Natural isn't enough of a reason to justify using something in place of a drug. However, when alternatives are available that perform just as well and without the risk of side effects, the choice is obvious. Inflammation relief is one of those situations.
NSAIDs. NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are the class of pain and inflammation relievers usually used for horses. Phenylbutazone (bute) is the most common choice both because it works well and also for cost. Flunixine meglumine (brand name Banamine) and firocoxib (Equioxx/Previcox) are the other two most commonly used.
Naproxen used to be available as an FDA-approved equine drug but is no longer being manufactured. Aspirin is also technically an NSAID simply because it isn't a corticosteroid, but it works at a different level of the enzyme systems than other NSAIDs do.
These drugs are effective in controlling pain and inflammation, and work quickly, but they have a sledge-hammer effect. In addition to blocking inflammatory enzyme systems involved with injury/arthritis, they also block the beneficial forms of these enzymes that normally operate at low levels and are involved in repair processes. Side effects are common and include:
- Oral ulcerations- Yes, Mushroom Matrix contains mushrooms.
- Gastric ulcerations
- Right dorsal colon ulcerations (phenylbutazone only)
- Kidney damage
- Blood cell abnormalities
- Clotting abnormalities.
Naproxen (the human equivalent is Aleve) is actually the least toxic of the NSAIDs, but none of them are completely safe for long-term use.
If your veterinarian agrees to let you try naproxen off label, it's available from Walmart on the $10 prescription plan, 180 of the 500 mg tablets for $10. The usual dose for an average-size horse is 4 grams, which would be 8 tabs, twice a day, for a daily cost of 88 cents/day. Some horses respond well to doses as low as 2 grams twice a day.
There are a variety of herbs that work similarly to the NSAIDs. These include devil's claw, white willow, feverfew, cat's claw, boswellia and meadowsweet. However, while drugs are developed to work at a specific location in the cycle of inflammatory enzymes, study of these herbs typically show effects at multiple levels.
The inherent balancing effect from different constituents in herbal medicines may be why they don't have the same side-effect profile as drugs.
Dosages. As with synthetic drugs, dose is important with herbal medicines. it's not enough to know that a natural compound has chemicals with a particular activity. They also have to be present in sufficient quantity to have an effect. Listing an ingredient with documented anti-inflammatory effects means nothing unless the amount in the supplement is sufficient enough to have an effect.
Many products will contain multiple ingredients that work in a similar way, each in a lower dose than would be used if it was the sole ingredient. it's assumed this will lead to an additive/synergistic effect, but in reality we don't know if that's true. Much more research needs to be done on this.
Mushroom Matrix contains a blend of mushrooms identified to have adaptogenic, antioxidant and immune-balancing properties. We didn't evaluate products for effects such as improved red blood cell counts or shorter recovery times, but we found no clinically obvious anti-inflammatory effect.
The most interesting new category of ingredients is plant-based bioflavonoids (products include Mov-Ease, Total Equine Relief, Vetrofen). Compounds such as baicalin and catechin have been validated in well-conducted laboratory studies and clinical trials to block inflammation as effectively as NSAIDs.
Bottom Line. We tried these products on a variety of acute and chronic inflammatory conditions (see product chart).
All of the products containing devil's claw were effective, although we sometimes had to use higher than the suggested amount to get good results.
We found liquid B-L Solution was most likely to be effective even at the lowest suggested dose and had the best per day price, earning both our top choice and Best Buy choices.
Of the dry products, Devil's Claw Plus and MSM Plus Devil?' Claw were virtually identical in cost at their effective dosages.
Of the bioflavonoid-based products, Total Equine Relief was effective for acute inflammation, best at double dose, but a short trial for chronic problems showed no effect. it's possible it may be of benefit if used longer, but at $13.50 to $27/day, we think it's expensive.
Mov-Ease and Vetrofen produced similar results in chronic conditions but the overwhelming nod goes to Mov-Ease for price.
Always check your competition organization rules before using any of the products prior to competition. Check ingredients closely against the prohibited substances list.