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Posted November 19, 2009

Natural nutrients … natural herb … from a natural source … plants. Is this combination a better alternative than prescription treatments? For centuries medications have been derived from plants and many drugs now synthesized originated from plants. Could unprocessed natural herbs and their nutrients achieve "miraculous" cures where traditional medicines have failed?

For pet caregivers, nutritional and dietary supplements, "nutraceuticals", can be used to maintain or improve the health and well being of their animal. They may add nutrition animals should be getting from their environment but aren't getting from their processed food.

"Nutraceuticals are dietary supplements from a food source thought to have properties for improving health, preventing disease, and providing nutritional supplementation," explained Dr. Glennon Mays, clinical associate professor, Texas A&M Large Animal Clinical Sciences Department. "They are substances considered to have nutritional as well as therapeutic value."

"Nutraceuticals are thought beneficial for conditions ranging from anti-oxidants, hypercholesterolemia, cancer, arterial health, to joint health. Pet caregivers obviously desire improved health quality for their aging pet. They desire to have the young pet population become a healthier aged one," noted Mays.

"Nutraceuticals are commonly used in large animal health care. Vitamin and mineral supplements for livestock and horses are used in range, pasture, and equine stable environments. Probably the most common equine supplementation is directed toward cartilaginous health within the joint. Other supplements target skin and hair coat quality," explained Mays.

"The effectiveness of nutraceuticals is sometime scrutinized because of a lack of scientific study or documentation of reported results or improvement in a certain condition or disease process," noted Mays. Additionally, there is concern that nutraceutical dosage and potency have not been determined since these drugs are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

"To my knowledge there is no regulatory agency charged to determine guidelines for nutraceuticals," explained Mays. "This leads to speculations about the purity and consistency of products in this classification. Consequently, dosages haven't been formally established for natural remedies and are generally left to judgment or experience."

"Animals are potentially allergic to the plant or feed source of the nutraceutical product," Mays also noted. "Since trial studies are not conducted, and dosing is often subjective, overdosing or an appropriately dosed product to an animal with hypersensitivity issues is potentially dangerous."

Mays gives examples of glucosamine joint supplement which is an extract of shell fish and St. John's Wort, a plant beneficial or toxic depending on the animal's reaction upon ingestion and amount eaten.

"Because testing is not done, we simply do not know for certain the interaction of nutraceuticals with prescription drugs," cautioned Mays. "Research for the study of dosing, possible side effects, toxicity levels, interaction with medications or effects on previously existing medical conditions is lacking."

Mays explained that it is possible for any therapeutic device or, external/internal application of natural or synthetic potion, solution, injection, pill, capsule or liquid, to have or create an adverse affect. Biological systems react differently to foreign substances that are not naturally occurring within that individual system and certainly unexpected and unwanted results associated with untested products are possible.

"Determining that a condition exists for which one of the nutraceuticals might address or improve is the challenge," stated Mays. "The diagnosis of the condition is often the most difficult area. Once the problem has a name then a plan of therapy can begin. Any of the nutraceuticals are potentially dangerous depending on how the patient's system responds to the introduction of the product."

Natural nutrients … from natural sources … and still the best way to determine if nutraceuticals are right for your pet is to become informed and talk to your veterinarian about what treatments are available and how they should and should not be used.

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