Sunday, March 29, 2009

Kelp - Friend or Foe to Animals?

A lot has been written about the dangers of feeding kelp (seaweed) to animals (and humans). To quote Owens & Huntington in "What's in a Label", seaweed contains "lots of iodine and precious little of anything else". They warn of iodine toxicity, amongst other things.

Let me explain what nonsense that is. Firstly, kelp contains 46 minerals, 16 amino acids and 11 vitamins. Hardly” precious little of anything else”. Secondly, the level of iodine in a good batch of kelp is negligible. If fed correctly (15g per day) the level of iodine is way below toxic levels.

Juliette de Bairacli Levy was the first to recommend seaweed as a nutritional supplement for animals, in the 1930s. Veterinarians of the day mocked her suggestion, but today she has been proved to have been correct. Kelp is now widely used and accepted as a valuable and inexpensive feed supplement for all livestock including horses and dogs.

Kelp is: anti-inflammatory, demulcent, emollient, protective against radiation, anti-cancer, anti-tumour, antibiotic, immuno-stimulant, anti-viral and soothing to intestinal mucosa.
The alginates in kelp:
- assist in the prevention of absorption of toxic metals like mercury, cadmium, plutonium and cesium.
- protect the body against radiation.

In dogs, it is recommended by Martin Zucker (The Veterinarians’ Guide to Natural Remedies for Dogs”) for cancer, heart disease, mange, old age, stool eating and thyroid gland regulation.

Hilary Page Self (A Modern Horse Herbal) says that kelp is “used extensively for underactive thyroid, and as an excellent source of minerals for the body and used externally for compresses to reduce inflammation and arthritic pain.”

All in all, kelp is an excellent all-round supplement. Just be sure to obtain from a reliable source (like The Herbal Horse or The Herbal Pet). Kelp grown in polluted water can contain unacceptable levels of contaminants.

5-HTP versus Tryptophan

When your brain wants to send a message from one neuron to the next, it uses chemical substances called neurotransmitters. One of the major neurotransmitters in the brain is called serotonin. Studies in animals and humans have revealed that serotonin is responsible for feelings of well being, calmness, relaxation, confidence and concentration.

So, what happens if you don't have enough serotonin? Fear, aggression, anxiety. But serotonin deficiency is often simply due to dietary imbalances. Easy to fix.

This is how serotonin is made in the body:Tryptophan (an amino acid) is converted into 5-HTP (another amino acid) which in turn, is converted into serotonin (a neurotransmitter).

When we first started making herbal products, we formulated Calm mix using tryptophan. But we encountered a problem - the product seemed to become less effective with time.
A bit of research showed us where we were going wrong:
1. Tryptophan doesn't pass easily from the blood into the brain.
2. It is also used to make proteins - hence some of it is used elsewhere.
3. The liver breaks it down to a mildly toxic substance.
4. It feeds back on itself, and inhibits its own conversion to serotonin.

Because of these problems, we switched to using 5-HTP. 5-Hydroxy Tryptophan (5-HTP) is also a completely natural substance, derived from the seed pods of Griffonia, a West African plant. Side effects are very rare and 5-HTP has been shown to be VERY effective.

As far as I have seen, our Calm mix is the only product for horses which uses 5-HTP instead of tryptophan. This makes it a safer, more effective alternative.

It means that if you have a spooky, flighty horse or an overly aggressive dog, supplementation with Calm mix (for horses) or Serenity Formula (for dogs) might just help. Why don't you give it a try?

Protein and Making Muscles

What is Protein?

Your horse's body is made up of more than 100 000 different proteins. There are proteins in hair, in eyes, in blood, in muscle, in every single cell of your horse's body. Protein actually makes up about ¾ of the dry weight of most living cells. They are involved in many of the essential functions of life as nutrient carriers, enzymes, antibodies, etc.

Proteins are made up of smaller "building blocks" called amino acids. There are two types of amino acids - essential and non essential. Non essential amino acids can be manufactured by the body if they are needed. Essential amino acids must be provided in the diet as they can't be made in the horse's body.

