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Used widely within riding disciplines, riders cite the use of joint supplements to address one of their main concerns; mobility and performance. While horse owners may need guidance on joint supplements, they should at least be aware of exactly what they are feeding – after all, knowing the ingredients in your horse’s joint supplement (and what they are designed to do) is the key to success!
The best horse joint supplements will have a small but quality ingredients list, and should include the following proven and well-researched ingredients;
Glucosamine is a naturally occurring compound in the body, forming a structural component of cartilage that cushions the joints. Through exercise and age, cartilage and other soft structures surrounding the joint can become weaker and begin to break down. This can result in pain, swelling and stiffness. Therefore, the inclusion of glucosamine is essential when looking for the best horse joint supplement.
A 2014 study observed that supplementing with glucosamine showed a trend to increase new cartilage production and decrease the breakdown of existing cartilage during inflammatory processes. This means that using a joint supplement containing glucosamine is also beneficial for horses in rehabilitation from injury.
In addition, researchers have suggested that glucosamine used in young horses may be useful to decrease the risk and severity of arthritis in later life. Not only can it reduce cartilage breakdown, it has also been show to regulate gene expression of some mediators of osteoarthritis in equine joints.
For more detailed information about the benefits of glucosamine, please see our article 'How Is Glucosamine In Joint Supplements Beneficial For Horses?'
Chondroitin sulphate works in combination with glucosamine to support healthy cartilage. Another naturally occurring compound found in the horse’s body, it also works as a structural component of cartilage and soft tissue structures.
The most effective horse joint supplements contain chondroitin sulphate to complement the glucosamine. However, perfecting the ratio of chondroitin sulphate to glucosamine is essential, as too much of either can cause a reduction in total glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). GAGs have an essential role in the health of equine joints, including the regulation of cell growth and proliferation, binding cells to form larger structures, anticoagulation, and wound repair. Therefore, ensuring chondroitin sulphate and glucosamine are supplied in a rationed form can be vital for healing, repair and development of joint structure. To reap the benefits of these compounds, owners should reach to well-balanced formulas which contain a blend of both glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate.
However, chondroitin sulphate does have independent benefits too. Laboratory studies have found that chondroitin can reduce the activity of enzymes and substances that break down collagen in joints. Meanwhile, other studies have demonstrated that it has several anti-inflammatory properties. Some research has even found that chondroitin can prevent the breakdown of cartilage and stimulate repair mechanisms.
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a naturally occurring form of sulphur that can be found in plants and animals. MSM is commonly used in joint supplements, possessing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. These stress-protective properties also help other compounds within quality joint supplements, or the horse’s diet, to have the best effect.
MSM is used to relieve joint pain in aging and performance horses. In addition, it helps maintain healthy connective tissue, cartilage, bones, skin, coat and hooves.
Sulphur’s, such as MSM, are involved in many metabolic functions, including carbohydrate metabolism, protein synthesis and protection from oxidative stress. Therefore, horses that are deficient in MSM may experience inflammatory or degenerative issues, such as slow recovery from exercise, hoof problems or joint pain.
MSM also has benefits for horses with high workloads; by minimizing oxidative damage and inflammation, it allows their muscles to recover quickly. It is frequently given to high performance horses to maintain function and performance.
By minimising and protecting against inflammation, MSM can help to;
Vitamin C is essential in a horse’s diet for so many reasons – one of these is joint health.
Vitamin C is essential for collagen production, which forms the basis of bones and soft tissue within the horse’s body. It is also a potent anti-oxidant, protecting against oxidative stress and inflammation. The blended function of an antioxidant and supporting collagen synthesis mean that this vitamin is essential in protecting against joint degeneration.
A 2019 study investigated the effect of vitamin C on bone and cartilage metabolism to investigate how the nutrient may benefit people with osteoarthritis. Using cell cultures, researchers found that vitamin C induced a cascade of reactions that help protect cartilage against damage. In particular, they found better levels of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine – misregulation of which can cause cell differentiation, cancer and aging processes – therefore supporting the effect of vitamin C’s role in protecting against degeneration.
In fact, higher doses of vitamin C seem better. One study found that those who consumed the highest levels of vitamin C showed significantly less damage to the cartilage compared to those with lower intakes of the antioxidant.
Hyaluronic acid is an added bonus to any horse joint supplement. Also known as hyaluronan or hyaluronate, it is a gel-like substance that is naturally present throughout the horse’s body. In the joints, natural hyaluronic acid has several functions, including lubrication, growth of cartilage and bone, and reducing inflammation. Hyaluronic acid also acts like a moisturiser, keeping tissues hydrated.
It is thought that when feeding hyaluronic acid, it is absorbed and accumulated by tissues such as those surrounding the joints, so including hyaluronic acid in a horse’s diet can keep their joints hydrated and free from pain and injury. This is further supported by research suggesting that supplementing human diets with hyaluronic acid significantly reduces pain and stiffness, and improves function. In horses, inflammation has been reduced in association with oral hyaluronic acid supplementation, which could aid functionality and alleviate pain and stiffness.
Lactobacillus has been reported as a bacterium that plays a critical role in hyaluronic acid absorption, so ensuring your horse has a healthy gut is also essential when considering how supplements may work to improve joint health.
So, when you’re next shopping for a joint supplement, make sure you check the ingredients list in order to ensure you are providing your horse with all the essentials required for the maintenance of healthy joints. Or, why not try our perfectly balanced, premium joint supplement, Freedom by Pilot Equine.