regarding wild horses in many of the areas. That being said (and the discussion of which is much too involved to get into here), we can still glean some amount of information as to appropriate biological responses in horses. The remainder of this discussion referring to wild horses will “pretend” they still live in such a biologically appropriate manner.

In the wild a horse may show a body score of 4 as summer is coming on; gain weight during the warm months and going into winter, increasing to a 5 or 6; then drop to a body score of 3+ as winter ends; this cycle gets repeated year after year. In addition to seasonal changes to the food supply, we also find that the reproductive cycle plays a significant role in determining response to varying nutrition planes, with both mares and stallions being affected. The physiological response on the mare is of course due to the requirements of the foal both in-utero (we should see weight gain in the mare especially during the last trimester and reasonable weight loss after birth) and post-foaling (nursing); the physiological response of stallions is typically seen in weight loss in response to the dynamic tension that naturally exists in competing for mares.

In domestic situations, most people strive to keep their horse equivalent to a body score of 6 or a little above continuously, although we may find many people think that a body score of 6 is too “thin”. Even though there is an abundant amount of information available showing that horses evolved physiologically to be trickle feeders (i.e. requiring little bits of food over most of a 24 hour period) for some inexplicable reason many (if not most) horses are subjected to scheduled feedings two or three times per day, year around. In fact, many times their feed is actually increased during late winter months to compensate for what would be natural weight loss. These practices tend to be generated by both the human centric “use” of horses as well as an anthropocentric projection of what the equine body condition should be.

On the other hand on some of the more prominent breeding farms, we can find the concept of variable planes of nutrition being used to force mares to come into cycle earlier in the year so that, again, human needs can be met regarding production and timing of foals to either get the breeding mare back into breeding status or other work. (Artificial lighting is a co-factor in this application, meaning the mare is kept stall-bound at least part of the day under lights in order to trigger the estrous cycle earlier; and of course hard feed is generally used to effect the rising plane.) In essence, there seems to be a generalized attitude (even if not consciously) among all classes of horse owners that the “domestic” horse has adapted to a nutritional cycle that is distinctly different than their wild cousins. Nothing could be further from the truth. (In fact I could debate the idea that horses have ever been truly “domesticated” according to definition…but will save that for another article.)

Unfortunately the word “natural” has become extremely adulterated when it comes to horses. As an equine health coach, you can help teach your clients what a “true natural” lifestyle is for their horse. The courses at ACAN can help you help your clients – we invite you to join us on an exciting learning journey!

[This article was first written for and published in the Oct 2014 newsletter of the American Council of Animal Naturopathy; it can also be found here on the ACAN blog.]

Equine Drug Addicts

The debate about whether or not to allow a diuretic to be injected into horses on race day has been raging for several years.  A 2009 article in New York Times referenced a study done in 2007 in South Africa on 167 race horses supposedly showing that Lasix reduced incidences of a condition in race horses referred to as Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage (EIPH) – commonly called “bleeding” within the industry – and labeled an “occupational disease”. (1)  That study was touted by some (obviously those trainers using the drug in horses) as the ‘end to the discussion’… no one needed to ever question the use of Lasix (trade name for furosemide) or its effectiveness; veterinarians were a little more cautious in their analysis of the study results but nevertheless continued prescribing or administering it.

It is interesting to note that the race performance results of the South African study were made public but the endoscopic results themselves were only made available to the owner & trainer.  South Africa (as well as much of Europe) bans race day use of Lasix (an exception was made for this study); however the cost of using this drug in the US – where it is generally not banned on race day – is about $30 million! (2)  It is estimated that about 95% of all race horses in the US race on Lasix. (3)  Racing against horses in the US has been likened to racing against “septic tanks” by those from countries where race day use of drugs is banned.  It appeared to me that this “positive” study seemed to be designed simply to justify the use of Lasix as it (horses running faster and winning more money) had already been “demonstrated in a study of over 22,000 Thoroughbred race horses”. (4)

The same author (Joe Drape, New York Times) that wrote the 2009 article recently came out with another article in the NYT the other day (Dec 16, 2013) – it caught my attention because of the issues I have just recently had with my mother being on Lasix (especially IV) and have been reading as much as I can find on it.  In a study done on 55 two-year-olds in early November (2013), results showed that significant bleeding was much higher in the horses given Lasix than those not given the drug; furthermore five of those Lasix horses scored in the “high” range of the bleeding scale.  The principal veterinarians in this recent study emphasized that the question was not whether Lasix was good or bad, but whether or not racing without it caused harm. (5)  That statement, IMO, directly translates into…’if Lasix can’t be used, we will find or develop another drug to use’.

