Nutraceuticals come in various different forms, often described as somewhere in between a food and a pharmaceutical. As there is no internationally recognised classification for these products, the products involved will differ from country to country, but they are often consumed as a dietary supplement, in humans and their horses alike. It is often implied that nutrients in horse feed can have some form of medicinal benefit, but this is not the case. Nutrients are of course beneficial and have roles in immunity and other health functions, but they should never be viewed as medicines. Here we will break down some of the different types of nutraceuticals and how they may be able to benefit your horse.
Types of Nutraceuticals
There are various types of substances that nutraceuticals are present within. Always check the packaging of any horse feed or supplements before giving them to your horse.
Vitamins & Minerals
Vitamins and minerals used within nutraceuticals for a balanced diet can include:
- Iron (Fe)
- Zinc (Zn)
- Copper (Cu)
- Selenium (Se)
- Manganese (Mn)
- Iodine (I)
- Cobalt (Co)
Of these, lysine, is considered the first limiting amino acid meaning it is the amino acid that is most likely to be deficient in your horse’s diet.
Essential Fatty Acids
Vegetable- and marine-based sources can provide your horse with essential omega-3 fatty acids. Forages, canola oil, soybean oil, chia, and flax contain ALA, while fish oil and algae provide DHA and EPA.
Fibre sources such as hay, haylage and grass are vital for a healthy digestive system and should always form the majority of the diet. Fibre also provides the horse with excellent levels of slow-release energy and a good source of calories and heat as it is fermented in the body.
Plants and Herbal Extracts
- Garlic, ginseng, primrose, and rose hip possess antioxidative properties. Using these as supplementation in a horse’s diet may lessen the chance of oxidative stress-related diseases.
- Liquorice, and Aloe vera extracts possess cytoprotective and mucus-stimulatory effects.
- Echinacea can stimulate the equine immunocompetence when combined with a regular diet.
What Nutraceuticals Are Best for Your Horse?
Whether you should or should not give your horse nutraceuticals depends on a variety of factors. Some suggest that some nutraceuticals can be beneficial for conditions such as laminitis in horses, although it is unclear if there is any substantial evidence to support this. If you are feeding your horse a balanced diet, they are healthy and aren’t presenting any problems, it is unlikely that you need to give your horse any form of supplementation. Furthermore, if your horse has any serious health problems, you should absolutely not attempt to use nutraceutical supplements instead of medication. This could have the potential to worsen your horse’s health issues, so having your veterinarian evaluate your horse’s physical condition frequently whilst reviewing their diet is the best approach you can take to maintain a long and healthy life for them.
Further, dietary imbalances might develop secondary to over supplementation that can potentially result in deleterious nutrient interactions. An example of this is vitamin E. This is a popular nutritional supplement, but high levels of vitamin E can lower systemic beta-carotene levels, which can potentially result in a vitamin A deficiency.