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High-Fat, High-Fiber Diets May Help Horses with Insulin DysregulationBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · July 6, 2017

The world of equine nutrition has changed dramatically since the discovery and widespread dissemination of information regarding insulin dysregulation and equine metabolic syndrome (EMS).

How? We now know, for example, that in certain horses normal amounts of insulin no longer maintain blood sugar levels in acceptable ranges. In these horses, more and more insulin needs to be produced to maintain appropriate blood sugar levels. Further, the tissues that absorb sugar from the bloodstream for energy, like muscle, don’t do so as efficiently as they once did. As a result, horses suffering from insulin dysregulation often have elevated sugar and insulin levels, which negatively impact almost every organ system in the body, including hooves. As we know, laminitis—a separation of the sensitive tissues in the hoof—is a hallmark of insulin dysregulation and EMS, causing pain, loss of use, decreased quality of life, and monetary losses.

Researchers have spent considerable time crafting diets for horses either suffering from or susceptible to insulin dsyregulation and therefore EMS. Most recently, one research team found that a muesli-based diet*, high in both fat and fiber (FF), did not result in increased glucose or insulin blood levels after being fed with hay. In contrast, horses fed an oat-based diet high in starch had significantly higher blood glucose and insulin levels.

Another interesting observation made during this study was that horses fed the oat-based diet consumed their food faster and had a higher chewing frequency than horses fed the FF diet. In addition to the elevated sugar and insulin levels, both of those behaviors could negatively impact the health of horses, such as contributing to gastric ulceration. Whenever possible, horses should be discouraged from bolting their feed.

Based on their study results, the researchers concluded, “Plasma glucose tended to decline following the intake of FF, which might be beneficial for equines with reduced glucose tolerance.”

If you are wondering if a diet high in fat and fiber might be warranted for your horse and whether such a diet will provide sufficient energy for the work asked of it, contact a Kentucky Equine Research (KER) nutrition advisor today.

“Any owner concerned that their horse might be suffering insulin dysregulation should consider supplements designed especially for the metabolic horse,” advised Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., a nutrition advisor for Kentucky Equine Research (KER). Suitable products include a marine-derived omega-3 supplement such as EO•3 to counteract bodywide inflammation and a time-released buffer, like EquiShure, to maintain healthy pH in the hindgut.

*Bochnia, M., C. Schürer, J. Gottschalk, et al. 2017. Effects of isoenergetic quantities of a low-starch muesli feed high in fat and fibre vs. oat grains on the glycemic and insulinemic responses and feed intake patterns in sport ponies. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition (Berl). 101 Suppl 1:43-50.