My elderly (currently 93) mother recently spent several days in the hospital during which time she was given IV Lasix at 40mg daily for several days.  I started seeing what I highly suspected was an allergic reaction to it a couple days prior to her discharge, however was hoping it would not culminate in much (and the doctors did not seem in the least concerned) – but I was wrong; within a few days of coming home (and continuing the 40mg Lasix orally) she developed a major hive/itching reaction over much of her body, especially lymph node areas.  She has been conventionally diagnosed with transudative CHF (congestive heart failure) which is why the diuretic (Lasix) was given (I managed to stop the other multiple drugs).  Without going into a lot of detail, for those of you who know me I do not typically resort to using conventional drugs of any type for myself or those under my care, prescription or OTC – drugs do not heal anything, they suppress the symptomology by various methods. My mother, however, reached a point of significant pulmonary effusion that I did not see any other way around both trying to get the fluid off and attempting to keep it from building back up; obviously the fluid itself was not the problem but a result of much deeper underlying issues.  Fluid can certainly be removed manually in a relatively safe, quick procedure * but one has to wait until the doctors are ready to do so.  Thankfully a thoracentesis was finally done and which greatly relieved the fluid build-up (if that had been done immediately there would have been no need for any Lasix – 1400 mls was removed from the right pleural cavity).  As of this writing she is not accumulating fluid even having being taken off the Lasix shortly after coming home and is doing considerably better.  She is on upper level doses of organic Dandelion extract as well as Juniper essential oil (in addition to quite a few heart specific supplements and other EO’s) and this protocol seems to be working quit well.  Because of the Lasix reaction I went on a research mission to try to understand the mechanism by which this occurred.  During the months prior to her hospitalization I had been seeing definite lymphatic involvement, and I felt that played a significant role.  It is curious that on lymphedema websites, diuretics are specifically contraindicated unless the patient has concurrent CHF; the general notion being that CHF is more fatal than lymphedema, even though the diuretic can exacerbate the lymphedema.  I could not find any other references to the lymphatic system in researching this until just the other day.  Apparently the lymphatic system is a very little understood process in the human body (which means it is also little understood in animals).  But I think understanding this relationship holds the keys to understanding why drugs such as Lasix can have undesirable effects at best, and deadly at worst, on race horses.  I finally came across on article in which this relationship is being looked at in human medicine…

Conventional diuretics seem rather benign – after all they are often simply called “water pills”.  But this is very deceptive – in non-medical terms, a loop diuretic interrupts the natural process that typically occurs in the loop of Henle, causing the kidneys to excrete more water and sodium than would normally be, essentially creating a state of dehydration; this is the “standard” treatment protocol for most cases of CHF.  The effect this has upon the lymphatic fluid is that water is not being reabsorbed as it normally would and thus leaves a very concentrated proteinaceous fluid.  In race horses giving a diuretic has the desired effect of “lightening the load”, allowing the horse to race faster.  Additionally, diuretics have the effect of masking the use of other performance enhancing drugs, allowing the horse to piss out the residuals prior to urine testing.

In my mother’s situation, I have no doubt that there has been damage done to the lymphatic system primarily from 50+ years of smoking which obviously is exacerbated by her age (she did not quit smoking until age 85).  The comparison I want to make here is that – other than the smoking – she has led a fairly healthy life; in my lifetime (almost 60 years) I do not recall her taking anything more than the occasional aspirin, she didn’t even drink soft drinks, nor did she have any vaccinations since at childhood.  Contrast this lifestyle to what a race horse is typically subjected to:  yearly (or more) multi-way vaccinations, species inappropriate food and lifestyle, far more stress than any horse is biologically designed to handle (both physically and emotionally), and perhaps the kicker of all…every time this horse is made to race, he/she is given multiple “performance enhancing” drugs, not the least of which includes Lasix, whether on race day and/or in the days prior.  Can anyone wonder if the lymphatic (i.e. immune) system of the race horse is compromised even at such a young age?  The vaccinations alone would do that.

