Dr Doug English, an Australian vet, has had some very good results from suggesting to his clients to add turmeric to their animals diet. He is often requested to provide more information on the benefits of turmeric for animals. In this article on turmeric for horses, Dr English provides readers of Hoofbeats (an Australian Horse magazine) a good understanding on why they should consider feeding turmeric to their horses…….
A spice commonly found in most households is proving to have health benefits for humans and horses.
Everyone has a few jars of spices tucked into their pantry, at the ready to enhance the flavour of their cooking. Many spice racks will include a jar of turmeric, a spice well known for its golden yellow colour and commonly used as a component in curry powder and added to curries, dhals, pilafs, chutneys and pickles.
For thousands of years it has been, and is still, a very important element in Indian medicines and is now widely used as a herbal medicine for people, horses and other animals.
According to the oldest existing veterinary text from India – a treatise entitled Asvayurvedasiddhanta (complete Ayurvedic system for horses; probably earlier than the 10th century AD) – the whole turmeric root can be relied upon to treat the following in horses: mouth blisters, sprains, internal parasites, skin disease, constipation, internal injury, eye diseases, wounds, external parasites, sprains, mastitis, cough, cold, bone fracture, heatstroke, wounds, haematuria (the presence of blood in the urine), colic and other gastrointestinal dysfunctions.
More recently, turmeric has been fed to horses to help with a number of health conditions including Queensland itch, arthritis and age problems but there is little data on long term equine or dog use.
While research into its effects on a number of human health conditions has been conducted, with researchers publishing in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry their finding that curcumin has anti-cancer, anti-inflammation, anti-oxidant and anti-infective properties, and that it is possible that sustained consumption over time may help protect against infection, especially in the stomach and the intestines, few studies have focused on the effects of turmeric on horses. Those that have include Dr Juliet Getty’s findings that feeding turmeric to laboratory animals suffering from Type II diabetes (which involves insulin resistance) resulted in weight reduction and increased glucose utilisation.
Over three years ago the Tumeric User Group Facebook page was set up for people to post their experiences with feeding animals turmeric and turmeric for horses and the data is continually collated for the www.turmericlife.com.au website. Contributors have spiralled past 170,000 users from all over the world and there have been thousands of stories and videos posted of once arthritic horses literally bucking and feeling great.
Turmeric Lips - Image by Kim Clayphan
Being a vegetable food turmeric is accepted well by most horses with no side effects other than normal gut adjustments to a new food. It combines well with and accentuates the effects of antibiotics, steroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and the drugs used in Cushing’s disease. Diabetic animals fed turmeric’s active ingredient, curcumin, have been shown to not only have had a significant reduction of blood cholesterol levels but also of blood triglycerides and phospholipids (elevated levels of both are associated with the characteristic of diabetes).
Horse owners and natural practitioners have also found that there is evidence that turmeric acts similar to drugs like phenylbutazone (bute) without any side effects and can reduce skin and arthritic inflammation by reducing two of the major inflammatory mediators: prostaglandins and leukotrienes, the other major inflammatory mediator (which NSAIDs do not assist).
Useful for founder cases, as it can increase hoof growth and lower limb circulation, curcumin exhibits anticoagulant effects – allowing blood to flow correctly and inhibiting abnormal blood clot formation. This does mean however, that if major surgery is planned then high doses of turmeric should be avoided during the days prior (short acting effect), due to the possible risk of increased bleeding. Curcumin’s healing properties are useful for illness and injuries, especially those involving the tendon and hoof.
Turmeric is a herb that riders and horses can benefit form as it is reported to increase vitality and wellness by stimulating enzyme activity of body cells and healthy liver. It also may increase the body’s ability to reduce free radicals. Glutathione levels are increased several times and this is the major antioxidant produced by animal cells directly neutralising free radicals and reactive oxygen compounds, which cause inflammation.
There is some suggestion that turmeric can interfere with iron absorption but there is little evidence to demonstrate this as it has a liver-protecting action, in that it both prevents and repairs liver damage.
