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Joint supplement research: fact or fiction?


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 exercise induced 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+

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6 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 ( 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.

  3. JERRY WEAVER says:


    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Jerry,

      Thank you for your question and I’m sorry to hear about your horse’s surgery. Since your mare is dealing with a specific health issue, it will be best to work closely with your veterinarian before making any changes to her diet. I’d recommend asking your vet if a supplement including hyaluronic acid (HA) may be a good addition to your horse’s program based on this research out of Kentucky:

      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.

      In this study, a group of researchers provided objective evidence that oral HA reduces joint swelling after surgery to remove an OCD lesion in the hock. HA is also considered one of Mother Nature’s “Big Three,” along with glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. They provide the building blocks of healthy joint tissue. Other ingredients to ask your vet about are antioxidants to support cell health such as vitamin C and grape seed extract, as well as additional ingredients that may support a normal response to inflammation, such as MSM. Please find both a list of joint supplements that we carry, and a joint supplement comparison chart to review with your vet, below:

      – Dr. Lydia Gray

  4. Carol says:

    My 16 yo TB gelding ex- hunter/jumper is periodically “off” in his RF. XRays showed a bone cyst the size of a dime in the knee joint, which my DVM said fills with fluid and causes discomfort. he said only one clinically trialed oral product, Actistatin, has been proven to make it through the gut to the joint. Injections were the other choice. Whether this would help the pain was unknown. I gave him Actistatin for 1.5 years, and he seemed to be doing better with it. (Less often lame, with light use on the flat). He seems better in cold weather. Do you find that oral joint supplements can be beneficial to a joint with a cyst? Any suggestions would be appreciated, thanks!

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