Can homeopathic nosodes provide an alternative to traditional vaccines for some horses?
It’s a controversy that’s older than you probably realize. The question of whether to use traditional vaccines or homeopathic nosodes is basically the root of 200 years of debate about which healthcare method is best – homeopathy or allopathy.
Allopathic medicine, also known as conventional medicine, claims that vaccination is the best prevention for many diseases. Homeopathic medicine claims that homeoprophylaxis (“homeo” means “same”, “prophylaxis” means “prevention”) with nosodes also prevents these diseases.
During the 19th century, both approaches were successful. It was in 1910 that the anti-homeopathic community successfully squashed homeopathic medicine. From that point forward, vaccines and antibiotics predominated disease prevention, and the use of nosodes and other homeopathic remedies fell out of favor.
Let’s look at the “medicine” of vaccines versus nosodes. There are several types of vaccines. In general, a vaccine takes DNA from a virus or bacteria and changes the structure so the DNA no longer causes disease but can be recognized by the body as “foreign”. This causes an immune response when the vaccine is injected back into the body. The immune response protects the vaccinated horse or other animal from disease.
Vaccines vary in efficacy and cost – typically, they cost upwards of $200 dollars per horse for annual vaccination. The average time it takes the horse’s body to respond to a vaccine is two weeks – this means a vaccine given today usually takes two weeks before it will protect him from the disease in question.
Vaccines are also associated with side effects that can range from local swelling and allergic reactions to abscesses, seizures and death. Vaccines need refrigeration, and for the most part, they require that each animal be handled individually to receive his vaccines – whether by injection, intranasally or through oral administration. Some vaccines require booster doses, which are meant to strengthen the immune system beyond the capacity of a single dose.
The last 100 years offer ample evidence demonstrating the efficacy of vaccines. Interestingly, vaccines have a wide range of protection, depending on the agent. For example, depending on which Lyme vaccine is used, protection occurs 60% to 78% of the time (J Vet Intern Med, 2006; 20:422-434). Not even the rabies vaccine protects 100% of vaccinated animals (JAVMA, 2009; 235:691-5). Both these vaccines, as well as many others, are used in horses.
A nosode is made from a secretion caused by a given disease, diluted anywhere from 100 to 1,000,000 times. This is then made into a pellet that is given orally to a patient, to return the body to normal health. For example, saliva from a rabid animal makes the Lyssin nosode, and nasal discharge from a horse with influenza is the active ingredient of the Equine Influenza nosode.
A nosode is slightly different from the usual homeopathic remedy; the typical homeopathic remedy is a very dilute version of a plant or mineral which is used for its medicinal properties – for example, dilutions of chamomile or sulphur or even snake venom to treat teething pain, acne and hot flashes respectively.
Due to high levels of dilution, a nosode cannot cause disease or side effects. In fact, modern researchers claim they cannot find a trace of the original DNA in nosodes; homeopathy claims the energy of the medication is still contained in the remedy. Nosodes are also given either in advance of an infection or during an infection – either as vaccination or treatment – and the body responds much faster than it does to a vaccine.
Nosodes cost pennies a dose, do not require refrigeration, and can be given individually or to a group of horses through drinking water or aerosolized water droplets. Nosodes can also be re-dosed as frequently as needed during a potential outbreak situation, for immediate response.
The challenge of over-vaccination
It’s well documented in small animal medicine that overvaccination causes health problems – from allergic reactions to cancer and death (JAVMA, 2005; 235:1821-42). The equine medical community does not commonly discuss over-vaccination. However, it would be naïve to think that horses are not also over-vaccinated. Semi-annual revaccination against West Nile virus and the other mosquito-borne encephalitides may cause more harm than good. Rabies vaccine is notorious for causing reactions, regardless of the species. Injectable strangles vaccine can cause horrible abscesses at the site of vaccination. A nosode, by contrast, would not cause any of these side effects.
The era of vaccinating every horse in a barn with five different vaccines on one day may come to an end through the use of nosodes. Meanwhile, there will be incredible reluctance on the part of some members of the medical community to use nosodes, since vaccines are a great profit center for veterinarians. However, as veterinarians, our goal should be to treat for the good of the animal/patient, rather than our pockets. In the long run, animals will be better protected with nosodes. More and more anecdotes will build a body of evidence, just as it did for allopathic medicine over the last 80 to 100 years. Case studies mark the beginning of any epidemiological study. Fear will keep people from recommending nosodes, however, because they are not yet proven.
Consult with your holistic veterinarian when deciding what is best for your horses. Depending on where you live, certain vaccines are legally mandated (rabies, especially), so you’ll need to take this into consideration. But asking your vet about nosodes expresses your interest in exploring alternatives.
Success with nosodes
• A human meningitis outbreak in Brazil in 1998 was controlled for 90% of patients using homeopathic meningitis nosodes (homstudy.net/Research). More recently, leptospira nosodes were effective in controlling a leptospira outbreak in Cuba in 2007 (hpathy.com/ homeopathy-papers/homoeopathic-immunisation-against-leptospirosis-in-cuba).
• A growing population of people dose their children with nosodes rather than vaccines; strong proponents of homeoprophylaxis live in Australia and Germany (homstudy.net/ Research). A growing contingent of parents is looking to provide similar care in the US. It makes complete sense that these same people would look at homeopathic care for their animals – horses included.
• I have a client who has successfully protected his dogs from heartworm disease using heartworm nosodes. Despite living in a swampy area where dogs all around are heartworm positive, his own animals remain uninfected.