Once a protein has been eaten, it is broken up by the body into these smaller molecules. Then the amino acids are dispatched to wherever they are needed in the body for protein synthesis.
Protein Synthesis Imagine a huge factory with DNA "workers" standing at a "conveyer belt" assembling protein molecules. (DNA, the molecule that forms genes, is coded with specific recipes for proteins - this determines what we look like, think like, what colour eyes we have, etc.) Along the "conveyer belt" come the amino acids that we have consumed. Each "worker" collects the amino acids he needs and puts them together according to the specific recipe encoded on the gene.

Limiting Amino Acids

What happens when a "worker" can't find the specific amino acid which he needs? Then protein synthesis simply stops. That protein can't be made. The amino acid which most often causes this problem is called lysine. It is known as the first limiting amino acid. The second limiting amino acid is usually threonine or tryptophan. This is why protein quality is of such utmost importance.

Protein Quality

When ordering your horse's feed from your supplier, you will probably ask for a 12% meal, or whichever version you feed. What exactly does this mean? The value refers to the total amount of protein in the food. The interesting thing is that it's not so much how much protein is in the feed that counts - it is the quality of that protein that is important.

In other words, some proteins are better than other proteins. The best protein, from a horse's point of view, is one in which the amino acid profile is exactly what the horse needs. So, the DNA "worker" described above has exactly what he needs to do his job - making a specific protein with none of the essential amino acids missing. Some proteins are of such low quality, they are totally useless and you might as well not feed them at all.


During hard training, the equine athlete will damage muscle tissue as a result of lactic acid production and over exertion. These damaged tissues need to be repaired as soon as possible. This, of course, is a process that requires protein synthesis. As does the building up of muscle tissue from scratch when training.

Growing horses also need much more protein and amino acids than average.

If your horse fits one of these categories - building muscle, growing or in hard work, it would be wise to supplement his diet with a source of amino acids and proteins. The Herbal Horse products which are suitable are: Sport Horse mix, Endurance mix.

Thiamine - a Contradiction in Terms

Thiamine, otherwise known as Vitamin B1, is an interesting vitamin from the standpoint of horses. It is used in the horse world for two main reasons, which may appear at first glance to be contradictory: providing energy and calming.


During exercise, a compound called pyruvate is formed. Now, pyruvate can end up as lactic acid, which builds up in muscles and causes stiffness and muscle fatigue. Thiamine helps to stop pyruvate becoming lactic acid by converting it to Acetyl Co A. Studies by Topliff et al (1981) suggest that an exercising horse may need twice the thiamine that a non-working horse needs.


Another important function of thiamine is the transmission of impulses along nerves. So, a thiamine deficient horse will be irritable, nervous, jumpy, easily distracted and difficult to work with. Sometimes, supplementation with thiamine will help correct problems like these. Other times, it could be some other problem – genetic, training or other nutritional problems.


Often the thiamine deficient horse is not an undernourished horse. On the contrary, thiamine deficiency often occurs in horses on high carbohydrate rations with rigid work loads.


Thiamine is a water-soluble vitamin, and so supplementation up to 1000mg per day is very safe. Excess is simply eliminated by the kidneys.

Herbs in Competition

The new zero tolerance attitude to drug use in competition horses is both welcome and overdue. I'm sure that most of us agree that riding a horse that requires medication in order to be considered sound is both dangerous and cruel.

As a company which sells herbal products for horses, we are inundated with queries from people confused as to what is banned and what is not banned. Natural products are foremost in the confusion.

Let's start with what is not banned.

Vitamins, minerals, traditional feedstuff ingredients as well as anything traditionally grazed by a horse are not banned. Endogenous substances (substances produced by or present in the horse's own body, naturally) in normal concentrations are not banned. Certain drugs are legal up to specific threshold limits (for more details on this, contact SANEF or ERASA).

