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Equine Nutritional Supplements: Understanding Label ClaimsBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · May 16, 2016

Many horse owners now consider nutritional supplements a staple in their horses’ diets. Did you know that choosing supplements should involve more than simply selecting the type of product your horse needs?

Why, you ask?

“Not all nutritional supplements are manufactured in a quality manner,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., an equine nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

For example, one recent study* reported that nutritional supplements continue to be produced and marketed that:

  • Are not properly labeled;
  • Have ingredient inaccuracies (i.e., do not contain the type or amount of ingredient listed on the label);
  • Are not free of contaminants (e.g., toxins or heavy metals), making them unsafe; and
  • Lack a reasonable body of data supporting their efficacy.

One important aspect of choosing an appropriate nutritional supplement is assessing “structure/function” claims on the product in question. As defined by Borchers and Gershwin in their review article*, these claims are used to describe the potential effects of a dietary ingredient or similar substance on the structure or function of the body to “supply consumers with reasonably substantiated information that would allow them to make educated choices about their diet and health.”

Three types of claims are typically found on nutritional supplements:

  1. Health claims that describe a relationship between a food substance and reduced risk of disease or health-related condition. Example: “Adequate calcium throughout life, as part of a well-balanced diet, may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.”
  2. Nutrient content claims that describe the level of a nutrient in relative terms. Example: “10 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per capsule.”
  3. Structure/function claims that describe the effect that a substance has on the body. Example: “Helps improve memory, promotes immune system health.”

Some products are available that use unqualified health claims, do not contain the type or amount of the nutrient that the content claim indicates, and use disease claims rather than health claims. Nutritional supplements are not permitted to suggest that the product treats, cures, mitigates, or reduces the risk of disease. Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is ultimately responsible for regulating nutritional supplements, veterinary products are low on the FDA’s priority list, explaining why poor-quality products sometimes slip through the cracks. It is therefore the onus of the owner to select a quality product.

“It is also important to appreciate that drug-nutrient-herb interactions can occur when using any nutritional supplement. All aspects of your horse’s diet as well as any medication he may be receiving, such as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for joint discomfort, must be considered when offering nutritional supplements,” reminded Crandell.

KER offers a variety of quality nutritional supplements to support horse health, and in-house researchers understand the importance of thoroughly testing a product before introducing it to the market. For example, EquiShure, a hindgut buffer created by KER, was tested for any undesirable effects, as well as efficacy in maintaining optimal hindgut pH, before distribution.

Need help assessing your horse’s diet and dietary needs? Click here to start a consultation with an equine nutrition advisor.

*Borchers, A.T., C.L. Keen, and M.E. Gershwin. The basis of structure/function claims of nutraceuticals. Clinical Reviews in Allergy & Immunology. In press.