Understanding Amino Acids

Amino acids are the basic unit of proteins. The cellular ribosomes are protein assembly factories where amino acids are strung together to build proteins according to the formulas contained in the horse’s DNA.  https://www.genome.gov/genetics-glossary/Ribosome. If an amino acid in the formula is not available, assembly of the protein stops.

The formula for the amino acid sequence in proteins is locked in the horse’s DNA.

Amino acids consist of a carbon containing carbohydrate backbone and a nitrogen containing amino group.

A limiting amino acid is one that is most likely to disrupt protein production because it is deficient.  Lysine is the most important limiting amino acid for growth. It is also a common deficiency in adult equine diets. The adult requirement has been estimated to be 0.47% of the diet – so 47 grams per day for a horse consuming 10 kg (22 lbs) of food. Deficiencies of 7 to 10 grams are common in unsupplemented diets.

Amino acids can also be classified as essential or nonessential.  There are 20 amino acids, about equally divided between essential and nonessential. An essential amino acid is one that must be in the diet in correct amounts because the horse cannot manufacture it. Nonessential amino acids can be produced by the horse by transferring the amino group from one amino acid onto a different skeleton.  There is no net increase in amino acids when this happens because the amino acid that donated its amino group to form another is no longer an amino acid and will be metabolized/burned. All limiting amino acids are also essential amino acids.

Amino acids are needed to make much more than muscle. Enzymes, antibodies, hemoglobin, cellular receptors, cytokines and many hormones are all synthesized from amino acids. Next to water, protein is the most abundant substance in all body tissues from brain to hoof.

For as important as amino acids are, you would think we have detailed knowledge of the requirements.  Unfortunately, except for lysine that is not the case. A very limited number of studies have suggested threonine may be the second most important limiting amino acid, at least for growth.

Methionine is growing in importance as a limiting essential amino acid. This is a sulfur containing amino acid. As the soil levels of sulfur drop because of pollution control, so do the sulfur amino acid levels in plants. https://wp.me/p2WBdh-RZ . Methionine deficiency will show up as poor hoof quality, poor coat, reduced muscle mass and impaired performance.

Requirements for methionine are estimated to be approximately 1/3 of lysine but as food levels drop it could overtake lysine as the most  important limiting amino acid.  As a % of their protein, peas, beet pulp and soy, in that order, are the best lysine sources.  Grains and seeds are the best sources of methionine.  You can also economically supplement your horse without excess calories using the three most likely deficient amino acids in Tri-Amino https://uckele.com/tri-amino-2lb.html .

Eleanor Kellon, VMD


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Slow Growing Hooves

The cells of the hooves are among the most metabolically active in the body because they are constantly being worn away and need to replace themselves. Because of this, any gaps in their nutrition shows up as slow growth or poor hoof quality – or both!

The smooth, tight upper growth is after only two months on a proper hoof-supporting diet

The major structural protein in hooves is keratin. Keratin, like all proteins, is a strand of amino acid units. Alanine, glycine and the sulfur containing amino acid cysteine (produced from methionine) are the primary amino acids in keratin.

Alpha-keratin is the predominant keratin found in mammalian tissue, from hair to hoof horn. Beta-keratin is tougher keratin found in the outer skeletons of insects but may also occur to some extent in mammalian tissue, like human fingernails. The tubular/helix structure of alpha keratin is carried over into the larger structural unit of horn tubules in the hoof wall.

Since the hoof wall is well over 90% protein on a dry matter basis, it’s worthwhile talking about the keratin a little bit more. Alanine and glycine are in abundance. These are nonessential amino acids easily generated from pyruvate and a methyl group from one of the branched chain amino acids or by removal of one carbon from the amino acid serine by tetrahydrofolate to form glycine.  This reaction requires pyridoxine (B6).  We can now identify several dietary factors that may limit hoof quality on the protein end of things:

  •  Branched chain amino acid deficiency (unlikely except with heavy work).
  • Protein deficiency in general
  • Methionine deficiency
  • Inadequate vitamin B6

Another very important B vitamin which may be deficient is biotin. Biotin plays an essential role in both the growth rate and integrity of the hoof wall.

