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The Absorption of Joint Supplement Ingredients

I would like to give my 15 year old trail horse gelding a joint supplement to help prevent joint damage. I have read that Chondroitin and MSM are not absorbed from the horse’s gut. I have also read that oral HA should be given as a liquid, and might even do harm if given dry because of it’s adsorption properties. What should a preventative joint supplement contain? Do you think a periodic IM or IV product might be a better choice than an oral product?
– Casey

Dear Casey,

Thanks for giving me a great opportunity to set the record straight on some commonly held misconceptions! First, I’m not sure where you read that about the absorption of Chondroitin and MSM. An excellent study showed that low molecular weight Chondroitin Sulfate had a 32% absorption rate in the horse while high molecular weight had a 22% absorption rate (1). This is much lower than the 70% absorption rate seen in humans and dogs, but proof that the ingredient has bioavailability in the horse.

Second, regarding MSM, Pratt and others presented a paper at the 17th Equine Science Society meeting called “A study of the absorption of methylsulfonylmethane in horses” that used MSM with radio-labeled sulfur and demonstrated an absorption rate of 55% (2). There are a number of other studies that show the benefits of MSM specifically in horses, to the musculoskeletal system (especially joints), the respiratory system, and the skin.

Third, I have not heard that about hyaluronic acid (HA). The most-quoted study of HA in the horse did use a gel to administer the ingredient orally (3), but that doesn’t mean that all HA has to be given in a liquid form.

As far as what a joint supplement should contain, there are lots of choices out there! For a teenage horse like yours, being lightly ridden, I would suggest glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate and MSM at a minimum. At this age there is likely to be some wear and tear from a lifetime of work, so depending on his soundness and comfort level, you may want to consider additional ingredients like the HA you mention, ASU (avocado soybean unsaponifiables), omega 3 fatty acids, cetylated fatty acids, and others.

Finally, an eight-year study demonstrated that consistent use of an oral glucosamine/chondroitin supplement resulted in a decreased need for distal tarsal joint injections to maintain soundness in a group of show hunters/jumpers. I firmly believe that the combination of oral supplements and injectable medications (whether directly into the joint or systemically, that is, into the muscle or vein) results in the healthiest joint tissues. I hope this information and the research studies below answered some of your questions!

1. Biopharm Drug Dispos. 2004 Apr;25(3):109-16. The bioavailability and pharmacokinetics of glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate after oral and intravenous single dose administration in the horse. Du J, White N, Eddington ND.

2. Proc 17th Equine Nutr Physiol Soc:141-2. A study of the absorption of methylsulfonylmethane in horses. Pratt SE, Clarke AF, Riddolls L, McKee S.

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

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

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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6 comments on “The Absorption of Joint Supplement Ingredients
  1. prue says:

    I love horses i always wanted one riding horses is my life [I never rided a hores though]

  2. c says:

    Great artical i have been looking for the answer to that exact question! Super helpful!

  3. How do you feel about a product like Cosequin ASU. It includes MSM, but are some better than others? Thanks!

  4. Evelyn Germaine says:

    I would think that some of the best horse joint supplements you can give your horse include Omega 3 and MSM. Omega 3 is quickly becoming realized as a sort of panacea to a myriad of problems, in both animal and human health. MSM, as detailed above, is just a good, time tested option.

  5. Pablo VonTrapp says:

    I just bought my daughter a horse and am worried about future health problems. Great to know about horse joint supplements! When the time comes, I will know what to get and what not to. Thanks!

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