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Why horse owners should consider turmeric

Here British Horse Feeds consultant nutritionist, Dr Tom Shurlock, tell us the benefits for using turmeric in our horses and ponies diets.

It may sound a little trite, even patronising, but life can be stressful! What it really means is that the body is constantly subjected to behavioural, physical, physiological and metabolic challenges that result in those procedures having to respond to biological stresses. Beyond the “human” perception of stress being something that results from some external lifestyle situations, a direct result of modern life, every biological action has the potential to incur stress factors. Behavioural stress involves known physiological mechanisms involving neural pathways and processes, such as the GABA & Endocannabinoid systems, and is recognised by horse owners as flighty responses, crib biting, weaving etc.

There is, however, an entire range of stresses in a horse’s life. This is because stress is a natural response to both external stimuli and internal inefficiencies. In terms of external stimuli, examples include behavioural response, environment, allergens, biting insects, pathogens and parasites, whilst internal include metabolic dysfunction – IR, EMS, physiological trauma & repair – hard exercise, laminitis, biochemical processes – release of oxidative factors, and even general ageing (there is even a new term – inflamm-ageing!). The list is, unfortunately, endless and it seems that anything in life constitutes stress, which sounds very negative.
However, it is not all bad news. Normal care has removed many stress factors (exposure to weather, predators & starvation) to which the horse is hardwired to respond although sometimes replacing with others (transportation, restriction etc.), but there are still factors that cause stress.

There has been a sea change in attitude to feeding horses, over the past 20 years. When British Horse Feeds introduced Speedi-Beet, 21 years ago, the concept of providing energy using highly fermentable super fibres was novel, people preferring to provide fast release sugars and starch. Now, balancing diet around fibre is the accepted norm. However, there is still room for improvement and manoeuvre. Whilst high fibre, balanced diets are fed across the whole equine industry, supplying all the nutrients required for whatever activity, and whilst some of the ingredients have functional properties (the pectins in beet products supporting the mucus linings of the gut, for example), the combination of modern care practices, highly informed nutrition, and increasing understanding of metabolic dysfunction can only reduce stress so far. Stress can never be completely removed, and it would be bad to do so as it is a normal response to cope with and overcome biological adversity.

There are common factors across the board; general pro-inflammatory factors are released as a consequence of oxidative stress (biochemical imbalance), perceived invasion (allergens and infection) and mechanical damage, amongst other factors. Inflammation is the first step in correcting dysfunction, by concentrating the body’s defence, repair or modulatory response. When the stress factor is removed, anti-inflammatories reverse the ring fencing of the site and status is restored. Sometimes this mechanism can get locked in one phase, or there are continuous, chronic low-level stresses that do not enable a return to normal. Obesity-induced or age-related inflammation are two common examples.

Behind the major action of nutrients in a diet, is a whole subset of “functional nutrients”. These may be anything from bioactive peptides (a special sequence of amino acids within a protein) to a prebiotic fibre, and although accepted feedstuffs (forage & fibre, seed proteins and cereals) contain a range of bioactives, it is herbs and spices that contain a greater, wide ranging spectrum of phytochemicals.

Herbs and spices have long been used in equine nutrition for specific purposes, and although some – such as garlic, devil’s claw, coneflowers - are accepted for having specific properties, there are others that should be considered.

Turmeric is such a plant. It has over 100 bioactive components, from essential oils (terpenes) to flavonoids (phenolic compounds) and has been used in traditional Eastern medicine for generations. It contains powerful antioxidants and components that support the smooth flow of the inflammatory/anti-inflammatory cycle, as well as factors that help moderate the microbiome in the gut, encourage the production of the intestinal barrier and supports the immune system. Additionally, it has bioactives that support tissue and organ function, from the cardiovascular to neural systems, maintains cell integrity and supports the interaction between the oxidative and inflammatory processes. It contains phytochemicals that are secreted onto the skin, forming a sensory barrier to external parasites and is involved in the sensory nerve pathways, with potential calmative and irritant ameliorating properties. In short it is a product that can support general wellbeing in a great number of ways.

Whilst good husbandry, hygiene and nutrition are the mainstays of responsible ownership, there are any number of unseen and possibly unconsidered factors that can cause biological, as well as behavioural, stress to the horse. There are herbs that contain bioactives that are associated with particular conditions – garlic as a fly repellent, ashwagandha as a calmer – but for far reaching benefits across the whole remit of wellbeing and equine health support, turmeric is a front runner. The Golden Paste Company is committed to bringing innovative products to the equine supplement market and they will all be based on turmeric.

If you only consider one product to support the wellbeing of your horse, and enhance its nutrition, then it should be based on turmeric.