Saturday, February 9, 2008

Herbal Therapy

Approximately 25% of our conventional drugs are derived from plants. Conventional drugs typically contain a single active constituent from the plant, whereas herbs provide a broader and more balanced effect on the body through the synergistic actions of the herbal components. Herbs are best prescribed to treat the entire individual and not only the clinical signs. Herbal blends and formulations combine the benefits of multiple herbs, which typically produce a synergistic action while minimizing the potential toxic effects of a single herb. Herbs provide many unique qualities that are very limited in conventional medicine, such as anticancer, antiviral and immunoregulation properties.

Currently, herbal products are not regulated or controlled. Therefore, practitioners and clients must remain cautious in administering a product without evaluating the company and verifying that the active component of the herb or plant actually is in the formulation. Product labels can bear the name of an herb or plant substance as long as some portion of it is present in the formulation, but it does not always imply that the medicinally active constituent is included. Standardized extracts are available for certain herbs through concentrating the active ingredients, resulting in more of a plant drug than an herbal medicine. Standardizing alters the physical and energetic nature of the herb. This process also eliminates the synergistic effects of the myriad chemical components in the plant. For some herbs such as milk thistle, standardization is advantageous, since the specific active constituent is clearly known and purified in the process. Other factors that affect the potency and medicinally active components of the herb include the method and time of harvest, the parts and preparation of the plant that are included and the handling and processing of the finished product. Only well-known and respected herbal companies should be considered when purchasing herbal products. Whenever possible, fresh herbs or vegetable glycerin-based extracts should be used.

Herbs are effective in the treatment of many conditions in birds. Herbal remedies are much more effective than conventional therapy in treating metabolic conditions such as liver and kidney diseases. Herbs are an excellent alternative to antibiotics in the treatment of infectious diseases, with wider antibacterial effects in addition to various antifungal and antiviral actions. Many of these herbal remedies also support the immune system to assist in the full recovery of the patient. Some herbal formulations serve as detoxification agents, antioxidants and anticancer therapies.

Liver disease is a common diagnosis in pet birds. Hepatic lipidosis is often the result of poor nutrition, typically sunflower seed-based diets. Other chronic conditions leading to hepatic disease in birds include repeated aflatoxin exposure, heavy metal toxicity and Chlamydophila spp. Hepatic fibrosis and cirrhosis are potential sequelae to these conditions. However, conventional therapy falls short in treatment of these liver diseases. Certain herbs have been used for centuries in the treatment of liver disease in people, and these can be extrapolated for use in birds and other pets. Some of the herbs that support and protect the liver include milk thistle (Silybum marianum), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Oregon grape (Mahonia spp.), burdock root (Arctium lappa) and licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra).

Reference: "Clinical Avian Medicine Vol I and II" by Harrison and Lightfoot