Joint supplement research: fact or fiction?

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I think my horse seems more comfortable since I started him on a joint supplement, but my friend says there’s no research showing they actually work. Who’s right? — CS from Dearborn, MI

And the award goes to… you!
While it’s challenging for supplement manufacturers to perform and publish research because of FDA regulations and other restrictions, there’s definitely work being done in this critical area. Let me share of few of my favorites.

First, let’s talk absorption. Misconceptions abound in this particular area, but fortunately several studies show that all the major joint supplement ingredients — glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, hyaluronic acid (HA) and MSM — are absorbed from the digestive tract and available for use throughout the body.1,2

Moving on to the question of whether joint supplements “work” or not, one study provides objective evidence that oral HA reduces joint swelling after surgery to remove an OCD in the hock.3 Another, eight-year study demonstrated that consistent use of an oral glucosamine / chondroitin supplement resulted in a decreased need for hock joint injections to maintain soundness in a group of show hunters/jumpers,4 (or in non-vet speak, the supplement helped keep the joint structures healthy enough that the horses required fewer joint injections).

Finally, A group of researchers in Europe showed that MSM exerts a protective effect on oxidative and inflammatory exerciseinduced injury in the horse,5 (or, in layman’s terms, MSM has been shown to help reduce the wear and tear of joint tissues caused by exercise).

These are just a few of the many, many examples of research on joint supplements. I recommend you point these out to your friend and settle up your friendly wager!


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 sulfate supplementation on frequency of intra-articular therapy of the horse tarsus. Martha R. Rodgers, VMD.
5. Acta Vet Scand. 2008 Nov 7;50:45. The effect of methyl sulphonyl methane supplementation on biomarkers of oxidative stress in sport horses following jumping exercise. Maranon G, Munoz-Escassi B, Manley W, et al.

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+

Posted in Ask the Vet

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3 comments on “Joint supplement research: fact or fiction?
  1. anita michaud says:

    what joint supplement would be good for my horse she is older than the other 2 she is prone to absess we got her from someone that rescue’s horses and she had alot of absess but snce I’ve had her she hasn’t had any, also what can I do to keep her weight on her during the winter she seem’s to lose some weight she’s not very big she’s an abrain and has some problems with her hips she doesn’t trust men around her at all In the winter I give her some beet pult but she really doesn’t care for that .

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Anita, thanks for your question! It sounds like your mare is very lucky to have you. I think we have a tool that will be just perfect for you and her, it’s called the Supplement Wizard (http://bit.ly/14Ju7kL). All you need to do is answer some simple questions about your horse, and the Supplement Wizard will make recommendations about what types of supplements could be appropriate for your horse’s unique situation. Give it a try, I think you’ll like it! – Dr. Lydia Gray

  2. Sarah says:

    My 22 year old has been on Grand Flex then Smart Flex Senior for about 10 years. He has issues related to old suspensory ligament injuries and arthritis. The vet recently X-rayed his hocks due to some swelling and found that his hock joints looked great! No injections needed. I attribute that to his years of Smart Paks. His other problems were treated with anti-inflammatory pills and he’s feeling good now.

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