Q: Has there been any research into the benefits of turmeric for horses? Turmeric supplements have become very popular for horses in my equestrian circles—particularly those with pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID, Cushing’s) or metabolic issues—but I don’t know much about it.
Name withheld by request
A: The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which has both anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. In horses, several laboratory studies focusing on white blood cells and tissue (cartilage) have shown curcumin may have anti-inflammatory effects. A preliminary study also suggests curcumin may decrease signs of pain in horses with osteoarthritis.
Older horses are more likely to have inflammatory conditions, and endocrine disorders most often occur in middle-aged horses. Pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction, which results in the production of excessive amounts of pituitary-derived hormones, has been associated with oxidative stress in the pituitary gland. Inflammation also may play a role in the development of equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), an endocrine disorder characterized by laminitis, insulin resistance or dysregulation, increased fat deposits in specific locations of the body or overall obesity.
Because curcumin works as both an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, it seems plausible it could have beneficial effects for horses with endocrine disease. However, an effective (and safe) dose for curcumin has not yet been established in horses. Furthermore, clinical trials demonstrating efficacy of curcumin in treatment or prevention of endocrine disease (PPID or EMS) have not yet been performed.
The primary treatment for PPID is the drug pergolide (brand name Prascend). This has been found to be effective in reducing hormone levels, abnormal hair growth, muscle wasting, and other signs associated with the condition. Horses with EMS can often be successfully managed with low-carbohydrate feed rations and weight reduction regimens. At present, there is limited evidence to support the use of curcumin in horses with PPID or EMS.
Heidi Banse, DVM, PhD
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
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