Nutrition and leaky gut in horses under investigation

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Shannon Stanley
Shannon Stanley

A Canadian researcher is exploring the links between nutrition and leaky gut in horses, in one of the few studies looking at the condition in equines. 

Leaky gut is a topic of interest to researchers and the medical community in other species, but is only just starting to be investigated in horses. University of Guelph PhD student Shannon Stanley is aiming to address the gap in research with her project looking at links between nutrition and leaky gut.

What is leaky gut?

Healthy intestines act as a barrier to keep the ‘bad stuff’, like pathogens and toxins, from entering a horse’s body. When intestines become ‘leaky’, this barrier is no longer effective, and the pathogens and toxins can slip through.

“The leaking of these toxins and pathogens, and the body’s reactions to them, is thought to cause decreased performance and the development of diseases in horses,” Stanley said.

The causes of leaky gut in horses include changes to the bugs (microbiota) in the horse’s gut through diet or other causes, diseases, and obstructions and infections in the intestinal tract.

Conditions resulting in barrier dysfunction and leaky gut can be a major cause of decreased performance and death in horses.

Stanley plans to focus her research on potential relationships between nutrition and leaky gut in horses. Her research project will investigate the effects that nutritional supplements have on Gastro Intestinal (GI) transit time in healthy horses. After looking at the results in healthy horses, the next steps may include looking at GI transit time in horses with leaky gut syndrome.

“This research will give scientists and veterinarians insight into nutritional approaches that may help prevent and/or treat leaky gut in horses.”

The University of Guelph has become a Canadian hub for gut health research in horses, and is also running a short course on Gut Health and Colic Prevention from November 12 to 30.

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