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The Absorption of Oral Joint Supplements

Have read a lot about joint supplements and I think the real truth is that none of that glucosamine or chondroitin even gets through the intestines and to the joints. When a horse gets better it is just all that MSM in the joint formula? I also read that the Hyaluronic acid can be digested but then the liver gets most of it. Are people just wasting their money on all this stuff? So… MSM ok to give them every day as a precautionary measure when a horse is in training or is there no need? Barbara

Dear Barbara,

I’m not sure what readings you are referring to, but I have collected research that confirms glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate and hyaluronic acid, as well as MSM, are all absorbed by the horse when given orally (although at different rates) and can be found in the blood and various tissues. In addition, some work shows clear benefits to joint health from oral supplementation with these ingredients.

For example, in the last study below, the researchers report that within two weeks of giving a product containing glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate to unsound horses, the lameness grade, flexion test and stride length were significantly improved. The 2002 study by Dr. Hilary Clayton and others showed that horses with tarsal (hock) degenerative joint disease showed a significant reduction in gait asymmetry after receiving oral supplements intended to support joint health orally for two weeks compared with a placebo treatment.

MSM has the highest absorption rate of all these ingredients at 55% yet the fewest in vivo (in the live horse) studies proving its benefits or exact mechanism of action. Lots of in vitro (in the laboratory) and human research though. I’ve included a research paper here that I think speaks to your question of whether there’s any advantage to giving MSM to a horse in training. The researchers concluded that jumping exercise could induce harmful effects on horses, probably due to an increase in oxidative damage and proinflammatory molecules and that MSM could exert some protective effect on oxidative and inflammatory exercise-induced injury. The antioxidant benefits of MSM apply to all tissues, including the joints.

I encourage you to check out the papers I’ve listed below and reconsider your opinion on the absorption of the various oral joint supplement ingredients with this new information.

The effect of methyl sulphonyl methane supplementation on biomarkers of oxidative stress in sport horses following jumping exercise
Acta Vet Scand. 2008 Nov 7;50:45
Marañón G, Muñoz-Escassi B, Manley W, García C, Cayado P, de la Muela MS, Olábarri B, León R, Vara E

Oral hyaluronan gel reduces post operative tarsocrural effusion in the yearling Thoroughbred.
Bergin BJ, Pierce SW, Bramlage LR, Stromberg A.
Equine Vet J. 2006 Jul;38(4):375-8

Effects of Oral Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfates Supplementation on Frequency of
Intra-articular Therapy of the Horse Tarsus
Intern J Appl Res Vet Med • Vol. 4, No. 2, 2006
Martha R. Rodgers, VMD

Evidence of the Oral Absorption of Chondroitin Sulfate as Determined by Total Disaccharide
Content After Oral and Intravenous Administration to Horses
Natalie D. Eddington, PhD; Jianping Du, PhD; Nathaniel White, DVM, Diplomate ACVS
2001 / Vol. 47 / AAEP PROCEEDINGS

Double-Blind Study of the Effects of an Oral Supplement Intended to Support Joint Health in Horses with Tarsal Degenerative Joint Disease
Hilary M. Clayton, BVMS, PhD, MRCVS; Patricia E. Almeida, MS, DVM; Marta Prades, DVM, Diplomate ACVS, Diplomate ECVS; Jennifer Brown, DVM; Caroline Tessier, DVM; and Joel L. Lanovaz, BS, MS

Oral Treatment With a Glucosamine-Chondroitin Sulfate Compound for Degenerative Joint Disease in Horses: 25 Cases
R. Reid Hanson, DVM, Lowell R. Smalley, DVM, Gerald K. Huff, DVM, S. White, DVM, Tarek A. Hammad, MD, PhD, Msc, MS
16 Equine Practice, VOL. 19. NO. 9, October 1997

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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4 comments on “The Absorption of Oral Joint Supplements
  1. jennifer joslin says:

    Could you provide links to the studies? It would be a lot easier to find and read them. Also, are they available to SmartPak customers, or is it just their summaries that are available? Do you have any recent studies? Many of these are 1997, 2001, etc. Also, do you have a current HA study that uses something other than an oral gel? There must be something on the IV form or joint injections, or maybe I just misunderstood the headline? Many thanks, I am very interested in this research. Jennifer

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Jennifer,

      Unfortunately, there’s no single site that we’re aware of that provides the full text of these papers for free. Subscription to the journal or service is usually required. However, most of the abstracts (summaries) are available on Since research and acceptance for publication can take several years, it’s difficult to find more recent studies than the ones provided. We were able to find a reference for Legend, Bayer’s intravenous and intra-articular joint injection:

      *Kawcak, C. E., Frisbie, D.D., Trotter, G. W., McIllwaith, C.W., Gillette, S. M., Powers, B. E., Walton, R. M.: Effects of intravenous administration of hyaluronate sodium on carpal joints in exercising horses after arthroscopic surgery and osteochondral fragmentation. AJVR. Vol. 58, No. 10, October 1997.

  2. Vickki Vogel says:

    My vet recommended Adequan injections plus oral supplements. The oral supplements are like the house and the Adequan is the foundation for the supplements to stick to.

  3. GRLVR says:

    The absorption rates published for Glucosamine/Chondroiten are 5.9% in (the) “Effects of Oral Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfates Supplementation on Frequency of Intra-articular Therapy of the Horse Tarsus” by Martha R. Rodgers, VMD
    That isn’t very much. Not to mention that many of the products on the market, when independently tested, don’t even contain the published amounts of Glucosamine and Chondroiten.

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