Is phytotherapy still medicine?

Unfortunately, the lobby of the pharmaceutical industry has our state and our legislation firmly under control. That is why we have great difficulties in phytotherapy to use plants as medicines or medicinal preparations. Or even to call them medicines.
I’m also not allowed to promise a cure for certain diseases. Although all the plants I use for certain diseases have a proven effect. That is why they are also in the German pharmacopoeia.

Using plants in medicine does not release anyone from making a proper, scientific and (veterinary) medical diagnosis. And then to decide whether phytotherapy makes sense or whether it takes too long to become effective.
To treat an acute pneumonia phytotherapeutisch alone without antibiotic is just as irresponsible, as to supply a small intestine volvulus not surgically.
But treating weak viral infection of the respiratory tract or problems with excrement water, on the other hand, are classic areas of application for phytotherapy.
I emphasize this because I want to defend myself against the terms herbal witch and miracle healer and to emphasize that medicinal plants (which we are not allowed to call so) also belong in the hands of experts.

The synthetic medicine – one drug – one effect?

Or perhaps more truthfully: one active substance, one effect and countless side effects?

Phytotherapy has some huge advantage over chemically produced drugs. Plants do not consist of one active ingredient alone, as drugs do for instance. They consist of many active ingredients that both promote and regulate each other and are finely tuned to each other.
This makes them ideal drugs not only for multimorbid animals. Especially in old age, animals often suffer from several diseases at the same time. The heart is weakening, the kidney is also a little out of tune, the head is slow on the uptake and sight and hearing have been better before.

And that’s where it makes sense not to eat in a synthetic drug for every little zipper with the corresponding litany of side effects. Phytotherapeutics and plants can almost all be combined and remain free of harmful side effects. That is what plants can do perfectly.

And not every small active ingredient can be analysed. Much to the chagrin of the pharmaceutical industry, which has not been able to figure out how plants work. In many cases, industry is even unable to identify the mechanism of action. in other words the plant has the effect we need, but we do not know why. Therefore there will be no patent. And no patent, no profit. That’s why there is no drug and most plants are of no interest to the pharmaceutical industry. Although some of them would provide relief for serious diseases.

Dose and effect in phytotherapy

Just one example. It is often said by pharmacists and scientists that yes, an active ingredient from a plant would have an effect against a certain disease. But then you would have to drink so many litres of tea a day.

And that’s where they are wrong.

If this tea consisted only of this one active ingredient, then that would be right. But nature is smarter than most scientists. By combining its active ingredients, it does what chemistry and science will never be able to do: it creates effective medicinal plants in small doses. Despite their low individual active ingredient content, these plants have an excellent effect when combined.

Side-effects in phytotherapy

And the low concentration of active ingredients has another advantage. Because most herbal remedies hardly have side effects (but I emphasize the words most and kaum).
Because plants sometimes have penetrating effects and belong in the hands of an experienced therapist or no longer in the therapy.
Foxeglove, for example, as a glycoside with a cardiac effect. But it has only a very small therapeutic width and can quickly become toxic and even fatal. Therefore it has not been used in medicine or veterinary medicine for a long time. Here, synthetic drugs with only one standardized active substance are clearly ahead.

Side-effects phytotherapie
Butterbur. Effects: spasmolytic, analgesic. Used for gastrointestinal cramps and cramps of the urinary tract, as well as for bronchiospasmolysis in asthma and migraine.
However, the plant must be used as an extract because of its side effects (mutagenic, carcinogenic, liver toxic)!

In contrast to painkillers.
Acetylsalicylic acid, one of our best-known painkillers. But it’s extremely irritating to the stomach of all domestic mammals. So first we need a remedy for pain, than a remedy for the stomach and whatever else comes next.
Not so with willow bark. Because it contains salicin, which is ineffective in the gastrointestinal tract. And is only broken down into its actually effective components in the liver. Only after passing the liver it reaches the inflamed tissues (joints, muscles, …) via the blood vessel system. So the therapeutic width of willow bark is much wider than that of acetylsalicylic acid. With appropriate dosage almost no side effects are to be expected. However, willow bark does not help with acute pain, its effectiveness only occurs after 4-6 weeks.

Predictive handling of our horse’s health

As I said, the onset of the effects of phytotherapeutic drugs occurs only after a certain period of time. Therefore, it makes sense to use antibiotics (acute pneumonia, abdominal surgery) for certain acute and severe diseases. For almost everything else, phytotherapy is an excellent alternative.

Especially for chronic diseases and chronic pain.
Professor Ungemach is the author of the Textbook of Pharmacology and Toxicology for Veterinary Medicine, the book from which we still learn today. He writes about non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as metacam, phenylbutazone etc.:
“… a real therapeutic success can only be expected in acute inflammatory diseases. Chronic joint diseases generally represent a relative contraindication…”.
And yet we still fill up our old arthrotic horses and dogs with NSAIDs, risking without thinking their stomach, liver and kidneys instead of looking around in phytotherapy.

And plants do not only help healing, they can also be fed to patients as a preventive measure against common diseases. Prophylaxis, therefore, is not what we should call it. Condition maintainer and condition improver. They can even make bacteria sensitive again to antibiotics to which they were previously resistant. And they also work against viruses. Almost nothing helps against viruses, plants do. A blessing in the fight against MRE (multi-resistant pathogens).

Why not simply a finished herbal drug?

In many cases there are ready-to-use herbal medicinal products that can be used relatively well. But not always. And then there is always the big question of the individual constitution of a patient. Perhaps an example. I would like to promote the blood circulation of my patient because he has a problem with edema in his hindquarters. For me as a veterinarian, the question is what causes this oedema. Does the animal simply have a general weakness of the connective tissue and is therefore prone to edema? Or does it have a problem with the liver because it has too much protein in the ration or even something toxic? Is it caused by heart failure? The cause of the edema determines which plant I use to promote blood circulation.

Sometimes this cannot be achieved with ready-made drug. That’s why I tend to use an individual combination of my phytotherapeutics. One can then also work with dosages and the proportions in the composite product and adapt them to the needs of the patient.

The use of Phytotherapy in Sport Horses

Going to a show simply means stress for our horses. So let’s not kid ourselves. They are therefore more susceptible to illness and injury. And I don’t just mean infectious diseases. They are also more susceptible to diseases that can be triggered by hormone fluctuations (EMS, Cushing’s, etc.) or increased inflammation (stomach ulcers, skin and lung diseases, hypersensitive resonses). Using plants for treatment or even better for keeping sport horses healthy has a big advantage. And they are easy to add to the feed and hardly doping relevant. This means that most plants have a withdrawal period of 48 hours before the tournament. Which drug can claim this for itself?

And last but not least: the use of herbal medicinal products does not only help our animals. It reduces the use of antibiotics and hormones, reduces the burden on the environment, causes no formation of resistance and thus also helps us to produce healthy food and feedstuff and stay healthy ourselves.