The big three joint nutraceutical ingredients – glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronate – address the health of joint cartilage but there are other types of tissues that also play key roles.
Stabilizing structures of the stifle
All joints are stabilized by a medial and lateral pair of collateral ligaments. Tiny ligaments also bridge and connect the small bones in complex joints like the hock and carpus (knee). The stifle is particularly reliant on the criss-crossing cruciate ligaments and is cushioned by the menisci, another connective tissue structure.
Collagen, the most abundant protein in the body, is the ground substance of all types of connective tissues, including joint cartilage, ligaments, menisci and the joint capsule – even the lattice for mineral deposition in bone. Research has shown that hydrolyzed collagen supplements can strengthen bone and have an anabolic effect on joint tissues. Vitamin C is also required for the formation of connective tissues.
A relatively new addition to the structural support ingredients is egg shell membrane. This is a thin translucent membrane attached to the inner surface of (chicken) egg shells. It is composed of 25% collagen as well as hyaluronic acid, glucosamine, chondroitin and other connective tissue proteins.
MSM, methylsulfonylmethane, a metabolite of DMSO, is a common ingredient in joint supplements. Recent research has found MSM interacts with enzyme systems and DNA activation involved in the normal cytokine cascade of inflammation that can be triggered by exercise and training.
Inflammation is a normal part of day to day tissue maintenance. It is the clean up crew that removes old or damaged cells and participates in tissue remodeling and strengthening. A healthy joint has the tools it needs to keep a balance between the forces of breakdown and repair.
Normal weightbearing and exercise generates free radicals which in turn trigger the inflammatory cascade. Dietary antioxidants can assist in the management of this oxidative stress. There is a host of options for antioxidant support, from single compounds like Quercetin or Resveratrol to the antioxidant powerhouse fruits and berries to a wide range of herbs such as Boswellia, Golden Rod and Cat’s Claw just to name a few.
With all the joint supplement options out there it’s difficult to make a choice. As a general guide, upper level athletes and horses working on hard ground or over difficult terrain are good candidates for the more comprehensive approach to joint support, as is any horse known to be prone to joint stress or with an incomplete response to the usual joint cartilage nutraceuticals alone.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD