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How Inflammatory Is Your Horse's Diet?By Kentucky Equine Research Staff · September 15, 2016

Over time, widespread inflammation causes injury to various body systems in humans, manifesting in various ways such as cancer, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, inflammatory bowel syndrome, asthma, and even depression. While systemic inflammation can be caused by a number of factors, diet has been identified as one of the most important contributors to inflammation and ultimately disease.

Recognizing that diet plays a key role in inflammation and disease in human medicine, researchers* designed and developed a tool to measure the inflammatory potential of a diet. This tool is now widely referred to as the “dietary inflammatory index” or DII.

The DII calculates a numeric value that indicates a diet’s inflammatory potential. The calculation assesses 45 different dietary components, either whole foods or individual components, as well as the impact of those foods or food components on both pro- and anti-inflammatory molecules, such as interleukins, and C-reactive protein.

For example, the consumption of trans or saturated fats, carbohydrates, and cholesterol all were assigned positive or pro-inflammatory scores, whereas consumption of garlic, niacin, and omega-3 fatty acids were assigned negative pro-inflammatory scores. Based on the 45 dietary components, scores ranging from -8.87 to +7.98 were calculated, with the more positive scores indicative of a more inflammatory diet.

One of the ultimate goals of this tool was for researchers, doctors, and patients to make important changes to their diets to decrease their DII and ultimately reduce their risk of disease**.

“Although animal models and studies were included in the development of the DII, the index has not yet been validated in horses. Nonetheless, important findings from the DII studies certainly point to dietary alterations that would benefit horses, especially horses suffering from heaves, metabolic syndrome, and other inflammatory conditions,” noted Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., an equine nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

Consulting with an equine nutritionist is a valuable way of ensuring your horse’s diet is complete, balanced, and appropriate. A healthy equine diet should not have excessive energy, protein, or other nutrients, and it should include anti-inflammatory feedstuffs such as omega-3 fatty acids such as those found in EO•3.

*Shivappa, N, S.E. Steck, T.G. Hurley, et al. 2014. Designing and developing a literature-derived, population-based dietary inflammatory index. Public Health Nutrition. 17(8):1689-1696.

**Tabung, F.K., S.E. Steck, J. Zhang, et al. Longitudinal changes in the dietary inflammatory index: An assessment of the inflammatory potential of diet over time in postmenopausal women. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In press.