Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine
Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, or TCVM, is a medical system which has been evolving far longer than has western, or allopathic, medicine. It’s history affords TCVM with a level of sophistication in diagnosis, and with treatment options that are beyond the scope of what we have available to us conventionally, as well as an entirely different perspective on health and disease states.
There are two main parts to the practice of TCVM; acupuncture, and herbal medicine. This article will focus on Veterinary Chinese Herbal Medicine; however, keep in mind that adjunct acupuncture treatments are a key part of the practice of this therapy.
Herbal medicine has a long history in China, where they have been an integral part of the culture for millennia. TCVM dates back to the era of the Three Emperors, approximately 10,000 years ago. (1) The first written record of the use of herbal medicines dates back to 100 BC. More importantly, in modern society, herbal medicine based on its heritage continues to flourish and play an important role in the current healthcare and well being of millions of Chinese people. It’s use in North America has been increasing greatly, both in veterinary and human medicine, as health care providers see the benefits of incorporating these time-tested herbs and herbal formulas into therapeutic regimens for their patients.
One of these benefits is that the herbs present in a formula act in synergistic ways with one another, serving to increase the effectiveness, treat multiple symptoms, and/or decrease the potential for side effects. These formulas evolved as such over time, with much trial and error. The result is a balance of herbs in classical formulas that work better than individual herbs to treat the entire patient. Done correctly, one can expect fewer side effects and a more thorough healing, as the underlying patterns that led to the disease are addressed.
A thorough TCM exam and diagnosis is required to allow the practitioner to know which formula would be most helpful; this formula may change during treatment. Unlike western medicine, TCM considers the entire patient in diagnosis and treatment; things like sleeping and eating habits, digestion and personality are considered in every diagnosis. Then as one layer of the patient’s health challenges are dealt with, new ones may emerge (and often do). When that happens, the formula may change. The goal is to treat the underlying imbalances that led to the development of the disease symptoms. To achieve this, often lifestyle changes, often dietary, may be instituted. Once brought back to a more healthy balance, the lifestyle changes may be enough to maintain the patient’s health; sometimes lower doses of herbs, or occasional acupuncture visits, are continued, if needed to counteract other influences on the patient’s health.
Many of our pharmaceutical medicines are derived from plants or other natural sources; the plant kingdom has a tremendous number of compounds to offer us still, as the vast majority have yet to be studied. Many of the chemicals that the plants use for their own defenses have proved therapeutic in various respects in the laboratory.
Pharmacologic actions of herbs include antimicrobial, anti-nausea, anti-neoplastic, liver-protective and immune stimulant, among a myriad of other clinically useful effects. People began using plants medicinally well before they understood what compounds the plants contained.
Documentation of herbal medicines has the longest and best kept history in China. For example, the treatise Shang Han Lun by Chang Chung-Ching (142-220 AD) recorded the use of Koken-Huanglien=Huangchin-Tang (KHHT). It contains pueraria, coptis, scutellaria and licorice in a ratio of 6:3:3:2. KHHT is a common formula for dysentery and gastroenteritis in children. It also controls symptoms of influenza, fever, erysipelas, measles, some eye disorders, headache, and toothache. Experimentally, gentamycin and KHHT were highly (and equally) effective (88% and 85% respectively) in treating piglet diarrhea. However, this does not mean that KHHT works like an antibiotic only. Its mechanism of action includes enhancing the immune system and improving gastrointestinal function, in addition to it’s antimicrobial effects.(1) Clarification of the active principles of action in herbal medicines will contribute to the scientific understanding of their efficacy and aid in the development of new pharmaceutical drugs.
But in addition to providing areas of future study, traditional herbal formulas are effective medical therapies, ones we can rely on and trust precisely because of their traditional use; that is, the fact that they have been used for so many hundreds of years. And the results speak for themselves.
Reference for further reading:
(1) Lin J, Kaphe K, Wu L et al Sustainable veterinary medicine for the new era. Rev Sci Tech Off Int Epiz 2003 22(3) 949-964