Antioxidants are well known for their health benefits in human nutrition and we are often encouraged to eat foods that are rich in these vital nutrients. Luckily for us, dark chocolate and red wine are potent sources of antioxidants… Of course, moderation is key and nutritionists will likely suggest certain fruits and vegetables as healthier options! (Aren’t grapes a fruit!?)
Similarly, antioxidants play an important role in the health of your horse, particularly their immune system. While your horse can’t sit back with a glass of red and piece of chocolate, there are ways to ensure they receive adequate antioxidants.
Stress compromises the immune system
Stressors such as changes in environment, chronic pain and long-distance travel can compromise your horse’s immune system. While some infections and diseases are beyond your control, you can influence the outcome by boosting your horse’s immune system nutritionally.
Oxidation (gain of oxygen) occurs as a normal part of metabolism, as well as in disease processes such as inflammation and infection. Oxygen is essential for life, but there’s a problem. As the horse’s body uses oxygen, it generates by-products known as reactive oxygen species (ROS), commonly termed “free radicals”. Free radicals can cause irreversible damage to healthy cells. At the molecular level, they can damage DNA, RNA and cell lipids, which are essential for cell membrane integrity. Once damaged, cells no longer function properly, leaving horses susceptible to multiple health problems.
Antioxidants are the horse’s major defence system against the scourge of free radicals and oxidative stress. However, stress, illness and injury increase oxidation. This results in the release of a cascade of free radicals, which can quickly overwhelm the body’s natural store of antioxidants. Left uncontrolled, free radicals can cause considerable irreparable damage to cells and cell membranes. Stress also decreases the horse’s immune system, allowing opportunistic organisms to colonise within the body and cause disease.
What are some of the major antioxidants in the equine diet?
Vitamin E has a direct effect on the immune system by supporting the manufacture and function of cytokines, which are the chemical signalling molecules of the immune response. Vitamin E is also a potent antioxidant, working in conjunction with vitamin C to scavenge and convert free radicals into stable compounds. Due to its water-soluble nature, vitamin C can work both inside and outside the cell to combat free radical damage. Vitamin C also helps by regenerating vitamin E.
Selenium is a component of glutathione peroxidase, a beneficial enzyme that prevents free radicals from forming. Glutathione peroxidase also destroys lipid peroxidases (non-beneficial enzymes), which damage cell membranes.
Boosting the immune system
Boosting your horse’s immune system requires a holistic approach. Providing a nutritionally balanced diet that meets your horse’s energy, protein, vitamin and mineral requirements is essential. Implementing management practices to decrease stress where possible will also go a long way in maintaining a healthy immune system.
If your horse is working hard, travels often or recovering from illness/injury, he may also benefit from a supplement that promotes good immunity. Kelato’s LoosenUP is a high-quality antioxidant supplement containing a blend of vitamin E, vitamin C, selenium, magnesium and chromium to support horses during times of illness, stress, recovery from injury and strenuous exercise.