Drugs of the Future?
Pharmaceutical drugs are the mainstay of healthcare in both human and veterinary medicine today. Since Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in 1928, pharmaceuticals have grown to a trillion-dollar-a-year industry in the human field, and over 8 billion a year in veterinary medicine. While no one would argue that advances in modern pharmacology have saved untold lives – of humans and animals alike – it is becoming increasingly clear that our modern drugs are not able to adequately address many of the health issues in human or veterinary medicine.
Veterinary Pet Insurance lists skin allergies, ear infections and urinary tract problems as the top three reasons for veterinary visits for pets. All the above conditions have symptoms that can be alleviated by the use of various pharmaceutical medications, but not always truly cured. Take, for example, a dog brought to a vet for an ear infection. An oft-prescribed medication would be an ointment containing an antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory drug. The dog’s owners are happy that the problem seems to be resolved after a week of treatment. Six weeks later, however, the dog is back at the vet’s office with the same problem. It’s not uncommon for this scenario to be repeated many times over for myriad health conditions. The reason? While modern drugs are well suited to treat symptoms, they really don’t treat the underlying causative factors of disease.
Consider the use of an antibiotic for a urinary tract infection. Although the drug is highly effective in eliminating the bacteria involved, it does not address the underlying true disease – the reason the infection occurred in the first place. So what is the nature of this disease? It’s one of chronic, or long-term, low-grade inflammation. This is quite different from the more familiar acute inflammation, with its redness, swelling and pain. This is the same response you would expect if you were to hit your finger with a hammer. It’s a good thing, actually, indicative of increased blood supply essential for healing damaged body tissues, or fighting off an infectious bacteria or virus. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, serves no healing purpose, and only results in a host of long-standing, recurring, degenerative health conditions. In this state, there is actually an overall decrease in blood supply to affected tissues.
Chronic inflammation is the underlying cause of the large majority of health conditions addressed by veterinarians. Skin allergies, long-standing digestive issues, arthritis, urinary tract and ear infections, are a few examples. While there are many drugs that help to decrease the pain and dysfunction associated with these conditions, there are no current drugs that address the underlying inflammatory pattern. This is an area, however, where holistic medicine really shines. By focusing on nutrition, holistic practitioners understand the concept that high carbohydrate diets (see my article ” The Cause of all Illness” http://animalkindvet.com/illness) are a major factor in the development of chronic inflammation. High levels of omega 6 fatty acids and low omega 3s found in most processed pet diets is another important issue. Fortunately, there are many plant-based and nutritional medicines at our disposal that actually do act to help resolve these perpetually progressive patterns.
It’s important to understand that the use of conventional veterinary anti-inflammatory drugs commonly prescribed to treat conditions such arthritis, allergic skin disease and inflammatory bowel disease, actually suppress an animal’s body from resolving the inflammation naturally. This explains why these conditions tend to be ongoing and recurring – the drugs used to treat these conditions actually perpetuate the underlying problem.
As the concept of chronic inflammation and its role in disease becomes better understood by conventional medicine, new pharmaceutical drugs will be developed. These drugs will be able to decrease blood supply to areas of acute inflammation without suppressing natural healing processes, and bring blood to areas that need more circulation to resolve chronic patterns. Until then, we at least have nutritional and herbal treatments at our disposal to help save our pets from lifetimes of chronic diseases.
Dr. Judkins is the owner of Animalkind Holistic Veterinary Clinic