Socrates, considered the father of medicine, once said, “Everything in moderation.” This is pretty good insight and something that many of us have forgotten. Health care is no exception, for ourselves and our pets.
Most of us are aware of an enormous movement from the conditioned, conventional approach to health care using drugs to a more natural, functional approach. As a veterinarian who practiced conventional vet medicine for over 30 years and personally witnessed the self-imposed limitations, I am very happy to see this change. In time, we will see more and more options appear as well as a greater understanding of how the body works and the interconnection with its surroundings.
During this transition, as one would expect, I have seen some bumps along the way. One of the main reasons is that a lot of the new information which counters or opposes the conventional approach to health care is anecdotal and without research. One group of alternative or naturally-focused practitioners believe certain things while others do not. This is because their knowledge is mostly based on their own experience and much of that has not been researched.
We all like the idea of using natural supplements to replace pharmaceuticals. Most of us know by now that there are very few drugs that don’t have potential, harmful side-effects. But, to be honest, many natural supplements have the potential to cause problems as well.
Natural supplements, unlike pharmaceuticals, are not regulated by the FDA, so the companies that manufacture them are free to do what they like with their products, including the information that is given to the public. These companies often do not include possible side effects or other complications such as interacting with other supplements or medications, contraindications such as use for pregnant animals of growing individuals. There has been little research to find this information. Unfortunately, the demand for these products brings out more competition in the industry and I think you can imagine what that can end up looking like. A lot like the pharmaceutical industry.
I read a lot of information about new supplements and their benefits and the larger the interest, the more companies sell them and out comes the competitive marketing, back biting, and so on. Suddenly, what was once an intent to help the patient has now become one of making money. This is not a good thing.
CBD oil is a good example. There is a lot of information about the benefits of CBD oil for certain diseases. This is generally a good thing, so that we might understand how the supplement works and make wise decisions about whether it would benefit our pet (or ourselves). However, when one company says one thing and another company says something else, it leads to confusion and often the pet is the one who gets hurt.
Not long ago, I had a lovely couple that brought their senior dog to my office that had been diagnosed with brain cancer. The old fellow was having several seizures a day due to the tumor and had been prescribed a couple of strong narcotics to control the seizures. The couple, hoping to help their dog, did some research to find out natural remedies that might help. They found out that CBD oil is both good for cancer as well as seizures. They went down to the pot shop (legal here in Washington state) and purchased some pet CBD oil and gave it to him.
What they didn’t know was this non-regulated supplement had too much THC in the product which suppressed the dog’s brain function that had already been severely depressed with the narcotics. When I examined the dog, he had to be carried into my office, he was almost comatose. He died later that night, not because of the cancer, but because of the combination of drugs and CBD oil that pushed the brain over the edge.
Nutrition is another topic that needs to be discussed. Most of us know, using a little common sense, that feeding a balanced, fresh diet is healthier than feeding a highly-processed pet food. I imagine Socrates would agree with this. But, there is a lot of debate among naturally-minded vets and nutritionists as to exactly what that means.
I just read an article about the advantages of feeding a ketogenic diet to pets. Most of us are now aware of the Keto diet that started in human health care and has spread to the pet health care industry as well. It is not a surprise because the same people who initially made it popular in people, saw an opportunity to tap into the pet market, and did so.
The ketogenic diet became popular as a diet to be used with cancer patients in an attempt to starve the cancer cells by denying it its energy source, carbohydrates. Basically, the diet is formulated so that the body uses fat instead of carbohydrates (sugar) for energy. Cancer cells require sugar for their energy, so feeding fat for energy basically eliminated the source for energy for the cancer. I believe that it is a good idea when done carefully and under the direction of a qualified practitioner.
Now, human doctors and alternative-minded vets are recommending feeding the Keto diet as a life-long diet. Remember, no long-term research has been done.
Humans basically eat this diet to lose weight. It is very effective for getting rid of body fat because the fat is being burned by the body for providing energy to the cells. But, is this safe on a long-term basis?
When we look at the physiology of the cells in the body, we find that cells require sugar as their energy source. You might remember the Krebs Cycle that you were told about in high school science. Basically, sugar is needed to convert ADP to ATP in order to produce energy (chemically) for cell viability and function.
Like most functions of the body, the creator made back-up plans in case of a crisis. The body often, during disease or emergency situations, converts to an ALTERNATIVE program in hopes of staying alive until the situation can be corrected. Blood diversion to vital organs during trauma is a great example.
Patients with diabetes have an alternative metabolic pathway that occurs in order to stay alive until the diabetes is regulated. The sugar in the blood cannot move into the cells due to lack of insulin or insulin regulation. Without the sugar, the cells convert to using fat for energy and it works fine for a while. If the situation is not corrected, then problems begin to arise. The byproduct of fat utilization for energy is the production of ketones, hence the term ketosis. Ketones accumulate in the blood and in time change the blood ph (acidity). The blood does not like the ph to be changed and the ensuing ketosis that occurs can and will be life-threatening if not corrected. Many diabetic pets die every year due to ketoacidosis due to fat utilization for cellular energy.
Many natural physicians and vets say that this is not a problem, but again, there has been no long-term research done to indicate that this is true. I suspect that old Socrates might say that using an alternative energy pathway designed for temporary life support, might not be the way to go for long-term benefits.
As empowered pet caretakers, it is our duty to investigate recommendations given by well-meaning naturally focused practitioners. Take the time to do your own research about herbs, diets and alternative modalities. Then use your intellectual and intuitive mind in order to determine what is best for your pet. It is your natural guiding system and it will not lead you down the wrong pathway.