A Better Alternative: Homeopathy

This week Liz Barnard investigates homeopathy for equine use. Can a few droplets or tiny beads of a substance’s “vital force” really cure what ails a 1,200-pound animal?

From Liz:

Did it seem like I came down too hard on aromatherapy?  I was not trying to–it just happens there isn’t a lot of information available on it.  At least not as a stand-alone therapy, nor with any semi-solid science behind it.

My massage and energy work certainly lead me to believe there are some slightly off-the-wall things that are really real and that exist.  It may be we just currently lack a way to measure and speak about them appropriately.  In the case of aromatherapy, certainly I prefer to live in an environment that smells good to me.  However, it helps me to have at least a scientific study or two showing that there are some positive effects from a particular type of treatment before I can recommend it to someone.  I attribute wanting some proof to the idea of having something be a treatment.  It’s one thing to want to live well, to live healthfully in a positive environment.  It’s another to assert that there are curative properties from using essential oils or herbs or what-have-you.

When a client asks about another modality that I have little experience or knowledge of, I suggest they check into it, try it if it seems appropriate, and let me know how it works for them.  Likewise if something seems to really call to me, usually I get around to trying it on myself or my horses.

I’m going to take you through my process of trying something new.  What I look at is if there is some evidence (science-based and anecdotal) that it works, safety, ease of use, cost, and finally whether I notice any results if I go ahead and use it.  I’ll also talk a bit about certification, since I didn’t touch on homeopathy in my post about choosing a practitioner.

Homeopathy is one of those things that has sparked my curiosity.  Most likely, because I have heard a lot about it.  It originated in Germany about 200 years ago.  Originally developed by Samuel Hahnemann, who came up with the idea that like cures like.  A key component here is the idea that homeopathy is used to cure.  Not treat, not mask – cure.  It is a stand-alone modality, with whatever results being obtained just by using remedies.  It is said that the Queen of England values homeopathy enough to maintain a homeopathic doctor on staff.

This idea of like curing like is not too far off from the widely accepted practice of vaccination.  A little bit of a potentially dangerous substance may help ward off a serious disease.  In the case of homeopathy the more dilute a remedy the more potent it becomes.  The remedies are typically diluted to the point that they do not include any molecules of the original substance, just the “vital force” of that substance.

To me the anecdotal evidence is the fact that this is still around after a couple hundred years.  Additionally, in doing a Google search of “Veterinary Homeopathy” I turned up a few websites with compelling testimonials.

As for scientific evidence, there have been scientific studies on the effects of homeopathy.  It seems that the ones showing promising results are difficult to replicate or sort of fall to pieces under close scrutiny.  At least that’s what I gathered from Wikipedia:

“Although a few isolated studies have seen positive results from homeopathic treatments, systematic reviews of published trials have failed to demonstrate efficacy… Higher quality trials tend to report results that are less positive, and most positive studies have not been replicated. Many have methodological problems preventing them from being considered unambiguous evidence of homeopathy’s efficacy.”

Well that gives us a couple of studies we can cite, but not overwhelming scientific evidence that this works.  The next check I have is if something is safe.  Since most homeopathic remedies are very, very, very dilute suspensions of one or several substances they are usually considered safe.  Unlike herbal remedies or aromatherapy there don’t seem to be any potential side effects to using homeopathic remedies.

There are some remedies available to the average consumer without consulting a veterinarian or homeopathic doctor.  I found one from EquioPathics for Muscolo-Skeletal and thought I would give it a try on a horse with some tendon issues.  Since tendons are the juncture between muscles and skeleton, this remedy seemed appropriate to me.  The instructions read to give it three times daily until improvement is seen.  I got it in my head that I had to give it to her by mouth, although I’m not sure where that came from – it’s certainly not on the instructions.  Anyhow, the dose was two dropper-fulls each time.  She didn’t like it.  The remedy is in a suspension of water and alcohol, and apparently this mare does not like the taste of alcohol.  After a couple days this mare, that I can give a tube of de-wormer to without a halter, was getting dodgy about me trying to get the dropper in her mouth.  It didn’t seem appropriate to put it in her water since she has a 100-some gallon water trough to drink out of.  Trying to figure out the appropriate dosage to put into that amount of water was beyond my capabilities.  Well, really it was just beyond my patience.

The other part that was beyond my patience was giving it to her three times a day.  Aside from the fact that the mare was not cooperative, my schedule can get busy at times.  So while it was possible for me to get it into her in the morning and/or evening, the mid-day dose might happen one day, but not another.  I never did notice an improvement in her tendons while I was trying to give her the homeopathic remedy.  Maybe it wasn’t the right remedy for her.  Maybe the standard instructions on the bottle weren’t correct for her situation.  Maybe it’s just a bunch of water and alcohol.  In my experiment of one, the results were not very promising.

Cost wise, this was not very expensive.  The receipt isn’t handy, but my memory seems to say it was around $15. My biggest challenge was getting the remedy I intended.  The company I ordered from sent me a general pet remedy the first time.  It may have worked fine, but it wasn’t what I had ordered.  I did not look over the ingredients to see if there were differences between the one for horses and dogs.  I still have enough left that I may try on another horse.

The only certification in the USA in Veterinary Homeopathy I found was through The Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy.  They require someone be a DVM prior to obtaining certification for homeopathy.  Unfortunately according to a search of their website there are fewer than 10 certified Homeopathic Veterinarians in the country who specialize in Equines.  I did also do a search for those specializing in Large Animal, thinking that might include horses for some people, and came up with another 20 people listed.  The upside seems to be that phone consultations are an option for treatment.  I am not sure what it costs, compared to traditional veterinary medicine.  Certainly if all other options have failed it seems homeopathy can’t hurt.

For more information on just what homeopathy is and how it is supposed to work, check out the links above.  Wikipedia appears to give a fairly balanced overview on this topic.  If you are already familiar with homeopathy for yourself, it seems that the theories for the application of homeopathy with animals are similar.

Again, like with my post on aromatherapy, I am curious about results people have had using homeopathic remedies. Give me the good and the bad.  Did you use the remedy only, or did you use it in conjunction with other treatments?

About Liz:  Like many here, I was always a horse-crazy kid.  After receiving my Bachelors of Science in Equine Science, I started training horses.  At some point it occurred to me that there were ways to make a living that were easier on my body.  So I changed careers and became a Licensed Massage Therapist and Equinology Equine Body Worker.  I love what I do.  Growing up riding in the Pacific Northwest I was spoiled with indoor arenas.  Now living in the high desert of Northern Nevada where covered arenas are as sparse as the trees, I find I’m a fair weather rider.  When I do ride, I dabble with Reined Cow Horses.  For more info, please visit my website www.lizbarnard.massagetherapy.com.

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