By Heather Zorn
Does my horse need this supplement?
Of course, there is no way for me to answer this question on a general scope, but what I CAN teach you to do is: Read through the marketing and hype to determine the answer for yourself and for the health of your horse!
Supplements are a leading industry seller for the equine market and manufacturers are hoping you believe the claims and buy, buy, BUY, without ever fully understanding what you are supplementing and why…
Here is one supplement targeting Insulin Resistance, which can be misdiagnosed, and is not a disease, but a metabolic anamoly requiring proper feeding techniques. There is no “cure” since it is not a disease. There is NO specific one-supplement-magic-bucket that can make a horse less Insulin Resistance. Proper protocol is a diet void of pasture, a low sugar and starch hay, proper supplementation for what is lacking in the hay, and exercise!
This is the label’s listing (please note I am going to take out the actual name/manufacturer of this and replace it “Supplement X”. There is no need to point fingers and cause upset if you are feeding this supplement. After reading this, you may find out you can save some money, learn a few things and even decide it’s not worth the investment… I am just going to review the major players in the supplement, the ingredients that comprise the majority of it. Keep in mind, there are about 20 other ingredients, but the amounts are so miniscule, even if they were beneficial, in such tiny amounts, they are not going to do any good.
Supplement X- IR is a breakthrough formula designed to help manage Insulin Resistance, a condition that is part of Equine Metabolic Syndrome, and frequently associated with obesity. This comprehensive formula supports healthy metabolic function by providing a targeted selection of ingredients, including Chromium, Magnesium, Vitamin E, Cinnamon and more. These tasty beet pulp-based pellets are perfect for horses being fed little to no grain.”
Magnesium (Oxide & Proteinate) 4,400 mg
Grape Seed Meal 3,929 mg
Taurine 1,750 mg
Fenugreek Seed 1,500 mg
Cinnamon 1,000 mg
L-Tyrosine 750 mg
Omega 6 Fatty Acids 740 mg
Acetyl L-Carnitine 425 mg
Alpha Lipoic Acid 400 mg
Omega 3 Fatty Acids 340 mg
WOW! That’s a lot of ingredients, and I’ve only listed the top 10! So, let’s work our way down the list in an orderly fashion to avoid any more confusion that what was caused by just looking over that list.
Magnesium: Anywhere you look on the internet, you will find manufacturers telling you that magnesium is the “cure” for Insulin Resistance. What they don’t tell you is that after a certain amount in the daily diet, it has a diminishing return. The first side effect of too much magnesium is diarrhea. If your hay is lacking in magnesium, by all means: ADD it! But how can you supplement by throwing it in to an unknown diet? Do you just guess? NO! Have your hay tested. It costs $26 for a full analysis.
4,400 mg is 4.4 grams and a pretty average amount to add if you are just guessing. Did you also know that magnesium is about as cheap as dirt? A 50lb bag costs about $25, which would last the average horse on a low magnesium forage about 14 years!
Grape Seed (in this form as a meal): Grape seed is used as an antioxidant. Is it helpful? Depends on your horse. Is your horse stressed out? Traveling? Ill? If you answered any of those questions with a yes, it may be worth a shot. Will it work? I don’t know, the effects haven’t been studied and researched in horses… Do you want to try it out on your horse?
Taurine: One of the amino acids, the building blocks of protein. If your hay is lacking in protein, you may need additional amino acids, however taurine is a non-essential or conditional amino acid, meaning the body can manufacture what it needs from the breakdown of the protein source. Research shows that it may have beneficial effects in clinical trials for people with congestive heart failure or liver disease. Treatment of any other condition has not been shown in people, and therefore highly unlikely for research to exist for treatment in horses. Does your horse have congestive heart failure or kidney disease? No? Then you probably don’t need the taurine, and if he does, you’re going to need a lot more than what is offered in this supplement to run your own experiment!
Fenugreek: It’s a palatable flavoring for horses, and one that is derived from an herb. I appreciate finding the use of fenugreek in supplements for horses who need limited sugar sources, rather than the alternative taste tempter, molasses.
