There's a lot of discussion going on about holistic alternatives for our pets. Another great doctor at our veterinary hospital, Dr. Cynthia Easton, is a holistic vet and has written a good article about the different approaches in alternative or integrative approaches to help pets in both providing better health and treating disease.
What is Holistic Medicine
Dr. Cynthia Easton
The holistic philosophy is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Diagnosis and treatment is made in the context of the whole patient, where both the past and the present are considered important influences. Health is seen to be influenced by diet, exercise, stress, external factors (vaccines, certain medications, weather), and genetics. This greater emphasis on the “whole picture” (mental, emotional, physical) in diagnosis and treatment is the goal of a holistic practitioner. The different holistic modalities (acupuncture, homeopathy and chiropractic) make use of an energetic connection between different parts of the body and between mind and body which influences the state of health. Taken together, the physical examination, symptoms, and past history provide information about imbalances in the body which can then be manipulated by the use of these modalities.
Acupuncture and homeopathy are briefly explained below.
Homeopathy believes in the wisdom of the body, that the body knows how to heal itself. Homeopathy comes from the roots: “homeo”= similar and “pathy”= suffering. This is the principle that like cures like.
When sick, one’s symptoms represent the body’s effort to rid itself of disease. Therefore, symptoms are “good” and are not to be eliminated. Elimination of symptoms with allopathic medications, such as taking an anti-inflammatory, is considered “suppressive” and can drive the disease deeper into the body. Each symptom is taken together with the others as a whole picture, even if different parts of the body are involved. Past illnesses are equally important.
When using conventional medicine, the symptoms may be gone, but overall health is diminished. Homeopathy works with the body to assist in recovery by stimulating the immune system to respond fully to the illness. Treatment is individualized because everybody is sick in their own way. For example, the same cold virus might cause slightly different symptoms in two individuals. Even though both people might have sneezing and congestion, each would require a different homeopathic remedy if one of them felt hot and thirsty and the other felt chilly and thirstless. It is the job of the homeopath to detect those unique symptoms which then narrows down the list of potential remedies.
Homeopathy preceded modern medicine. It was discovered by Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician, in the late 1700s. He discovered that a product from the bark of a (“keena”) tree actually caused symptoms of malaria when he took it himself (as a healthy person). The bark is a precursor to the medicine quinine, which is used to treat malaria. The ability of the bark to produce symptoms persisted even when it was highly diluted. He postulated that the bark product was somehow stimulating the malaria patient’s recovery by the “like cures like” principle.
Homeopathic medications are prepared by specific homeopathic pharmacies and regulated by the FDA. They are highly diluted substances of animal, plant or mineral origin. The process of dilution involves shaking of the solution, which imparts an energetic imprint of the original substance in the solution. Because they are so dilute, the remedies have no side effects. They can be very powerful if the right remedy is chosen. If the wrong remedy is chosen, then nothing happens.
The most striking success of homeopathy was its treatment of Asiatic cholera epidemics of 1831 and 1832. A monument to Hahnemann is erected in Washington, D.C. (on the Mall) to recognize his contribution to saving lives in the cholera epidemics.
Disorders appropriate for homeopathic treatment include: acute injuries (bruises, punctures, sprains, minor abrasions, localized infections, etc), bladder irritation, non-healing fractures, seizures, maladies which seemed to come about directly following vaccination, anorexia, skin problems in young animals, diseases for which there is no known treatment or the treatment is associated with unacceptable side-effects or non-responders to conventional meds. Cases for which homeopathy might not be the first choice method would be: pets on multiple medications (especially steroids) which can’t be withdrawn, pets with chronic multiple problems, and cancer.
Acupuncture/Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
TCM is a 3,000 year old system of medicine. It describes patterns of disease that look at the entire individual (holistic). The first discussion of TCM (examination, diagnosis, balance of lifestyle, use of acupuncture) was in 2700 BC (oral tradition) and finally published in 221 BC. First veterinary publication on acupuncture (in horses) was around 500 BC.
Chinese medicine views a healthy body as one in harmony with its environment. As the environment changes, the body adapts. The forces of Yin and Yang (equal and opposite forces) compose everything in the world. The balance of these forces (Yin = female, cooling, weaker; Yang = male, hot, stronger) determine health vs. disease. Disease results from imbalance. When Yin and Yang merge, they produce a “life force” or Qi. TCM works at balancing energy (Qi) in the body through stimulation of meridians or channels that course through the body and influence health and disease.
Some practitioners use 5 element theory to help with acupoint and herbal prescriptions. This is where a person/animal is categorized as belonging to one of the 5 elements (Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, Wood). Your element determines your susceptibility to certain types of illness or behavioral disorder. The practitioner examines your tongue and your pulse to gather additional information in order to make a “Chinese pattern diagnosis”. This diagnosis determines which acupuncture points will be stimulated and possibly which Chinese herb will be used with the acupuncture. There are over 1,000 acupuncture points described.
Acupoints are small depressions in the skin. They have more capillaries, lymphatics, mast cells, nerve fibers and electrical conductance. Certain organs in the body are paired with a counterpart organ and together these pairs have specific functions related to nourishment, movement, consciousness, immunity, energy movement around the body and the connection between organ systems. Each organ can be accessed using acupuncture points in order to stimulate its function and role in rebalancing the system.
Factors which influence Yin and Yang are diet, stress, weather, toxins (including vaccines), genetics, and aging. Diet has a large impact on health and many TCM practitioners feel it is the basis of all medical problems. Every food has its own energetic profile. Processed foods (dry food) are considered very unhealthy, especially in cats, since this is so far from what they would eat in nature. Dry foods are also energetically hot. Certain diets might be appropriate for some constitutions or environments and not for others. Certain weather patterns can have significant effects on health, such that a change in location alone can eliminate even a chronic condition. A body out of balance will be more susceptible to viruses or bacterial infections.
Chinese herbs can be used to augment the effects of the needles in influencing Yin and Yang energies in the body. Acupuncture treatment requires 4-6 weekly sessions to expect maximum effect. This modality can be used in conjunction with conventional medications including chemotherapy. The neurophysiology of pain control with acupuncture has been documented: it blocks pain sensation and causes endorphin release. Therefore it is an obvious choice for painful conditions (post-surgical pain, arthritis, injury, back problems)
Acupuncture has been shown to increase white blood cell production and increase circulation. This makes it potentially useful for cancer, paralysis, asthma, kidney failure, IBD, seizures, chronic diarrhea, constipation, and behavioral problems.