The terms “free radicals” and “antioxidants” have become commonplace when discussing equine health and nutrition, but why should we care about them?
Well, does your horse eat, breathe, sleep and move around? I’m guessing the answer is – yes! If your horse is engaging in any of the above, then they are undergoing a process known as oxidation. Oxidation is a normal metabolic process in which fats, carbohydrates and proteins are converted into energy to fuel bodily functions.
While oxidation is an essential process, the production of free radicals is a nasty side effect. Free radicals are unstable molecules that are LACKING an electron. In an effort to become “whole” again they seek out other molecules in the body and steal their electrons. This causes irreversible damage to cells and tissues. A typical catch-22 situation! Fortunately, the body has a natural defence system in the form of antioxidants to help prevent damage from free radicals.
A good example of oxidation is the rusting of a nail. We have all heard that one. So, let’s discuss an example in horses, which is what we really care about! Most of us own a horse so that we can ride him/her. Did you know that exercise speeds up oxidation due to increased oxygen consumption? This releases a cascade of free radicals that can quickly overwhelm the horse’s natural store of antioxidants. Like humans, horses undergoing strenuous exercise are subject to muscle soreness or stiffness, which is an indicator of oxidative stress. Ouch!
So, what can we do about it? While fruits such as blueberries contain high levels of antioxidants, it is not advisable to feed large quantities of fruit to horses due to their high sugar content (portion control, people!). Why not make it easy for yourself? A high-quality antioxidant supplement containing a blend of vitamin E, vitamin C, selenium and magnesium will help support your horse during times of illness, stress, recovery from injury and during strenuous exercise.