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What is Equine Metabolic Syndrome? - McDowell's Herbal Treatments

What is Equine Metabolic Syndrome?

Insulin resistance is the reduction in the horse’s ability to respond appropriately to the hormone Insulin. Insulin is a hormone which plays a key role in the regulation of blood glucose levels. In addition to its role in controlling blood sugar levels, insulin is also involved in the storage of fat. Ponies or horses that are “good doers” are examples of this, carrying heavy thick crests and fatty deposits over the body. High levels of adipose tissue cause systemic inflammatory process which create neuro-endocrine feedback loops that perpetuate the metabolic imbalance. Fat is also the place where fat soluble toxins are stored to keep the chemicals from recirculating in the blood stream.

What is thought to cause it?

Processed feeds and unnatural living conditions is one potential cause behind the increase in this syndrome amongst our modern equine population; much like people living in high density housing and eating fast food.

New research (link here) is showing that there are also associations between endocrine disrupting chemicals and equine metabolic syndrome. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are man-made chemicals, found in products such as pesticides, plastics and personal care products. Horses are most likely to be exposed to these through feeding. Pollution, smog, pesticides, herbicides, plastics, and even sounds can affect the delicate balance of the neuroendocrine system.

The biggest concern is Genetic Modified Organisms (GMOs) – these crops have been developed specifically to allow top dressing of Glysophate. It is now understood that Glysophate is residual and will damage metabolic pathways of gut flora. There is a strong relationship between the microbiota health and Insulin Resistance in humans. (Link to study) New evidence suggest that Glysophate causes lymphoma in people. (link to study)

GMO crops in Australia are as follows (Source DPI) : Lucerne, Lupins, wheat, some oaten varieties and sugar beet. No GMO soy is grown in Australia, however GMO soy is imported and is used in all stock feeds. Soy has its own concerns and I am not a fan of using it due to the potential ED effects the phytoestrogens in the plant may cause. It is thought to be the lectins (a protein in the outer hull) that can cause gut issues, compounding the impacts of a GMO feed stuff.

It is highly likely that this effect would occur in all mammals ingesting such feeds.

Heavy metals in our food chain (like arsenic, lead and mercury) are major endocrine disruptors. Using a chelating agent such as Zeolite (See product here) will chelate these during digestion of potentially contaminated food and help to make sure that contamination is minimal.

We are only now becoming aware of microplastics and the impacts of these in our food chain and environment. (study links)

Can Herbs restore metabolic harmony and balance the endocrine system?

When reading conventional literature on Cushing’s and Metabolic syndrome, one is led to believe that there is very little one can do. At best you are treating the symptoms, and at worst you are adding to underlying causal factors.

From a herbalists perspective, I see these conditions as being not only easily managed, but also successfully corrected. I have had so much personal success with these conditions now that I am surprised by those who are so pessimistic by the diagnosis!

Balancing the Hypothalamus, Thyroid and Adrenal axis.

A key factor in treating these syndromes is to understand the neruoendocrione system and the role that it plays in homeostasis. Once you understand this, it’s simply a matter of using herbs specific to these systems, and feed a whole food natural diet that is anti-inflammatory at its core.

12 week herbal and feeding program
Typically a 12 week herbal program would look like this:

Blood detoxifying herbs - to clean adipose tissue and the blood stream from excess hormones and inflammation.
Burdock, Echinacea, Garlic, and Fenugreek are what I commonly use. 

Neuro-endocrine support - Combinations of herbs that support the Hypothalamus, Thyroid and Adrenal axis are used to ensure balance. Even though the pituitary is the problem in Cushing’s, supporting the master gland is essential when balancing the endocrine system, in particular the hypothalamus. Chaste Tree, Black Cohosh and Hawthorn can be used, as well as ginseng.

Supporting the Metabolic Partners – making sure that the liver and kidneys are functioning well is simply common sense. Herbs that can be fed regularly: Fennel, Dandelion, St Marys Thistle, Buchu and Rosehips.

Supporting the gut is also critical – creating a healthy microbiota, like composting the gut with herbs that microbes love (this is whata pre-biotic is) and helping the whole ecology of the microbiota is essential.

Read more about Biognosis 

Circadian Rhythms, Living conditions and exercise

An interesting factor of these syndromes is the impact of negative stress and daylight hours. It’s important to understand that horses most susceptible to these conditions can have the following profile: stabled under lights.

This treatment of our horses is very disturbing to their hormones and as part of management and restoration of the metabolism and the Hypothalemic-Immune System-NeuroEndocrine Axis is to ensure that your horse is not stabled or kept under lights.

In order for the Hypothalemic-Immune System-NeuroEndocrine Axis to entrain (that is, start to work as it should in balance) the natural circadian rhythms of your horse must be respected.

Keep him with other horses, running around naturally.

Read about Feeding through drought in Australia here

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McDowell's staff Herbalists can not diagnose your disease or illness. What they can do is offer a herbal program to assist with healing, after you have had advice from your doctor or specialist. If you have unexplained pain or symptoms, seek medical advice.

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