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Research Update: Joint Supplements for HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · June 1, 2017

Considering joint disease (osteoarthritis, OA) remains a leading cause of discomfort, disability, and loss of function in horses, many owners will try whatever is necessary to provide relief. Joint supplements continue to lead the way in nutritional supplement sales, with the majority of horses involved in competition receiving these products. Alas, the quality of joint supplements can vary markedly depending on the ingredients and manufacturer, and researchers still struggle to “prove” these supplements work, despite the fact that many owners perceive they have a beneficial effect.

“A multimodal approach to managing OA currently involves the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like bute, corticosteroids, and joint supplements, among others, depending on the horse and the work asked of it,” noted Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

“Products containing glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and hyaluronic acid continue to reign among the most popular supplements. Studies show that these ingredients help decrease inflammation through multiple pathways and provide molecular precursors to cartilage cells to help build new, healthy cartilage in arthritic joints,” Crandell explained.  

Much of the research conducted in this field involves analyzing one or two ingredients only, and studies involving combinations of products remain scarce.

Recently, researchers* from the Comparative Orthopaedic Research Laboratories at The Ohio State University compared the effects of hyaluronic acid (HA) alone and when HA was combined with N-acetyl-d-glucosamine (NAG, a form of glucosamine) and chondroitin sulfate (CS) in an in vitro study. The researchers demonstrated that:

  • Synovial cell cultures (those that line the joints and produce joint fluid) had significantly better survivability and lower concentrations of inflammatory mediators and degradative enzymes when treated with HA or a combination of HA-NAG-CS in an arthritis/synovitis model;
  • When used prior to an inflammatory event, both HA and the HA-NAG-CS combination had a protective effect on the cells; and
  • While HA-NAG-CS had a greater anti-inflammatory effect than HA alone, both products had a protective effect.

“KER offers a product that contains both glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, KER•Flex, that can easily be combined with Synovate HA, which contains hyaluronic acid. In addition, studies support supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids such as EO•3, to support joint health,” Crandell advised. In Australia, look for Glucos-A-Flex.

Other ingredients currently being assessed for protecting joint health include lubricin, blue-green algae, and curcumin.

*Kilborne, A.H., H. Hussein, A.L. Bertone. 2017. Effects of hyaluronan alone or in combination with chondroitin sulfate and N-acetyl-d-glucosamine on lipopolysaccharide challenge-exposed equine fibroblast-like synovial cells. American Journal of Veterinary Research. 78(5):579-588.