Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Horses can have Metabolic Syndrome Too

It’s funny how the world collides in on itself, when you go looking hard enough. Or else it’s just self- projection, but I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Alongside my no gluten no wheat no lactose low sugars journey this year, I have also been studying the latest in horse management, including, of course, nutrition. This has been further sparked by ongoing intermittent lameness in my mare, and obvious insulin resistance/cushings symptoms in my loaner schoolmaster gelding.

Whilst on the surface, the two horses are very different, and have very different issues, I believe they are actually marks on a spectrum of insulin resistance, with Moonie being obvious to the point of clinical, thanks in part to his age, and Maz being at the opposite end of the spectrum, with her symptoms so vague and very specific (abscesses).

Both animals are good doers, and don’t need mountains of feed to keep condition on, and sometimes need restrictions on their dietary intakes. Moonie has classic insulin resistant fat deposits over his body and neck, Maz is simply in very good condition. Moonie doesn’t have feet issues, although his feet are not in prime condition with flat soles and contracted heels due to a lifetime of shoeing. Maz has been barefoot all her life, apart from a 2month period just after breaking in, when she had front shoes only.

One of the prime “symptoms”/repercussions of insulin resistance is laminitis or founder, where the bonds between the laminae (layers of horn) in the hoof, and the hoof and the horse,  are destroyed, usually by an overproduction of MMP, a remodelling enzyme. This enzyme is overproduced as a direct outcome of leaky gut, cause by over ingestion of sugars, fructans and starches, or non-structural carbohydrates. This is of course an oversimplified explanation. Sounding familiar???

Traditionally, this overload of carbs was thought to occur on lush spring pastures, and from a horse raiding the grain bin in the feed shed. Whilst this is often the case, the situation is far more complex than that.  And when one gets one’s brain around the complexity, it follows that most surburban and semi-rurally kept horses in Australia (ie in high density situations) have some grade of insulin resistance and therefore are quietly experiencing undiagnosed levels of hoof wall damage that is called laminitis.

Most recreational horses are kept in paddocks of less than acre, and are hand fed, supplemented by improved pasture (think of improved pasture as fortified white bread. It’s great for growing meat and milk, compromised for growing healthy, living beings). Hand feeding consists of prepackaged, cooked (yes, cooked) grains and other feeds, fortified with vitamins and minerals, and sold by a number of feedmills, nicely packaged like bags of dog kibble. Each brand has its own special mix of nutrients, so no two brands are quite the same. This makes it difficult to compare prices, and results, because the ingredients are not quite the same. This bagged feed is mixed with chaff, and supplemented with hay (often from specialised farms, so heavily beefed up in the sugars department thanks to superphosphates and other fertilizers).

It’s the equivalent of packaged processed foods and take aways for humans, with the same result: metabolic syndromes and diseases.

My mare is the first horse I raised fully on a premixed, cooked (extruded) grain based feed, plus chaff and hay. She had her first abscess within 6 weeks of arriving at my place, as a yearling. I’d never encountered an abscess before, and now, 9 years later, I’ve seen so many, if the mare was to have fractured a leg, or blown a tendon, I’d fob it off as an abscess. This year I have changed the way her feet are trimmed, to a barefoot style that allows the hoof to function correctly, which then facilitates better blood flow through the hoof capsule, and results in a heathier hoof. She’s had more abscesses continuously since doing this. But now I am not so sure we are dealing with traditional abscesses.

Abscesses are, I believe, on the same continuum as laminitis. An abscess is an inflammatory reaction to necrotic tissue or introduced pathogens. Laminitis is inflammatory of the same hoof area. They are absolutely related. Once I released this, I also realised I had to stop looking at abscesses like pimples: painful and problematic but that’s about it. Now I think of them as a warning bell, a bit like IBS, acne and unexplained joint pain and muscle fatigue in humans. Something is going wrong inside, metabolically. It’s time for my ponies to go paleo again!

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