Herbs for Metabolic Horses
I recently wrote an article, summarizing a study on which looked at the effects of spirulina on horses with Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS). The researchers concluded that spirulina did, in fact, have a positive effect on these horses, including significant weight loss, reduced body condition scores, and reduced fasting insulin levels.
So this got me thinking. . . what other herbs or natural supplements might be of benefit for horses with metabolic issues such as EMS or insulin resistance (IR)? I decided to look into this more, and after some research, here is what I’ve found:
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)
In the same family as alfalfa, fenugreek is a clover-like herb. The seeds (often fed ground and soaked) contain mucilage, which is a great digestive aid. Additionally, they tend to soak up and then flush out toxins in the digestive tract. Fenugreek also slows glucose absorption, and therefore improves insulin sensitivity.
Caution: Fenugreek should not be fed to pregnant mares or horses diagnosed with low thyroid.
Ginkgo has been used for thousands of years in Chinese Medicine. Along with several other benefits, the leaves of this plant stimulate circulation and may help prevent laminitis in metabolically-challenged horses.
Caution: Do not give ginkgo to horses on bronchodilators as adverse reactions have been reported.
Psyllium husks (Plantago major)
Psyllium comes from the husks of the Plantago ovata plant’s seeds. As they are high in fiber, psyllium husks are often fed to horses living in sandy areas to help prevent sand colic, but this herb can also reduce blood sugar and insulin response after a meal.
Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)
The seeds of this herb are well-known for their liver-protective benefits, but this may be especially important for metabolically-challenged horses in order to prevent the buildup of fat in the liver.
Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Like, ginkgo biloba, dried nettle leaves also stimulate circulation, especially in the legs and feet. This herb is rich in vitamin C, iron, sodium and dietary fiber, and has a cleansing and anti-diabetic effect. You can learn more about nettle in this post.
It’s important to note that herbs, alone, will not likely control your horse’s symptoms. A low NSC diet, exercise, a low-stress environment, as well as reducing toxins (environmental, dietary, vaccines, etc.) is a crucial part of managing your metabolically-challenged horse. Caution is also advised when feeding any herb in combination with pharmaceuticals, as adverse reactions can occur. Please check with your vet before doing so!
Sources and Further Reading