The vicious cycle of stress and illness in horses: how chromium can help

Just like in humans, prolonged stress can lead to illness in horses. Let’s take a look at how supplementing with chromium can minimize the negative effects of stress and maximize health.

Stress and illness are two things that many of us have dealt with over the past year. Together, however, they create a vicious circle that may magnify the impact of each.

What is stress?

Stress is defined as a biological or psychological response to new or threatening circumstances such as extreme weather, travel, exercise, disease challenges and more. In horses, as in humans, stress results in the release of the hormone cortisol. In the short term, this cortisol release is beneficial as it can help the horse deal with whatever adversity he is facing. Over the long-term, however, elevated cortisol levels can lead to an array of issues such as diarrhea, gastric ulcers, aggressive behavior and inhibition of the immune system.1

Stress, cortisol and immunity

The inhibitory impact on the immune system is why it seems that we, and our horses, often become ill after an extended period of stress. Continued, elevated cortisol levels have been found to suppress lymphocyte proliferation or growth.1 Lymphocytes are one of the front-line immune cells that attack foreign invaders such as bacteria or viruses. This suppression reduces the body’s ability to fight off infections leading to an increased risk of disease.

Another result of elevated cortisol is an increased level of proinflammatory cytokines. These cytokines are typically part of the immune response and are secreted to play a role in fighting off infections or repairing an injury. At high levels, these cytokines can create a body-wide inflammatory response leading to conditions such as anxiety, obesity or insulin resistance.2 If the immune response becomes dysregulated or overshoots what is needed, these elevated levels can result in a cytokine storm leading to several systemic health issues.

Insulin resistance can have several negative health and performance implications – one of them is limiting immune cells’ ability to properly utilize glucose. When at “rest,” immune cells can use a variety of different energy sources. However, when activated due to an immune response, they become completely reliant on glucose to fuel their function.3 If the ability of an immune cell to take up glucose is limited, the overall immune response is lessened – making it more difficult for your horse to fight off a disease challenge.

The benefits of chromium

So, what nutritional approaches can you take to help your horse? Feeding chromium daily can help reduce the negative impacts that stress has on your horse, and in turn, support immune function. Chromium provides a one-two punch: 1) it has been shown to reduce cortisol levels by up to 25 percent, thereby reducing the negative impacts of stress on behavior, digestive issues and immune function;4 and 2) chromium propionate has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity, improving cells’ ability to utilize glucose.5  By maximizing the ability of immune cells to use glucose, the horse can mount a more significant immune response to infection or disease. It’s not only immune cells that can benefit from improved glucose utilization, however, almost all cells – reproductive, muscle and others – rely on glucose to fuel their function.

FDA-reviewed KemTRACE® Chromium – the first product of its kind on the market – is a highly bioavailable source of chromium that helps improve glucose utilization and reduce the negative impacts of stress leading to increased cellular energy and function. This results in improved upkeep, health, immunity, growth and performance of your horse.


  1. Malinowski, K., Ph.D. (n.d.). Stress management for equine athletes. Retrieved February 08, 2021, from
  2. Loving, N., DVM. (2021, January 22). It’s all connected: Bodywide inflammation in horses. Retrieved February 08, 2021, from
  3. Palsson-McDermott, E. M. and L. A. O’Neill. (2013). The Warburg effect then and now: From cancer to inflammatory diseases. Bioessays. 35:965-973.
  4. Pagan, J. D., S. G. Jackson and S. E. Duren. (1995). The effect of chromium supplementation on metabolic response to exercise in thoroughbred horses.
  5. Spears, J. W., Lloyd, K. E., Siciliano, P., Pratt-Phillips, S., Goertzen, E. W., McLeod, S. J., . . . Rounds, W. (2020). Chromium propionate increases insulin sensitivity in horses following oral and intravenous carbohydrate administration. Journal of Animal Science, 98(4). doi: