Wellness Wednesday - Gastric Ulcers and the Performance Horse

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


This week's Wellness Wednesday Brought to you by Uckele Health & Nutrition.
Recent studies show that gastric ulcers occur in a surprisingly high percentage of performance horses. Jack Grogan, Certified Nutritionist and Chief Science Officer for Uckele Health & Nutrition, explains why these ulcers develop and nutritional methods for contending with them, “The leading causes for gastric ulcers are the stomach’s exposure to excessive acid levels, a reduction in the natural protection of the stomach’s lining, or both.  Most equine ulcers occur in the upper portion of the stomach near the esophagus due to excess acid.”  Grogan says that under normal circumstances, the cells in the stomach are protected from excess acid by the production of the horse’s saliva, “This happens because horses are naturally wandering, grazing animals with a digestive tract that is well adapted for a steady diet of forage and the continuous secretion of gastric acid throughout the day. When the horse produces saliva in adequate amounts by chewing, it buffers and coats the lining of the stomach, protecting the stomach from gastric acid.” However, whether grazing or not, the equine stomach secretes gastric acid in a continuous and cumulative manner. Therefore when insufficient roughage is provided or a high grain diet is fed intermittently, gastric acid continues to release without the buffer of the saliva, irritating the mucosal lining of the stomach.

Grogan explains that many horses develop ulcers with no obvious signs, however, once a gastric ulcer is formed, the stomach tissue becomes damaged and inflamed, which can bring about depressed appetite, irritability, colic problems, diminished performance, weight loss, chronic pain or discomfort for the horse, and can ultimately become a serious issue. The only way to know for certain if a gastric ulcer is present is through an endoscopic examination. 

Modern feeding techniques can contribute in part to the high incidence of ulcers. “High grain diets can contribute to excessive stomach acid release, and periods of fasting expose the horse’s stomach to gastric acid,” Grogan says, “For performance horses, diets high in grain are common, as are periods of intermittent feeding, especially before training. In addition, during heavy training the protective benefit of saliva is reduced and stress is intensified by the training, combined with the stress of travelling and performance to further increase the stomach tissue’s exposure to gastric acid.”

In contrast, pasture fed horses rarely develop stomach ulcers. A steady diet of forage allows for continuous eating to match the steady release of stomach acid, and also tends to increase the production of the stomach-protecting saliva. Grain fed horses produce less protective saliva, and both grain and pellet concentrates can increase stomach acid release. However, while putting a horse on pasture is effective, it’s not always practical, especially during performance or heavy training seasons.

Grogan recommends that, from a nutritional perspective, supplying extra digestive support, improving stress response and reducing gut inflammation are vital to managing stomach acid reactions and preventing them in the future.  There are ways to manage an ulcer-prone horse with balanced, nutritional ingredients that can aid in the health of the digestive tract:

• Specially processed rice bran extractives can offer gut-soothing benefit and buffer stomach acid. 
• DGL, a form of licorice, has potent tissue support benefits and aids in the healing of gastric tissue. 
• Sodium-copper chlorophyllins are very soothing to the digestive tract and can support tissue healing. 
• Plant polysaccharide complexes can be good buffering agents, and reduce the acid load. 
• Benefical lactobacillus bacteria helps maintain a healthy digestive tract during periods of stress. 
• Magnesium silicate can act as a buffering agent, reduce the effects of excess stomach acid, and is helpful to digestive tract healing.

Jack Grogan has considerable experience in the fields of biology, biochemistry and nutrition, is an expert in tissue mineral balancing, and has demonstrated considerable success in balancing equine mineral chemistry to strengthen the basic metabolism and improve efficiency in horses. Jack is a consultant to numerous veterinarians, chiropractors, trainers, naturopaths and nutritionists.

Uckele Health & Nutrition has been a trusted leader in the formulation, development and manufacture of quality nutritional supplements for fifty years. With leading edge experience in nutritional research and science, the Uckele team provides private label and custom manufacturing from concept to shelf, formulating a vast array of high potency, balanced nutritional supplements to support optimal health and performance at the highest level.