Turmeric has been well studied in humans, with more studies now being conducted in equine studies. One of the most comprehensive summaries of a review of 700 Turmeric studies to date was published by the respected ethnobotanist James A. Duke, Phd. He showed that Turmeric appears to outperform many pharmaceuticals in its effects against several chronic, debilitating diseases, and does so with virtually no adverse side effects.
The active ingredient in Turmeric is curcumin which is known for reducing inflammation and pain due to its ability to inhibit the cyclooxygenase enzyme 2 (COX-2), while maintaining COX-1 enzymatic function. Sound a gibberish? Don’t worry, it’s a good thing as the COX-1 enzyme protects your horse’s stomach lining. COX-2 inhibition is a far better route to take for pain control. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as phenylbutazone (bute) are most commonly used to relieve pain. But these inhibit not only COX-2 enzymes, but also the beneficial COX-1 enzymes. Firocoxib (known as Equioxx for horses and Previcox for dogs) is an NSAID that only inhibits the COX-2 enzyme, offering a safer option for horse owners. But, curcumin supplementation is a natural approach that can be highly effective and far less costly.
Osteoarthritis also common in horses is a disease characterised by a progressive deterioration of joint cartilage, making it less able to protect the joint against friction. The underlying cause of pain is due to a release of cytokines and reactive oxygen species — inflammatory substances that can lead to further degradation of joint tissue. There are many joint supplements on the market designed to slow down cartilage loss, increase production of lubricating synovial fluid, and reduce pain. Curcumin is not typically added to these joint supplement preparations. Furthermore, it can be a natural alternative to intra-articular hyaluronic acid or polysulfated glycosaminoglycan (PGAG) injections.
Turmeric is probably best known for its use as an anti-inflammatory. It works by significantly reducing the inflammatory pathways in the body, but unlike bute and most other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories often given to horses, Turmeric works as a COX-2 inhibitor (as opposed to COX-1) and does not damage the lining of the stomach.
Chronic inflammation is a recognized component of many different diseases including arthritis, insulin resistance, and cancer. There are no formal studies to date but some horse owners have reported that Turmeric supplementation successfully reversed melanoma growth in their grey horses.
Another common use for Turmeric (especially in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine) is for detoxifying the liver. Even if a horse hasn’t been diagnosed with any type of liver disorder, but you suspected from TCM acupressure assessments, that there is an imbalance within the liver meridian, Turmeric couldn’t hurt and it might just help with this imbalance.
Oxidation is the natural process that occurs when oxygen is combined with various other elements in the body during metabolism. An antioxidant is a molecule that inhibits the oxidation of other molecules in the body and protects against oxidative damage. Even though it can be a bit confusing, just remember this– antioxidants are a good thing!
Not only is curcumin (the active nutrient within Turmeric) a potent antioxidant itself, but it also helps to boost the body’s own antioxidant mechanisms, making it doubly helpful in this regard. Horses are susceptible to oxidative stress just like us humans. If your horse is older, if he suffers from any type of chronic condition, or if he’s a performance horse, he very well may benefit from an antioxidant such as Turmeric.
Those are just a few of the medicinal uses for Turmeric, but there are others, including gastrointestinal issues, respiratory infections, allergies, and skin conditions. If you would like to know more, simply do a google search for more info and speak to your vet.
Turmeric is oil soluble and needs to be combined with good quality cold pressed oils, the three recommended are Coconut, Linseed and Olive Oil, because processed oils can cause inflammatory problems.
Black Pepper contains piperine; a natural ingredient that increases the bio-availability of foods. Bio-availability refers to the amount of a nutrient in our supplement that is absorbed by the body. Black Pepper increases the bio-availability of the compound curcumin making it a potent natural anti-inflammatory compound used to assist fighting infection and inflammation, such as arthritis.
In horses, sweet itch, sarcoid, copd (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease / Emphysema), arthritis, both Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis, Laminitis are candidates which Turmeric can help with, but as it is a natural pain reliever it helps in many situations.
Dosage for Horses
The exact dosage for Turmeric has not been determined in horses, but as very general guide. In a bowl, mix 1 dessert spoon (to start with) of Turmeric powder with approximately 6-8 grinds of freshly ground cracked pepper and 1-2 teaspoons of cold pressed oil (coconut, olive or linseed). Add some water and blend into a paste that can be mixed through the bulk of your horses feed.
There are no set guidelines for how long you can safely feed Turmeric, but as long as your horse doesn’t develop any issues like diarrhoea or lack of appetite, don’t be too worried about ongoing supplementation. (Of course, speak with your vet if you have concerns!)
My Off-the-Track Thoroughbred suffers from osteochondral fragments (bone chips) in his fetlock joint. Originally treated with a low dose of bute, along with lecithin4 to prevent gastric ulcers, I switched to feeding turmeric at a dosage of two tablespoons per day. I kept feeding lecithin as a precaution. He is doing just as well as he did with bute, and his limping has not returned. He runs in the pasture with ease. After two months on this two-tablespoon, therapeutic dose, I have decreased it to one tablespoon per day and will soon reduce it further, relying on more only as-needed. I have found it to be palatable and easy to mix with feeds.
Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D.
I give one large 20gm scoop each night to my old mare who has bad arthritis in her knee without is she can’t walk. I have to make sure I take curcumin (turmeric) after a meal with protein otherwise the heat in my belly is not too good. Best thing for arthritis though.