Turmeric has received a great deal of attention in recent years so it’s perhaps no surprise that horse owners may be more likely to associate it with their feed room than their favourite curry. But how much do we really know about this ‘golden spice’ – is it just one of many unproven fads or could it provide some genuine health benefits?
What is Turmeric?
Turmeric is a plant belonging to the ginger family. Its roots are harvested as a spice which has been used in both cookery and herbal medicine for hundreds of years. Curcumin, the active component in turmeric which provides its yellow pigment is reported to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antidiabetic, anti-arthritic, antimicrobial and chemo-protective effects (to name only a few). Curcumin is also used as a colouring and/ or preservative in food, drinks and cosmetics.
In traditional Indian medicine turmeric has been used to treat a number of ailments and today many people take over the counter supplements for a wide range of conditions including joint pain, heartburn, IBS, Crohn’s disease, bloating, liver problems and even Alzheimer’s. In a recent survey of 1010 horse owners, stiffness/ arthritis and lameness were the most common reasons for feeding turmeric to horses (Marlin et al, 2017).
Does it really work?
Unlike many so called ‘wonder supplements’, a large number of scientific studies investigating the effects of curcumin have produced some promising results relating to a number of human health conditions including cancer and arthritis. However there are a few important considerations to make before assuming any potential benefits automatically translate to turmeric and indeed horses.
- Turmeric contains very small amounts of curcumin (approximately 2%) so some nutritionists question whether it is possible to feed enough turmeric to yield any benefits of the curcumin.
- Curcumin has poor bioavailability and as a result, is often combined with other agents including piperine; a compound in black pepper which has been seen to increase the bioavailability of several drugs. However several scientific reviews of human research report that the efficacy of curcumin as a therapeutic treatment is still to some extent limited.
- Some of this research has been carried out in a laboratory and therefore it’s not possible to say whether the same effects would be achieved ‘in a person’.
- The benefits of curcumin could in theory apply to horses but to date, there have been only a handful of laboratory studies and as yet, there is no scientific evidence to support the use of turmeric supplements in horses.
Is it safe?
Although there is no safety data in horses, the fact curcumin has been safely consumed in a large number of human studies suggests that turmeric is unlikely to cause any harm. Having said this, curcumin is not completely without it’s side effects with a few human studies reporting nausea, diarrhea, headaches and skin rashes, particularly when consumed in larger quantities. In the above horse owner survey, 7% of owners who had fed turmeric reported loose droppings as a side effect (Marlin et al, 2017). Curcumin has been seen to interact with some drugs so if your horse is on any medication, seek advice from your vet before adding turmeric to his feed. Given the lack of safety data for pregnant and breastfeeding women, it may be sensible to avoid supplementation for pregnant and lactating mares.
Do you feed turmeric? If so we’d love to hear about your experience in the comments section below.