Autoimmune Syndrome - allergy season is in full swing
INFLAMMATION is a “HOT” topic in medicine. It appears connected to almost every known chronic disease - from heart disease to cancer, diabetes to obesity, autism to dementia, and even depression.
Certainly in our horse-world, inflammatory conditions such as allergies, arthritis and laminitis seem to be increasing at dramatic rates – there’s not a day goes by when I don’t get an enquiry relating to these, and sadly the veterinary-diagnosed ‘autoimmune’ word is cropping up more and more.
Our medical physicians are trained to shut off inflammation with anti-inflammatories, steroids and increasingly more powerful immune-suppressing medication, all with negative side effects, yet they don’t seem to be trained to find and treat the underlying causes of inflammation in chronic disease. It’s like being told to take a ton of Aspirin while we’re standing on a nail. The treatment is not more Aspirin or a strong immune suppressant, but removing the nail. Obvious, you’d think.
Autoimmune conditions are connected by one central biochemical process: a runaway immune response, also known as systemic inflammation, that results in the body attacking its own tissues. Hidden allergens, infections, environmental toxins, an inflammatory diet, stress – these are all the real causes of these inflammatory conditions. To cool off inflammation in the body, we must find the source - treat the fire, not the smoke - and ask WHY our horse is sick instead of giving it a pointless label and a script to cover up the symptoms.
I recently had a client whose horse was in meltdown. The word PTS was being mentioned frequently by the vet, and the owner was now at the point where she genuinely thought it was the kindest thing to do. She’d owned her 20-yr old cob since he was 6-months old, and he was so chronically itchy that he would bite himself raw. He had arthritis and stomach ulcers. He’d been on bute and steroids for years, alongside a list of other pharmaceuticals as long as your arm. Astonishingly, this had been going on since 2013, so you can understand the absolute fortune she’d spent with her vets to try and make her boy comfortable.
In a nutshell, her horse was so inflamed he could barely function.
After hearing the full story, I was so angry that I spent the whole of my car journey to the yard the following morning ranting out loud at her vets' shameful 5-year intervention of a chemical cocktail of toxicity, swirling around her boy like a whirlpool, which was doing nothing but driving the toxins further into his system and creating havoc for his desperately poor liver, which was very obviously suffering a slow lingering destruction.
So we set to work, and started by rebooting his body. We cleaned up his whole system and rebuilt his gut health with our HerbalOptimaCARE, our full-body detox program, changed his feed to the EquiNatural recommended feedplan as in organic and equine-appropriate (see Feeding Our Horses), and supported his whole system with vital nutrients with our EquiVitaProBPlus mineral balancer.
Within a few weeks - about four weeks actually - my client’s horse was not only healthy and happy, but at the ripe old age of 20 was back in work again.
Stories like these (and the many others I’ve shared in my blogs and as Case Studies on the website) are not just anecdotes but a giant compass pointing us in the direction we should be looking to find the real answers to our horse’s health problems.
Autoimmunity - what is it?
We all know that the immune system is the body's defense against invaders. We also all know that it's the internal army and has to clearly distinguish friend from foe - to know it’s host from the bad guys. Autoimmunity occurs when the immune system gets confused and its own tissues get caught in friendly cross-fire.
While the body is fighting something - an infection, a toxin, an allergen, a food or a stress response — it somehow redirects its hostile attack on the joints, brain, thyroid, gut, skin, or sometimes the whole body. This immune confusion results from what is referred to as molecular mimicry, and sadly conventional approaches don’t have a method for finding the insult causing the problem.
(In human health, autoimmune diseases, when taken all together, are a huge health burden. They are the eighth leading cause of death among women, shortening the average patient’s lifespan by eight years, with the annual health care cost for autoimmune diseases up there in the Billions.)
Unfortunately, many of the conventional treatments available can make the system worse. Anti-inflammatories, steroids, immune suppressants, can lead to intestinal bleeding, kidney failure, depression, osteoporosis, muscle loss and diabetes, not to mention infection. My client’s results – and many others - simply reflect how a functional approach gets to the root of health issues and treats the underlying causes, instead of suppressing symptoms with medications.
And ... it didn’t take 5-years, and it didn’t cost a fortune.
- Check for hidden infections — yeast, viruses, bacteria, Lyme, etc.
- Check for food allergens – in some horses alfalfa is known to contribute towards gut and skin sensitivities.
- Cleaning the gut is one of the most important steps to take in the autoimmune journey. It improves the ability to absorb nutrients, and also dramatically reduces inflammation.
