In today’s equine world, there is so much focus on joint health and conditioning, that we tend to forget about the bigger picture. As a veterinarian, I see so much over use, almost bordering on abuse, of various pharmaceutical medications and equine joint supplements. So many people use them, that at times, I wonder if we are actually trying to manage a condition or more so if the increased use is more to follow what another is doing, almost making it a trend without purpose. Now, I will be honest and say that many of these equine supplements and medications can prove useful in certain situations, but overall, I feel they are being overused at times, trying to accomplish things they were never intended to do.
Several years ago, I began the endless exploration of Chinese Medicine, theories and methods of practice. Coming from a Western medicine perspective, the information was not only new, but totally illogical initially. That being said, as I began to further explore the theories and evaluate my patients further, the once strange ideas began to make sense. The rationality became obvious in my mind, but hard to convey to others on a basic level. I could see and understand the problem, but internally, I had a hard time conveying it to the owners. It was a totally new approach and often viewed as odd by others, but it made sense in the grand scheme of things.
Eastern medicine, instead of just focusing on a specific disease, tends to view the body as a whole, looking at the impact of overall health on disease manifestation. When we look at all of the health conditions that threaten our equine companions, we tend to isolate them out as single entities. Maybe it is a tendon injury, overall stiffness, poor performance or maybe it goes deeper such as arthritis, laminitis, chronic asthma or allergies. In some cases, we actually may have a combination of clinical problems such as arthritis and chronic asthma or insulin restance and laminitis. Irregardless of the condition presented, we tend to focus on it as the primary problem instead of looking deeper. In the case of a tendon injury, we just accept that a strain occurred, likely due to overuse, recommend a topical sweat, hydrotherapy, NSAID medications and rest, generally for prolonged periods of time. If the condition fails to respond, we then move to bigger guns in terms of therapy, utilizing stem cell therapy, corticosteroid injections or IRAP protocols.
Again, most of these therapies are warranted initially and should be a part of every program, but we need to press deeper and really look as to why these injuries happen especially if they are a common occurrence. This philosophy holds true for most other disease conditions and sources of lameness as well. We are generally too quick to accept things for what they appear and stop asking questions as to “WHY” they occur. Either the horse recovers or they don’t, essentially is what it boils down to.
Aside from Eastern medical philosophies, my research and exploration into scientific papers helps to connect certain dots for many disease conditions, often raising more questions than giving answers. There does seem to be one primary theme or connection amongst human research papers over the past couple of decades, that being chronic inflammation and oxidative stress. This has been our focus at Nouvelle Research, Inc. for the past 7 years, exploring the connection with many equine conditions and searching for answers.
The reality is that chronic inflammation and oxidative stress play a major role in the development of conditions such as arthritis, laminitis, insulin resistance, asthma and even soft tissue injuries such as torn tendons and torn ligaments. The inflammation can be localized but more often is systemic in nature due to a variety of causes including genetics, diet, lifestyle influences, medications, stressors and many other factors. In some cases, the chronic inflammation stems from the gut or gastrointestinal tract, creating not only poor digestion and assimilation of nutrients, but manifesting on a systemic level. This, in my opinion and observation, is the cause or origin of many ongoing or chronic soft tissue injuries as well as the basis for allergies.
We have to understand that behind many of these conditions is chronic inflammation, which impacts cellular function on multiple levels. The uncontrolled inflammatory process can contribute to blood flow alterations, poor absorption of nutrients from the diet, changes in cellular lifespan, function and regenerative capabilities. Inflammation, of course, is also linked to chronic pain, which is often attributed to poor cellular function on a certain level. In joints, inflammation is directly connected with joint remodeling, cartilage destruction and disruption of normal function through decreased production and assimilation of nutrients.
Taking joint therapies as an example, we often try to manage these conditions by supplementing what is being lost as result of inflammation; that being glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. These are common ingredients found in many joint supplements on the market. Another type of therapy is supplementing lost PGAG’s or polysulfated glycosaminoglyans through injections. These therapies have proven useful, but I think we can do better. Instead of supplementing what is being lost as a result of ongoing inflammation, why don’t we just address the inflammation? If we do this successfully, we may not only impact the loss of cartilage nutrients but also potentially positively impact joint function on a higher level.
The same holds true for soft tissue injuries such as torn tendons or torn ligaments. Yes, it is true that a tendon or ligament can simply be over strained, leading to damage and lameness, but for the sake of this discussion we are talking about those horses plagued with tendon problems that fail to heal, leading to chronic lameness. Not only is inflammation tied into the long term lameness and lack of healing, but it goes much deeper and often originates in my opinion on a gut level. Various factors contribute in these cases to inflammation within the intestinal tract, leading to cellular changes, poor nutrient absorption, compromise of barriers and release of toxins into the systemic circulation. This is also theorized to be connected with systemic allergic type conditions.
What it boils down to, from my perspective, is that our current therapies are well intentioned, but may be missing the target. I think at times, we are missing the big picture and that is the horse as a whole instead of focusing specifically on the problem at hand. Ongoing inflammation is a reality, no doubt, and its impact on health has been well documented. I am not implying that we can replace many therapies utilized today, but more so question if we might get better results and control if we also address the underlying inflammation. Nature provides many answers in the form of herbs, many of which not only serving as sources of vital nutrients, but also helping to reduce inflammation naturally. Curcumin,one of the most heavily researched anti-inflammatory herbs, helps to reduce inflammation on a systemic level, modifying cellular pathways and aiding in the reduction of oxidative stress. When we combine Curcumin with other anti-inflammatory herbs, as well as nutritive type herbs, we can not only reduce inflammation but supply the body with nutrients needed to repair. Our Cur-OST® Equine Anti-inflammatory formulas target this chronic inflammation and chronic pain, while providing antioxidants and nutrients to aid in tissue repair.
The evidence is there with many years of human research to back up the findings. The question is when are we going to apply these findings to get results in terms of overall health and performance? The results are often very evident in a short period of time when these strategies are employed. We need to open our eyes and see the bigger picture in many instances, which might not only help us to prevent or minimize certain conditions in young, rising equine athletes, but also might enable us to manage many conditions more effectively in those already affected. Recovery is possible, naturally!
This is our focus and what we do at Nouvelle Research, Inc.
All our best,
Tom Schell, D.V.M.