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Equine immune system

January 22, 2021 4 min read

Equine immune system

The horse’s immune system plays a critical role in tackling the infections that it encounters.It is instrumental in protecting the horse when foreign invaders, such as viruses, parasites, fungi, or bacteria, breach the physical barriers—such as skin and mucous membranes—and enter the body. The immune system is composed of two main branches. Innate immunity, present from birth, is the first line of defense against invading pathogens. Adaptive immunity, acquired later in life, is highly specific and involves immune cells such as T and B cells, that recognize and target specific proteins expressed by pathogens.


Chronic stress, whether physical or mental, weakens the immune system. Performance horses are continually exposed to strenuous exercise, anxiety and stress due to frequent competition, all of which can lead to impaired immunity. Also, these horses travel a lot to competition venues and the associated stress further dampens their immunity exposing them to a wide array of infections. There is also increased exposure to infectious agents due to contact with other horses at these venues. Foals present a different set of challenges, in this respect, as they may exhibit delayed onset of immunity. Yet another group of horses requiring immune support arehorses with compromised or inadequate immune responses, e.g., senior horses. 


Nutrition is closely linked to immunity and immune function. Thisincorporating immune stimulator supplements in the diets of equine athletes can provide a much needed boost to their immune systems. 


The greatest known superpower of all medicinal mushrooms is their ability to regulate the immune system. They contain powerful sugars called beta-glucans, which have been found to help fight inflammation and balance the immune system. While medicinal mushrooms are generally known to confer broad immune activity, individual species often possess unique immunological properties. Turkey tail mushroom extracts are known toincrease resistance to bacterial and fungal infections. This mushroom alsocontains a wide variety of antioxidants which help promote immune system health by reducing inflammation and stimulating the release of protective compounds. Functional components in other mushrooms, such as Reishi, may alter inflammation pathways in the white blood cells. Also, some molecules found in Reishi can bolster the activity of natural killer cells, the first line of defense against pathogens. Another medicinal mushroom, Lion’s mane, contains polysaccharide molecules, thathave an enhancing effect on T cells and macrophages - important players in the equine immune process. Small immunomodulatory proteins found in Lion’s mane possess direct antibacterial activity against a wide variety of pathogens such as MRSA (methicillin-resistantStaphylococcus aureus) andHelicobacter pylori


Another potent immune stimulator known to science is bovine colostrum (BC). It is thefirst milk produced by cows after calving and contains numerous beneficial substancesthat can provide a strong nutritional base for any species.It contains a large percentage of antibodies called immunoglobulins (Igs) which are central to the immune function of any organism. These special proteins can specifically bind virtually any bacteria, virus, protein, peptide, carbohydrate or cell that the body recognizes as “foreign.” Once the immunoglobulins attach themselves to the foreign substance, scavenger cells of the immune system can attack and destroy or neutralize it. In fact, BC is 40 times richer in immune factors than even human colostrum. BC contains a substance, called PRP or colistrinin, that has the ability to modulate the immune response by either turning up an underactive immune system or turning down an overactive one. Interestingly, BC contains many protective factors that can prevent the Igs from being degraded in the horse’s gastrointestinal tract, facilitating long-term surveillance against pathogenic invaders. Three proteins found in colostrum — lactoferrin, lysozyme, and lactoperoxidase — provide non-specific protection against bacteria, viruses and fungi. Small antimicrobial peptides in BC can not only kill bacteria such asSalmonella,E. coli andStaphylococcus, but have also been shown to be effective against a number of viruses, and even protozoan parasites, such as amoebas, which cause dysentery and other gastric diseases. 

Recent scientific reports have highlighted the beneficial effects of probiotics on the host defense system. TheWorld Health Organization defines probiotics as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”. Also called as direct-fed microbials (DFM), probiotic preparations commonly consisting of bacteria such as Lactobacillus,Enterococcus,Bifidobacterium, andStreptococcusand the yeastSaccharomyces, are used for horses. These species are classified as a generally recognized as safe dietary supplement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Probiotics can modulate the function of T and B cells, dendritic cells and macrophages – all major players in your equine athlete’s immune arsenal. They can block pathogenic bacterial effects by producing bactericidal substances and competing with pathogens for space and nutrients in the horse’s gut. Probiotics can also stimulate the protective responses of various host gut cells. It is believed that live probiotics and/or probiotic-derived bioactives could extend their beneficial roles by modulating the immune system beyond the gut, such as on the gut-liver axis and the gut-brain-skin axis. 


Key immunoceuticals are present in medicinal mushrooms, probiotics, and BC that can deliver a powerful boost to a tired horse’s immune system. These ingredients can deliver a heavy dose of healing compounds, modulate immunity, and effectively target invading pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Thus, supplementing your horse’s diet with these ingredients can dramatically restore immunity, prevent infection, and speed healing and recovery from illness.



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