Over the past few years, awareness of the benefits of ‘pectin’ and ‘lecithin’ for maintaining a healthy stomach lining has increased significantly. They’re ingredients you’ve no doubt heard of in relation to digestive supplements but possibly aren’t sure what they do. So, what’s all the fuss about?
Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS)
The high prevalence of gastric ulcers occurring not only in performance horses, but leisure/pleasure horses and those out at pasture, increases the need to identify natural substances that help promote optimal stomach health. While the drug omeprazole prevails as the most effective treatment for Equine Squamous Gastric Disease (ESGD) and its combination use with sucralfate for the effective treatment of Equine Glandular Gastric Disease (EGGD), there is a need for and a serious benefit to providing longer term management strategies after initial treatment.
Since horses are meant to be grazing for the majority of the day (16-20 hours), their stomach produces gastric acid on an almost continuous basis. In fact, a 500kg horse produces around 30L of acid per day regardless of whether there is anything in the stomach! As you can imagine, if the horse goes for a period with nothing to eat the stomach contents will become very acidic. Gastric ulcers are essentially wounds that develop on the stomach lining. Ulcers can occur in both the upper (squamous) and lower (glandular) part of the stomach. There are various factors that increase the risk of ESGD and EGGD in horses. Check out A/Prof Dr Ben Sykes webinar series on the risk factors for ESGD and EGGD on the Kelato YouTube channel!
The squamous region of the horse’s stomach has a phospholipid surfactant-like layer (think of the consistency of detergent), which contributes to the mucosal barrier. However, it lacks a significant mucous layer, has poor blood supply and has a variable ability to heal spontaneously once injured. On the other hand, the glandular region is where the acid glands are located, so it secretes a thick mucous and bicarbonate layer to protect the mucosa.
What is pectin?
Pectin is a water-soluble fibre found in the cell wall of fruits, tubers and the stems of plants. In the presence of a low pH, pectin forms a gel-like solution. To put it in perspective, pectins are used to thicken jam and give it the gel-like consistency.
What is lecithin?
Lecithin is an abundant, naturally occurring phospholipid found in animal and plant cell membranes. Commercially, lecithin is most commonly derived from soybeans. Phospholipids are made up of two fatty acids that are attached to a glycerol ‘head’. The glycerol head region of the molecule is hydrophilic, which means it attracts water. On the other end, the fatty acid tail is hydrophobic, which means it repels water.
How can pectin and lecithin benefit my horse?
As mentioned above, in the presence of a low pH (such as that found in the horse’s stomach) pectin turns into a gel. The pectin then binds to bile acids in the stomach. This increases the buffering capacity of the stomach acid (i.e. raises the pH and makes it less acidic) and helps to create a mucous-like barrier in the glandular region of the stomach.
Lecithin helps to stabilise the natural phospholipid layer of the horse’s stomach. In acidic conditions, lecithin immediately breaks down into a mix of reactive phospholipids. The hydrophilic (water loving) head attaches to the stomach lining, leaving the hydrophobic (water repelling) tail exposed to the lumen of the stomach. This arrangement helps provide a hydrophobic barrier between the tissue of the stomach wall and the gastric contents. Essentially, it repels water loving substances such as gastric acid away from the stomach wall, thereby protecting the sensitive mucosa.
So what does it all mean?
ESGD and EGGD are serious and debilitating conditions that can affect your horse’s health and behaviour and once diagnosed, a course of omeprazole or a combination regime remains the most effective treatment. However, it’s also beneficial to consider the long-term use of a digestive supplement to maximise the benefits of the initial treatment, support the fragile gut environment and ensure your horse’s digestive system continues to function correctly.
When you are considering which product to choose, pectin and lecithin are ingredients you should look out for. Kelato’s GastroAID Recovery is UNIQUE as it provides the “coating agents” pectin and lecithin, which form a barrier over the stomach wall to help protect it from acid burn and strengthen the mucosal lining. You might have heard A/Prof Dr Ben Sykes refer to this as “alkaline slime”.
GastroAID Recovery is designed for horses with equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS), horses recovering from EGUS, or those under a significant amount of stress. If your horse is prone to developing gastric ulcers, we recommend using GastroAID Recovery during stressful periods.
Don’t forget that digestive health supplements along with veterinary prescribed medication are only one part of the process in maintaining optimal gut health. Addressing the risk factors associated with ESGD and EGGD, changes to your horse’s diet and management practices are often required to provide a comprehensive solution to the management of EGUS.