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Supplements for Facilitating Weight Loss in HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · January 26, 2017

Obesity remains one of the most important health and welfare issues facing horses living in developed nations. Extra weight on any horse or pony has important repercussions, including decreased athleticism, insulin resistance, and laminitis. Yes, increased exercise combined with dietary restriction plays an important role in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, but what else can we do to help?

“A variety of minerals, other nutrients, and nutraceuticals have some science supporting their use in weight management strategies,” shared Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research (KER), located in Versailles, Kentucky.

Examples of such dietary components include the following:

Chromium, a trace mineral, plays important roles in the metabolism of carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins by enhancing the role of insulin to control blood sugar levels. Theoretically, if blood sugar levels are better controlled, appropriate body weights will ensue. Chromium is considered essential in humans, but according to Nutrient Requirements of Horses, published by the National Research Council (NRC), too little information is available to define a chromium requirement for horses. Studies in horses have used doses of anywhere from 2-8 mg per horse, higher than the recommended human dose, which is 20 μg/kg body weight.

L-carnitine. This is a type of amino acid widely touted as a weight-loss facilitator in human medicine. L-carnitine plays a role in both sugar and fat metabolism, and is widely thought to promote weight loss, presumably by increasing the body’s energy expenditure at a cellular level. Like most nutritional supplements, few studies in horses support the use of L-carnitine in weight loss. A recently published human study, however, reported significant weight loss in patients supplemented with L-carnitine.

“Neither a safe nor recommended dose of L-carnitine has yet to be identified in horses and the few studies performed on the efficacy of L-carnitine supplementation for weight loss in horses have not been overwhelmingly convincing,” Crandell said.

Zinc, another trace mineral, potentially plays a role in weight management by helping insulin do its job better. Zinc reportedly also improves the transport of glucose into cells without the need for insulin. Similar to chromium, the overall impact appears to be weight loss following improved glucose/insulin dynamics and glucose tolerance.

"Caution must be used when supplementing zinc because dietary excesses can result in copper deficiencies. Current recommendations from the NRC keep copper and zinc in balance with each other by not exceeding a 5:1 ratio of zinc to copper,” advised Crandell.

Cinnamon, the familiar spice and nutraceutical, has a rich history** in helping to manage various medical conditions, including glucose, insulin, and lipid metabolism associated with metabolic syndrome. Again, lack of research in horses limits clear clinical recommendations at this point; however, some commercial horse feeds and supplements contain cinnamon.

Most horses that are on “slimming” rations do not require the calories provided in typical concentrates; they tend to eat all-forage rations. While sufficient forage may supply all of the energy a horse requires, it may not fulfill all of the vitamin and mineral needs. Consider using Micro-Max to make up for these shortages. Micro-Max is available in the U.S. Horse owners in Australia should look for Gold Pellet, Nutrequin, or Perform.

*Pooyandjoo, M., M. Nouhi, S. Shab-Bidar, et al. 2016. The effect of (L-)carnitine on weight loss in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Obesity Reviews. 17(10):970-976.

**Qin, B., K.S. Panickar, and R.A. Anderson. 2010. Cinnamon: Potential role in the prevention of insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Science and Technology. 4(3):685-693.