Feed Facts and Fancies
Arthritis: The Mineral Perspective
In today's world, despite a natural lifestyle and a wide variety of vegetation, a horse can still have a health-threatening mineral deficiency or imbalance.
In the horse as well as in humans, dietary minerals are essential. Minerals are what bodies are made of. Daily upkeep of a body expels minerals as tissues are repaired, and the expelled minerals must be replaced by new ones, in the right amounts according to what is needed by the system. When the body is getting the right amounts and proportions of the different minerals, we say the mineral intake is 'balanced.'
Arthritis (arthr- = joint and -itis = inflammation) can occur as a result of mineral imbalances. Arthritis is: an inflammation of joints due to infection, metabolic imbalance, or constitutional (genetic) causes.
Mineral imbalances lead to metabolic imbalances. A ‘mineral imbalance' means the various minerals are not available to the cells in the amounts needed to carry out their jobs in the different organs. There could be an excess or deficiency in the amounts or proportions of the major minerals that make up most of the body. There could be too much or too little of one of the trace minerals, which are needed in tiny amounts for particular purposes - for example iodine, a key ingredient of thyroid hormone, which regulates energy production in the cells. Or there could be too much of a toxic mineral such as aluminum or arsenic.
If a cell is to make the right amount of energy and carry out a particular job, it needs to receive just the right amounts of nutrient minerals. Too much or too little of something is hard for a cell to use efficiently; it must compensate in some way for the imbalance, allocating needed reserves to the compensation. If the imbalance is severe enough, an animal won't survive. This is one reason why each species occurs in some areas and not in others. For example, almost nothing can live in alkali flats or high-selenium areas in the dry western states.
Plants take up minerals from the soil, and whatever is in the plant is what the horse gets. Plants that grow on healthy, natural, mineral-abundant, well-balanced soils are the most nutritious. By eating a variety of plants, a horse in this type of 'horse-friendly environment' can most likely get all the minerals he needs, in approximately the proportions he needs. Today's horsekeeping and agricultural methods, however, rarely come close to this ideal; therefore nutrient supplementation is needed.
Plants take up toxic minerals and elements, as well as needed ones, from the soil. The horse's cells will either use a toxin in place of another mineral it resembles, or spend some of its reserve energy and/or chemically ‘opposing' minerals to eliminate the toxin from the body. The horse can also absorb toxins directly from the environment - herbicides, pesticides, chemical spills, poisonous wastes carried in the air, ammonia fumes in the stall, and other things around the barn that we don't even consider.
When there is enough excess or deficiency of a mineral so that the horse's body must respond in some way to keep the metabolism going as efficiently as possible, there will be inflammation in the affected body system.
Normally, inflammation is the body's way of sending extra resources or 'attention' to an area that is having trouble. This is how the immune system deals with infection, strengthens stressed tissues, and re-builds tissues after an injury. Inflammation is ordinarily not a negative occurrence; it's a normal, temporary part of daily life.
When there is a mineral imbalance great enough to affect the metabolism of an organ or an entire system, the body is unable to respond to normal traumas in normal ways, because the cells are already struggling to handle the metabolic inefficiency. The immune system may over-respond by increasing inflammatory processes and compounds to inappropriate levels.
At this point, the inflammation may begin to show up in other organs or systems. Typical symptoms are arthritis or allergies (hives or breathing problems), but once there is excessive inflammation, it can show up anywhere in the body. Where it will be in a particular horse depends on his genetic makeup, the daily non-horse-friendly conditions he lives with, and which minerals are involved in the underlying imbalance - where they are most used in the body.
Major Minerals and Trace Minerals
There are 73 essential minerals. Minerals are grouped into major (macro, needed in large quantity) and trace (micro, needed in very small quantity) minerals. Macrominerals include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chlorine, and sulfur.
Microminerals include copper, iodine, iron, manganese, selenium, zinc, cobalt, chromium. Others are needed as well, but required levels are not yet established. Animals require, according to research in the animal husbandry field and the National Science Foundation, at least 45 minerals, 16 vitamins, 12 essential amino acids, and 3 essential fatty acids.
Vitamins and minerals interact, working alongside each other in groups. For example, to have healthy bones, a body needs a good balance of vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, fluorine, chlorine, manganese, copper, and sulphur. Some minerals can enhance or impair another mineral's absorption and functioning, such as a deficiency in zinc being caused by an excessive amount of iron.
Age is a factor in mineral requirements. The body's ability to absorb minerals declines with age. Other factors, including stress and exposure to environmental pollution, can also raise requirements for minerals. However, native grasses, shrubs, trees, and other plants in the free-range horse's habitat provide most of what he needs for a healthy, happy, and long life.
William Wolcott states in The Metabolic Typing Diet, 'Any given metabolic imbalance can manifest in any number of different disease states in different people… Conversely, a single disease or health disorder… can be caused by different types of biochemical imbalances in different people.'
People who work with horse nutrition and disease are also finding this principle to be true. Thus arthritis (a form of inflammation) can show up as 'the presenting illness' resulting from a variety of mineral imbalances. How then can we figure out what to do when a horse develops arthritis?
Getting back to balance
Jack Grogan of Uckele Health and Nutrition uses hair mineral analysis (HMA) to determine the levels of many minerals in the body. He says, 'The use of hair mineral analysis to gain insight into the mineral status of the body and the metabolic states associated with that status is well established scientifically, and is gaining widespread acceptance among owners, caretakers, and trainers. HMA reports provide … useful information regarding mineral excess or deficiency and the presence of toxic minerals, revealing nutritional and metabolic balances or imbalances. The inter-relationships among them can contribute to a state of optimal health or the increasing risk of developing health problems. HMA by itself cannot show or predict any disease state. It is, however, extremely accurate in allowing us to gain insight into the metabolic trends and patterns that signify increased risks of distress, which at some point may manifest into an actual disease state.'
Therefore, if a horse has arthritis, an important first step would be to have a hair mineral analysis done to find out what minerals in that horse are deficient or in excess, and/or what toxic minerals are present in unacceptable amounts. Then the feeding program can be changed or supplemented to correct the imbalances and eliminate toxic minerals.
Other important steps include a forage analysis and/or a soil analysis to determine the mineral levels in the hay and/or pasture, a sensible exercise program, and a homeopathic constitutional workup to address the individual's genetic tendencies. Some individuals do not absorb or utilize the minerals even when provided, and homeopathy can help with that.
As the horse's metabolism is supported towards balance, through appropriate mineral supplementation, the inflammation that has shown up as arthritis should subside.
For more information:
Uckele Health & Nutrition
PO Box 160
Blissfield, MI 49228
Uckele has an Open House on the first Friday of every December and everyone is invited.