Food compounds show promise in helping old horses


grass-eatResearch has shown the considerable promise of several groups of nutritional compounds to reduce inflammation in ageing horses.

The research at the University of Kentucky was a preliminary step toward identifying effective nutritional options for improving the function of the immune system in aged horses.

Several of the compounds tested were found to outperform the common anti-inflammatory drug, phenylbutazone, at low levels in reducing inflammation.

Dr Amanda Adams, from the university’s Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center, said improvements over the last century in health care and advancements in biology, chemistry and medicine had extended the average lifespan of humans and companion animals, including horses.

“However, we are now facing new challenges with the paradox of an older population with increased longevity, while confronted with the potential for many years of poor health,” said Adams, whose research was reported in the latest issue of Equine Disease Quarterly.

Adams said it was well documented that the aged, including horses, have increased susceptibility to and prolonged recovery from infectious diseases, poor responses to vaccination, and an increased incidence of various cancers.

It was also now accepted that chronic inflammation, known as inflamm-aging, was a major underlying condition of many age-related diseases, such as atherosclerosis, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, dementia, vascular diseases, obesity, and metabolic syndrome.

“In anti-aging research, much attention is focused on nutritional interventions as practical, cost-effective approaches to mitigating this age-related breakdown in immune function,” she said.

These natural dietary compounds found in a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds are promising candidates in helping to combat the effects of aging.

“They possess broad biological activities, from anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory action to detoxification, regulating signaling pathways in the body, and control of enzyme activities,” she said.

tableAdams said that, since horses over 20 have increased levels of inflammation, and long-term treatment with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as flunixin meglumine and phenylbutazone can pose health problems, researchers were interested in nutritional interventions to counteract this inflamm-aging process.

In her research, flavonoid (quercetin) and polyphenolic compounds (curcuminoids, resveratrol, pterostilbene and hydroxypterostilbene) were compared to phenylbutazone and flunixin meglumine to determine differences in equine cytokine production in cell culture.

White blood cells from aged horses were isolated and incubated overnight with each compound or anti-inflammatory drug at multiple concentrations.

Inflammation production was measured when cells were stimulated.

At varying doses, each of the nutritional compounds and drugs significantly reduced cellular inflammation, her research found.

Interestingly, curcuminoids at a concentration of 20 μM (micromolar units) reduced inflammation to the same level as higher doses of flunixin meglumine (40 μM) and phenylbutazone (more than 320 μM).

All natural compounds outperformed phenylbutazone by being effective at lower doses.

Adams said this preliminary research led into two studies using aged horses:

  • To determine if a relationship existed between circulating vitamin and fatty acid levels to systemic inflammation and muscle mass.
  • To discover if anti-inflammatory supplementation affected immune responses to vaccination.

“These are preliminary steps to identify effective nutritional intervention regimens to improve function of the immune system in the aged horse,” she said.


Equine Disease Quarterly is funded by underwriters at Lloyd’s, London, brokers, and their Kentucky agents.

Latest research and information from the horse world.

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