Equine Joint Nutraceuticals, Part 2

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In part 1 of our two-article series on joint nutraceuticals (see October 2007), we presented our field-trial results for products that cost $1.25/day or less. Our favorite product in that trial, NuPro Mutliflex, was chosen both on the basis of price and for delivery of good levels of key joint nutraceuticals, in that case glucosamine, chondroitin and Perna. Now, we’re going to look at pricier products and tougher cases to see what they have to offer.

As you may recall, glucosamine, chondroitin, and natural sources of those cartilage components like hydrolyzed collagen or Perna mussel are the cornerstones of supplements for an arthritic horse. Clinical studies have shown there is a real benefit to be gained when using these supplements — particularly the combination of glucosamine with chondroitin — and laboratory studies have uncovered their effects on cartilage and synovial cells in culture.

Hyaluronic acid (HA) orally is a relative newcomer to the list of effective oral joint products. Its long-term effects on cartilage health are unknown, but it has a clear benefit in acutely inflamed joints.

Even more recent to the market are cetylated fatty acids (cetyl myristoleate or Celadrin) and avocado/soy unsaponifiables, fatty acids extracted from those sources by a special process. More needs to be learned about these ingredients, but the evidence to date suggests they’re most useful in blocking further arthritic changes.

A study from Colorado State documented the avocado/soy unsaponifiables as effective in surgically induced arthritis. They had no effect on pain, but they did result in considerably less physical degeneration of the cartilage. That, of course, is an effect that field trials can’t evaluate.

You shouldn’t expect to see immediate benefits, but when avocado/soy unsaponifiables are added to key nutrients like glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid they could help block further breakdown and support the action of the other ingredients.

Reality

You need to have realistic expectations when using these products. They aren’t quick fixes or magic bullets. When a joint has been severely damaged to the point that the cartilage is thinned or missing in places and bone is building up around the joint, you can’t expect a miracle.

If the basic glucosamine/chondroitin supplements we looked at in October aren’t providing much relief, you’ll need to add ingredients like herbs that specifically address pain and inflammation.

It’s extremely difficult to handle joints with active inflammation, especially if the horse needs to remain in work. Icing is a great therapeutic option. It’s inexpensive and completely nontoxic, but it may not be feasible in a schedule short on time or in a boarding situation. MSM at a therapeutic dose of 20,000 mg, or hyaluronic acid at 100 mg, are best for this situation.

For basic information on loading doses, complementary therapies and what the basic ingredients actually are, see our October 2007 issue.

Trial Results

Several products in this trial got at rating of 3 in at least one category: Conquer Gel, HylaMax, LubeAll Plus and Hylarin-B. Interestingly, we found that the hyaluronic acid — which all four of these products include — was most dramatically effective in problems that involved acute inflammation.

When the horse has a chronic situation, pain relief simply won’t be as dramatic or rapid, although the heat and increased swelling of an acute flare-up will come under good control. We feel hyaluronic acid is best used for joint problems or acute flare-ups of old ones. Pending further research on long-term benefits, for daily lower-grade chronic management, you can probably save money by using a product without HA.

Products that delivered a therapeutic dose of MSM (20,000 mg or 20 grams) were also consistently high performers, with ratings at 2 or 2+. These included Advance HA Ultra+MSM, Four Flex HA (a little short on MSM at 7500 mg, but performed well), Glucosamine XL Plus MSM, Grand HA Synergy, Hyla Sport, Hyla Sport+Devil’s Claw, Matrix 4, Su-Per Powerflex HA, and TriLube Xtra.

Flex HA also deserves mention here. It contains appropriate levels of glucosamine and chondroitin, but instead of MSM, it has a generous dose (200 mg as opposed to the usual 100 mg) of powdered hyaluronic acid. It was slightly less effective than the MSM products but still performed well and, at $1.28/day, it’s a real bargain.

The two heavy hitters were Arthoxigen and Rapid Response F formula, both with prices that match their performance. Arthoxigen at $3.98 day for therapeutic dose has full-dose glucosamine, just a little low on chondroitin, and gets a punch from full-dose devil’s claw, yucca and a spectrum of anti-inflammatory herbal ingredients.

Rapid Response F formula is a unique approach, as it’s aloe-based with plant anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatories, glucosamine and chondroitin. It was a top performer in previous trials, including the only supplement that worked for some tough ringbone cases. It didn’t let us down this time, either. Note: For low-grade problems, or once you have control of the acute condition, you should be able to move to the less-expensive Rapid Response for maintenance, saving you a few dollars.

Bottom Line

In this group of joint nutraceuticals, our pick for inflammation control is Conquer Gel, both for price and effectiveness. This product was a previous high performer for us and the only product to rank 3 across the board in this trial.

In addition, Conquer Gel could be the answer for those who want to save some money daily on a joint product and simply want to be able to give hyaluronic acid to the horse during inflammatory flare-ups without changing a base product.

For the best buy with HA products, we choose Hylarin-B, which comes in the more economical powder form and includes boswellia, an herb known to have anti-inflammatory properties.

Overall, our top performer for really tough cases is Arthroxigen, which nips out Rapid Response F, based on price. That said, we wouldn’t give up entirely on a horse without trying Rapid Response F if it’s in the budget.