Apr 29 , 2021
The benefits of Vitamin E in the horse's body
Vitamin E has several critical jobs in the horse's body. It's an antioxidant, supports normal muscle function, and is involved with the immune response.
Vitamin E as an antioxidant
Horses use fats and carbohydrates for energy. Oxidative stress is how free radicals are created within cells as the body uses these fats and carbohydrates. These free radicals are molecules with an odd number of electrons, making an unstable electrical charge. Free radicals plunder other molecules to gain electrons for stability. A cell with stolen electrons often becomes useless and may even result in the cell's death.
During exercise and aging, a horse requires more energy, and in doing so, creates a greater demand for antioxidants. Injuries and diseases also take their toll on a horse's body, creating free radicals. Oxidative stress, when the free radicals outnumber the antioxidants, can contribute to delayed recovery from exercise. Muscles can be sore, and joints can be stiff. In severe cases, tissue damage may occur if the oxidative stress is extreme.
Vitamin E to the rescue! As an antioxidant, vitamin E's job is to seek out and join free radicals, preventing the theft of electrons from healthy cells. Other antioxidants are available to horses, such as vitamin C, carotenoids, blood components, and even amino acids. However, vitamin E is unusual. There's no specific function that requires vitamin E. Instead, it assists with several systems: the reproductive, muscular, circulatory, immune, and nervous systems.
The immune system and the neuromuscular systems of a horse burn a lot of energy to keep a horse healthy and moving. Thus, they produce much oxidative stress, requiring more antioxidants.
Vitamin E in the neuromuscular system
When looking at a horse's neuromuscular system, vitamin E is linked to poor performance and muscle soreness. Additionally, three specific neurological disorders link directly to vitamin E deficiency.
Equine neuroaxonal dystrophy (eNAD) is a genetically related disease affecting young horses. It's usually paired with extended vitamin E deficiency in a horse's early life. Young horses become uncoordinated and clumsy and may progress to severe debilitation. It's thought that vitamin E protects the brain and spinal cord neurons during a horse's early growth.
Equine motor neuron disease (EMND) happens later in life and typically in horses that have been vitamin E deficient for a year and a half or more. A horse's muscles are triggered to function and move by nerves. With EMN, the nerves malfunction and subsequently cause weakness and weight loss. Many horses lie down excessively, have trouble holding their heads up, and stand with their feet close together. Some horses can recover with treatment.
Vitamin E deficient myopathy may happen to horses with a short-term deficiency of vitamin E. Many horses will also show muscle twitching. Muscle weakness is the giveaway. However, it appears that there are no direct neurological changes with this particular vitamin E deficiency. Most horses recover with proper vitamin E in their diets!
For other neurological disorders not directly caused by vitamin E deficiencies, supplementing vitamin E is often helpful. This can include conditions equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM) and wobbler's syndrome.
However, horses with neurological diseases and a healthy blood serum level of vitamin E may not need additional vitamin E.