The outermost layer of the hoof wall (stratum externum) also contains a variety of fats and waxes, as does the “hard”/dead portion of the hoof wall in general. The stratum externum grows down from the epithelial cells of the periople, located below the coronary band. When present in correct amounts in an unbroken layer, these seal the internal moisture into the deeper hoof structures and seal water out. https://www.jlr.org/content/25/12/1320.full.pdf+html?sid=63bf0c47-2189-4028-9271-39cbd8aeeba5 .

On the mineral end, a balanced diet with adequate levels of especially calcium,  zinc, copper and selenium is important to support hoof health and growth.  High dietary and/or water levels of iron,  manganese or sulfate can interfere with copper and zinc absorption. Zinc is especially important for both growth and strength of walls and connections. Both zinc and copper are critical to strong immune defenses in the softer tissues of the hoof as well as enzymes which provide antioxidant protection for the hoof.

The hoof wall grows down from the coronary band at the top of the hoof. This is a highly vascular tissue which depends on its blood supply for constant delivery of nutrients. The herb Gynostemma pentaphyllum [Jiaogulan] helps maintain good blood delivery to the foot via production of nitric oxide which dilates the blood vessels. Gynostemma also supports the release of growth factors which encourage development of a strong network of capillaries and the production of new tissue.

Robust hoof growth is a combination of attention to diet to provide all the needed nutrients and support of blood flow to the hoof.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD




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Protein and Your Horse

Myths abound in equine nutrition, especially when it comes to protein.

One of the most common of these is that high protein can damage the kidneys.  Excess protein is processed in the liver to urea, which is excreted in the urine. However, the kidneys can handle this easily and there is no risk of injury. The only effect is increased drinking and increased urine output.

High protein has also been named as a risk factor in developmental orthopedic disease (DOD) which includes conditions like physitis and osteochondrosis. There is no truth to this and no plausible mechanism to explain how protein could even theoretically be a cause. The real dietary culprits here are unbalanced and/or deficient minerals and excess calories causing rapid growth.  If protein is involved at all it would be low intakes, not high.

Does a high protein diet make the horse hard to handle? Not likely.  Some horses become “hot” when fed alfalfa but the reason for this is not clear.  A quality grass hay with only 11% protein fed at levels necessary just to maintain weight provides almost 150% of an adult horse’s protein requirement.

It is often said that adult horses need a 10% protein diet (or 10% protein grain).  The horse’s protein need is actually in grams/day and depends on body weight, sex, level of activity, pregnancy, etc.. The protein percentage alone is meaningless. What matters is how many grams of protein the horse gets, which depends on both percentage and how much of it the horse eats.  One kilogram (2.2 lbs) of a 10% protein hay provides 100 grams of protein while 10 kg of the same 10% protein hay yields 1000 grams of protein.

The % protein in the grain is particularly irrelevant since hay always provides a significant, if not major, proportion of the dietary protein.  An average size horse needing 750 grams/day of protein would get only 227 grams of protein from 5 lbs of a 10% protein feed. That’s quite a gap.

To make up the additional 525 or so grams of protein from hay would take 11.5 pounds of a 10% hay, or 23 pounds of a 5% protein hay, etc.  If you fed only half as much, the horse would get half as much protein.

Protein is a critically important part of your horse’s dietary needs. Too little is definitely a problem but there are no health threatening problems related to too much. If you are having issues with your horse, don’t blame protein.


Eleanor Kellon, VMD

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The Science Behind Uckele Muscle EQ

When I formulated the new Uckele Muscle EQ supplement I wanted to go beyond the usual topline support to also target suboptimal muscle function that often underlies loss of muscle,  failure to build muscle and exercise-related cramping.

From lean Arabians to massive draft breeds, muscle is the engine which drives all types of work. Skeletal muscle makes up an average of 45% of the weight of a horse with a normal body condition score, which is even more than bone. In addition to initiating movement, implementing fine motor control of intricate maneuvers and controlling speed, muscle stabilizes and protects the skeleton and joints.

