It would be difficult in this day not to have heard the word “antioxidants.” You likely also know they’re beneficial to health, but you may not fully understand why.
As you remember from grammar-school science, every tissue in the body uses oxygen to burn the calories in foods. Oxygen is also a first-line immune defense against invading organisms, cancer cells and for repairing damaged tissue.
However, waste products are generated as the body finishes using up the oxygen, and these are called “free radicals.” Free radicals are also generated when drugs and/or toxins are broken down and enter the horse directly from pollution in air, soil and water.
Free radicals are harmful. They’re electrically unstable, missing an electron, and work to combine with anything in the general neighborhood to regain electrical neutrality. In the process, these free radicals can cause damage to normal cellular walls, DNA and fats.
Your horse’s body limits free-radical damage with antioxidants. Antioxidant enzymes manufactured by the body can instantly neutralize free radicals. The liver also quenches free radicals using proteins that contain sulfur groups.
Antioxidants are vital to a normal immune system, but they don’t stimulate it. They provide the nutrients needed to protect white blood cells and surrounding normal cells from damage by enzymes, peroxide and oxygen-free radicals released when the immune system is activated.
You can help boost your horse’s defenses against free radicals by ensuring he has an adequate dietary intake of some specific vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin E, selenium and vitamin C. These nutrients neutralize free radicals directly and work to keep the antioxidant enzyme systems in an active state.
Other nutrients important in your horse’s antioxidant ammunition include the trace minerals copper, zinc and manganese. These are critical to antioxidant defenses because they’re essential cofactors for the antioxidant enzymes. The B vitamins, especially B6, B12 and folic acid, are required for antioxidant proteins and enzymes from other amino acids, but most equine diets include adequate levels.
Your horse can also boost his free-radical-destroying capacity by consuming foods that have high concentrations of both these antioxidant basic nutrients and preformed, plant-based substances that have antioxidant capacity. These include plant polyphenols, like the familiar bioflavonoids herperidin, rutin, quercetin and resveratrol.
We’ve had good results in past trials using supplements based on grapeseed and/or bioflavonoids, such as hesperidin, in control of respiratory problems. Hesperidin can directly inhibit inflammatory enzyme systems and shares the same functions as vitamin C.
These plant-based antioxidants can have a greater capacity to neutralize free radicals, but they work more slowly and are better as a potent backup system. The antioxidant enzymes and vitamins remain your horse’s first line of defense and go to work the most rapidly.
Should You Supplement'
It’s easy to get caught up in the hype and overdo it. After what you’ve read, you probably think you must add antioxidants to your horse’s feed (and possibly your own diet). You probably do, but the place to start is by looking at the horse’s entire diet and determining if he has adequate dietary intake of the basic antioxidants.
The horse’s best source of antioxidant nutrients is fresh grass, so horses that don’t have liberal access to grass, including pastured horses over the winter, are likely to benefit from antioxidant supplementation. In addition, horses in hard work, fighting infections or recovering from injuries have increased needs for antioxidants.
We also suggest you consult our list of common symptoms on the first page of this article that may be related to inadequate antioxidant defenses. If your horse appears to be battling any of these problems or is at high risk for developing any of them, it’s much wiser to ensure an adequate intake now than to wait until the horse gets into trouble.
Once the intake of vitamins A, E, C, Bs, selenium, copper, zinc and manganese have been optimized, if the horse continues to have problems that may be related to poor antioxidants try further supporting him by using plant antioxidant substances.
For basic broad-based antioxidant support, our top choices are Vita-Key’s Antioxidant Concentrate, Med-Vet’s Anti-Ox and Horse Tech Preox. All three have similar excellent levels of the key basic antioxidant-supporting nutrients and similar costs. Vita-Key has a fine freshness-control program, including expiration dates and “best if used by” dates.
If you need a product for support of a horse already battling inflammatory problems, like arthritis, we recommend Preox because of its generous levels of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid.
Often, however, it’s vitamin E, selenium and vitamin C that your horse lacks, even in horses on pasture and/or getting other supplements. With the wide variety of supplements available, you an easily supplement exactly the amount you need of each of they key ingredients. If all three are needed, Equine Gold E-Se Plus is the way to go.
If you’re OK on C, but need E and selenium, Uckele’s E + Se or the MVP E and selenium supplement are best buys, but Uckele uses a blend of inorganic and organic selenium sources for improved mineral absorption and gets the nod.
With plain vitamin E, studies show that vitamin E is better absorbed when given with fat/oil, making Liquid E-500 the choice.
While the plant-based antioxidant products have their benefits, you should build your antioxidant program from the bottom up, focusing on the basic vitamins and minerals first. After that, if symptoms persist, move on to adding a more-expensive plant-based antioxidant products. In this category, it’s either Phyto-Quench or Omega Antioxidant. Both products offer a broad base of potent plant antioxidants and herbal anti-inflammatories to assist in control of both acute and chronic inflammatory states and allergies.