- Remove the Bad – get rid of gut infections and toxic inflammatory foods.
- Restore the Good – re-establish a healthy gut flora with probiotics and prebiotics.
- Feed a nutrient-dense diet; you’d be amazed at how many horses out there with ‘issues’ aren’t fed balanced minerals, vitamins, omegas, antioxidants, all of which calm the immune response naturally, all of which can be found in our EquiVita mineral solution range. Adding linseed into the diet for Omega-3 EFA is also really important.
- Exercise regularly - it’s a natural anti-inflammatory.
- Eliminate stress – it dramatically worsens the immune response.
- Allow plenty of relaxation - Friends, Forage, Freedon - turnout with equine buddies to play and groom with.
And if you think your horse needs a full-body detox, see our webpage on DETOXING.
Recently (May 2014) I’ve been talking to a lady who contacted me originally because her much loved horse suddenly developed a bad case of ‘hives’ appearing over his neck and where his saddle sits.
Her vet had advised cold-hosing, no riding, and be patient.
A month later, his lumps were still there – and getting bigger. She’d called her vet out again, who apparently arrived in a very dismissive mood, and said the only thing he could do was give her horse steroids. She wisely said ‘no thanks’ and contacted us for any suggestions.
The term ‘hives’ basically means lumpy swellings that can appear anywhere on the body. Also known as ‘nettle-rash’ amongst other nick-names, the medical term is ‘urticaria’. There are differing schools of thought as to what causes hives – they’re commonly thought of as an allergic reaction but the source can be tricky to track – they can erupt due to anything from environmental allergens such as bedding or pollens, to medications, food, and topical creams. It’s also thought that an outbreak of hives can be influenced by a compromised immune system.
We’ve had two horses who would present with sudden hives outbreaks. During his first summer with us, our beautiful TB, Blas, had a shockingly bad reaction to tick bites – at the time we lived very near an ancient forest heavily populated with wild deer. Overnight he blew up with golf-ball-sized hard lumps all over his body, and especially his face, which resembled a bad case of mumps.
Also, Kelso used to get what we thought was a hive breakout every year, early summer, which some think is the most common time for hives to present – I remember at the time not being able to recognise any specific changes other than a shift in mugginess from fresh spring air to the warmer, more humid atmosphere. Kelso had major skin intolerances anyway – he was a chronic sweet itch and pollen sufferer, and keeping his immunity strong was essential - if we had his system firing on all 6 cylinders, he’d be in the best shape to fight all his allergies. His lumps would barely last a couple of weeks, never get to any kind of worrying stage, and once gone were gone.
The best treatment for hives is, of course, to eliminate the source of the problem, but sometimes it's not that easy. Knowing generally the kind of things that might cause hives, my first suggestion to our client was that she look back over her horse’s recent regime – had anything changed? Any new medication lately? With the occasional warm day we've recently been having, had she started to use fly-spray? Were there any changes in feed or hay?
She said there was nothing different. Hmmmn. Okay. So we moved onto environment factors – had he experienced any extreme changes in temperature, i.e. extreme heat or cold, exercise routine, or any new stresses that might intensify the allergic reaction?
She came back again with a negative. So with pretty much nowhere else to go, I recommended she give her chap’s immune system a good boost so she ordered a bag of our SkinTonic.
A week ago, and a couple of weeks into his herb blend, she contacted me again. She’d had a light-bulb moment – she remembered she’d changed her horse’s feed to a lucerne-base feed because she was bringing her horse back into work and felt he needed more protein in his diet, which lucerne/alfalfa is well know for. The significance of this hadn’t occurred to her as she was staying with the same feed company and was focusing on the protein content, and not the ingredient that it was coming from.
Aha! A possible feed intolerance! I suggested that a well-known cause for hives is alfalfa, and that some horses simply can’t tolerate it. Amongst other symptoms, alfalfa can produce higher than normal levels of ammonia which overburden the liver and kidneys. Since the skin is the largest elimination organ in the body, many toxins try to escape through the skin. Interestingly, in the old days, traditional horsemen used to call hives 'protein bumps'.
I recommended that she immediately eliminate the new lucerne feed, which she agreed to do. This morning I got a lovely email from one very relieved owner saying that within a week her chap’s lumps have completely vanished. TaDah!
Have to say I love it when we can help get to the root cause of an issue, and balanced health is achieved again without either chemical intervention or cost. However, not wishing to get complacent, hives can be really mystifying and the source can sometimes be nigh on impossible to track down, so the top tips are to keep immunity and digestion systems strong, and at the first sign of any adverse lumps or bumps, think elimination.