The Science Behind Herbs

Science is beginning to catch up with traditional uses of "holistic" medicine, and it is important to understand the reasons and risks behind using herbal products. The third annual Nutraceutical Alliance (NA) conference was held May 10-11, 2002, at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.

Conference presenters brought to light new information about the antibacterial properties of garlic, the potential of American ginseng as an immune stimulant, the influence of methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) on arthritic joints (see below), the response of horses fed Fusarium mycotoxins, and the possibilities of hemp oil as a veterinary nutraceutical. In addition, presenters spoke about traditional herbal medicine in the wilds of Nepal, efforts at replacing antibiotics in livestock feeds with herbal substitutes, and the importance of attracting veterinarians to do publishable research studies on nutraceuticals.

The NA is made up of professional researchers and manufacturers involved with the supplement industry. Symposium coordinator and NA president Wendy Pearson O'Neill put together a two-day program that reached beyond the scope of Western medicine to explore Tibetan and Ayurvedic schools of thought as well as new ideas about natural animal products like colostrum, the all-important, antibody-rich "first milk" for newborn foals.

The NA has established a solid track record in getting research information out to the industry and the consumer. Industry movers and shakers have taken notice, as the NA's research budget has expanded from $40,000 (Canadian) in 1998 to more than a half-million dollars in 2002. But with legislation red tape on nutraceuticals tightening in the United States, more research is desperately needed. Only with reliable, repeatable research results can manufacturers hope to make valid claims for their products, guarantee safety and efficacy for their customers' animals, and gain the approval needed to keep their supplements on the shelves.

About the Author

Karen Briggs

Karen Briggs is the author of six books, including the recently updated Understanding Equine Nutrition as well as Understanding The Pony, both published by Eclipse Press. She's written a few thousand articles on subjects ranging from guttural pouch infections to how to compost your manure. She is also a Canadian certified riding coach, an equine nutritionist, and works in media relations for the harness racing industry. She lives with her band of off-the-track Thoroughbreds on a farm near Guelph, Ontario, and dabbles in eventing.

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