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Horse Health and Lameness; Nitric Oxide and Circulation

The horse is just as predisposed to health ailments or lameness associated conditions as any human or athlete.  A high majority of these health and lameness conditions are directly linked back to chronic inflammation on many levels.  Nitric oxide plays an important role in over horse health and lameness. It is an important gas that is produced within the body that impacts circulation, vascular health, and can be negatively impacted by many factors.  This reduction or alteration in nitric oxide production can play a role in many horse health and lameness conditions.  Is there something you can do about nitric oxide and circulation to aid in the recovery and overall health for your equine companion?

Nitric Oxide, Horse Health and Lameness
Nitric Oxide, Horse Health and Lameness

Nitric oxide (NO) is a colorless gas that is produced within the horse’s body as a result of interaction of the amino acid L-arginine, oxygen, and NADPH being converted to nitric oxide by various nitric oxide synthase enzymes.  Nitric oxide can also be formed in the body by the reduction of nitrates consumed via the diet or supplementation.  The discovery of nitric oxide and connection with cardiovascular health was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1998.  This molecule is vital for overall health and proper cardiovascular function and circulation.  Although it has a very short life span once produced, its involvement in cellular signaling can be crucial with the main function of enhancing blood vessel circulation.  This relaxation of blood vessels can aid in lower blood pressures but also can enhance overall circulation to various regions of the body in the horse.

The process of chronic inflammation can play a major role in nitric oxide production and function. Ongoing or persistent inflammation and oxidative stress in the body can reduce the amount of nitric oxide produced and the overall function of this molecule. In some cases, the normal pathway of nitric oxide production via amino acid L-arginine is impaired and can lower levels in the body.  Nitric oxide is important not just for cardiovascular health and circulation, but has also been shown to aid in reducing inflammation in the body.  Thus, if inflammation is present and nitric oxide production is impaired, the health and lameness conditions can be progressive and get worse over time.

Horse Health and Lameness Conditions Associated with Reduced Nitric Oxide

  • Laminitis
  • Navicular Syndrome
  • Performance / Stamina concerns
  • EIPH (exercise pulmonary hemorrhage)
  • Uveitis
  • Respiratory Conditions (COPD, IAD)
  • Poor Hoof Health
  • Muscular disorders (Tying Up, PSSM, Rhabdomyolosis)
  • Tendon Injuries/ Failure to Recover
  • Metabolic Related Conditions
  • Joint Dysfunction/ Arthritis
  • Gastrointestinal and Digestive Concerns
  • Cancer
  • Many Others…

Nitric oxide is involved in overall health and can be reduced during times of ongoing inflammation.  When nitric oxide production is reduced or function is impaired, health can be compromised.  This can contribute to more inflammation in the body, but can also directly impair circulation.  This impaired circulation can then impact tissue health, from the hoof to the eye, to the joint and tendon.  It is all connected.

Solutions for Impaired Nitric Oxide Production and Function

If there is chronic inflammation, more often than not you can assume that nitric oxide production is impaired on some level.  Considering how nitric oxide is produced in the body, our first assumption regarding a solution would be to supplement the amino acid L-arginine.  However, this is not always the answer.  In some cases, supplementation of pure L-arginine in the horse impaired other amino acids from being absorbed.  In this study, horses on pure L-arginine demonstrated reduced levels of lysine, methionine and many other amino acids. (Kelley, 2014).  This result was dose dependent, with the higher doses of L-arginine resulting in more impaired amino acid absorption.  One has to remember in this case, that amino acids are ideally consumed in balance, and that targeting or isolating one for supplementation can create imbalance.  This can then lead to further health ailments.  Ideally, if you choose amino acid supplementation, it is in balance, ideally with a complete protein source, to complete the amino acid profile.  This combination is provided in the Cur-OST EQ Topline formula.

Taking into consideration that chronic inflammation can impair the primary route of nitric oxide production, via L-arginine, a wiser choice may be to consider secondary routes of production.  The alternate route of nitric oxide production is through reduction of nitrates consumed in the diet. Nitrates are commonly found in many green food sources, but the levels of nitrates can vary significantly from one food source to the next.  These nitrates are almost instantly converted to nitrites, by bacteria found in the mouth, which are then further reduced and converted to nitric oxide.

Food Sources for Nitric Oxide Production in the Horse

Beets have been traditionally viewed as a main source of dietary nitrates.  They are just one food source that is high in nitrates, but the problem that comes with beets is that they are also high in sugars which can contribute to more health issues in some horses.  All vegetables will contain carbohydrates or sugars, but ideally they should be low.  There are many options or alternatives available.

All green food sources contain nitrates, which includes hays and pasture grasses.  These natural forage sources can provide nitrates, but their levels can vary from species of grass or hay due to weather, fertilization, and influence of moisture upon the plant.  Feeding the highest quality hay can aid in supplying natural nitrates, but sometimes this is not enough.

Supplementing nitrates in the diet through potent and concentrated natural food sources is ideal. For starters, this route can aid in supplying high levels of nitrates to benefit nitric oxide production, but you also gain added macro- and micronutrients that are present.  This includes vital protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.  This complete package can benefit the body, healing and recovery in more ways than one. 

My favorite food sources of nitrates for my equine patients include:

The two main products that we use to nutritionally support our equine patients, with a variety of conditions, are the Cur-OST EQ Nitric Boost and the Cur-OST EQ Rejuvenate.  These two products provide potent, concentrated sources of nitrates in their natural form along with vital macro- and micronutrients to support health.  The green spinach extract used in the Cur-OST EQ Nitric Boost is one of the most concentrated and potent sources of natural nitrates.

The Cur-OST EQ Nitric Boost has become one of my most common supplements, used as part of a proper supplement regimen, when supporting overall health and recovery in most of our laminitis, navicular, and ongoing tendon injury conditions.  In addition to whole food sources, one herb stands out for cardiovascular support and nitric oxide production, which is Hawthorn Leaf and Berry.  This is a long time revered herb for cardiovascular support in people and is very helpful in the horse for many types of situation.  Supplementation helps to enhance and support nitric oxide production through natural food source in those horse patients, which can benefit their health and recovery.

Nitric Oxide and Consideration for Horse Health and Injury Recovery

In most cases of health or lameness complaints in the horse, we tend to just focus on the problem at hand, whether if that be pain, performance concerns, or breathing issues.  Medications are prescribed to ease the pain, open airways or push performance, but they are not tackling other factors that are involved.  You cannot forget that other cellular processes are at work and many of these pathways are dysfunctional, which then push the process along.  Nitric oxide production is one such process, that is quickly ignored or not recognized, but yet heavily involved with many horse conditions.  Intervention to aid in nitric oxide production and function, along side of proper inflammation management can make all of the difference in many cases.


Author:  Tom Schell, D.V.M., CVCH, CHN




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