There is no shortage of supplement ingredients with purported ergogenic benefits but only a few are actually proven.

L-carnitine (LC) and acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC) are normally present in skeletal muscle. At rest, L-carnitine predominates while levels of acetyl-L-carnitine rise precipitously with exercise. LC and ALC are readily interconverted in the cell and supplementation with ALC also increases levels of LC.1 It is well known that LC is required to carry long chain fatty acids across the mitochondrial membranes so they can be burned in the mitochondria as fuel, but it is the metabolic activity of ALC that is of most interest.

The documented roles of ALC of importance in exercising muscle include:

  • ALC has antioxidant activity while LC does not1

  • By capturing and recycling excess acetyl groups produced in the breakdown of pyruvate from glucose, ALC supports muscle aerobic energy generation2

  • The captured acetyl groups are also used to replenish phosphocreatine stores during recovery after exercise2

  • ALC supports normal activation of the AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) enzyme system which directs glucose into energy pathways and inhibits glycogen formation3

Signs of Poor Muscular Metabolism/Adaptation

  • High resting muscle tone. Muscles at rest, even when fit, should feel firm, not hard. They should have the consistency of a beef roast.

  • Poorly developed musculature, loss of bulk

  • Sensitivity to palpation

  • Trembling or tightening triggered by palpation

  • Deterioration of gait without obvious skeletal lameness; “colt sore”

  • Failure to meet training milestones

  • Poor attitude toward work

  • Deterioration of performance

  • Excessive sweating

L-leucine is the most abundant amino acid in skeletal muscle. Both L-leucine and it’s metabolite beta-hydroxymethylbutyrate (HMB) are highly anabolic – stimulating muscle protein synthesis while inhibiting breakdown.4 It is a significant source of aerobic TCA intermediates during exercise5 where it’s oxidation conserves glycogen and reduces lactate levels by diverting pyruvate metabolism away from conversion to lactate and redirecting it into alanine. There is also evidence that even increased dietary total protein intake may not provide sufficient L-leucine for optimal muscle function during exercise.6

Methylation is a biochemical reaction involving the transfer of a methyl group – CH3. Methylation influences all body functions via control of DNA transcription and is a key detoxification pathway. In muscle, methylation is required for the synthesis of creatine, carnitine, CoQ10 and the major antioxidant, glutathione.

Betaine (trimethylglycine – TMG) is a methylated version of the amino acid glycine which functions as a methyl group donor in methylation reactions. It is a powerful osmolyte, optimizing cellular hydration and strength generation during rehydration with both endurance and sprinting activity.7 Betaine supplementation also improves the anabolic response to exercise8 and enhances power, force and endurance. 9, 10

Beta-alanine is a unique structural conformation of the amino acid alanine. It is not incorporated into enzymes or other proteins but combines with L-histidine to form carnosine, a major intracellular buffer controlling pH of muscle cells. Beta-alanine supplementation sustains optimal energy production in muscle under conditions which call for high power output. 11, 12 It is also one of only a very few supplements that may be of benefit even to highly trained athletes. 13

Like all proteins, muscle maintenance and hypertrophy depend on adequate levels of key essential amino acids or protein tissue assembly will stop. L-lysine has long been recognized as the first limiting amino acid in common equine diets, meaning it is the one most likely to be deficient. 14

Sulfur is an important mineral for plant growth and required for the formation of the essential amino acid L-methionine in grasses. Since the institution of acid rain pollution control measures, sulfur in soils in many areas has dropped significantly, resulting in lower methionine levels in grasses, hays and grains. 15

In addition to being a structural amino acid in protein synthesis, L-methionine is required for the formation of taurine, SAM-e and glutathionine. Together with lysine, it generates L-carnitine. These are compounds of great importance to metabolism and muscle function.

The correct supplementation is a powerful legal support for normal muscle bulk, function and performance.



1. Marzo A et al. Effect of acetyl-L-carnitine treatment on the levels of levocarnitine and its derivatives in streptozotocin-diabetic rats. Arzneimittelforschung. 1993 Mar;43(3):339-42.

2. Seller SE et al. Carnitine Acetyltransferase Mitigates Metabolic Inertia and Muscle Fatigue during Exercise. Cell Metab. 2015 Jul 7;22(1):65-76

3. Zhang Z et al. Acetyl-l-carnitine inhibits TNF-alpha-induced insulin resistance via AMPK pathway in rat skeletal muscle cells. FEBS Lett. 2009 Jan 22;583(2):470-4

4. Wilkinson DJ, et al. Effects of leucine and its metabolite β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate on human skeletal muscle protein metabolism. J Physiol. 2013 Jun 1;591(11):2911-23.

5. Knapik J et al. Leucine metabolism during fasting and exercise. J Appl Physiol. 1991 Jan;70(1):43-7.

6. Mero A. Leucine supplementation and intensive training. Sports Med. 1999 Jun;27(6):347-58.

7. Armstrong LE et al. Influence of betaine consumption on strenuous running and sprinting in a hot environment. J Strength Cond Res. 2008 May;22(3):851-60

8. Apicella JM et al. Betaine supplementation enhances anabolic endocrine and Akt signaling in response to acute bouts of exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2013 Mar;113(3):793-802

9. Hoffman JR et al. Effect of betaine supplementation on power performance and fatigue. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2009; 6: 7.

10. Lee EC et al. Ergogenic effects of betaine supplementation on strength and power performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010; 7: 27.

11. Saunders B et al. β-alanine supplementation to improve exercise capacity and performance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2017 Apr;51(8):658-669.

12. Trexler ET et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015 Jul 15;12:30.

13. Zanella BP et al. Effects of beta-alanine supplementation on performance and muscle fatigue in athletes and non-athletes of different sports: a systematic review. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2017 Sep;57(9):1132-1141

14. Ott EA et al. Lysine Supplementation of Diets for Yearling Horses. J Ani Sci. 1981 Dec; 53(6) 1496–1503.

15. Menz FC, Seip HM. Acid rain in Europe and the United States: an update. Envir Sci & Pol. 2004 Aug; 7(4) 253-265.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

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The Science Behind Tendon EQ

I have been asked to explain the scientific reasons behind the ingredients in the Tendon EQ supplement from Uckele https://uckele.com/tendon-eq.html .

Tendons and ligaments are composed of interwoven strands of the structural protein collagen. It has been known since the 1950s that the major nonessential amino acid in collagen structure is glycine while the most abundant essential amino acid is lysine and its derivative, hydroxylysine.1

Glycine is classified as nonessential because the body is capable of manufacturing it from the amino acid serine but it has been shown that this is not sufficient to support collagen synthesis2 so supplementation is reasonable for support of tendons and ligaments.

Lysine is essential, meaning it must be obtained from food and cannot be produced by the horse’s body. It is commonly deficient in equine diets, making supplementation important.

Lysine is also the source of hydroxylysine, an amino acid which is only found in collagen. Studies have shown that dietary hydroxylysine is not used to make collagen; only hydroxylysine freshly synthesized from lysine. The enzyme responsible for the conversion of lysine to hydoxylysine is lysyl hydrolase. Another key enzyme, which creates the reinforcing cross-links in tendon and ligament structure, is lysyl oxidase. Copper is a required cofactor for both.3 Copper deficiency interferes with the activation of the two lysl enzymes.4

Copper is one of the most common deficiencies in equine diets and an important ingredient for tendon and ligament support. In addition to low dietary levels, bioavailability is compromised by high levels of iron. Iron competes with copper for absorption. Sulfates in water may cause problems because they bind copper and cause it to precipitate out.

