You already know that minerals and other nutrients are important to your horse’s health. But did you also know that an imbalance of minerals within the body tissues can be an indicator of inflammatory stress and metabolic trends? A Hair Mineral Analysis (HMA), a laboratory test that measures mineral content in the hair, can help you gather this information and give you a whole new insight into your equine’s state of well being.
Much ado about minerals
Minerals are necessary for energy production, fluid balance, normal growth, the formation and activation of hormones, bone formation, rate of healing, and the health and balance of every cell and tissue in the body. They also function as co-enzymes and enzyme activators. Minerals strongly interrelate with each other to maintain metabolic balance. In fact, the ratio of minerals to each other is in many respects just as important as the individual levels of each mineral.
A healthy balance of minerals allows for a more efficient, balanced metabolism. Imbalances affect essentially every tissue in the body and can be a major factor in a number of health issues.
What a Hair Mineral Analysis can tell you
An Hair Mineral Analysis allows you to gain insight into a horse’s nutritional status and the metabolic states associated with it. This tool is well established scientifically and is gaining widespread acceptance among owners, trainers and veterinarians. When properly interpreted, Hair Mineral Analysis reports give an enormous amount of very useful information about:
• Nutritional and metabolic balances.
• Mineral excesses and deficiencies.
• The presence of toxic minerals and the relationships between them that can contribute to an increasing risk of health problems.
While an Hair Mineral Analysis by itself cannot show or predict any disease state, it very accurately allows us to see the metabolic trends and patterns that may manifest into a disease state.
Inflammatory stress is a key sign of imbalance
One of the most important pieces of information an Hair Mineral Analysis can show is the amount of “inflammatory stress” that the horse’s body is experiencing. When most people think of inflammation, the “itises” immediately come to mind. Arthritis, bursitis, tendonitis, and gastritis are a few of the most common. But inflammatory patterns are not limited to these. In the last 12 years, we have analyzed several thousand equine HMAs. In many respects, the most important fact gathered from the HMA is the number of inflammatory patterns and the degrees of inflammatory stress that the horse’s body is attempting to manage.
Since each horse is genetically unique, the actual manifestations associated with inflammatory stress can be very different from one individual to another, even if the horses have common genetics, such as blood relatives, or share a common environment. It is possible to have several horses with the same or similar results from an Hair Mineral Analysis, yet each individual shows a completely different set of problems or conditions – or no problems at all. This phenomenon is dependent on the genetic strengths and weaknesses of the horse. The areas most likely to be affected by inflammatory stress are the areas of genetic weakness. For example, a horse with hives is manifesting an inflammatory pattern associated with the skin. Breathing distress is a symptom of a problem in the respiratory system. A horse with joint issues is displaying an inflammatory stress pattern affecting the joints, and so on.
Keep in mind that inflammation in and of itself is not all negative. The horse’s body utilizes specific forms of inflammation to destroy viruses, bacteria, and parasites. Some forms of inflammation are absolutely essential for normal immune function, but in a very tightly controlled manner that allows the body to maintain optimal function and disease resistance.
HMA results that indicate inflammatory stress
The results of an Hair Mineral Analysis can point to excessive inflammatory stress in a number of ways, and are an effective method of identifying stresses in the horse’s metabolism.
The presence of any toxic minerals automatically increases the amount of excessive inflammation. Each will uniquely affect certain aspects of the body and metabolism.
Aluminum and arsenic are the two most common environmental toxins found in equine HMAs.
- Aluminum is by far the most widespread toxin found in horses. Exposure can occur from airborne aluminum, certain feed processing techniques, and the effect of acid rain on soil that increases aluminum’s uptake into pasture.
- Arsenic can also generate major inflammatory stresses and is often airborne, usually coming from pesticide and herbicide residues, even if the source of those chemicals is several hundred miles away. Well water contamination is another very common source of arsenic exposure; it is estimated that in some states, up to 70% of wells are contaminated.
Minerals such as selenium, which allow the horse’s body to effectively control inflammatory stress, are often excessively high or low during periods of increased inflammatory stress.
- Selenium blood tests can be normal while the levels in body tissues can actually be low. This is not inconsistent. Normal blood tests only indicate that circulating selenium levels are normal but do not necessarily mean that the levels in body tissues are normal. By the time blood selenium level is low, the tissue levels have usually been low for some time. Interestingly, selenium is involved in the process of detoxifying arsenic.
Major imbalances between minerals, stress response and recovery, blood sugar control, insulin patterns and immune defense patterns are a few more of the many indicators of inflammatory stress indicated by an HMA.
A properly interpreted HMA can provide a storehouse of information about inflammatory stress in your horse. It also gives insight into which nutritional or environmental interventions are the most important for rebalancing the metabolism, reducing toxic minerals, and ultimately stabilizing inflammatory stress patterns.
“I have been an equine practitioner for 25 years,” says Dr. Jo R. Jones, a veterinarian based in Garden Valley, Idaho. “For years I treated several syndromes symptomatically. I found that this kind of treatment may or may not work, and I knew all along that I was only treating the symptoms, not the cause of the problem. Once I started using Hair Mineral Analysis and a nutritional program and supplements on the basis of the results, I found that the ‘syndromes’ resolved or dramatically improved. I highly recommend it.”
How to take a sample
A hair sample should be taken in small pieces from several areas of the horse’s mane. Cut the hair as close to the skin as possible with the length not exceeding 2”. The amount of hair necessary for an accurate analysis is approximately one tablespoon. Sampling scissors should be of high quality stainless steel to avoid possible contamination from rust. Hair should not be sampled from other parts of the body, as it may not give an accurate representation of mineral levels. Why do mineral imbalances occur? •Mental, physical and emotional stress •Exposure to environmental toxins •The use of medications and/or inappropriate nutritional supplements •Consumption of highly processed, high sugar feeds and heavily processed fats and oils •Inherited genetic patterns
Editor’s note: It is imperative to use a reputable and experienced company to test your horse’s hair and interpret the results. If a company is promising you a magical solution to all your horse’s problems, look elsewhere.