Friday, March 6, 2015
Simple Carbohydrates and Damage to A Horse's Immune System
Sometimes advances in medical understanding of human health pays off for horses' health also. The link between obesity, insulin resistance and founder is clearer to us now because of improved understanding of Type Two diabetes in humans.
We may be on the edge of another diet related breakthrough. Several years ago our vet commented that our herd was the only one she had seen lately with no rain rot. It was a particularly wet winter. Of course, our horses are never subjected to unhealthy practices like putting on pasture blankets.
I assumed that that was why our horses had healthy skins.
That might not be the only reason. The various fungi that cause rain rot are around at all times. The issue is not whether a horse is exposed to the fungi. The issue is whether his immune system and the natural fauna on his skin are sufficient to protect him against this germ invasion.
This week Terry asked me about "scratches" and why our horses did not develop this condition, which is also caused "greasy heel." Scratches is a condition similar to rain rot that results in seeping cracks not far above the hoof line, generally on the back of the pastern. It can be very difficult to treat because it can develop both fungal and bacterial components.
The "cause" of scratches is often considered to be exposure to mud. This winter has exposed our horses to more mud than any other time for the past seven or eight years. We have not had any incidences of scratches. In fact, the only time we have had it show up was on a very old mare several years go.
We are beginning to learn how important keeping a healthy combination of microbes in the human digestive tract is for the development and sustenance of a healthy immune system. Prebiotics and probiotics seem to rev up our immune systems. (I have found significant improvement in my own health when taking probiotics and eating sauer kraut (a food rich in beneficial microbes) daily.
Simple carbohydrates increase the acidity of a horse's digestive tract, killing beneficial microbes. This is the root cause of impaction colic that occurs after binging on sweet feed or straight grain. I suspect that constant exposure to even small amounts of simple carbohydrates can weaken a horse's immune system.
Horses evolved to eat living and dead grasses, leaves, roots and bark. Their need for those feeds does not change because huge agribusiness concerns have been able to spend a fortune in advertising to convince horse owners that the key to proper horse are is to keep one's horse dangerously obese on a diet of molasses and grain by products.
Even if future research bears out the simple proposition that horses, like all other creatures, are healthiest when given a diet that they evolved over the millennia to eat that message will remain muted by the dollars spent on advertising and marketing.
The pitiful irony will continue to be that a horse's health will depend largely on whether he is lucky enough to be owned by someone who cares enough to provide him with a healthy lifestyle, or is condemned to be owned by someone who gets all of their horse health information from shiny advertisements in horse magazines.
Posted by Steve Edwards