Zinc is included in the Tendo EQ formula for several reasons. Zinc is another common equine dietary deficiency, one of the most common in fact, and it is always advisable to include zinc when supplementing copper as copper competes for absorption. Zinc additionally plays a key role in bone formation and is important for the integrity of the tendon or ligament insertion sites on bone.5 As a component of the superoxide dismutase enzyme system, zinc is a key antioxidant. Controlling oxidative stress supports efficient tissue maintenance without deposition of disorganized collagen. Adequate zinc is also needed for normal recruitment of tissue growth factors.6

Nitric oxide, NO, has emerged as a pivotal factor in the creation and maintenance of normal tendon and ligament tissue. NO is a simple gas – one nitrogen and one oxygen molecule – which is produced by three different enzyme systems7:

  • eNOS. Endogenous nitric oxide synthase, present in the endothelial cells lining blood vessels and responsible for normal vascular dilation plus the release of growth factors to stimulate tissue maintenance. This system is constantly active in healthy tissues.

  • iNOS. Inducible nitric oxide synthase, present in cells of the immune system and responsible for production of very large amounts of nitric oxide within damaged tissue. It serves as a signaling molecule for inflammation. It also robs eNOS of the substrates needed for NO production in vessels, resulting in poor perfusion of the tissues. This system is normally turned off in most tissues.

  • nNOS. Neuronal nitric oxide synthase, present in the nervous system where the production of NO acts as a neurotransmitter in certain cells.

Micro-tears in tendons and ligaments are a common occurrence for athletes8 and in the early stages can be effectively managed by the body before they cause any loss of function or serious damage. Research has shown that management of such normal exercise-related wear and tear and tear requires the coordinated activity of all three nitric oxide synthase enzyme isoforms, from iNOS for clean up and nNOS, eNOS to direct formation of normal tendon tissue.9 Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum) is an herb with the unique ability to support eNOS activity while assisting in modulation of iNOS.10, 11

Identifying potential nutritional weak links and providing support for the body’s own homeostatic mechanisms for tissue maintenance is an important weapon in the fight to maintain tendon and ligament integrity.


1. Eastoe JE. The amino acid composition of mammalian collagen and gelatin. Biochem J 1955 Dec; 61(4): 589–600.

2. Meléndez-Hevia, et al. A weak link in metabolism: the metabolic capacity for glycine biosynthesis does not satisfy the need for collagen synthesis. Journal of Biosciences. 2009 Dec; (6): 853–72.

3. Rucker RB et al. Copper, lysyl oxidase, and extracellular matrix protein cross-linking. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998 May;67(5 Suppl):996S-1002S.

4. Rucker RB et al. Activation of chick tendon lysyl oxidase in response to dietary copper. Nutr. 1999 Dec;129(12):2143-6.

5. Yamaguchi M. Nutritional factors and bone homeostasis: synergistic effect with zinc and genistein in osteogenesis. Mol Cell Biochem. 2012 Jul;366(1-2):201-21.

6. Fukada T. The zinc transporter SLC39A13/ZIP13 is required for connective tissue development; its involvement in BMP/TGF-beta signaling pathways. PloS One. 2008;3(11):e3642.

7. Villanueva C, Giulivi C. Subcellular and cellular locations of nitric oxide synthase isoforms as determinants of health and disease. Free Radic Biol Med. 2010 Aug 1;49(3):307-16.

8. Krolo I et al. The risk of sports activities–the injuries of the Achilles tendon in sportsmen. Coll Antropol. 2007 Mar;31(1):275-8.

9. Bokhan AR and Murrell GA. The role of nitric oxide in tendon healing. J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2012 Feb;21(2):238-44.

10. Tanner MA et al. The direct release of nitric oxide by gypenosides derived from the herb Gynostemma pentaphyllum. Nitric Oxide. 1999 Oct;3(5):359-65.

11. Aktan F et al. Gypenosides derived from Gynostemma pentaphyllum suppress NO synthesis in murine macrophages by inhibiting iNOS enzymatic activity and attenuating NF-kappaB-mediated iNOS protein expression. Nitric Oxide. 2003 Jun;8(4):235-42.

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Beet Pulp in Equine Nutrition

Beet pulp is a by-product of sugar production but for some reason there is more negative and inaccurate information floating around on the internet about beet pulp than any equine feed ingredient you can name.

