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Joint Supplements

By Daniel H.Grove, D.V.M. - March 1st, 2018 - Ask the Vet

AskTheVetJoint supplements are always a hot topic. Most people are concerned about the athletic performance of their horses and anything they can do to keep them going at their maximum performance level. This month I am going to discuss the most common ingredients, how they are given, and what we think they do.

Hyaluronic Acid (HA). HA is found naturally throughout the body. It is used to improve the lubricity (viscosity) of the joint fluid and to reduce inflammation. Cartilage in the joint is like a sponge. The joint fluid fills it up and pressure from weight on the joint expels the fluid. If the fluid is more viscous or thicker, it is harder to expel from the cartilage, and therefore absorbs more concussion. Inflammation makes the joint fluid more watery or less viscous. HA aims to combat that. It is commonly given intravenously (IV), intraarticularly (IA, or in the joint), and orally.

Polysulfated glycosaminoglycans (PSGAGs). Most commonly known as Adequan, PSGAGs are said to stimulate cartilage repair, increase synovial (joint) lubrication, and inhibit enzymes that break down cartilage. PSGAGs are best when used IA, but that requires your veterinarian. They are also commonly given intramuscularly (IM).

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). MSM is thought to work by reducing oxidative stress by being a free-radical scavenger. That is a fancy way of saying it can reduce inflammation. It is most commonly given orally. Its closely related cousin DMSO is used topically and IV.

Chondroitin Sulfate. Chondroitin is a part of the cartilage matrix, bone and connective tissues. Its use is thought to be similar to HA and PSGAG’s, but may not be as effective. It is commonly given orally and sometimes also IV and IA.

Glucosamine. Glucosamine is probably the most common orally supplemented joint supplement. It is found in cartilage and all other connective tissues. It is thought to reduce inflammation and promote healing. It is most commonly given orally but is also given IV, IA, and IM.

Avocado/soybean unsaponifiables (ASU). ASU inhibits the breakdown of cartilage, and is supposed to promote cartilage repair. It is a mix of fatty acids and vitamins. It is usually administered orally.

These are the main ingredients. They are commonly formulated together and with other ingredients. Oral joint supplements typically fall under “nutraceuticals” and therefore are not as regulated as FDA-approved products. When choosing a product, I like to go with companies that actually do research on their products and that stand by them. Here are some key ideas to take away from this when using joint supplements:

1) While these items can help existing problems, they probably are best used as preventatives rather than expected marked results from their use.

2) When given orally, they must go to the liver first. The liver breaks down many things and this action may result in less of the supplement getting to where you want it. I prefer to use an injectable form when available

3) Talk to your veterinarian. See what products they have seen work. I have products I have used, and the owners went back to riding horses they had retired. I truly believe these products have a place in our equine friends.

4) These products are expensive to manufacture. This is not an area where you want to find the least expensive product and expect it to have the best performance.

This was just a quick overview of joint supplements. They can play a role in keeping your equine athlete happy and pain free while doing their job. Hopefully, this helps you understand them a little more.


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