If you know your horse is at risk for the hoof disease laminitis, you can do a lot of things to help prevent the disease from occurring. You can keep his sugars and starches down to a minimum; you can keep his weight down; you can cool his feet if you suspect an inflammatory response. But now research is pointing to another method to help stave off this disease: milk thistle and silymarin.

Milk thistle and its extract, silymarin, are phytogenic substances—natural products known for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, explained Nicole Reisinger, MSc, a scientist at the BIOMIN Research Center in Tulln, Austria. Recent studies by her team suggest that these two agents could help counteract the effects of endotoxins on lamellar tissue—the part of the hoof that’s damaged when laminitis sets in.

Endotoxins are toxins which are ubiquitous in the horse’s environment, she said, and are even produced in small quantities in horses’ digestive tracts. But healthy horses are able to combat the effects of some endotoxins on their own. It’s when poor management, illness, antibiotics, or other immune-disrupting events occur that endotoxins can cause health problems in horses. One effect of endotoxins can be separation of the laminae—the telltale sign of laminitis.

In her study, Reisinger and her fellow researchers experimentally induced lamellar separation in 18 fresh cadaver hooves with endotoxins. They then took a separate set of extracted tissue and treated it with milk thistle or silymarin extracts together with endotoxins.

They found that milk thistle and silymarin reduced endotoxin concentratio