Optimizing the Immune System

The horse’s immune system is always busy. Even when the horse is healthy it is performing its background functions of removing dead or damaged cells, guarding all the mucus membranes that are portals into the body from the outside world (intestinal tract, eyes, respiratory tract, genitourinary tract), and reacting to any organisms or foreign substances that make it past the body’s barriers of skin and mucus membranes.

Herbs can be part of an effective immune support program

The immune system is never inactive, but in health it performs all these functions silently without any outward signs.  Let a serious challenge come along though and it’s like poking the bear. The signs of a fully activated immune response come to the surface such as fever, muscle and joint pain, lethargy, inflammation. When stimulating the immune system, be careful what you wish for!

As with all body systems, there is a network of checks and balances for the immune system to keep reactions in check. This is termed homeostasis. For optimal functioning there must be support of all arms of the immune system, including reactions to regulate the responses.

The first step in supporting a strong immune system is nutrition. The horse needs both adequate quality protein and sufficient calories to maintain a normal body condition. On the vitamin and mineral end, B vitamins, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, magnesium and the trace minerals selenium, zinc and copper are particularly important to both vigorous reactions and the control countermeasures that keep them in check.

Immune system activity generates large amounts of reactive oxygen species (ROS), also known as free radicals or pro-oxidants.  Damage to surrounding tissues and the immune system cells themselves can result from this friendly fire. The antioxidant vitamins, glutathione, N-acetyl-cysteine and enzyme systems such as copper and zinc superoxide dismutase are the body’s first line of defense against these but the protection can be boosted by other plant based sources of antioxidants such as citrus bioflavonoids, brightly colored fruits plus herbals like Turmeric and Pau d’Arco.

Spirulina is a powerful antioxidant and also demonstrated to support the production of protective IgA antibody along mucus membranes rather than the IgE that is associated with allergic reactions.

Some herbs are well documented to support the maintenance of both a protective and balanced immune system, including Echinacea, Ginseng, Astragalus and arabinogalactans from Larch. Other naturally occurring products support alert defenses by providing gentle stimulation to the rich immune system of the intestinal tract – the GALT or gut-associated lymphoid tissue.  These include the beneficial strains of probiotic organisms and mannanoligosaccharides from the cell wall of Saccharomyces cerevisae yeast.  Cells originating  from activity in the GALT communicate with the immune system throughout the body.

From directly battling disease to enabling robust responses to vaccines, the time to think about immune system support is at least 4 weeks before the challenges may come along. By properly fueling the immune system in advance it will be prepared to defend your horse in the best way possible.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

About Dr. Kellon

Graduate of University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School. Owner of Equine Nutritional Solutions, www.drkellon.com, industry and private nutritional consultations, online nutritional courses. Staff Veterinary Expert at Uckele Health and Nutrition.
This entry was posted in Equine Nutrition and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Optimizing the Immune System

  1. regrading Pentosan, what is you opinion regarding it’s use for arthritis compared to adequan. My other horse had been given adequan quarterly and now I understand effectiveness can only be guaranteed with a 7 dose series 2x/year. Would Pentosan have the same therapeutic qualities

    • Dr. Kellon says:

      Like Adequan, in other countries Pentosan for arthritis is suggested to be weekly injections; in this case a total of 4 or 5. It is often used monthly after that, which may be where monthly Adequan came from. The 7 dose Adequan series is the only one that is documented to have positive effects. It should be repeated when signs of discomfort recur, not necessarily at 6 months. Pentosan is not approved for arthritis treatment in the US, but is widely used for that.

      • thank you, I will call the manufacturer to get more details. It gets so expensive & my horse has Cushings too. I’m trying to give him the best care but am cautious with expense and the stress of vaccinating if it can be avoided since I’m trying to give him a quality of life – as well as for me too !. Thanks for clarifying the adequan schedule

  2. Dr. Kellon says:

    Blood testing for allergies is highly unreliable. I would avoid that. Spirulina at 10 grams twice a day works for many horses and should be started well in advance (at least 4 to 6 weeks) of when you anticipate problems. Also very useful especially with skin allergic reactions is chondroitin sulfate 2500 to 5000 mg per 500 lbs, twice daily. Best of all for hives if your vet will agree to try it is the injectable arthritis medication Pentosan EQ, which is also a proven potent anti-allergy and antiinflammatory agent. Dose is the same as for arthritis; repeat if needed.

    • I was hesitant about testing and am relieved you concur. re the chondroitin sulfate- would that be ok to use if I am concerned about insulin resistance. She is a 20 yo Arab & has not been tested and seems healthy but I know there’s a predisposition. She is not on grain and I am careful with her diet.
      Could you rank in order your preferences for treatment. Thank you so much. I appreciate your time & help .

      • Dr. Kellon says:

        With skin issues, chondroitin is more likely to work than Spirulina but is also much more expensive. I would suggest the Pentosan injection at the first sign of a problem. Some horses only need one injection.

  3. regarding my previous post, the only change has been the addition of fresh hay in July which I am very careful to mix with old hay, still why would she get hives again in October. if the weather is warm enough we have biting flies even then but I don’t leave them out if there are insects. Generally in October they’re dying off. Usually once November comes we don’t have an issue again until summer.

  4. My horse has suffered for allergic reaction to insects (I believe) despite being indoors for most of the hot summer months mid June – end of August in Maine. She has had the same reactions during the same time (July & sometimes October) every year since 2004. She is not on grain, receives a daily supplement, has good quality hay from same provider. Nothing that I am aware of has changed except that I have kept her indoors more to try to prevent a reaction. Still she gets hives along her chest that spread to her midsection and belly – generally just on one side. I have used Tri Hist for years and it may have been effective but I don’t see the results I would like and use it much longer than i feel I should, and she is covered for weeks. They go way then return with no obvious change in environment. The vet has seen her and said with time they would clear, which they have, but something is wrong. I’m wondering if by trying to protect her more I have instead altered her immune function so that she has become more vulnerable to whatever is causing this problem. My vet suggested testing a sample then vaccinating accd to findings but I would like to find another solution particularly since this in happening on a schedule. My barn is cool in the summer and the windows have screens. I know it just takes 1 insect but I am trying to prepare for this coming summer ad I don’t know what to do. Any suggestions please.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.