Many people believe that supplements can help manage health issues and chronic conditions in their horses, leading to a more productive and better quality of life.
Clinical and field experience has demonstrated that many health problems and disease conditions can be either prevented or effectively treated with proper nutrition and the use of specialty health products and supplements, says Roger V. Kendall, Ph.D., vice president of research and development at Vetri-Science Laboratories in Essex Junction, Vt.
“[For example,] the use of antioxidants to reduce the damaging effects of free radicals in equines has found applications to deal with many metabolic issues,” he says.
Though nutrients and other natural ingredients such as glucosamine and perna canaliculus (New Zealand green shell mussel) may work more slowly than selected drugs such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, Kendall says, in the long run they may enhance metabolic processes and help restore function and balance to the body.
“Selected supplements and animal health products can contribute important metabolites for cellular regeneration, improve the flow of energy, enhance immune function, detoxify cellular toxins and improve enzyme activity,” he says. “Such supplements can contribute to the animal during times of stress and aid the body in the healing and regenerative process through natural means.” (See “Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine,” edited by Allen Schoen and Susan Wynn. Mosby Press, 1998).
“One of the best examples is the advancement of anti-arthritic products that have been found to be highly effective in dealing with a wide range of joint problems in the horse.”
Barbara Eaves, DVM, senior manager of scientific communications at Nutramax Laboratories Inc. in Edgewood, Md., says veterinarians should look for proven effectiveness when recommending a supplement.
“They should choose a supplement from a reputable manufacturer with published, peer-reviewed studies available to substantiate product claims,” she says. “Products should have lot numbers, expiration dating and other evidence of being manufactured with good quality control.”
Additionally, Shawn Madere, CEO of GLC Direct LLC in Paris, Ky., says independent testing is crucial, such as that provided by ConsumerLab.com. “[Veterinarians] should also look for clinical relevance in published studies. They may also look for participation in quality organizations such as the National Animal Supplement Council and the Natural Products Association,” he says.
Formulated Joint Supplements
Many horsemen commonly use joint supplements, most of which may contain one or more of these common ingredients: glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate and hylauronic acid. But how do they work?
Madere explains that the mechanism of action for glucosamine is anabolic.
“Elevated glucosamine levels stimulate two groups of manufacturing cells—chondrocytes in articular cartilage and synovicites in the bursa—to increase their production of the nourishing and lubricating fluid hylauronic acid within the joint capsule,” he says.
“This prevents binding between the articulating bone structures and increases the nutrient flow to aid in tissue repair,” he says. “Glucosamine also stimulates the chondrocytes to produce more of the cartilage tissue in the form of proteoglycans and collagen. This speeds the healing of the damaged areas and reduces the pain index as healthy new tissue builds up over the nerve endings.
“The mechanism for chondroitin sulfate is primarily one of a preventive. Chondroitin provides primary constituents for cartilage development, yet its ability to bind water to the cartilage matrix—aiding in hydration—and its suppressive effect on degenerative enzyme secretion by chondrocytes slows the degradation of articular cartilage and improves the anabolic effect of glucosamine. That is why you see most joint products containing [glucosamine and chondroitin] ingredients,” Madere says.
Brand names of popular joint supplements include Cosequin, GLC 5500, ProMotion-EQ and Glyco-Flex.
Cosequin supports cartilage production and protects existing cartilage. It contains avocado/soybean unsaponifiables (ASU), glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and MSM.
ProMotion-EQ supports the shock-absorbing properties of the suspensory apparatus. Several cases of DSLD (degenerative suspensory ligament desmitis), in particular, have been successfully managed with ProMotion-EQ. It contains bioflavanol antioxidants, glucosamine HCl, hydrolyzed collagen, yucca, zinc and manganese.
Because some of the ingredients work quickly to reduce oxidative damage, which causes painful inflammation, results can be seen in as little as 10 days, its manufacturer says.
GLC 5500 is a patented blend of all four glucosamine forms and low molecular weight chondroitin sulfate. Clinical trails have shown that GLC delivers significantly higher levels of the active ingredients to the bloodstream than either of the standard HCl or sulfate forms alone, providing an effective therapy for osteoarthritis.
Perna Canaliculus (New Zealand green mussel) in the Glyco-Flex EQ series helps to maintain healthy connective tissue and supports the normal processes in injured or aged joints.
Whole Food Supplements
Naturally occurring “whole foods” are often used as supplements for chronic conditions.
“We treat a lot of things with fats and oils these days, such as ulcers,” says nutritionist Ginger Rich, Ph.D., president of Rich Equine Nutrition Consulting in Eads, Tenn. “For muscle myopathy, fats provide a better source of calories than starch.”
Rich says horses confined in dirt lots or in overgrazed or sandy pastures or those fed directly on the ground can benefit from a daily dose of psyllium to prevent sand colic.
“Psyllium is an animal grade of Metamucil. I like it and think it’s a beneficial product for confined horses,” she says.
While oil is good for horses suffering from ulcers, Rich says alfalfa should be added to the diet of horses with ulcers or those in high-stress situations. Alfalfa helps because of the high calcium content, which acts as a buffering agent. Clients can get by with five to eight pounds a day spread out through the day to decrease the pH in the stomach and intestine.
“I don’t think supplements cure specifically,” Rich says. “But they can help reduce the drugs usually administered. But you need to make sure you know what is in that product, the quality of it and if there is any science behind it. The company also has to be willing to share information on their supplement, such as research and origin of the ingredients.”
This article first appeared in the May 2010 issue of Veterinary Practice News.