Herbal Insulin Resistance Treatment Options Reviewed

Insulin resistance has profound consequences for affected horses, yet there are currently no licensed treatment options. Management of the condition is primarily aimed at modifying the affected horse's diet, maintaining a healthy body condition score, and instituting a regular exercise program.

”There is a distinct lack of equine-specific research (on IR),” said Glenys Noble, BAppEquineSci, PhD, a lecturer in Equine Science at Charles Sturt University’s Wagga Wagga campus in Australia.

In response, Noble and her colleagues reviewed the use of herbal remedies that have been researched for the treatment of IR in humans. According to Noble, “The aim of the review is not to advise clinicians or horse owners about what to use, but to inform equine scientists contemplating research in this field.”

Research on the safety and efficacy of potential treatments in horses/ponies is the focus of Noble’s PhD student Kellie Tinworth’s work with insulin-resistant ponies, carried out in collaboration with WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition.

“Appropriate treatment for IR is controversial,” said Noble,” But the effective management of IR may prevent the crippling disease, laminitis.”

Currently, management is primarily aimed at modifying the affected horse’s diet, maintaining a healthy body condition score, and instituting a regular exercise program. For most, this is effective; however, there are instances when pharmacological intervention for IR may be warranted, to enhance insulin sensitivity in an effort to prevent laminitis. But, according to Noble, “Naturally-occurring treatments for IR should also be considered, particularly since many can be administered in feed and are often more acceptable to owners than synthetic compounds.”

Some herbal agents with the potential for aiding management of insulin resistance in horses include:

  • Panax (ginseng, japoncicus, quinquefolius, eleutherococcus, Asian ginseg, Radix ginseng) and flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum), which are thought to modulate lipid metabolism;
  • Soy protein, grapefruit, beet or beetroot, and brindleberry, classified as anti-obesity compounds;
  • Chaste tree, Chasteberry, Milk Thistle, St. Mary's Thistle, caiapo, and curcumin proposed to have antioxidant properties;
  • Fenugreek, Aloe vera, and Amorphophallus konjac believed to slow carbohydrate metabolism;
  • Insulin-receptor activators including Chinese cinnamon and Grifola frondosa, and
  • Stimulators of glucose uptake berberine, Momordica charantia, corosolic acid, and Indian Kino Tree.

Some of these compounds are marketed for other uses, such as anti-inflammatories, anthelmintics, muscle builders, and coat conditioners. Scientific evidence demonstrating any beneficial effect of these herbs on insulin resistance in horses is lacking.

Noble and her coauthors emphasized, "The aim (of this review) is not to advise clinicians or horse owners about what to use, but to inform equine scientists contemplating research in this field."

Considering the increasing recognition of IR and the important consequences of the condition, including chronic laminitis, additional research in this field is certainly warranted.

In-depth information regarding these herbs in the treatment of IR are available in the article, "Potential treatments for insulin resistance in the horse: A comparative multi-species review," scheduled to be published in an upcoming edition of the journal Veterinary Record. The abstract is available on PubMed.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com. Learn More

Free Newsletters

Sign up for the latest in:

From our partners