Vitamin E for Better Health

Nonenzymatic antioxidants, such as vitamin E, are critically important to protect horses from tissue damage and disease, and they might enhance immunity during these processes. However, the form of vitamin E your horse obtains determines the benefit he will receive, and whether or not you are spending your money wisely. The best utilized source of vitamin E is the natural form, and not the synthetic form found in many equine supplements.

"The critical phases of reproduction in mares and stallions, growth of foals, and exercise of equine athletes are all especially important," said Ed Kane, PhD, senior nutritionist for Stuart Products, at the 2004 Kentucky Equine Nutrition Conference for Feed Manufacturers, held Oct. 18-19 in Lexington, Ky. "Thus, for the horse, vitamin E appears to be the most important dietary fat-soluble nonenzymatic antioxidant to assist in combating free radical (unstable atom that can cause irreparable damage to cells and cell membranes) production and propagation."

"The need to supplement horses with vitamin E is primarily dependent on whether they graze lush pastures adequate in vitamin E, or are kept in confinement or graze on poor winter pasture and fed diets low in vitamin E," said Kane. The minimum vitamin E requirements can be found in the NRC Nutrient Requirement of Horses, and may be based on the horse consuming the natural form of vitamin E that comes from forages and feedstuffs.

Vitamin E deficiencies are characterized by skeletal and cardiac muscle deterioration, tongue muscle deterioration (inhibiting a foal from nursing), and an impaired immune system. Additionally, equine degenerative myeloencephalopathy , a form of wobbler syndrome, has been seen in horses with low vitamin E levels in their blood, as well as an increased incidence in horses tying-up.

Yet the vitamin E supplement you are feeding your horse might not be working as well as you think it is. "The two commercial sources of vitamin E are natural-source alpha-tocopherol and synthetic-source alpha-tocopherol and their corresponding acetate-esters," said Kane. "The source of vitamin E with the highest biological activity is natural vitamin E, which is officially recognized to have 36% greater biological activity than synthetic vitamin E. The two sources have different structures and (the natural form) has been shown to be transported and retained in tissues at levels approximately twice that of synthetic vitamin E."

When looking through catalogs selling vitamin supplements, products that contain vitamin E do not specify whether it contained the natural or synthetic form. "Ninety-nine percent of the time if the label solely states 'vitamin E supplement,' then it is most likely synthetic vitamin E," says Kane. "If some labels specify natural vitamin E in a complete feed, they may state 'd-alpha-tocopherol acetate' in the ingredient list, though they rarely do."

Kentucky Equine Research, the sponsor of the conference, utilizes natural vitamin E in its Myoguard and Elevate horse supplements, as well as in other equine supplements.

About the Author

Marcella M. Reca Zipp, MS

Marcella Reca Zipp, M.S., is a former staff writer for The Horse. She is completing her doctorate in Environmental Education and researching adolescent relationships with horses and nature. She lives with her family, senior horse, and flock of chickens on an island in the Chain O'Lakes.

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