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A Horseman's Guide to Joint and Tendon Supplements
An increasing number of products claiming to help joint pains can be confusing and needs to be put in perspective.
When choosing a treatment or nutritional joint supplement for heat and pain, you must first decide whether you are looking for a 'temporary feel good' or whether you want to solve the problem causing heat and pain.
Drugs, including most herbs, which claim to help joint problems or arthritis, can quiet pain effectively and quickly. However to rebuild tissue through good nutrition, enough for the pain to stop, can take 6-12 weeks. Pain, unpleasant as it is, serves a very important purpose. It tells the rest of the body something is wrong.
The natural response for a horse is to favour the painful joint, and redistribute the workload to other joints. A damaged joint not rested will certainly get worse. At the same time the immune system kicks in supplying more blood and therefore more nutrients to the joint so that it can repair faster. This process causes heat and swelling, but the joint is healing naturally.
Just normal use over time can lead to joint degeneration and breakdown. This is accelerated in the athlete or with hard work. Normally smooth cartilage becomes rough due to the loss of chondrocytes. These are the cells that make cartilage, connective tissue and fluid for the joint. Without the normal production of synovial fluid or connective tissue pain and heat become apparent.
The aim therefore is to feed the supplement that provides the building blocks necessary for natural production of synovial fluid and connective tissue, sufficient for all the joints within the body.
Back to the 'temporary feel good'. Traditional medicine uses drugs and herbals. Herbals are plant drugs. They are administered either orally or by injection to mask pain or change the way the body normally functions. The immune system is modified to stop the inflammatory process which in turn slows healing and pain is not recognised.
The main types of drugs used are steroids (e.g. Cortisone, Prednisone) and NSAid's (eg. Banamine, Phenylabutazone, Ibuprofen, Ketofen or even Aspirin).
The herbals, don't be misled by 'all natural' or 'organic', are plants that contain chemicals to deter insects and animals that want to eat them. Some act like steroids and others attack the immune system. Depending on quantity and type some herbs can cause death, abortion, seizures and changes to the nervous system. Some herbs also have antibiotic and antifungal properties.
Common herbals promoted for joint pain are Yucca that contains steroid saponins. Devils Claw, reported to decrease pain, not inflammation, but has chemicals similar in structure to steroids and can also cause abortion. Boswellia, Snakesroot and Willowbark which have chemicals that act as NSAid's but are also known to cause gastric ulcers. Bromelain an enzyme of pineapple shown to reduce some swelling but can cause allergies and eat away at the gastro-intestinal tract.
The risks here are that these chemicals interfere with the way tissues are made and how they heal. Also if the pain is masked the healing joint is not favoured and rested. This slows healing and increases the risk of further injury. But most importantly drugs like the above decrease the joints ability to use sulphur. Sulphur through mitochondria gives connective tissue its elastic strength.
In contrast to drugs we have nutrition.
Nutrition is the science of 'feeding the basics' that the body needs to function properly and build its own different tissues. Surgery is only needed when a piece of cartilage is loose and needs to be removed or support structures are physically separated and need to be repaired.
Nutritional supplements can help connective tissue grow and heal. Young horses and horses in work are putting great stress on their joints and need to dig deep into their nutritional reserves. They can sure use the additional support. With age joints wear out naturally faster than they are repaired.
In the 1950's it was found that eating ground up connective tissue like gelatin and shark cartilage could help relieve problems associated with arthritis. Scientists identified the most helpful substance to be the Chondroitin Sulphates. But the molecular size range was huge, some 50 times larger than others and only 8-10% of the smallest were able to be taken up and processed by the blood; poor bio-availability.
In the 1970's research focussed on the much smaller and more efficient synovial building block Glucosamine Sulphate. This was found to have improved bio-availability and after 4 hours even measured in the chondrocytes. Remember them, they are the cells that make cartilage, connective tissue and fluid for the joints. But be aware both Chondroiten and Glucosamine are animal biproducts and probably originated from a chicken, pig or shark.
There are several different types of Glucosamine used in supplements. N-acetyl-glucosamine is one proven not bio-available and Glucosamine HCI is unstable and at time of writing, has no proof of bio-availability, so be careful in your selection. If you do decide on a Glucosamine combination keep a sharp eye out for skin rash.
Then we arrive at the more recent injectables, including Adequan, Legend and Hyaluronic Acid. They are not steroids but provide high concentrations of basic building blocks when injected into the vein, muscle or joint. These are not only expensive but joints need to be fed everyday.
Now this is important. A lack of sulphur will cause the production of connective tissue to stop.
So let's weigh this up. Drugs and herbals give 'temporary feel good' and decrease the joints ability to use sulphur. Chondroitin, Glucosamine and those injectables give 'basic building blocks' but stop production without sulphur. How important is sulphur?
Sulphur makes up 0.25% of a horses body weight and sulphur gives all connective tissue elastic strength. In a normal situation a horse would use about 9 grams of sulphur a day. But of course when the body demands synovial healing the usage of sulphur is far higher.
When supplementing with 'basic building blocks' remember it is sulphur that is needed to drive the whole process?
The simple answer has been that sulphur doesn't dissolve and is therefore extremely difficult to make it bio-available for supplement form. There are however two such supplements, MSM and Haarlem Oil.
MSM is methylsulphonylmethane, it can occur naturally but is usually presented in powdered or crystallised form. The downside of MSM is that the body must dispose of the extra unwanted chemicals once the small sulphur component is taken up.
Haarlem Oil is 16% sulphur. Its origins date back 400years. In the 1980's it was proven highly bio-available. It is stable and a powerful antioxidant S.O.D. In the 1990's studies of the molecular structure measured the purity of sulphur up to the highest S8. When you hear the words Spavin and Navicular disease think sulphur.
There are added bonuses when supplementing sulphur.
Sulphur together with B group vitamins helps the energy metabolism. It is an essential part of the synthesis of ATP.
Sulphur protects vitaminC at the level of the kidneys by way of Glutathion providing an anti-inflammatory action, a kidney flush.
Sulphur is essential for the elimination of toxins by way of PAPS, Taurins and bile.
Sulphur is a key regulator of mucus.
The antiseptic properties of the oil in Haarlem Oil are multiplied in the lungs and respiratory tract by the sulphur. Haarlem Oil is already well known as an effective treatment for respiratory tract infection.