Glucosamine is often the go-to supplement to ease the discomfort of osteoarthritis, but is it safe for the insulin-resistant horse? A look at how glucosamine works may help you decide.
Glucosamine is a sugar (glucose) bound to an amino acid (building block of protein). It reduces inflammation and is a precursor to building blocks found in cartilage. Cartilage cells are able to produce glucosamine from glucose, but supplementation is often preferable if your horse is experiencing osteoarthritis. It can be supplemented orally or via injection.
Many horse owners are reluctant to give glucosamine to their insulin resistant horse that has joint pain. This is a valid concern. Insulin resistant people have experienced adverse effects when given high dosages of glucosamine (though the research results are mixed). But since glucosamine is not digested down to glucose, it should not cause a rise in insulin. So what causes the glucose and hence, insulin to rise? Evidently, glucosamine confuses the cells into thinking that they have enough glucose. So, glucose from other sources cannot enter the cells. The result can be increased blood glucose, not from glucosamine, but from the diet in general, leading to elevated insulin.
That's what happens in people; we really do not know if the same thing happens in horses. So, use your judgment. If your insulin resistant horse has been taking glucosamine without any problem, continue using it. But if your horse is battling laminitis or equine Cushing's disease, consider getting a joint supplement that does not contain glucosamine. You can safely use ingredients such as MSM, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid, cetyl myristoleate, n-acetyl-l-carnitine, and orthosilicic acid. Or start with two basic ingredients--vitamin C and omega 3 fatty acids--especially in the older horse (who no longer produces the same level of vitamin C as when younger). Vitamin C is used for collagen production (which covers and cushions the surfaces of opposing bones) and omega 3s are potent anti-inflammatory agents.
Dr. Juliet Getty has taught and consulted on equine nutrition for more than 20 years. Her website offers helpful articles, a nutrition forum and a calendar of her events, including upcoming and past teleseminars to purchase and download. Her comprehensive reference book, Feed Your Horse Like A Horse, is available in hardcover and CD-ROM (pdf file) through her website or at Amazon.com. Sign up for her useful free monthly e-newsletter "Forage for Thought" through the website. Dr. Getty serves as a distinguished advisor to the Equine Sciences Academy, and she is also available for individual consultations. For permission to reprint this article in whole or in part, please contact Dr. Getty directly at email@example.com or 970-884-7187.
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