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Do herbal supplements work?

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Question: Do herbal supplements work?
Answer: Some herbal supplements suggest they are calming, promote hoof growth, alleviate colic or coughs, promote coat condition or color, promote weight gain, increase overall health and condition, increase gut health, promote healing, or protect joints. Herbal preparations are very popular and some horse owners report excellent results from supplementing with herbs.

It's tempting to believe that a sprinkle of this or that on your horse's feed will solve a problem. But most herbal preparations are not subject to controlled studies. This means there is no standard for measuring how effective they really are and no standard dosing. The action and side effects of the herb may or may not have been thoroughly researched.

Many people are attracted to herbal supplements because they are more ‘natural’ than drugs. That doesn’t make them better, safer or more effective. Many drugs are derived from plant sources—some benign and some dangerous.

Quite often people resort to an herbal preparation after they’ve already tried everything else, or in conjunction with other treatments, and the apparent success of the herbs may actually be attributed to natural healing. Since there are no controlled studies on many herbal supplements it is difficult to measure whether a supplement has lived up to its claims.

If you are competing and your horse may be drug tested you need to be aware that some herbal preparations may mimic, or contain banned substances. Be cautious about adding herbs to your horse’s diet if it is already being treated with drugs. Ask your vet for recommendations and if adding the herb is advisable.

Not all herbal preparations are ineffective but before spending your money do some research. If you’ve researched carefully you might find an herbal supplement that works for your horse. Ask your vet for their opinion or recommendations. Some herbal preparations are effective but you will need to know how much, how long, and how to administer it. Your veterinarian will be the best guide.

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