Oh, no—lame again! That stiff stifle or creaky knee; what to do?
Sooner or later, osteoarthritis strikes most active equines; it’s just a fact of life. Whether due to injuries, “high mileage” or simply old age, the hips, stifles, fetlocks, hocks and knees just don’t move as fluidly as they used to. Those ol’ joints (especially the connective cartilage and the cushioning synovial fluid) need some love!
Not long ago, a horse experiencing pain and stiffness from inflammation of the joints would routinely be medicated with drugs like Phenylbutazone or maintained with steroid injections, to name just two traditional treatments. However, the side effects and long-term costs of these treatments can be daunting, especially when equines remain active well into their 20s.
Enter “nutraceuticals,” a range of health supplements based on nutritional and/or natural ingredients. Joint support products in this category often contain alternatives to non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, designed to target discomfort and stiffness. Some of these might be familiar to you, while others are relatively new on the scene.
Here’s a rundown of some of these ingredients and how they can help your horse…
Boswellia serrata: An extract from the gum resin of a tree native to India, boswellia has been the subject of research suggesting that it helps decrease normal inflammatory pathways. A level of 500 mg/day (when fed alone) is said to be effective in many horses. When combined with other active ingredients, lower levels may be equally effective.
Curcumin: A 2017 study at Louisiana State University’s examined the effects of curcumin extract (patented Longvida® SD Optimized Curcumin) in horses with osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. The resulting clinical studies seem to indicate that this plant extract has anti-inflammatory properties and is effective in reducing pain. It might also aid in muscle recovery and have additional digestive benefits.
Devil’s claw: A plant found in South Africa and Namibia, devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) can reduce pain and inflammation with fewer side effects than traditional NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
Glucosamine and chondroitin: A proven combo in joint support, these two naturally occurring substances (both components in cartilage and connective tissue) are the cornerstone of many joint support programs. They have been shown to slow cartilage breakdown, potentially promoting healing, as well. When fed alone, the optimal levels are 6,000-10,000 mg/day for glucosamine and 1,200-5,000 mg/day for chondroitin. When combined, experts say to stick with optimal levels of glucosamine and as close to optimal levels of chondroitin as you can find. (Incidentally, low molecular weight chondroitin absorbs more easily, enhancing its “bioavailability.”)
Hyaluronic acid (HA): An important lubricating component in joint fluid, connective tissue and cartilage, HA is considered useful in joints experiencing pain, heat and swelling. The oral administration of as little as 20 mg/day in conjunction with glucosamine and chondroitin can help some horses.
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM): An organic compound that is a source of sulfur (which is critical in the production of collagen), MSM is an effective anti-inflammatory that can also support cellular health and reduce the negative effects of oxidative stress. It is often administered in combination with glucosamine and chondroitin to reduce pain and swelling; some research hints that it can even slow joint degeneration. One equine study suggested that it is most effective in higher doses.
Yucca: Believed to enhance the body’s normal repair of connective tissue and joints, Yucca Saponin is an herb that is frequently included in preparations formulated to enhance joint comfort. Older horses and those experiencing stiffness would likely benefit from the inclusion of this ingredient in an oral supplement.
Some words of advice when shopping for nutraceuticals:
First, look for products that are backed by research. The FDA does not regulate nutraceuticals the way it does pharmaceuticals, so you owe it to your horse to be his advocate.
Read labels carefully, keeping in mind that not all natural or herbal ingredients are “show-safe,” meaning they cannot be used when competing in certain regulated events. To check the Fédération Équestre Internationale’s list of prohibited substances and controlled medications, which is updated periodically, please go to: https://inside.fei.org/fei/cleansport/ad-h/prohibited-list.
Last but not least, keep your veterinarian in the loop when choosing and using any nutraceutical supplement for your horse. It goes without saying that you should always follow recommended dosages to ensure safety; however, there are times when pharmaceutical intervention might be indicated instead.