Mention anti-inflammatories (AIs) to most horse owners and they will immediately think of the commonly used NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) such as Phenylbutazone or Banamine. Unfortunately pharmaceutical AIs have a down side, in that they can produce negative side effects such as ulceration, colitis, kidney and liver damage. This is in contrast to herbal anti-inflammatories that can be as effective as pharmaceuticals, but without the negative side effects.
SELECTING THE RIGHT HERB
What do AIs do to the bones? Degeneration of one or more joints can affect horses at any age, and tends to be caused either by wear and tear or infection (often of urinary or pulmonary origin).
The herb selected will depend on the aetiology of the condition. For example, if a “steroid-like” action is required, then herbs such as Ginseng, Black Cohosh, Wild Yam and Licorice would be selected. If an “aspirin-like” action that will reduce temperature, address infection and balance pH in the joints is required, then herbs such as Meadowsweet, White and Black Willow, White Poplar and Birch should be used.
ARTHRITIS AND RHEUMATIC ACTIVITY
It is now generally accepted that the development of arthritis and rheumatism can be directly influenced by infection or hormonal factors. Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, which often have a hormonal factor, can lead to inflammation in and around the affected joints. The herbs used in the treatment of arthritis and rheumatism are selected for their anti-inflammatory, hormonal, anti-infective and eliminative properties.
- Herbs that help to reduce pain and inflammation in the joints, herbs that inhibit prostaglandins or contain salicylates (Devils Claw, Meadowsweet, Poplar, Willow).
- Herbs known to be rich in phytosterols, or have hormone balancing actions (Black Cohosh, Ginseng, Sarsparilla)
- Herbs that can reduce infection (Garlic, Echinacea, St Johns Wort)
- Herbs with a diuretic and alterative action that will help remove the inflammatory waste products and toxic accumulations from the joints (Meadowsweet, Dandelion, Cleaver, Burdock)
These are just a few of the herbal AIs provided for us by “Mother Nature.”
Black Cohosh – Cimicifuga racemosa
This plant which has a “steroid-like” action also contains salicylic acid and is both anti-inflammatory and anti-rheumatic.
Devils Claw – Harpagophytum procumbens
Differs in action from NSAIDs and is therefore unlikely to have any irritant effect on the stomach. This is one of the best herbal AIs. In clinical trials it has been shown to be effective for its anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic (osteo and rheumatoid) and anti-rheumatic activity. The plant is specific for joint and muscle pain and tension, digestive disorders, polymyalgia, neuralgia. It was a threatened species in the wild, but is now harvested sustainably in Namibia.
Ginger – Zingiber officinale
Clinical trials have shown that when Ginger was used in conjunction with conventional treatment, patients with RA, OA and muscular discomfort experienced relief in pain, swelling and muscular discomfort.
Meadowsweet – Filipendula ulmaria
Containing salicylic acid, this plant was one of the original plants used in the synthesis of the drug Aspirin; however, unlike the drug, the herb is also specific for healing gastric ulceration. Meadowsweet is used extensively for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), osteoarthritis (OA), muscular rheumatism and sciatica. The plant has also been shown to improve the condition of connective tissue, which in view of the fact that joints are virtually made up of connective tissue would account for why it is so useful for arthritic conditions. The fact that the herb also has such a positive effect on the gastric mucosa which can bear the brunt of conventional AIs is another reason to consider this herb when dealing with any musculoskeletal inflammation.
Pineapple - Ananas comosus
Bromelain is an aqueous extract of the pineapple plant Ananas Comsus. In human clinical trials the extract was found to be easily absorbed through the intestine and to offer anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and anti-oedematous (reduces swelling) action. Studies confirmed reduction in pain, inflammation and swelling in cases of rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.
Turmeric – Curcuma longa
Turmeric is a member of the Ginger family and provides significant anti-inflammatory actions for conditions such as RA and OA. Research has shown that when used for acute conditions, it is as potent as Phenylbutazone and almost as effective as cortisone. However when tested for chronic conditions it was only half as effective as the conventional AIs.
White Poplar - Populus alba
An anti-rheumatic, anti-inflammatory, mild pain killer.
White Willow – Salix alba
An anti-rheumatic, a mild pain killer that will arrest the inflammatory processes and reduce fever. One of the original plants used in the synthesis of the drug Aspirin.
I always recommend combining herbal AIs with herbs such as Cleaver, Nettle, Burdock or Dandelion to encourage the removal of the inflammatory waste products via the body’s excretory systems (kidneys, bowel, lungs, skin).
Hilary Self, BSc(Hons), MNIMH (member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists), has authored two books on the use of herbs and complementary therapies for horses. Her experience with the use and application of herbs for horses spans 25 years. Hilary and her husband live in Somerset, England, where together they run Hilton Herbs, a company that manufactures herbal healthcare products for animals.