Nutrition Basics‎ > ‎

Metabolic Conditions

Metabolism - the sum total of the chemical processes that occur in living organisms, resulting in growth, production of energy, elimination of waste material,etc. Also - the sum total of the chemical processes affecting a particular substance in the body: carbohydrate metabolism iodine metabolism.

An example from Kids Health of how the process of metabolism works begins with plants. "First, a green plant takes in energy from sunlight. The plant uses this energy and the molecule chlorophyll (which gives plants their green color) to build sugars from water and carbon dioxide in a process known as photosynthesis.

When people and animals eat the plants (or, if they're carnivores, when they eat animals that have eaten the plants), they take in this energy (in the form of sugar), along with other vital cell-building chemicals. The body's next step is to break the sugar down so that the energy released can be distributed to, and used as fuel by, the body's cells."

When a metabolic processes is short circuited, the result may show up as a metabolic condition. While the root cause of each of these conditions is different, what they have in common is they all can be affected by nutrition. Appropriate diagnostics (blood work, DNA testing, etc.) can target the specific problem and point to the appropriate treatment.

Insulin Resistance (IR) - insulin normally transports glucose across cell walls so the glucose can be used as fuel.  In IR, the cell walls lose their sensitivity to insulin so more and more insulin is produced, resulting in high levels of circulating insulin in the blood.  The most devastating symptom is laminitis. Treatment (and prevention) is a low sugar/low starch high fiber mineral-balanced diet, exercise and weight loss to reduce the level of circulating insulin. For detailed information on diagnosis and treatment, see ECIR Horse and the Equine Cushings and Insulin Resistance Group  .

Equine Cushing's Disease (PPID: pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction) - begins when neurons in the intermediate lobe of the pituitary gland degenerate and produce less dopamine. Without dopamine, the pituitary cells secrete uncontrolled levels of hormones, including ACTH. It often goes hand in hand with insulin resistance and may be confused with IR. Horses with Cushing's will benefit from a low sugar/low starch high fiber mineral-balanced diet but also require the medication pergolide mesylate (a dopamine agonist). For detailed information on diagnosis and treatment, see ECIR Horse and the Equine Cushings and Insulin Resistance Group  .

PSSM (Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy) and EPSM (Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy) - abnormal glycogen storage in the muscles, occurring in horses with Quarter Horse bloodlines (PSSM) and in draft type horses (EPSM), diagnosed by DNA testing and muscle biopsy. A gene mutation causes glucose to be stored as glycogen rather than being used as fuel. Affected horses will benefit from a low sugar/low starch high fiber mineral-balanced diet, which can help limit the buildup of glycogen, plus the addition of ALCAR (acetyl L-carnitine) or increased fat plus L-carnitine to improve the utilization of long-chained fatty acids as fuel.  Regular exercise is also an important part of treating these horses.  For further details on diagnosis and treatment see University of Minnesota's Diagnostic Lab site. Information on the ALCAR protocol can be seen at the EPSM Group .

DSLD (Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desimitis)/ ESPA (Equine Systemic Proteoglycan Accumulation) - is a connective tissue disease that affects many parts of the body but the primary sign is dropped pasterns and lameness. Many horses are maintaining well on Dr. Kellon's Jiaogulan-AAKG protocol. Many of these horses are also insulin resistant and some have been found to be iron-overloaded and will benefit from a low sugar/low starch high fiber mineral-balanced diet.The best source for information is the DSLD/ESPA Group. Research is close to identifying a genetic marker.

HYPP (Hyperkalemic periodic paralysis) - is an inherited disease of the muscle which is caused by a genetic defect. In the muscle of affected horses, a point mutation exists in the sodium channel gene and is passed on to offspring. It occurs only in American Quarter Horses and related breeds that are descendants of Impressive, a popular halter sire. DNA testing is used to identify carriers.  Treatment is based on using low potassium feeds, frequent meals and regular exercise.  Hay analysis is useful to identify high potassium levels in hay.  The medications acetazolamide (which lowers circulating potassium by driving it into the cells) and hydrochlorthiazide (a diuretic which increases the elimination of potassium) have helped some horses.  The UCDavis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory has more detailed information on diagnosing and treating HYPP.

Hypothyroid - is a condition where the body produces too little thyroid.  Primary hypothyroidism is rare in horses and is usually secondary to IR or Cushing's.  Often, providing adequate iodine in the diet, along with mineral balancing and treating IR and Cushing's will correct thyroid levels.