It’s All Connected: Bodywide Inflammation in Horses

Equine researchers have begun studying the concept of whole-body inflammation because of its links to a variety of health problems, including “leaky gut syndrome”; musculoskeletal injury risk; and equine metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and laminitis.
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Researchers have linked whole-body inflammation to conditions such as equine metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, laminitis, and more. | Photo: iStock

Here’s what researchers are learning about bodywide inflammation’s effect on horses

When you hear the term inflammation, you might picture a localized swollen area on a limb or around a wound. But inflammation also occurs systemically, affecting the whole body. It has been a buzzword in the medical community for years in discussions on how to manage chronic diseases in humans. Equine researchers have begun studying the concept of whole-body inflammation because of its links to a variety of health problems, including equine metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and laminitis; “leaky gut syndrome”; and risk of musculoskeletal injury.

How does bodywide inflammation even occur? Well, if the body’s normal protective responses become amplified, what started as a defense mechanism can turn into a chronic problem. The immune system normally secretes pro-­inflammatory cytokines, which are chemical messenger proteins such as interleukins (IL) and tumor necrosis factor (TNFα). These substances are important for initiating a physiological response to infections or injury and seeing to a successful recovery.

While inflammation might start in one tissue, excessive inflammation releases substances into the circulation that act systemically on other tissues throughout the body. Let’s look at some of the negative effects this process can have

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Written by:

Nancy S. Loving, DVM, owns Loving Equine Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and has a special interest in managing the care of sport horses. Her book, All Horse Systems Go, is a comprehensive veterinary care and conditioning resource in full color that covers all facets of horse care. She has also authored the books Go the Distance as a resource for endurance horse owners, Conformation and Performance, and First Aid for Horse and Rider in addition to many veterinary articles for both horse owner and professional audiences.

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