100% All Natural is Not Always 100% Safe

By Hannah Albright, DVM

Over the last few years, our society has made an enormous shift toward becoming more organic, all natural and antibiotic-free with our foods, cosmetics and other personal supplies. This has created a bit of a difficult situation for medical professionals and veterinarians who rely on and trust pharmaceutical medications to help treat their patients. As veterinarians, we are experiencing more and more clients hesitant to use medications like dewormer or flea and tick preventatives because they don’t want to put chemicals in their pet’s body. Although some natural remedies may be effective in helping control certain conditions with specific patients, we unfortunately cannot rely on the efficacy of the product because they  have not undergone studies or approval to ensure they are effective and safe. 

The term ‘all-natural’ can be misleading to the general public. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines all-natural as “being or composed of ingredients that are from nature.” However, we need to consider that not all things in nature are safe. For example, there are many plants in nature that have toxic properties. Milkweed and Lily of the Valley (amongst others) have developed natural defense mechanisms containing cardiac glycosides. Cardiac glycosides are a natural compound used in specific heart medications but if ingested in the incorrect dosage, can cause cardiac arrhythmias and even death. Atropa belladonna, or Deadly Nightshade, is an extremely toxic plant (both plant and berries) to humans and other animals causing severe gastrointestinal, cardiac and neurologic side effects. There are many homeopathic therapies described using belladonna; however, toxicity is likely due to difficulty achieving the proper medicinal dose. These are just a few of the thousands of various naturally occurring toxins in our world.

Strychnos nux-vomica plant and seeds.

After looking into the ingredients of some of the natural remedies for worms we have seen, we were surprised to find that some of the ingredients used can actually be quite toxic. 

  • Arsenic trioxide: Arsenic is used as a preservative, in pesticides and for chemotherapy in humans. Its possibility for toxicity actually regulates its sale and manufacturing. 
  • Naphthalene: This is a fumigant, pesticide and repellant often used in mothballs. In some countries, products manufactured with naphthalene are prohibited.
  • Strychnos nux-vomica seed: These seeds contain strychnine that have historically used to poison arrows and used in baits to kill rodents and birds.

Although the above substances are “all natural,” the margin for safety in dosing is very narrow meaning a mistake made in the amount or frequency given can have serious consequences.  Despite originating from nature these are still very serious chemicals which should be viewed as potentially MORE dangerous than artificial, lab created medications.

Most homeopathic and all-natural medications have the disclaimer on the bottom of their labels: “This drug has not been found by the FDA to be safe and effective, and this labelling has not been approved by the FDA.” Lab created pharmaceuticals go through extensive safety testing and trials to determine safety, efficacy, potential side effects and drug interactions. They are approved and regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (even animal medications!!) making them safe and effective if used under the guidance of a physician or veterinarian. 

We do not want to discourage the use of all natural, homeopathic remedies. Much good research is being done on nature-derived supplements and therapies, and we frequently recommend neutraceuticals that have been determined to be safe and effective. However, we do want to encourage people to discuss the benefits and risks of these supplements with their veterinarians and realize that just because something is natural, does not mean it is always safe. 

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