Beet pulp is the fibrous portion of the sugar beet below ground root which remains after it has been soaked in hot water to remove the sugar. It has a calorie yield similar to oats but because it is fermented like hay does not produce a blood sugar spike like grains do. Even if the pulp has high residual sugar or had molasses added to it, careful thorough rinsing, soaking and rinsing again can remove that to make it safe even for horses prone to elevated insulin responses.

Beet pulp can absorb 4 times its dry weight in water, which results in a high volume but low calorie meal and a good way to get extra water and supplements into the horse.  It has good protein levels of 9 to 10% and high calcium. It can help substitute for hay as a fiber source during periods of shortage.

Those are the facts. Here are some of the unsubstantiated claims.

Myth: Beets are treated with a chemical defoliant to kill the top leaves before they are harvested. Completely untrue. The leaves are removed mechanically.

Myth: Beet pulp also contains the leaves and can cause oxalate poisoning. False. There are no leaves in beet pulp and oxalate levels are very low.

Myth: Production of the pulp involves many harsh chemicals. Nope. No chemicals are used in the production of the pulp, which is what remains after hot water soaking of the beet roots.  The only chemicals involved are low levels of antimicrobials/biocides to control bacterial growth in the sugar water. The most common is hydrogen sulfide, which is also the biocide used to preserve wines.

Myth: Beet pulp causes hind end weakness and muscle loss. This doesn’t even make any sense. The person claiming this tries to claim it is because oxalate in beet pulp (see above) ties up calcium and causes the horse to not be able to digest/absorb nutrients properly. Again, this is science fiction. Oxalate toxicity is a real thing, but not from beet pulp, and oxalate only ties up calcium. Beet pulp is actually a very good source of calcium.

Myth: Beet pulp is high in insoluble fiber and poorly digestible. Exactly the opposite is true. It is lower in insoluble fiber than grass/hay, high in soluble fiber and very easily digested in the large intestine by fermentation. Because of this high soluble fiber content, beet pulp is also an excellent prebiotic.

Another criticism is that much beet pulp is now from GMO plants so will be high in glyphosate (Round Up).  However, glyphosate/Roundup residues in sugar made from GMO beets is zero – undetectable. Levels I have seen for the pulp are also extremely low, less than 1 ppm. This is not surprising considering that glyphosate is water soluble and the beets undergo extensive washing and soaking.

There will always be horses that do not do well on particular feed ingredients but there is no reason to universally condemn beet pulp.  It is an excellent diet addition for most horses.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

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Midline Dermatitis

There’s nothing more aggravating than an itchy spot you can’t reach. For a horse, the midline of the belly certainly qualifies. This is what happens when the horse is suffering from summer midline dermatitis.

Summer skin irritations can cause major agitation

Midline dermatitis is a seasonal problem that coincides with warm weather and biting insects.  The problem usually begins with migrating microfilaria (tiny larvae) of the neck threadworm, Oncocerca cervicalis.   Adults of this parasite live inside the nuchal ligament, the strong ligament under the mane which runs from the base of the skull to the withers.

Adults produce microfilaria which travel under the skin until they reach the midline of the belly. This is also a favorite feeding spot for biting flies since the horse cannot get at it easily to chase them off.  When the flies feed, they pick up the micorfilaria and carry them to the next horse they bite, which also becomes infected.

Meanwhile, the horse’s belly is being irritated by both the presence of the larvae and the biting insects. The end result is a seasonal skin irritation with itching, swelling, oozing, hair loss and sometimes even open skin.

The Onchocerca microfilaria can be controlled using the deworming medication ivermectin every 3 to 4 weeks. Horses with very heavy burdens may actually be worse for a while after deworming as the body reacts to the dead microfilaria. The adults producing the microfilaria can’t be killed by the ivermectin but it is believed the treatment can eventually suppress production of microfilaria.