TURMERIC & CANCER
Various studies have demonstrated either turmeric (as a whole food or extract) or curcumin/curcuminoids (as isolates) to have beneficial results in preventing or treating a wide range of cancers. These include skin, ovarian, breast, lung, oral, stomach, liver, colon and prostate cancers. According to Cancer Research UK a number of laboratory studies on cancer cells have shown that curcumin does have anticancer effects. It seems to be able to kill cancer cells and prevent more from growing. It has the best effects on breast cancer, bowel cancer, stomach cancer and skin cancer cells. They report that these studies look promising but more clinical trials in humans are needed to know if curcumin has any potential to treat cancer in people. A trial is currently under way in Puerto Rico to find out whether curcumin can shrink precancerous growths in patients with a genetic disorder that greatly increases their risk of bowel cancer.
According to Cancer Research UK a number of laboratory studies on cancer cells have shown that curcumin does have anticancer effects.
As the studies on people progress there is growing interest for increased research on horses as anticancer effects have also been seen for equine sarcoids and melanomas.
Curcumin defends the body against cancer via a number of actions: it detoxifies carcinogens, thereby preventing the initiation of cancer cells; suppresses the progression of cancerous cells by inhibiting their proliferation while simultaneously increasing their death and removal; and inhibits the spread of cancerous cells to other areas of the body. It can also reduce the side effects of chemotherapy treatment and enhance the action of some chemotherapy agents.
FEEDING TURMERIC TO HORSES
Turmeric is fed to horses in the powder form as the fresh root is not well absorbed. Horses can be picky eaters and, while they are all individuals with different likes and dislikes, reports from users indicate that horses easily accept the addition of this herb to their feed. Like any new feed it is suggested that small amounts are introduced gradually.
To greatly increase the metabolic effect and the absorption of turmeric into the horse’s body, it can be mixed with a dash of fresh black cracked pepper and some cold pressed virgin or extra virgin oil like olive, coconut, or linseed. These are the best oils to use because they are higher in omega 3 oils and have less omega 6 components which tend to increase inflammation.
The oil is necessary because the curcuminoids are insoluble in water but soluble in lipids, fatty acids (oils) or alcohol and the oil is needed to dissolve the turmeric in the horse’s stomach. The pepper is included as it contains the compound piperine, which is used to extend the metabolic life of the curcuminoids and it slows the excretion of the curcuminoids by the liver.
Turmeric is fed at a rate from 1 teaspoon to one cup, but the recommended rate is to begin slow with a teaspoon twice daily and build up to a dessert spoon once or twice daily. More can be given if desired.
The ratio for the ingredients:
- 10 ml (1 desert spoon) turmeric powder
- 5-10 ml (1 to 2 tea spoons) coconut, olive or linseed oil
- 6 to 8 grinds of fresh black peppercorns
The ingredients can be fed dry, placed straight onto the horse’s feed or can be blended into a paste with water and mixed through the feed. Some horses prefer to have a wet feed when first introduced to the herb. Cooking the turmeric can increase its effectiveness but it is not a critical issue. It does, however, create the opportunity to bake turmeric treats for your horse.
Reported adverse reactions are rare although animal studies have shown that high doses may cause liver problems, and possibly act as an uterine stimulant, so seek a vet’s advice when feeding to a pregnant mare, but horses can generally be fed turmeric for years with only positive effects.
While not actually an adverse reaction, some horses will develop a ‘cat pee’ smell from their skin. To combat this, add approximately 1 tablespoon of cinnamon to 1/2 cup of turmeric. Increase amount of cinnamon if required.
Turmeric is an allowed ingredient under the Australian Rules of Racing (verbal confirmation from AJC laboratory) along with black pepper, so swabbing is not an issue.
Turmeric appears to perform well in its effects against several chronic, debilitating diseases, and with virtually no adverse side effects, so it’s hardly surprising that it’s becoming a commonly used addition to a horse’s diet. Some horses have shown positive effects quite rapidly and continue to improve over several days. Peak effects are observed after a few weeks. As with any herbal supplement, consult with your vet or qualified healthcare provider to establish the most appropriate feeding regime for your horse’s health requirements.
This article was originally published in Hoofbeats, Oct/Nov 2015 edition.