The topic of supplements has become quite complex. Knowing the basic nutritional elements your horse requires can improve his health and well-being.
Nutrition isn’t an exact science. When it comes to designing a nutritional program that includes the right supplements for optimum health and performance, there are many conflicting opinions. With the advent of processed and engineered foods, nutrition has become an even more complicated issue. In order to achieve perfect health, we’re left to research and study these complexities for ourselves and our equine companions.
One of the most critical mysteries lies in the area of supplements, such as vitamins and minerals. How much should you and your horse take? What does the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) really mean? Are you and your equine partner getting enough, or too much, of what your bodies need? Is the balance appropriate? How are you to know?
As we begin to explore basic nutritional requirements, let’s first discuss the importance of whether the nutrients provided in supplements are being used by our bodies or eliminated as waste products.
How we process nutrients
Most of the nutrients in the foods we consume are absorbed in the gut. This applies to all animals – including humans and horses. The nutrients enter the system through the walls of the small intestine. So it’s critical that we accomplish the following in order to achieve good health and optimum performance:
•Ensure that the gut is healthy and functioning properly.
•Consume foods that contribute to optimal digestion and maintain proper gut function.
•Ensure that any added supplements (vitamins and minerals) are bio-available.
•Ensure that the intake of supplements is properly balanced.
An “essential mineral” is one that is required for survival, or at least for health. Essential minerals include calcium, chlorine, chromium, cobalt, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, silicon, sodium, sulfur, and zinc.
Minerals play fundamental roles in all living organisms. Many are active parts of enzymes that perform chemical conversions in our bodies. Others are structural components of certain tissues – such as silicon, which strengthens connective tissue, nails and hooves. Still others serve as regulators and signalers; potassium, for example, is involved in controlling the activity of nerve cells.
What is bio-availability?
In order for minerals to be of maximum use, their chemical makeup must be usable by the body, so the body can absorb and utilize them to meet its needs. This is what is meant by bio-availability. “Minerals enter the body mostly as components of food,” writes Russell Mills in Mineral Transport. “To become bio-available, mineral atoms must be combined with other elements to form chemical compounds. For example, the body gets most of its manganese not from nodules of manganese metal, but from manganese-containing substances in food — that is, from plant and animal tissues in which the manganese is already incorporated into enzymes similar to those that our own bodies will make from it.
“There is thus a great deal of mineral recycling going on in the biosphere: mineral compounds travel from one organism to another when the latter eats the former,” Mills continues. “But not all of the minerals found in biological organisms are the result of such recycling of mineral compounds. Some minerals enter the biological world when elemental minerals are converted to chemical compounds in the soil or elsewhere. As elemental minerals get converted to mineral compounds, these simple inorganic compounds become bio-available to plants. The plants then perform the conversion to more complex organo-mineral compounds which makes them bio-available to other organisms – to animals, for example.”
When mineral compounds are consumed in food, the body must somehow absorb the minerals from the digestive tract and make them available to the tissues and cells where they’re needed. This process is not a simple one.
So how do these essential minerals become bio-available? By attaching an amino acid to the mineral component, forming an amino acid chelate. Amino acids act as chelators when they react with positively charged metal atoms (the minerals, in this case), forming a strong chemical bond.
The argument in favor of using amino acid-chelated minerals goes like this: the body is very efficient at absorbing amino acids. Dipeptides (two amino acids linked together via the amino group of one and the acid group of the other) are especially well absorbed thanks to a dedicated transport system found in cells of the intestinal wall. When mineral atoms are strongly bonded (i.e., chelated) to dipeptides, they get dragged by the dipeptides across the intestinal lining and into the body.
Minerals that enter the body in an inorganic (non-chelated) form do not efficiently pass through the lining of the intestines, and we eliminate them as waste through our kidneys and digestive system.
What to look for
Now you know why chelated minerals are so important. They are bio-available to your body, and your horse’s, and can be utilized to improve health and performance.
1. Always look for amino acid chelates on your nutritional labels.
2. Avoid comparing the amounts of chelated and non-chelated minerals listed on ingredient labels. You won’t be comparing apples to apples. For instance, if you think that 500 mg of non-chelated calcium looks better and more powerful than 250 mg of chelated calcium, you will be mistaken.
3. Search for products with a proper balance of chelated minerals. Minerals interact with one another in the body. Too much of one will lead to a deficiency of others that compete with it, creating an out-of-balance situation in the body. The balance of minerals is a complicated topic best left for another article; the important thing is that you look through the ingredients and make sure you find at least one chelated form of each mineral (or most of them).
Be a smart consumer
As you can imagine, the chelation process makes the production of mineral supplements more costly. Non-chelated, non-bio-available mineral supplements may be less expensive – but they’re not useful to the body. In order to draw consumers, or offer a product that boosts only one or two minerals to achieve a specific result, manufacturers often use only a few chelated minerals. They then refer to their product as containing amino acid chelates. But since only a few of the minerals are bio-available and absorbed by the body, you are creating an imbalance by using these products. Imbalances result in mineral deficiencies, so this is something to be very cautious of when researching supplements for yourself and your horse.
Producers of animal feeds are notorious for offering chelated forms of copper in their foods. This gives the animals a briefly healthy “bloom” in the coat color. Many old-timers in sale barns used a similar technique by putting pennies in the water buckets for a few weeks before a sale. This would give the horses a brighter coat color for a short time and make them more appealing to potential buyers. However, as the body continued to absorb copper without an appropriate matching amount of zinc, the “sister” mineral to copper, the new owners began to see signs of a zinc deficiency, such as poor hoof quality, decreased coat condition, and wood chewing behavior. Horses low in zinc also often lick or rub their teeth on galvanized steel gates as they seek more zinc.
To keep your horse and yourself healthy and happy, you need to fully understand what you’re putting into your bodies. Always read nutrition labels – what looks good on the outside may not be so great on the inside!