The local irritation should be addressed first by cold water hosing for at least 5 to 10 minutes.  After it dries, try addressing the itching with Bactine or Zim’s Crack Creme, both human OTC products you can get at any drug store.  Use a thick layer of a soothing salve on top of this. It will also form a physical barrier to help block biting insects.  Look for ingredients like Calendula, Comfrey, Chamomile, Witch Hazel and Plantain for soothing effects.

You can also help the horse re-establish homeostasis to quiet down skin reactions by supplementing antioxidants. Vitamins C & E, bioflavinoids, lipoic acid combine well with Turmeric, Ginger, Boswellia and other natural plant-based antioxidant to quench free radial stress in irritated tissues.

It takes some time and effort but diligent care can bring summer midline dermatitis under good control.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD


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Neuromuscular Support Nutrients

Your horse’s health, happiness and performance depend on normal functioning of the nervous system and muscles.  All nutrients have a role to play but some are particularly important.

The complexity within a single nerve cell is staggering but the horse’s very life depends on the nervous system receiving proper nutrients to maintain its health.

Vitamin E is an antioxidant which becomes incorporated directly into the membranes surrounding cells and also structures within the cells. These membranes are made of phospholipids which are very vulnerable to attack by free radicals generated from toxic minerals or during immune system activity.

The nervous system is known to be particularly sensitive to oxidative damage from free radical attacks. The muscles are also at high risk even in good health because of the huge amount of free radicals generated during the production of energy.

If vitamin E is the king of antioxidants in the fatty/lipid structures, glutathione rules in the water based interior of the cells.  Maintaining glutathione activity depends heavily on vitamin E’s partner, selenium.  Selenium is needed to maintain glutathione in an active state. Selenium is also incorporated into protein structures at the active site of enzymes like glutathione peroxidase.  Selenoproteins may themselves additionally act directly as antioxidants.

Acetyl-L-cartinine is a metabolite of L-carnitine and is a very versatile compound in both nervous tissue and muscle. In nerves, it supports the production of a protective layer, the myelin sheath, on nerve axons which are the long “tails” of nerves which communicate with other nerves.  ALCAR supports normal sensory activity in nerves and the spinal cord. It is also an antioxidant, promotes production of mitochondria and directs glucose into energy pathways – benefits for both nerves and muscles.

All cells are primarily protein. Most diets have adequate total protein but may come up short is key essential amino acids – lysine, methionine and threonine.  Another amino acid that must be in the diet because the horse cannot make it is L-leucine, which has important functions in neuromuscular tissues.

Leucine is both a structural protein and an energy source in both tissues.  In muscle, leucine and its metabolite HMB are also the major stimulants for muscle growth.  In the brain, leucine is pivotal in maintaining neurotransmitter balance. It is the first amino acid the brain extracts from blood.

We know a great deal about basic nutritional requirements but the realm of what constitutes optimal nutrition is still not well defined. Needs change when tissues are being stressed. By learning the key nutrients and metabolites, you can help support the challenged systems when the need arises.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

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Hemp for Horses

The endocannabinoid system is a feedback loop within the brain and all branches of the nervous system – higher brain functions of thought/memory/mood, movement, sensation, and the autonomic system which helps regulate all organs and the immune system down to the level of cellular proliferation. The endocannabinoids are cannabinoids produced by nerves when they have been either activated or suppressed.  They signal the nerve’s state to other nerves in the area by binding to their cannabinoid receptors.

By supporting the functions of the endocannabinoid system, phytocannabinoids from hemp may help maintain homeostasis in multiple organs

Phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids manufactured by plants, particularly hemp. Marijuana, aka cannabis, is a specific strain of hemp which has high levels of the cannabinoid THC, tetrahydrocannabinol.  This is the psychoactive cannabinoid which produces the “high” and increased appetite typical of marijuana and hashish.

Other strains in the hemp family, traditionally grown for their fiber, have low to virtually no THC but are high in other cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol [CBD].

Phytocannabinoids are similar enough in structure to endocannabinoids that they will also bind to cannabinoid receptors.  In this way they can support the actions of the body’s own endocannabinoid system in maintaining balanced function in the nervous system and all the body functions it influences.

