Dietary Supplementation Helps Obese Insulin-Resistant Horses

What do overweight, insulin resistant (IR) horses at risk for lifelong, recurring bouts of laminitis need? According to one group of equine nutritionists, more food!

Not just any food, though. These horses might need a special dietary supplement called short-chain fructo-oligosaccharides (scFOS), which are short chains of sugar molecules linked together. These scFOS are metabolized not by the horse himself, but rather the microorganisms residing in the horse's gastrointestinal tract.

"Feeding scFOS alters the composition and activity of the microorganisms in such a way that insulin resistant horses are benefitted," explains Frederique Respondek, PhD, scientific affairs manager of SYRAL, a European company that processes corn and wheat to manufacture a wide range of value added products for both humans and animals..

Horses that do not respond to the effects of the hormone insulin (which helps control blood sugar levels) are referred to as insulin resistant. These horses are usually overweight and have a higher risk of developing laminitis than non-IR horses.

Respondek added, "Because insulin resistance is a growing problem ... the development of management strategies--including alterations in diet that counter IR--would be beneficial."

To determine if feeding scFOS to IR horses was beneficial, Respondek and his colleagues fed eight obese Arabian geldings (with an average body condition score of 8 [fat] out of 9) either scFOS or a placebo (maltodextrin). Horses were fed 45g of either the scFOS or the placebo per day for six weeks, and various blood tests were performed to asses the impact of the dietary supplement on IR.

Key findings of the study were:

  • scFOS significantly increased insulin sensitivity,
  • Horses fed scFOS had a significantly lower acute insulin response to glucose (AIRg) than placebo horses, and
  • Resting serum insulin concentrations were lower in the horses fed scFOS.

"These results demonstrate that scFOS supplementation has a moderate impact on insulin sensitivity in obese horses," says Respondek. "Since these horses are at risk for laminitis, supplementation with scFOS could have a role in the dietary management of obese horses with insulin resistance."

Respondek says further studies that better explain how scFOS contribute to the observed improvement in insulin sensitivity are needed.

The study, "Dietary supplementation with short-chain fructo-oligosaccharides improves insulin sensitivity in obese horses," will be published at a later date in the Journal of Animal Science. The abstract is currently available for free 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.

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