Based on my recent research this is my hypothesis on the action of Lasix:

The lymph fluid requires some kind of contractive action to enable it to move; this happens from muscular action as well as arterial action (and which is why massage can help move lymph fluid).  This means if the heart is not working properly and thus not “pumping” blood through the arteries as it should, arterial contraction (which helps to move lymph fluid) is not occurring as it should and the lymphangions can become stagnated even causing the valves to fail leading to lymph backflow.  Exercise can certainly help move lymph fluid, but with respect to race horses especially, a major question I have is what happens to the lymphatic system during the extreme exercise to which they are subjected?  Lymph fluid is caustic to begin with, that is its nature.  If a loop diuretic is given, the lymph fluid is potentially made even more caustic due to it becoming more concentrated.  Since the lymphatic system is not under pressure (i.e. requires “external” contractive actions to move the fluid), it makes sense that the lymphatic vessel walls are thinner than those of the vascular system.  What would happen if the forces acting against the lymphatic vessel walls become extreme enough as to cause them to leak and/or cause the valves to fail – especially if the lymphatic (i.e. immune) system has suffered “assault” on other fronts?  It is my thought any leakage of this “caustic” fluid could damage arterial walls, in turn causing internal bleeding.

Regardless of whether this “hypothesis” is ever found to be true or not in all or part, I have no doubt the lymphatic system plays a major role in what happens in the breakdown of race horses on Lasix, other drugs, as well as multiple other species-inappropriate factors.  There are known risks of diuretics used as a performance-enhancing drug in human athletes – even taken at medically recommended doses: (6)

  • Dehydration
  • Muscle cramps
  • Exhaustion
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Potassium deficiency
  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Loss of coordination and balance
  • Heatstroke
  • Death

What we can wind up with is an ever-increasing “loop” of debased physiological processes…the Lasix affects the fluid which affects the lymphatic system which sooner or later affects the heart/vascular function which can exacerbate the lymphatic dysfunction…and so on into an ever increasing inflammatory situation until ultimate breakdown.

With regard to lymphatic involvement in human cardiology, a moment of “validation” came to me just recently when I found an article by a cardiologist (Dr. Philip D. Houck) at Texas A&M Medical College; it is a hypothesis published this past May (2013) questioning the involvement of the lymphatic system in cardiac “disease”. (7)  There is no reason to not apply this to all mammals including horses.  In part he says:

All of the symptoms of heart failure, hence, compensatory mechanisms can be related to overwhelmed or dysfunctional lymphatic function. Lymphatics are responsible for tissue homeostasis controlling approximately 12 litres of fluid. These thin-walled valved pumping systems are also intimately involved in immunity, control of inflammation and lipid and nutritional transport. Repair of damaged tissues by cellular transport explain its many functions.

Therapies to remove salt and water excess have improved acute symptoms but have not lead [sic] to better outcomes. In fact, in some cases such therapies have contributed to worse outcome such as cardio-renal syndrome. The mainstay in the treatment of congestive heart failure has been diurectic [sic] therapy. However, the chronic use of furosemide has increased mortality in congestive heart failure [4,5].”  [emphasis mine]

4. Ahmed A, Husain A, Love TE, Gambassi G, Dell’ Italia LJ, Francis GS. Heart failure, chronic diuretic use, and increase in mortality and hospitalization: an observational study using propensity score methods. Eur Heart J 2006;27(12):1431-9.

5. Hasselblad V, Gattis Stough W, Shah MR, Lokhnygina Y, O’ Connor CM, Califf RM. Relation between dose of loop diuretics and outcomes in a heart failure population: results of the ESCAPE Trial. Eur J Heart Fail 2007 Oct;9(10):1064-9.

