Plant Pigments and the Immune System

Green drinks are a hot human health craze these days and with good reason. Plant pigments possess a variety of beneficial properties for the immune system.


Green pigment (chlorophyll) is only a piece of the picture.  Flavonoids, carotenes, lycopene, zeaxanthin, anthocyanins, betalains and others are among the wide array of plant pigments.

A primary function for the plant is to capture the energy of light which the plant uses for photosynthesis, the creation of high energy compounds ATP and NADPH, which are then used to produce food sources for the plant, including glucose. The horse can’t use pigments this way but his body interacts with these nutritional substances, especially in the immune system.

Immunity is an incredibly wondrous and intricate function.  It is divided broadly into reactions which shoot first and ask questions later – the innate immune system which responds  immediately to any foreign substance or organism – and the sophisticated/adaptive immune system which targets specific invaders with antibodies and remembers them in stored cells. Inflammation is an inherent part of the immune response to invading organisms or toxins, as well as the method of removal of dead or injured tissues. The immune system also has an intricate set of checks and balances which protects the body’s own tissues from direct attack as well as from collateral damage by friendly fire. Immune system reactions are turned off by a combination of the inciting problem being removed and counter-regulatory messages which control and eventually stop the reaction.

The nature and intensity of immune system reactions is determined by a complex formula involving genetics, the type of threat, the animal’s overall health status, adequacy of basic nutrition (calories, fats, protein, vitamins and minerals) as well as food fractions which normally interact with the immune system. The latter is where plant pigments come into play.

Many plant components interact with the horse’s immune system at the most basic level – gene expression. The study of this is called Nutrigenomics and it is adding tremendously to our understanding of how diet supports health.  Basic research into the functioning of the immune system also shows how diet goes far beyond supplying basic energy sources, vitamins and minerals.

Chlorophyll supports the production of innate immune system cytokines by lymphocytes lining the digestive tract. Chlorophyllin, a sodium copper derivative of chlorophyll, supports the natural healing of open wounds when applied topically and consuming it is associated with higher numbers of all immune system cells.

Chlorophyll and chlorophyllin are also natural antioxidants, as are all plant pigments. Quercetin and other citrus bioflavonoids are naturally occurring dietary participants in counterregulatory gene activity which maintains normal healthful levels of inflammation. Many plant flavonoids also work with the body in maintaining inherent defense systems against the invasion of cells by harmful organisms.

Proanthocyanidins from grape seed extract are one of the most potent antioxidants on the planet and possess all the attributes described above.  They also support the body’s ability to naturally regulate allergic reactions and responses to temporary irritation by environmental toxins.  The pigments of the blue-green algae Spirulina work with the horse’s body in the same way.

Brightly colored foods are as healthful for your horse as they are for you.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD



About Dr. Kellon

Graduate of University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School. Owner of Equine Nutritional Solutions,, industry and private nutritional consultations, online nutritional courses. Staff Veterinary Expert at Uckele Health and Nutrition.
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1 Response to Plant Pigments and the Immune System

  1. Kevin Isley says:

    Very nice

    Kevin Isley

    VP of Sales and Marketing


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