Endocrine-disrupting chemicals linked to EMS

Researchers have discovered a possible link between EMS and endocrine-disrupting chemicals in a horse’s environment.

Despite optimal care, many horses are diagnosed with equine metabolic syndrome (EMS). This incurable disease involves endocrine abnormalities that often cause pockets of fat and/or obesity, as well as insulin-related problems. EMS is also a common cause of laminitis which, in severe cases, can lead to euthanasia.

Thanks to funding from Morris Animal Foundation, researchers at The University of Minnesota have discovered a possible culprit behind EMS that can’t be explained by other factors such as diet and exercise. They found that endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in a horse’s environment may play a role.

Most EDCs are difficult-to-avoid manmade substances such as pesticides, plastics and grooming products. They mimic the body’s hormones, hindering real ones from doing what they’re supposed to do. This can put horses at risk for poor health, resulting in diseases such as EMS. The team studied more than 300 equines in North America, focusing on breeds more likely to develop EMS. They collected data pertaining to the horses’ diets, exercise, medical histories and locations, and examined plasma samples for the presence of both EMS and EDCs, checking for correlations between the two variables.

This is the first study to examine associations between EDCs and disease in domestic animals. Though further study is needed, Dr. Kelly Diehl, Morris Animal Foundation Interim Vice President of Scientific Programs, hopes these findings will further scientific understanding and help advance veterinary care for horses. “The more we know about a disease, especially a devastating and incurable one like EMS, the more we can find innovative ways to prevent it,” says Dr. Diehl.