That glass of red wine you have with dinner is purported to hold numerous health benefits, ranging from lowering your risk of heart disease to preventing insulin resistance, all thanks to a compound found in many plants including grape skin: resveratrol. And in a recent study researchers determined that this compound could help horses with osteoarthritis—one of the most common performance-limiting problems in horses, as well.
Beyond rest, intra-articular (IA, in the joint) corticosteroid injections, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug administration, many horse owners also use nutraceuticals in an effort to prevent joint disease or reduce its effects.
“Despite their wide appeal, however, there is little clinical evidence that these nutritional supplements are efficacious in reducing lameness severity,” said Ashlee Watts, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, an assistant professor of large animal surgery at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, in College Station.
Resveratrol’s benefits first gained attention after researchers implicated red wine consumption “as a potential explanation for the apparently low incidence of heart disease despite a diet high in saturated fats among the French people—the so-called French paradox,” she said.
Since then researchers have learned that it has antioxidative, anti-apoptotic (prevents cell death), and anti-inflammatory effects in humans and other mammals. They’ve also found it prevented cartilage breakdown in laboratory animals with experimentally induced osteoarthritis.
However, resveratrol hasn’t been studied in animals or people with naturally occurring joint disease. So, Watts and colleagues tested the effects of a resveratrol supplement (Equithrive Joint) on horses with naturally occurring hind-limb lameness localized to the lower (distal) hock joints.
The study population included 45 horses exhibiting hind-limb lameness and/or poor performance. They collected background information on each horse before performing subjective and objective lameness exams; the former exam included watching horses walk and jog in straight lines and in a U-shaped pattern after hock flexion, while the latter involved collecting movement data using an inertial sensor system mounted on the horse.
Next, the researchers injected each horse’s lower jock joints with triamcinolone (a corticosteroid, so all horses would start with a baseline anti-inflammatory treatment and client horses wouldn’t be left untreated). Then, owners received unmarked containers filled with either the test supplement or a placebo and instructions to add two scoops of the substance to horses’ feed twice daily for four months.
Horse owners and/or riders completed a questionnaire via phone two months later about their horses’ progress; then they completed a second questionnaire, paired with a final veterinary evaluation at four months following the initial exam—beyond the expected duration of efficacy for the IA triamcinolone.
“Because riders are attuned to minor differences in their horse’s performance, we believe that rider opinion as to whether the horse’s performance was better, compared with worse or the same, was clinically relevant,” Watts said.
Researchers requested that the owners maintain a form in which they recorded medications or supplements added or ceased during the study period. Otherwise, owners were not instructed to modify the normal diet or turnout or exercise regimens of enrolled horses for the study. The team ended up with complete data for 21 horses on the supplement and 20 on the placebo.
At the two-month follow-up, Watts said, significantly more owners of horses from the supplement group (20/21, or 95%) reported better performance (versus worse or the same); in the placebo group, 14 of 20 owners (70%) reported better performance. The team also asked owners if horses found the supplement palatable, they’d returned to full work, they were lame, their performance met expectations, and whether the owners were satisfied with how their horses were doing; each group’s answers to these were not significantly different.
“Four months after study enrollment, the percentage of riders who reported that the horse’s performance was better, compared with worse or the same, was still significantly higher for the resveratrol group (18/21, or 86%) than for the placebo group (10/20, or 50%),” Watts said.
Additionally, the inertial sensor revealed that horses that consumed the supplement experienced a significantly greater improvement in lameness compared to the horses that consumed a placebo.
That said, Watts noted the study had several limitations, including the potential for misdiagnosis. “It is possible that horses with proximal suspensory desmitis (inflammation of the upper suspensory ligament), for example, rather than lameness from the distal tarsal joints could have been included,” she said. “However, because horses were randomly assigned to treatment groups, the effect of this should have been minimized.”
Additionally, the team does not have hard evidence that owners fed the supplement appropriately. “But owner reports on palatability and whether doses were missed were not different between groups,” she said, suggesting owner compliance was similar across the groups for apt comparison.
Watts cautioned that the supplement manufacturing process could impact (positively or negatively) resveratrol effectiveness, “so products from other manufacturers would need to undergo similar testing or bioequivalence testing prior to application of the study findings to their product.”
Ultimately, the team found that horses consuming a resveratrol supplement for four months following intra-articular triamcinolone injections in the lower hock joints were significantly less lame, both objectively and subjectively, than horses consuming a placebo supplement.
“Randomized, controlled, and blinded studies like this one are the best possible clinical evidence for guiding health related decisions,” Watts concluded.
Based on the study findings, she said, horses with lameness related to the lower hock joints might benefit from daily supplementation with resveratrol to lessen lameness severity.
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