Herbs in Chinatown
The ancient wisdom of Chinese veterinary medicine offers us proven methods to help us cope with the difficulties of Equine Lyme Disease. Western veterinary medicine sees the Lyme organism as an evil offending pathogen and would prescribe antibiotics such as Doxycycline to eliminate the organism. Chinese medicine takes a broader perspective and looks for the root problem or disharmony within the horse.
Chinese veterinary medicine recognizes that organisms such as the Lyme spirochete invade the body because they can. In other words, if the horse has a strong immune system, the Lyme organism will not have the opportunity to cause disease. To treat Lyme Disease, a combination of both Western and Chinese medicine provides the best therapy. Eliminating the organism with antibiotics is essential. At the same time, raising the immune system to protect the body should not be overlooked.
Chinese medicine sees the immune system, or wei Qi, as the body’s outer defense field. Qi, the life force or energy of the body, develops from food the horse eats, the air he breathes, and his genetics. When Qi, especially wei Qi, is depleted or deficient for some reason, the horse’s body becomes vulnerable to invasion of any pathogen that comes along, such as the Lyme organism. Many Chinese herbal combinations will address Qi depletion and can also be used to raise wei Qi, thus protecting the horse from pathogen invasion. Astragalus and codonopsis are two commonly used Chinese herbs that enhance the horse’s immune system, and hundreds of solid scientific research studies demonstrate the effectiveness of these herbs.
But once the Lyme spirochete has invaded and set up shop in the horse’s body, it’s another story. Clinically, the horse spikes an initial high fever with accompanying anorexia (off feed). The fever and anorexia are both short lived, and often go unnoticed by the horse’s caretakers. With time, the Lyme spirochete will wander around the body and invade one or more joints, causing inflammation of the joint capsules. This can be long term or transient.
Chinese medicine recognizes all joint inflammation as an obstruction of the flow of Qi. When multiple joints are involved, especially when inflammation moves from one joint to another, it is then considered a Wind Bi syndrome (effects of the infection move like wind throughout the body). Once the organism has moved into a joint capsule, the capsule thickens with inflammation and becomes quite painful, causing lameness. Hot to the touch, the joint inflammation has now progressed to what is called a Hot Painful Bi syndrome.
Herbal formulas have been used in the Orient for thousands of years to treat Wind Bi and Hot Painful Bi syndromes, long before the Lyme organism was identified. These ancient formulas, still used today, are based on the principle of moving Qi or life force through the obstruction. From a western veterinary medical prospective, the herbs have anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antioxidant effects.
Choosing the correct herbal formula to assist in management of Equine Lyme Disease will depend on the stage of disease. In the early stages, Qi tonics to raise the immune system (wei Qi) would be appropriate. As the spirochete invades joint capsules, choose anti-inflammatory Qi and blood moving herbal formulas.
Chris Bessent, DVM, has practiced holistic veterinary medicine for 21 years in southeastern Wisconsin, a hub of Lyme disease, treating animals with Chinese herbs, acupuncture, and chiropractic. She also teaches the benefits of Chinese veterinary medicine through seminars, classes, and internships. Bessent recently funneled her wealth of knowledge and proven formulas into Herbsmith, Inc. to provide ancient wisdom for the modern horse.