Does Spirulina benefit horses with EMS?

[Poland] Researchers know that equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) is a growing—and dangerous—problem facing horses and ponies. As such, they’re working continually to find solutions to help lower affected equids’ risk of developing side effects such as obesity and laminitis.

Research studies have revealed that EMS might be linked to intestinal inflammation. So, a team of researchers in Poland recently tested whether blue-green algae (Spirulina platensis)—known for its anti-inflammatory effects—could help horses with EMS.

In a two-party study, the team investigated the in vitro (in the laboratory) application of a Spirulina extract on adipose (fat)-derived mesenchymal cells (ASCs), found in fatty tissue, and intestinal epithelial cells (IECs, the first-line cells exposed to dietary compounds) from EMS horses. The researchers also performed an in vivo (in the live horse) experiment to determine how Spirulina supplementation impacts insulin resistance in EMS horses.

“The antioxidative effect of Spirulina seems to play a fundamental role in the insulin sensitivity process,” noted Krzysztof Marycz, PhD, DSc, head of the Wroclaw University of Environmental and Life Sciences Department of Experimental Biology.

For the in vitro experiment, the team separated 12 donor horses into two groups containing both healthy and EMS horses. From all horses the team collected adipose tissue samples from the tail base and cultured IECs before exposing them to Spirulina extract. They found that the algae extract had several positive effects, including:

  • Enhanced ASC and IEC growth;
  • Reduced extracellular nitric oxide (an inflammatory mediator) secretion; and
  • Increased mitochondrial survival rates in both ASCs and IECs.

For the in vivo experiment, the team employed 18 horses of varying breeds and separated them into three groups for a three-month treatment:

  • A control group of healthy horses received control feed (hay pellets);
  • A control group of EMS horses received control feed; and
  • An experimental group of EMS horses (all of which were obese with body condition scores, or BCS, of 8 or 9 on a 9-point scale) received pelleted Spirulina instead of the control feed.

All horses received timothy hay and ad libitum water, but no other supplements.

The team found that, compared to the control diet, Spirulina supplementation led to significant weight loss, reduced BCS, and reduced fasting insulin levels. Additionally, glucose and insulin tests administered before and after the experimental period revealed that five of the six EMS horses in the Spirulina group tested negative for EMS after three months of supplementation.

It’s important to note that blue-green algal blooms can contain toxins harmful to both horses and humans. However, when produced properly, products containing Spirulina and some other blue-green algae extracts can be safe for equine consumption.

“The source of Spirulina is crucial since there are reports from the U.S. that Spirulina from that region might be contaminated,” Marycz said. “It’s crucial to precisely investigate Spirulina before its application in feed protocol for EMS horses.”

Next, the team plans to study the effect of Spirulina on fatty tissue metabolism.

The study, “Spirulina platensis Improves Mitochondrial Function Impaired by Elevated Oxidative Stress in Adipose-Derived Mesenchymal Stromal Cells (ASCs) an Intestinal Epithelial Cells (IECs), and Enhances Insulin Sensitivity in Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) Horses,” was published in Marine Drugs.

 

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