Many mysteries still surround EPM (equine protozoal myelitis), which is usually caused by a single-cell organism spread through opossum feces, although different protozoa and probably different carriers are also possible. EPM is a debilitating neurological disease that has been on the incline in recent years (see September 1997, December 1997), but despite heavy research, many questions remain unanswered, and treatments sometimes fail.
So, when we read an advertisement for a non-drug EPM therapy, we were skeptical to say the least. After all, we’re talking about a puzzling, difficult process that has undergone many changes already. The idea that it could be handled with simple nutrition was inconceivable.
Linsey McLean, biochemist for VitaRoyal Products Inc., says the answer to questions surrounding EPM has little to do with the Sarcocystis organism or drugs that affect it. It has to do with the horses themselves.
The easiest way to understand McLean’s theory is to relate it to an everyday problem. If you have a hole in your roof, and rain soaks through the ceiling plaster and drips onto your carpet, you do more to save the carpet than just put out a bucket to catch the water.
Consider your horse’s nervous system the carpet; the EPM drugs now in use are the bucket. The drugs only catch the EPM organisms for a while and, if it rains too hard, you won’t be able to keep up with the overflow.
Your horse’s intestinal tract is the roof, the ceiling plaster his defense mechanisms. Unless you plug the leak and restore the integrity of the defense systems, the job of fighting infection could become endless.
Relapses are blamed on the organism becoming resistant to the drugs, but it is likely that the problems that made the horse susceptible in the first place keep him at high risk.
We know horses can become exposed to the EPM parasite when they have contact with materials contaminated by infected feces. We also know that Western blot blood studies show an average of 50% of horses in some areas have been exposed (only 1% of horses are affected by it). The organism is common in the environment. In fact, it has probably been around as long as there have been opossums. The fact is, you should be able to turn a horse out with hundreds of opossums and not have him get sick — if he has healthy defense mechanisms.
McLean explains it as “Environmental Parasitic Disease Syndromes.” Simply put, infected horses have a variety of biochemical and hormonal imbalances that make them susceptible to opportunistic infections — invasion by infectious organisms of types that don’t normally invade that species. The problem is the horse’s immune system is not functioning properly due to inadequate nutrition and the cumulative effects of environmental changes.
McLean believes inadequate nutrition is both the result of progressive changes in mineral levels in the soils and plants caused by acid rain and certain fertilizing procedures.
No one needs to be told that our environment is contaminated by chemicals. Once inside the body, even in minuscule amounts, these contaminants can wreak havoc. Many are structurally similar to hormones and can bind to hormone-receptor sites, while others can interfere with the immune system and shut off specific cell lines of immune cells, causing altered resistance.
McLean believes the increasing incidence of EPM and other diseases, such as gastric ulcers, is directly related to these environmental changes. With EPM, acid conditions in the intestinal tract (e.g. high-grain diets), coupled with damage/inflammation to the intestines from drugs (e.g. phenylbutazone), toxic chemicals, toxic minerals and parasites, combine to weaken the physical barrier to invasion by the protozoa. Once inside the body, the combination of weakened immune defenses and possibly altered pH of the tissues allows them to take hold. Another important contributing factor may be altered temperature regulation in infected horses.
All species have an ideal body temperature high enough to prevent survival of threatening micro-organisms. McLean found EPM horses typically have wide fluctuations in body temperatures and often register temperatures lower than normal.
The VitaRoyal Program
The VitaRoyal Program involves a diet of grass hay and a specially formulated grain mix together with the EPM supplement that contains all essential vitamins in water-soluble form, generous antioxidant levels, chelated minerals and buffers to alkalinize (raise pH) the body. Temperatures are monitored, and horses with low temperatures are supplemented with thyroid-gland extract.
The EPM supplement and dietary program does not treat EPM or kill the parasites. It is designed to change the internal environment of the horse. On this program, dramatic improvements are evident within eight days in over 90% of the horses treated.
The final, and critically important, stage of EPM treatment in these horses is rehabilitation. EPM horses have often been compensating for subtle deficits for many years, long before EPM was diagnosed. They learn ways of moving and responding to cues that allowed them to perform the desired movements using neural pathways and muscles that are different from those a normal horse would use. Joint subluxations and localized muscle weakness are commonly found. McLean’s program employs a full complement of conventional schooling and strengthening exercises along with acupuncture, massage and, if indicated, chiropractic treatments to restore these horses to normal function.
Several hundred neurological horses diagnosed as EPM on both clinical and serological findings have been treated. Some were conventional drug failures, some were concurrent with conventional drugs, and some were with no drugs at all. It is often those horses who have failed to respond, or continue to relapse, on conventional antiprotozoal therapy that end up on the program. McLean believes the use of drugs with this program could slow recovery as they place yet another toxic burden on an already overloaded system.
The VitaRoyal program is new and not yet widely accepted as a therapeutic approach to EPM. While we believe it makes sense as part of EPM treatment plans, with any disease this potentially devastating, it is important your veterinarian be involved in all treatment decisions.
Contact: Vita Royal Products, Inc, 810/653-5478.
Also With This Article
Click here to view ”Multiple Causes Proven.”
Click here to view ”Varmint Proofing Your Barn.”
Click here to view ”EPM Supplements.”
Click here to view ”Conventional Drug Therapy.”
Click here to view ”Anti-EPM Drugs.”
Click here to view ”Case History: “Toxic” Horse.”