The affinity of hemp’s phytocannabinoids for receptors in the endocannabinoid system fit perfectly with the goal of holistic natural treatments in maintaining health by supporting homeostasis. Endocannabinoids are an integral part of the homeostatic mechanism which operates in tissues at the local level in the face of naturally occurring temporary challenges such as stress or normal inflammatory reactions. Instead of blocking or disrupting the body’s reactions, they assist in restoring normalcy using endogenous pathways.

Much more work needs to be done to uncover the activity of all phytocannabinoids – at least 65 different varieties at last count. There are currently over 27,000 peer-reviewed studies on the topic of cannabinoids. Evidence has been found for support of homeostasis in the brain, digestive tract, joints, immune system reactions and even skin.

As more information accumulates we will learn how to apply specific cannabinoids to support balance in different situations. For now, a “whole herb” approach can be applied by using low THC broad spectrum hemp.

The use of hemp-derived phytocanabinoids is more than a trendy fad. There is a growing body of scientific evidence to support their use  to reinforce the body’s powerful homeostatic pathways. Health is balance.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD


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Safe Supplements for Metabolic Horses

When evaluating supplements for horses prone to high insulin levels there are two basic areas to consider – the active ingredients and the base.

Some supplements contain ingredients which are inappropriate for horses with equine metabolic syndrome or Cushing’s Disease [PPID]

On the ingredients front, some things to generally avoid include:

  1.  Added iron.  These horses often have iron overload. Hays already have plenty of iron. Iron is often not listed in the analysis so you have to check the ingredients list for items that say iron or  ferrous.
  2.  High doses of vitamin C (over 5000 mg). High C intake can increase iron absorption and worsens oxidative stress in a high iron environment.
  3. Glucosamine. While glucosamine does not disrupt glucose metabolism in normal individuals, there is evidence from humans that when there is insulin resistance it can make it worse.
  4. Yucca. This herb contains compounds very similar to cortisol.
  5. Asian Ginseng. It stimulates insulin release. North American Ginseng or Rhodiola are safe.
  6. Anti-diabetic herbs used for humans. Most of these stimulate insulin release. Some examples are bitter melon (Momordica), Gymnema sylvestre and Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum).

Of  great concern to many owners are the ingredients used as the base/carrier for supplements.  Dextrose (glucose), maltodextrins, molasses and grains all directly stimulate insulin release but the dose also matters.  Rice and wheat brans also have starch levels high enough to trigger an insulin release.

If you spot a risky ingredient the next step is to look at the dose. We may be talking about the difference between one  bite from a Hershey kiss and the whole bag! Let’s say your supplement dose is 20 grams and contains 10 grams of glucose.  You are adding it to a meal of 2 lbs of 6% sugar and 0.3% starch hay pellets. The pellets are providing 54.5 grams of sugar. Adding the supplement takes the meal total to 64.5 and the % sugar to 7.1% – still well within safe limits.  Supplements and grain replacers/”balancers” fed in larger amounts are usually the ones you have to watch. If in doubt, get help determining the sugar and starch content.

Alfalfa is another potentially problematic element.  For reasons that are still unclear, some horses have worsening of laminitis signs when they eat alfalfa.  However, unless it is a true allergic reaction, where even tiny amounts could trigger a response, this is also a matter of dose.  A small serving of a supplement with alfalfa in the base isn’t likely to be a problem.

There is some evidence (Loos et al, 2019) that high protein intakes may cause an exaggerated insulin response in EMS horses. In that study, horses were fed a 12.5% ESC + starch, 31.1% protein feed, two meals of 2 g/kg (2.2 lbs for an 1100 lb horse), 30 minutes apart, for a total intake of 4.4 lbs.

This is at least 4 times more than what would normally be fed. We also don’t know what the reaction would have been if the sugar + starch level was lower.  For now, the best course would be to divide high protein components into multiple small meals if you need to feed them, and feed with other foods.

It takes a little vigilance to build a diet for a metabolic horse but the effort is well worth it to reduce laminitis risk.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

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