Can Nutrition Boost the Equine Immune System?

Researchers are looking at how diet might influence how horses respond to stress and disease.

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Can Nutrition Boost the Equine Immune System?
Just about all nutrients are important to the immune system, including protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. | iStock
People often make associations between food and health. For example, drinking orange juice to ward off a cold, or, as the expression goes, relying on the nutrients of an apple a day to stay healthy. But can we feed our horses a better diet to optimize their immune systems?

This is a relatively new area of scientific investigation in equine health. Lori Warren, PhD, PAS, equine nutritionist in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Florida, presented on the topic at the 15th Annual Mid-Atlantic Nutrition Conference, held in Hunt Valley, Maryland, on April 6, 2017.

The Immune System

The immune system has two main components: innate and adaptive. The innate immune system is the general, first line of defense against pathogens (disease-causing organisms) or trauma. You’re born with it, and it has no specificity or “memory.” The adaptive immune system learns to “remember” specific pathogens so it can respond to them faster. Antibodies resulting from vaccination are the most well-known adaptive immune response. The immune system has a lot of redundancy, so if one part fails, there’s often a backup. Innate and adaptive immune systems work together to coordinate a response.

The equine industry in general is interested in things that will improve overall horse health, and owners spend lots of money on nutritional supplements. But do they really help boost immunity? It’s possible

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Written by:

Nettie Liburt, MS, PhD, PAS, is an equine nutritionist based on Long Island, New York. She is a graduate of Rutgers University, where she studied equine exercise physiology and nutrition. Liburt is a member of the Equine Science Society.

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