Cinnamon: Research has shown that cinnamon can help reduce blood glucose levels in high enough doses. However, what this supplement manufacturer doesn’t realize or care about is that glucose levels are normally the issue in horses with IR. Glucose levels can test quite normally, but insulin levels are high. Cinnamon has no effect on insulin levels, and therefore should not be found in this supplement.
L-Tyrosine: Another amino acid, this one also synthesized by the body to the levels required for daily use. Unless your hay is very low in protein, L-tyrosine is most likely not needed. It is used in people to treat a fairly rare disorder called PKU where they can’t process sufficient levels and must be supplemented. Also, some antectodal evidence shows that people use it for narcolepsy, ADD, depression, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Please tell me your horse has not been diagnosed with any of the above???
Omega 6 Fatty Acids:- Fatty acids are good, right? Not all of them are created equal. It’s Omega-3 supplementation that we want- the anti-inflammatory omegas. The omega-6’s are inflammatory and we don’t need additional inflammation! Unfortunately, the Omega-3’s are fragile and far more expensive due to the necessity of special handling, processing or refrigeration to keep them stable and effective. NO thanks on the addition of the Omega-6’s… Especially since you’ll note the amount of Omega6’s to Omega3’s is double! We ideally would like the ratio the other way around- higher Omega3’s to lower Omega6’s, as high as 4:1! I’d even settle for 2:1, but this is inverted at 1:2. Buying stabilized or cold-pressed ground flax seed is an easy and effective way to remedy this and save money.
Acetyl-L Carnitine: Another amino acid. Another non-essential, conditional amino acid that the body produces itself. I will say that it does help the body produce energy, which is great! But, is your horse lethargic, overworked and under-rested? Probably not. If so, you may want to look deeper into what is causing his lack of energy… Is it pain related? Strenuous show schedule? Other alterations need to be made before supplementing unknowingly with anything. It is used in people to improve memory in those with high alcohol intake and/or the elderly, reducing nerve pain caused by diabetes (please note that Insulin Resistance is NOT diabetes), as well as testosterone deficiency in men.
Alpha Lipoic Acid: This one I like! Finally, right? ALA is a powerful antioxidant and has more scientific research backing it than Grape Seed (which is far more plentiful in this supplement than the ALA due to a much cheaper cost). ALA can help break down carbohydrates to produce energy for the body. It can be helpful in cases of kidney disease, and overall is a pretty good thing. The levels are pretty low considering the body weight of a horse, and if you are interested in supplementing ALA, it’s probably a lot cheaper to do so individually and provide an ample dose that may actually provide some benefit. As a matter of fact, Pampered Pooch and Pony’s Canine Gold contains ALA. To give you an idea of dose, Canine Gold contains 250mg per tablespoon, which is the dose for a 50lb dog. This Supplement X-IR contains 400mg per serving for a 1000lb horse. See the difference? ALA is a fairly expensive ingredient to use in large quantities, which is why it’s listed, but the dose is low in Supplement X-IR.
The cost of this supplement works out to be $1.11 per day. Considering the above for some cheap ingredients (magnesium), which may or may not be needed in your particular diet, a few amino acids that your horse can effectively produce himself, an antioxidant, and a backward ratio of Omega-6’s to Omega-3’s. Is that worth spending $1.11 a day on?
Confused about the number of equine supplements on the market? The big manufacturers depend on this to sell their products! Remember that many of the ingredients used may or may not have ever been studied in the equine species, and oftentimes, human studies cannot be extrapolated for animal use. Consider a nutritional consultation from Pampered Pooch and Pony’s nutritionist, and have someone to answer these questions for you, as well as help you decide what supplementation your horse actually needs. At Pampered Pooch and Pony Equine & Canine Nutritional Consulting, our main objective in consulting is to educate YOU as the consumer, to make better decisions for your horse. As an educated consumer, learn to read between the lines, hype, marketing, and advertising.