Spirulina for Horses
A Mighty Immune Modifier
By Dr. Wendy Pearson, PhD (Dr. of Veterinary Toxicology)
A few billion years ago there were stirrings in the womb of a brand new planet. Earth was coming of age and producing her very first life forms. It is almost impossible to imagine how scientists learned of Earth’s microscopic firstborn, but somehow under the dust and rock of more than 3.6 billion years, the ancient little graves of Spirulina were uncovered. But far from an extinct historical landmark, Spirulina – or blue-green algae (BGA) as it is also known – exists in an almost unaltered state to this very day, growing quietly in fresh water, tropical springs, saltwater and, most recently, Spirulina farming ponds.
Known affectionately as “the superfood,” BGA advocates have claimed that it is so nutritionally complete that one can live on it alone and be completely healthy. Though suggestive of total sensory deprivation (life without chocolate cake!), the many reported benefits of BGA have precipitated voluminous scientific investigations into this miniature nutraceutical.
Spirulina, a type of blue-green algae, is rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids, antioxidants that can help protect cells from damage. Known as a “superfood,” it contains nutrients, including B complex vitamins, beta-carotene, vitamin E, manganese, zinc, copper, iron, selenium, and gamma linolenic acid (an essential fatty acid). Photo: ©Canstockphoto/Magone
Perhaps the most well-known clinical effect of BGA is its ability to modify immune function. There is abundant evidence that over-active immune states (such as allergies) are calmed with BGA at doses as low 10mg/kg BW, both local and whole-body. And histamine – an important instigator of allergic symptoms – is strongly inhibited by BGA. However, in cases where an up-regulation of immune response is needed (such as during vaccination or exposure to a virus) BGA enhances immune function and protects animals against disease.
Very closely linked with immune function is inflammation. With BGA being so effective at modifying immune function, it might be predicted that it should also have impact on inflammatory situations. Indeed, there are frequent reports in the veterinary and medical literature of BGA down-regulating inflammation in colitis, liver disease, joint disease, and neuropathic pain.
How BGA exerts its effects on immunity and inflammation is not entirely understood, but it is likely related to its strong antioxidant activity. Antioxidants play an essential role in the body by protecting stability of cell membranes and down-regulating many inflammatory processes. BGA strongly increases activity of the body’s natural antioxidant enzymes, including superoxide dismutase and catalase, while protecting the activity of dietary antioxidants such as vitamin E, vitamin C and reduced glutathione. It is likely that, by stabilizing the oxidation status of cells, BGA is able to regulate immune and inflammatory processes. Thus, BGA is an excellent supplement for horses that are under immune stress. These include nomadic show horses, horses exercising at high intensity and frequency, horses recovering from illness, and horses with prevalent environmental and dietary allergies.
BGA is a very safe supplement, and has been fed to laboratory animals at many times the recommended dose without any evidence of toxicity. However, BGA should be avoided in cases of autoimmune disease or chronic viral liver disease.
This article was originally published in the July 2015 edition of Canadian Horse Journal.
Main article photo: Spirulina is considered an excellent supplement for horses under immune stress, such as show horses and those exercising at high intensity, as it increases the activity of the body’s natural antioxidant enzymes and may help to regulate immune and inflammatory processes. Photo: ©Canstockphoto/Anakondasp