ADD SOME SPICE TO THE NEW YEAR?
A big part of holiday ambiance revolves around the fragrance of spices, be it cinnamon spiced hot chocolate, a pumpkin latte or your favorite mulled wine. Spices fill another role besides an evocative olfactory one though. Take turmeric, its biologically active ingredient is curcumin. This spice has been used in Indian cooking and in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries to treat a plethora of maladies, including diarrhea, respiratory infections, dermatitis and even cancer. Tumeric comes from the rhizomes of the plant Curcuma longa, native to Southern Asia and a member of the ginger family.
There is often solid scientific logic to support conventional wisdom about effectiveness of traditional or “home” remedies. In the case of turmeric, the anti-oxidant properties of it’s active ingredient curcumin are what supports its claim to fame. Specifically, this phytochemical (biologically active plant based compound) selectively inhibits damaging cyclooxyrgenase (COX-2) enzymes while sparing the similar, but different, COX-1 enzyme which has protective effects on the stomach and GI tract. This selective inhibition of COX-2 enzymes is also found in commercially available NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like firocoxib (Equioxx or Previcox). This selectivity helps combat inflammation while avoiding the secondary complications of gastric upset/ulcers that are common side effects with NSAID’s such as phenylbutazone (Bute), aspirin or flunixin meglumine (Banamine). Besides the historic use of turmeric to combat inflammation in other parts of the body, relatively recent studies in horses have suggested that it may also significantly reduce inflammation caused by osteoarthritis. Couple this with the low incidence of reported side effects, low cost and easy administration and, what’s not to like?
Well, for the discriminating horse owner, here are a few additional considerations. The hope and promise of turmeric use in the horse may be kiboshed right from the start as the active ingredient curcumin has a low absorption rate in all of the species studied (studies do not include the horse). The appropriate dosage has also not been established and most of the scientific studies showing positive effects have been done in test tubes rather than live animals. The bottom line is that maybe it’s wishful thinking with a dash of placebo effect and the usefulness of turmeric as an oral medication is just too good to be true. On the other hand, turmeric appears to be safe given orally, it is not expensive and just maybe it really is a health promoting supplement that just hasn’t yet been proven scientifically. For now, we must live with the ambiguity because we just don’t know.
In our own research on the subject we have referred to Dr. Doug English, an Australian veterinarian, for his work with turmeric. Check out his website at
We have found it an excellent
resource for additional information. As pointed out earlier, turmeric is not well absorbed by the body. So to improve absorption, Dr English recommends mixing coconut oil and black pepper together with turmeric. This combination can be mixed in with the feed and surprisingly, most horses will eat it. In practice, we have recommended turmeric for horses with arthritis, laminitis, and skin conditions. The amount recommended will vary. We typically recommend starting with a small amount and then increasing it as the horse becomes accustomed to the taste. A discussion with your veterinarian about its use and a review of the available information, including Dr English's website is in order before venturing too far down this 'natural' pathway.
“More research is certainly necessary, but there is sufficient evidence published so far to suggest that natural products such as curcumin may offer some relief to horses with osteoarthritis or other inflammatory conditions."
Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D, Kentucky Equine Research
“The fact that hundreds of respondents have tried turmeric to treat conditions like arthritis in their horses and that a large majority of them consider it moderately or highly effective provides justification for more systematic experimental research." Marlin, et al. UK, USA, JEVS 2017