Feeding an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
I do a lot of research when it comes to diet (both equine and human), and I’m a huge believer that diet is the main key to health. I’m constantly learning, but I’ve recently come to realize two important things:
1.) Inflammation is at the root of many diseases; and
2.) The wrong diet is often the cause of this inflammation.
While this may sound like a strange notion to some, many holistic doctors and vets are coming to this agreement.
Personally, I’ve really tried to change the way I eat. I make a conscious effort to consume foods which are anti-inflammatory and avoid the ones which aren’t. But I’ve also been thinking about horses, too. Are we feeding them foods that promote or reduce inflammation?
I think everyone knows what inflammation is, but how does it start? According to Dr. Josh Axe, a human doctor who specializes in nutrition, “an overactive immune system results in the body being flooded with defense cells and hormones that damage tissues. Dietary and environmental toxins may build up in the body, turning the immune system on and keeping it highly reactive.”
I definitely believe this is true.
So what we need to focus on for our horses is eliminating toxins wherever possible, cutting out certain inflammatory foods, and of course, feeding more anti-inflammatory foods.
Dietary and Environmental Toxins
Sadly, toxins are hard to avoid in this day and age. They are everywhere. This isn’t related to horses directly, but one study found between 55-121 different environmental toxins in human babies’ umbilical cord blood. This is very disturbing to me and a sign that we need to do something about it. As in, now. And if humans babies are being born already exposed to toxins, you can bet equine babies are as well.
Most disturbing to me, personally, are the toxins that are sprayed in yards and hay fields. Glyphosate, (the active ingredient in Roundup), is the most widely used herbicide in the United States. While previous studies (likely funded by the manufacturer if I had to guess) showed Roundup to be safe at recommended levels, more recent studies have challenged the chemical’s safety.
According to Scientific American, “In 2005, University of Pittsburg ecologists added Roundup at the manufacturer’s recommended dose to ponds filled with frog and toad tadpoles. When they returned two weeks later, they found that 50 to 100 percent of the populations of several species of tadpoles had been killed.”
These are the kinds of toxins we can avoid, and I urge you to find alternatives to using chemicals such as Roundup around your yard and farm.
Other types of toxins can be found in feedstuffs or forage. These include:
- mycotoxins– produced from mold;
- aflatoxins–can infect corn cornels;
- Endophytes–molds which live inside plants such as tall fescue and ryegrass; and
- Nitrates– some plants accumulate nitrates during stress periods and/or after heavy fertilization with nitrogen. These include: sudangrass, sorghum-sudan hybrids, corn, wheat, and oats. Also some weeds found in hay, such as nightshade, goldenrod, smartweed, ragweed, and lambs quarters. (Here’s a post with more information on nitrates.)
Sometimes, we can’t avoid these types of toxins, but we should be aware of them.
Water can also contain toxins in areas near strip mines, gas and oil wells. If your horses drink from a pond or stream, you may want to provide a different water source.
The horse’s natural diet does not contain much in the way of inflammatory foods, but there are a few things we often add in that can cause inflammation. These include corn, soybean, and most other vegetable and seed oils. Not only are they highly processed, but they also contain more omega-6 than omega-3 content. There is no reason to feed them.
Also, grass and hay which is high in non-structural carbohydrates (NSC’s) can be a source of inflammation. When horses eat too much, it can trigger laminitis, which is inflammation of the lamina and other structures within the foot.
Anti-Inflammatory foods include:
- omega 3’s such as chia or flaxseeds (see this post for more info. on omegas);
- antioxidants (trace minerals, vitamins C and E);
- supplements such as turmeric, MSM, and Devil’s Claw; and
- low NSC grasses and hays.
Note: Native species hay tend to be lower in NSC’s than other types of hays. The NSC level will also depend on a variety of factors such as drought, growth stage at cutting, and even time of day grass is cut. You can easily have your hay tested to determine the NSC level (10 % or less is considered safe for horses at risk for laminitis). You can also soak your hay to reduce the NSC level.