Turmeric (Curcumin) for Horses
Up until a few years ago, I’d never heard of turmeric, much less eaten it (knowingly, anyways!). But now, I cook with the spice on a regular basis and I also recently started feeding it to my twenty-two-year-old gelding, Hershey. I’d like to tell you more about it and why you might want to consider feeding turmeric to your horse.
Turmeric comes from a plant in the ginger family and is native to India, where it has been used in medicine and food preparation for thousands of years. The underground stems (rhizomes) of the turmeric plant are harvested, dried, and ground into a yellow-orange powder.
The active ingredient in turmeric is called curcumin and it is this specific phytochemical that is known for its effectiveness in treating a variety of conditions.
Turmeric has been well-studied well studied in humans and there have also been a handful of equine studies. One researcher concluded that “turmeric appears to outperform many pharmaceuticals in its effects against several chronic, debilitating diseases, and does so with virtually no adverse side effects.” (cited here.) I don’t know about you, but this sounds pretty promising to me!
Turmeric is probably best known for its use as an anti-inflammatory. It works by significantly reducing the inflammatory pathways in the body, but unlike bute and most other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories often given to horses, turmeric works as a COX-2 inhibitor (as opposed to COX-1) and does not damage the lining of the stomach.
Chronic inflammation is a recognized component of many different diseases including arthritis, insulin resistance, and cancer. There are no formal studies that I’m aware of but some horse owners have reported that turmeric supplementation successfully reversed melanoma growth in their gray horses.
Another common use for turmeric (especially in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine) is for detoxifying the liver. This is another reason why I chose to supplement turmeric to Hershey (though he has arthritis, too). Although Hershey’s never been diagnosed with any type of liver disorder, I’ve suspected for some time now from my TCM acupressure assessments, that he has an imbalance within the liver meridian. I figured turmeric definitely couldn’t hurt and it might just help with this imbalance.
Oxidation is the natural process that occurs when oxygen is combined with various other elements in the body during metabolism. An antioxidant is a molecule that inhibits the oxidation of other molecules in the body and protects against oxidative damage. Even though it can be a bit confusing, just remember this– antioxidants are a good thing!
Not only is turmeric a potent antioxidant itself, but it also helps to boost the body’s own antioxidant mechanisms, making it doubly helpful in this regard.
Horses are susceptible to oxidative stress just like us humans. If your horse is older, if he suffers from any type of chronic condition, or if he’s a performance horse, he very well may benefit from an antioxidant such as turmeric.
Those are just a few of the medicinal uses for turmeric, but there are others, including gastrointestinal issues, respiratory infections, allergies, and skin conditions. I suggest you look into these if you are at all interested.
Dosage for Horses
The exact dosage for turmeric has not been determined in horses, but it is usually fed at about 1-2 tablespoons per day. I feed Hershey (who weighs approximately 1100 pounds) one tablespoon per day currently. I’ve been doing this consistently for about a month now and I’ve already noticed a difference in his back legs which he has trouble holding up during trimming.
Personally, I usually feed most herbs for about three weeks on and one week off, and this is also what I do with the turmeric. There are no set guidelines for how long you can safely feed turmeric, but as long as your horse doesn’t develop any issues like diarrhea or lack of appetite, I wouldn’t be too worried about ongoing supplementation. (Of course, speak with your vet if you have concerns!)
You can buy turmeric online fairly inexpensively –such as this one from Amazon. Or if you’d rather, you can buy from a company such as Nouvelle Research, Inc., which makes a line of equine products with curcumin as a major ingredient. They also sell concentrated curcumin which has more of the active ingredient than plain turmeric. You will need to follow the package directions for feeding these products though.
Although turmeric is widely known for it’s safety, there are a few contraindications. Turmeric should not be fed in combination with blood thinning medications (or before surgery), ulcer medications, or NSAIDs (such as bute or banamine). If you are giving any other type of drug or medication to your horse, I would check with your vet to make sure it is still safe to feed turmeric.
Sources and Further Reading
Consider Curcumin for Joint Inflammation–Dr. Juliet Getty
The Case for Curcumin–Dr. Eleanor Kellon
Turmeric–University of Maryland Medical Center