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Equine Osteoarthritis: Is Lubricin the Cure?By Kentucky Equine Research Staff · February 8, 2017

Everyone has experienced the creaking and soreness associated with exercise. Oh, the stiffness and aches! It’s likely your horse does, too. Use of anti-inflammatory drugs, such as phenylbutazone, in horses often helps but certainly does not cure osteoarthritis. In fact, there is no cure for the painful degeneration of the cartilage inside joints despite years of research on the subject.

Recognizing the impact of joint disease in horses, a group of Swedish researchers recently took a stab at addressing the age-old problem of alleviating osteoarthritis. They discovered that lubricin, a naturally-occurring proteoglycan produced by cells within joints, plays an integral role in maintaining frictionless movement through joint lubrication and could potentially provide musculoskeletal salvation to arthritic horses.

"True to its name, lubricin plays an important role in lubricating joints,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research (KER), located in Versailles, Kentucky.

“In normal synovial fluid, lubricin molecules have both protein and sugar components that function together for smooth, pain-free movement. In arthritic joints, however, alterations to the lubricin molecules occur, and aberrant molecules can actually contribute to inflammation, pain, and exacerbation of cartilage breakdown.”

Further, studies show that lubricin injected into joints affected with osteoarthritis improves cartilage and preserves cartilage cell function.

According to the researchers, “Because no drug-based, disease-modifying therapy exists for osteoarthritis, lubricin could be a promising pharmaceutical candidate; hence, the properties of lubricin in normal and diseased equine joints needs to be further assessed.”

“Joint health remains one of the most pressing issues affecting longevity, considering that joint disease, such as osteoarthritis, continues to plague horses as a leading cause of decreased athleticism, chronic pain, and attrition,” reminded Crandell. “Having a new option to manage osteoarthritis or even cure this devastating condition would be invaluable.”

Consider one or more of the following nutritional supplements for horses with osteoarthritis:

  • Synovate HA, a high-molecular weight sodium hyaluronate supplement that, like lubricin, facilitates smooth, frictionless joint movement. (Available in the U.S. and other regions.)
  • KER•Flex, a palatable, top-dressed supplement suitable for all classes of athletic horses, as well as older, arthritic horses with slow progression of arthritis. (Available in the U.S. and other regions.)
  • Glucos-A-Flex, a broad-spectrum joint supplement that provides vital nutrients for optimal function. (Available in Australia.)
  • EO•3, a marine-derived oil that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including EPA and DHA, known to protect joints in athletic horses. (Available worldwide.)

*Svala E, C. Jin, U. Rüetschi, et al. 2017. Characterization of lubricin in synovial fluid from horses with osteoarthritis. Equine Veterinary Journal. 49(10)116-123.