Thoroughbreds have a reputation of being spooky, anxious, nervous, and so on – is there really any wonder why?  (Quarter horses are also commonly used in racing, especially in the western states in claims races; they have their own “emotional issues”.)  Racehorses have become drug addicts – plain and simple.  Look at the eyes in these photos – do you see a resemblance between the look in the eyes and the look in many domestic (especially race) horses’ eyes – that painful, empty, wanting look?  Through phenomenology we understand that genes are adaptable, meaning they will adapt to influences and stimuli, sometimes taking more than one generation.  When the animal’s genes are exposed to these stimuli via nature, there is generally no problem effecting the adaptation.  It is when we subject the organism to influences that are born not of nature but are synthetically derived in a laboratory (i.e. drugs, processed food, etc) that the genetic adaptations can begin to achieve abnormal physiological results.  The central dogma of biology states that genes dictate the form, however we are beginning to see otherwise – “genetic potential” is a two-way street.  (I wish to caution the reader here that I do not want to give the impression that I believe that all adaptation is “blind”, i.e. a result of conditioning.  I am exploring much in this area both from a macrocosm as well as microcosm perspective, so stay tuned for more discussions on this immensely interesting subject – well, interesting to me anyway!)

On average 24 horses die per week at US race tracks.  Many of them are the “lower end”, less expensive racers running in claims races; as a result, investigations into their deaths are very seldom done. (8)  This is an industry that is mired in a drug culture.  The subject of why race horses break down so much has been debated for years, and it always comes back to the drugs used.  And not necessarily legal drugs…some trainers will experiment with anything that can give them a winning edge, not the least of which include chemicals that bulk up pigs and cattle before slaughter, cobra venom, Viagra, blood doping agents, stimulants and cancer drugs.  Unfortunately much of this doping occurs on-farm before the horses are shipped to the race track – where few states have the authority to legally test horses. (9)  Even if all horses were tested, labs don’t even have the capability to detect the enormous amount of different drugs that have been tried and are used.  And even legal therapeutic drugs (such as pain medications) are misused, being given in high enough doses to mask symptoms of physical injury; numerous horses have raced (and in many cases died) on high levels of pain meds – I would guestimate that almost every race horse does or at least has done so at some point.  Some veterinarians will speak of how difficult it is to ‘watch these animals being treated this way’ and yet continue to administer the drugs.  There are no excuses – a vet that continues to cater to this kind of activity is every bit as much to blame as are the owners and trainers who allow and do this.  There is no other word to describe what happens except “abuse”, plain and simple.  It is when a well-known race horse suffers injury on national TV that the industry begins paying lip service to trying to stop the abuse.  But the trainers and owners are very influential with regard to industry policy setting – well known trainers such as Bob Baffert and some of his wealthy owners threatened lawsuits and hinted at boycotting prestigious, money making races like the Breeders’ Cup, effectively squashing any changes in regulations regarding drugging of race horses. (10)

Can horses become addicted to drugs (legal and/or illegal) much as humans do?  This is what one source says: (11)

For the fortunate racehorses who escape the slaughter pipeline, and accepted by an off the track Thoroughbred rehabilitation center, staff report that weening [sic] them off the medications routine to racing can take months. In cases where horses are also recuperating from sidelining injuries, it is difficult to watch them also struggle through the symptoms of withdrawal.

This begs the question – Why?  The only answer is that it is because of human-centric wants…fame and fortune.

It is not about trying to find “safer” drugs to use.  It is not that changes need to be made in the racing industry.  It is simply that it needs to STOP – the entire racing industry.  There is nothing about being forced to run at this extreme that is good for any horse – even those horses such as Thoroughbreds that have been manipulated through breeding to run faster.  The effects of the forced breeding are multi-fold, not the least of which these practices continue to perpetuate the theorized “need” for horse slaughter.  Stop the industry breeding and you’ve stopped any perceived need for slaughter.  See a previous post I did about nurse mares farms (warning – video is graphic).  Those who continue to support horse racing continue to support animal abuse – it cannot be put any other way.  People like to anthropomorphize, saying that horses want to run races and enjoy winning.  I have two words for that, the first begins with the letter “B” and the second begins with the letter “S”.  Many people have a tendency to romanticize about race horses, especially top winners (those that don’t win become so much “trash”).  There is a popular saying about race horses, something to the effect that…”so-and-so was a grand horse that would run his heart out”.  A very good possibility that he did, literally.  There is much more I could say about this subject, but now you have no more excuses to keep blinders on…

(1) http://www.oddsonracing.com/about_racing_vets_lasix.cfm

(2) http://web.up.ac.za/default.asp?ipkCategoryID=5218

(3) http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/17/sports/study-raises-questions-about-antibleeding-drug.html?goback=.gde_3804678_member_5818551662968594435&_r=1&#!