Herbal products enter a bit of a grey area. The FEI actually states that the use of herbal products in competition is not recommended. The reason for this statement is twofold:

1. Herbal products are not as regulated as pharmaceutical products. This has resulted in some unscrupulous manufacturers illegally including pharmaceuticals such as bute, anabolic steroids, caffeine, etc. into their formulations without listing them as ingredients on the label. So, innocent riders have fed their horses what they believe to be harmless and legal products and have ended up faced with positive test results!

2. Some herbs themselves contain banned substances. An excellent example of this is the Chinese herb, Ephedra. Sold as an energy tonic, Ephedra actually contains ephedrine, a potent and potentially harmful stimulant. Another example of this is when a trainer, several years ago had a stable yard full of horses testing positive for caffeine. An investigation revealed that the feed manufacturer had switched to using cocoa husks in his feed. Cocoa, of course, contains caffeine, hence the positive result.

The moral of this story is to always choose a reputable brand of herbal products. The Herbal Horse products are safe and do NOT contain any added undeclared drugs. For specific queries, please feel free to contact me at any time.

Sweet Itch

Sweet Itch is an allergic reaction by horses to the saliva of the biting midge Culicoides. Previously prevalent in ponies in the northern hemisphere, Sweet Itch is becoming more and more widespread.

Culicoides is a blood-sucking midge found in wet, marshy areas or in dew or raindrops during the summer months. Once the horse is bitten, small intensely itchy lumps appear on the skin, usually along the horse's back, belly, mane and tail. Because they are so itchy, the horse will often develop secondary skin eruptions and infections after vigorously rubbing or biting the itchy lumps.

The important thing to remember when dealing with Sweet Itch is, if your horse is prone, try to use preventative measures such as:

- Keep the horse stabled during dawn, dusk and hot, humid days
- Use an effective fly repellent
- Feed herbs which strengthen the immune system and cleanse the blood - eg. Garlic, Kelp, Echinacea (Immune mix from The Herbal Horse contains these herbs)
- If your horse already has Sweet Itch, the following may help (always remember to check any alternative remedies with your vet):
- Garlic, Kelp and Echinacea will help speed recovery
- Apple Cider Vinegar can be given internally (30 ml per day) as well as used as a rinse externally (2 tablespoons in a litre of water). Do not use the rinse if the lesions are rubbed open, as the vinegar will sting.
- On open lesions, apply an ointment containing calendula or propolis.

A homeopathic remedy called Culicoides midge, made from the midge itself be helpful. Consult a homeopath to prescribe this.

No Foot, No Horse - Calling Biotin

Biotin is part of a group of vitamins called "water-soluble vitamins". These vitamins are exactly that - soluble in water. Biotin is the only water-soluble vitamin that has brought about obvious visible changes in horses thought to be perfectly healthy.

The problem with biotin is twofold:
1. It occurs in natural feedstuffs in very small amounts
2. Sometimes, even when present in the feed, it is unavailable for digestion by the horse. For example, the biotin in wheat, barley and oats is not digestible. But the biotin contained in maize, soya and fresh grass is digestible.

The visible changes that biotin brought about occurred mostly in the feet of the experimental horses. Bad hooves are extremely common in domesticated horses. One survey reported that 28% of horses investigated had some type of hoof problem.

Hooves were found to be:
- weak,
- misshapen,
- cracked,
- crumbly,
- or separating from the sole.

Most of the owners of these horses didn't know the reason for these problems.

Many of these cases responded extremely well to supplementation of 15mg of biotin per day. This is much more than was considered the recommended daily allowance.

The horn of the hoof is composed primarily of protein, which is made up of amino acids. This is why a lot of hoof supplements also contain methionine, an amino acid necessary for hoof growth. It is also a source of bioavailable sulphur. Calcium deficiency should also be avoided for optimum hoof growth.

It is also essential that the hooves are properly shaped and trimmed on a regular basis (every six weeks). Long, unpared hooves exert excessive pressure on the heels. This restricts blood flow, impeding adequate nutrition of the foot, leading to poor quality and crumbly unsatisfactory growth of walls, sole and frog.