All About Antioxidants

Do you remember when antioxidants were all the rage as the latest and greatest thing in supplements?  Other topics catch most of the headlines these days but antioxidant activity still underlies some of the effects of currently popular ingredients like curcumin and even cannabinoids.

The horse’s natural diet is rich in antioxidants.

Oxygen free radicals, aka reactive oxygen species (ROS) are oxygen-containing products of metabolism which are missing an electron, making them unstable. Normal cellular metabolism, immune system activities, exercise and cellular clean up after injury all generate ROS. Diets high in fat or carbohydrate, metabolism of drugs and toxins also generate oxidative stress, as do chronic health problems.

These substances will attack proteins, DNA, structural  membranes both inside and around cells to steal an electron. The molecule attacked then becomes a free radical itself and a chain reaction can be started. The process weakens and can even destroy the cells under attack.

Antioxidants protect against ROS by donating an electron to stabilize them and prevent attack on the tissues. Antioxidants can be either fat soluble, located primarily inside the structure of membranes, or water soluble, protecting the watery environment inside and outside the cells.

The body has a variety of antioxidant enzymes such as catalase and  SOD – superoxide dismutase. These are manufactured by the cells, as are the important intracellular antioxidants N-acetyl-cysteine, glutathione and alpha-lipoic acid. Vitamins Niacin, C, E and A have potent antioxidant activity.

Foods can also supply plant based antioxidants.  The horse’s diet is naturally rich in plant antioxidants such as carotenoids, flavonoids and polyphenols. Fresh green plants of all types have high levels, even grass. For example, Bermuda Grass is a sacred plant in India, where it is called Durva.

While excess ROS can be harmful, a healthy horse’s body is one that has a correct homeostatic balance between antioxidants and free radicals. This balance is called the cellular redox state. The goal isn’t to eliminate them entirely because at proper levels they have important activities such as stimulating the production of antioxidants, cell to cell signalling, modulation of gene function and enzyme activity.

The first step in ensuring your horse has adequate antioxidant defenses is correct intake of B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin A/carotene as well as the amino acid L-glutamine and minerals copper, zinc, magnesium and selenium.

If nutrition has been optimized and the horse needs more antioxidant support, look to rich plant sources such as:

  • Grape seed and skin
  • Berries
  • Turmeric
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Ginkgo
  • Boswellia
  • Spirulina

as well as isolated plant compounds such as quercetin or mixed bioflavonoids.

Supporting antioxidant activity is one of the best things you can do in a natural approach to health because it enables the horse’s body to use it’s own homeostatic system of checks and balances to protect itself.

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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2 Responses to All About Antioxidants

  1. Nicky says:

    Is it safe to feed EMS IR horses ponies grape seed,skins, berries and some of the other rich antioxidants mentioned in Dr K article? Especially those who are not able to eat grass?

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