(4) http://web.up.ac.za/default.asp?ipkCategoryID=5218

(5) http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/17/sports/study-raises-questions-about-antibleeding-drug.html?goback=.gde_3804678_member_5818551662968594435&_r=1&#!

(6) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/performance-enhancing-drugs/HQ01105/NSECTIONGROUP=2

(7) https://www.oapublishinglondon.com/article/510

(8) http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/us/death-and-disarray-at-americas-racetracks.html?_r=3&hp&

(9) http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/us/death-and-disarray-at-americas-racetracks.html?_r=3&hp&

(10) http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/01/sports/industrys-drug-issue-is-one-that-trainers-can-address-instead-of-avoiding.html

(11) http://www.horsefund.org/horse-racing-fact-sheet.php

  *  Note that no invasion into the body is without some risk.  A thoracentesis is designated as a “test” although I had to sign surgical consent in my mother’s case (it is a test as the fluid is sent to lab for analysis).  The procedure consists of localized anesthesia and a thin needle inserted between the ribs into the pleural cavity.  Outside of a normal risk of bruising, pain, & bleeding at the needle insertion site (a risk with any needle insertion); the major risk is piercing the lung; normally this heals quickly on its own but if it does not and air gets trapped the lung may collapse (although an excessive amount of fluid pressing against the lung can cause it to collapse as well).  X-rays are done before and after the procedure.  In my mother’s situation, they seemed to be a bit concerned about pneumonia setting in since she had such an excessive amount of fluid.  However, using appropriate essential oils (which I had with me in the hospital) can avert this quickly without side effects as well as negate the “need” for antibiotics.


Go figure – chickweed is actually an equine delicacy!  I had notice Maisy eating it every chance she got over a period of a few days this spring.  This is from the April 2013 Natural Horse Newsletter (wonder if you can make an essential oil out of it??? :-):


Chickweed – Stellaria media by Katharine Chrisley of Dharma Horse

Chickweed is a creeping herb with tiny white flowers. It is entirely edible for all animals (although it can be too rich for some if eaten fresh and abundantly!). It is considered a cancer-preventing herb and a premier healer of the digestive tract. It is fed to arthritic horses and used to reduce lipoma/fatty tumors.


Chickweed nourishes the Pineal and Pituitary glands, helping them return to normal function when afflicted. It is full of the mineral – organic Iron – which is necessary for all mammals to transport oxygen and maintain youthfulness. Food additives/preservatives deplete iron from the body which causes anemia, lung and circulatory damage, blood sugar imbalances and weakness. Mothers, equine and human, can be low in iron (especially after giving birth) and it should be returned to the body through a gentle, organic mode.


Chickweed is a mild herb used to gradually return health to tissues and the whole plant can be fed fresh or dried; or a tea can be made from the dried herb. I feed a half cup of the dry, cut and sifted herb in a mash once daily for mares who need it. I drink a cup of prepared tea for myself when feeling weak. An infused oil can be made by warming the herb into olive oil for use externally on swollen joints, tumors or fatty deposits.


It’s been known for decades that animals such as chimpanzees seek out medicinal herbs to treat their diseases. But in recent years, the list of animal pharmacists has grown much longer, and it now appears that the practice of animal self-medication is a lot more widespread than previously thought, according to ecologists.  Source:  U of Michigan, Apr 11, 2013

Read Full Article Here

Zoopharmacognosy is a term used to describe the process by which non-human animals self-medicate.  In the domestic equine world this is a very difficult thing for the horse to accomplish as his world is typically very manipulated.  However horses in a natural environment are perfectly capable of doing this.  Daniel Janzen first observed this behavior in various wild animal species in 1978.  It is an important behavior function for parasite control and general health – the domestic horse can be kept in such an environment!

Applied zoopharmacognosy can be done on a case-by-case basis, using plant extracts and/or essential oils.  Carolyn Ingraham in the UK has been instrumental in bringing a scientific approach to this discipline.

The book, Wild Health: How Animals Keep Themselves Well and What We Can Learn From Them, by Cindy Engel is a good read on this subject.

Zoopharmacognosy-Self Medication in Wild Animals-Raman et al