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Vitamin E has become increasingly popular among horse owners, probably because of its ability to help performance horses recover from exercise quicker. This vitamin is highly effective in combating numerous effects of free radical products that can harm membranes and cell components. Unlike vitamin C, the horse's body cannot synthesize vitamin E, making it crucial to supplement it in the diet.

Free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules with unpaired electrons. These unpaired electrons allow them to interact with other molecules in the body, which can lead to chain chemical reactions. Although these free radicals are formed naturally by the body’s metabolism, if they aren’t controlled, they can cause irreparable damage to the cell. This damage is called oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress arises when there is more free radical activity than antioxidant activity. In this state, free radicals begin to do damage to fatty tissues, DNA, and proteins. These are major components in the body, so damage can lead to diseases such as neurodegenerative, cancer, high blood pressure among others.

Antioxidants are the horse's defence against oxidative stress. Vitamin E is an essential antioxidant that converts these free radicals to more stable molecules, which stops the chain reaction of free radical damage. By protecting tissues from damage, antioxidants can enhance the function of the reproductive, muscular, nervous, circulatory, and immune systems to name a few.

The more active the cells are in your horse, the higher the risk of oxidative stress and damage. Hard-working horses such as rodeo athletes or growing horses are at particularly high risk because their metabolisms work harder, so supplementation is key, especially if they don't have access to lush pasture.

The 2007 National Research Council (NRC) recommends horses consume 1 to 2 IU per kilogram of the horse’s bodyweight. Depending on the availability of Vitamin E in grasses and fresh hay, horses may require additional supplements, either in synthetic or natural forms. Dr. Stephanie Valberg mentions, unlike other fat-soluble vitamins, vitamin E doesn’t accumulate in the body at toxic levels due to protective mechanisms in the horse’s body. Furthermore, the NRC requirements are for a horse at base level, so as a horse experiences higher levels of exercise, stress, illnesses, or prolonged periods of fasting, their requirements will increase. For example, a horse experiencing laminitis should receive 5000 IU/ day to help combat swelling and pain in the hoof and lamina.

Dietary sources of vitamin E include forages, whole grains with the endosperm intact, as well as fats and oilseeds. Horse owners should be knowledgeable about their forages since vitamin E content will decrease with the age of the plant and with processing.

Another important nutritional antioxidant is selenium. This mineral works in tandem to combat free radicals in the body. Selenium works is a component of an important enzyme that works in concert with vitamin E to protect the body's cells and further fortify the immune system.

Finding supplements containing vitamin E and selenium can help your horse to reach its top performance. The antioxidant activity can lead to increased muscle tone and immune function, leading to a healthier horse overall. Saltec molasses lick tubs offer high palatability and are an excellent option for adding antioxidants into your horse's diet. The Saltec Fortified Pro has high levels of vitamin E along with protein and fat, making it a great choice for late summer or early fall. If protein isn't a concern, the Saltec Mineral Lick Pro still has adequate vitamin E and selenium levels.

Reference

Dix, M. 2017. Everything you should know about oxidative stress. Healthline. [blog] https://www.healthline.com/health/oxidative-stress

Kane, E., 2004. Vitamin E is essential equine nutrient. DVM Magazine, May 2004. p. 10E-15E.

McKinnon, J. 2017. Vitamin E and selenium – the odd couple. Canadian Cattlemen [blog] https://www.canadiancattlemen.ca/2017/02/01/vitamin-e-and-selenium-the-odd-couple/

Niblock, S. 2018. Are you feeding enough vitamin E? Horse Journal. [blog] https://www.horsejournals.com/horse-care/feed-nutrition/are-you-feeding-enough-vitamin-e

Valberg, S. 2019. Vitamin E in Equine Nutrition: Three Questions. Equinews; Nutrition and Health Daily. [blog] https://ker.com/equinews/vitamin-e-in-equine-nutrition-three- questions/?utm_source=KER+Newsletter&utm_campaign=7ce34547af-Focus_on_Antioxidants&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0d95781dfc-7ce34547af-598919

Williams, C., Atherly, L., Hirsch, J. 2007. Antioxidants and your horse. Rutgers University. [factsheet] https://esc.rutgers.edu/fact_sheet/antioxidants-and-your-horse/.