Detox diets are all the rage for people, so it’s no surprise we’re considering them for horses too. Let’s look at when your horse might benefit from toxin elimination, and how it can be done.
You’ve probably heard of all the different detox regimes people use in their mission for better health – juice cleanses, colon cleanses, the Master Cleanse. But how often do we think about addressing toxic buildup in our horses?
Toxic before birth
In the past, our concerns regarding toxin exposure were limited primarily to acute poisoning. Not anymore. Chemicals have been released into the environment at an alarming rate since the beginning of the post-WWII technology boom, with no burden on industry to prove such substances are safe. Exposure to many of these substances is unavoidable — air, water and food all contain levels of toxins, and there are also the chemicals we inject, apply or orally dose our horses with.
These chemicals begin accumulating before a horse is born; they cross the placental barrier and affect developing fetuses. Mammalian milk continues to channel these toxins into young growing foals, until eventually a “body burden” is created that is impossible for the body to overcome with the usual detoxification pathways.
Common sources of toxin exposure
Our animals are exposed to many of the same chemicals we are, and their ability to manage this toxic load easily becomes overwhelmed. Let’s look at common sources of exposure for our animals and ourselves:
- Air — Billions of tons of chemicals are put into the air every year, including mercury, sulfates and nitrates from coal-fired power plants in the US. Airborne toxins from Asia and other countries travel the jet stream, eventually settling onto virtually every continent and ending up in food crops, groundwater and soil. Health effects from toxins in the air can include damage to the immune and neurological systems. There is also evidence that airborne toxics such as DDT, mercury and dioxins may affect hormonal (endocrine) systems by mimicking or blocking the action of natural hormones.
- Feed — Heavy metals can reduce the body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and zinc, eventually leading to problems with immune function, muscle contraction, energy production, and bone repair. Horses are exposed to heavy metals in fertilizers (recycled sewage sludge) that end up in feed products, fungicides and pesticides used on hay and grain crops.
- Water — Studies done by the Environmental Working Group on contaminants in tap water showed that in 42 states, some 260 contaminants were detected in public water supplies, 140 of which were unregulated chemicals. Arsenic is a common groundwater contaminant, especially in the Western United States, and is commonly used in pressure-treated lumber. It is linked to cancer and neurological disorders.
- Plastics — Some plastics can leach out endocrine disruptors such as bisphenol A. Phthalate, another endocrine disruptor, is used to soften plastic. Horses can be exposed to plastics in feed and water containers, stall toys, tack, and products you may apply to your horse’s body.
- Grooming products and sprays – The products we put on our horses often contain sodium lauryl sulfate, phthalates, parabens, triclosan (often used in antibacterial products) or preservatives. These go directly on the animal’s skin and penetrate into his system, contributing to toxic overload. Fly sprays or topically applied insect repellents expose our horses to more chemicals that add to the toxic soup in their bodies.
- Dewormers and fly control products – These may pose a hazard if the body is unable to handle the chemicals due to an already overloaded system.
- Vaccines – They often contain the neurotoxin thimerosal (mercury), aluminum and formaldehyde. Aluminum is not well absorbed orally, but when injected, it’s driven right into the blood stream and tissues. Formaldehyde may damage tissues and is a known carcinogen.
- Medications — Bute, banamine, antibiotics and other drugs almost always have toxic side effects and can create an increased load on the liver and kidneys. NSAIDs are very hard on the gastrointestinal tract lining and can allow for the seepage of substances from the intestinal lumen into the bloodstream.
Effects of oxidative stress
We don’t know all the actions or interactions that low levels of multiple toxins can have in the body. One thing we do know is that these toxins cause damage to cells by a process known as oxidative stress, a result of free radical buildup in the tissues. Premature aging, genetic damage, impaired healing ability and poor immune function are all linked to oxidative stress. Chronic inflammation can both cause and result in oxidative stress to tissues; when you consider conditions such as arthritis, laminitis and navicular disease, know that this oxidative stress process is happening faster than the body can control it.
The point here is not to create a feeling of hopelessness or paranoia, but to get the message across that our horses’ bodies are quickly and easily overwhelmed by the burden of toxins they carry around — and that they need serious help getting rid of these toxins and replacing the elements that allow their bodies to function optimally.
One way to combat toxins and the damage they generate in the body involves:
- a) Removing the toxins and
- b) Replacing and boosting network antioxidants, nutrients that mediate oxidative stress and work together to enhance their production and function in the body.
Detox – Getting the toxins out
One very safe and effective modality for removing heavy metals and other toxins from the body is through the ingestion of zeolites. Zeolites are created when volcanic ash hits seawater. Tiny honeycomb-shaped cages are formed in a mineral matrix with a very strong negative charge. Since heavy metals and many other toxins have a positive charge, they are attracted to the little cages, trapped there, and passively removed so as not to create a greater burden on the kidneys and other organs of elimination. By eliminating heavy metals and other toxins such as some pesticides and benzenes, free radical damage and thus inflammation can be reduced.
The antioxidant connection
Network antioxidants are effective at scavenging free radical molecules created by toxic overload, stopping the oxidative stress cascade and repairing tissues. Network antioxidants work in different ways, each playing an important role in cellular function. The term “networking” refers to the mutually supportive action of antioxidants in the body. Lester Packer showed several years ago that vitamin E “recycles” vitamin C. He showed in turn that vitamin C can be recycled by glutathione, an antioxidant that must be produced by the body. Thus, antioxidants working together may be much more beneficial than single nutrients.
The body is designed to heal and the mechanisms are already in place. The most basic foundation you can put in place for a long and happy life for your horse involves removing the roadblocks to health and encouraging natural healing mechanisms.