Before we get into the health benefits of spirulina for horses, let’s brush up on what we’ve already learned about the blue-green algae and its centuries-long usage by humans:
Spirulina is often called one of nature’s most perfect foods because of its nutrient density. Studies conducted by NASA found that 1 kg of spirulina had the same nutritional equivalent as 1000 kg of assorted vegetables. Nicknamed “pond scum” due to the fact that it grows in fresh water, spirulina has been studied for its beneficial effects on allergies, diabetes, sports performance, and a healthy digestive system.
Spirulina was discovered by the Spanish conquistadors. But this microscopic blue-green algae (technically called cyanobacteria) has been on the planet for the past 3.6 billion years. The Spanish found spirulina grew on fresh water lakes, and was consumed by the Aztecs and Mayans as a regular addition to their meals.
It wasn’t until NASA started testing spirulina in the late 1970’s that spirulina gained more worldwide attention. Spirulina was chosen by NASA to enrich the diets of astronauts in space.
Spirulina and inflammation:
The anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine properties of spirulina have been well researched. In one study levels of inflammatory marking cytokines were measured and the researchers found that spirulina significantly reduced interleukin-4 levels by 32%.
Spirulina provides gamma linolenic acid (GLA) which helps regulate the pro inflammatory and anti inflammatory prostaglandins. In an allergic response, the body will increase the pro inflammatory prostaglandins. GLA raises levels of the anti inflammatory prostaglandins, thus helping to reduce inflammation.
Although there are no studies on spirulina for horses with seasonal allergies, the anecdotal evidence is that many horses do get relief when on spirulina.
Spirulina and the immune system:
Researchers in Tokyo found spirulina significantly inhibited the humoral immune response, cell mediated immune response reaction, and tumor necrosis factor alpha in mice (Natural Medicine, 2008). Other studies have also concluded that spirulina is capable of suppressing an overactive immune system.
This is particularly important for horses and dogs with allergies, whose overactive immune systems release antibodies and trigger inflammation.
Spirulina and type 2 Diabetes:
Animal studies and several small human studies showed significantly lower blood sugar levels following spirulina intake. One study in India (Asian J. Exp. Biol.Sci., Vol 1 (1) 2010: 36-46) with 160 male diabetics that were non-insulin dependent concluded that spirulina has hypoglycemic effects, which helps diabetics control blood glucose levels.
At present there are no studies on the effect of Spirulina on insulin-resistant horses; however, many owners of metabolic horses report how well their horses do on spirulina.
Spirulina can spare glycogen muscle reserves in the body, and reduce oxidative stress according to human sports nutrition studies. There is every reason to believe that spirulina for horses yields the same benefits. Researchers also found a reduction in muscle damage and inflammation, which may be due to the high levels of antioxidants in spirulina.
A study published in 2010 on runners: Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise (Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Jan, 42(1): 142-51) showed that “spirulina induced a significant increase in exercise performance.”
Adding spirulina to the diet of sport and performance horses may help reduce muscle stress due to exercise-induced inflammation, and may contribute to increased stamina and better performance.
Spirulina as prebiotic:
Research has shown that spirulina promotes the growth of various species of beneficial gut bacteria, and helps to inhibit the growth of harmful pathogenic bacteria. (World Journal of Dairy and Food Sciences 4 (2): 160-163, 2009)
Supporting the microbiome of the GI tract is one of the keys to health in horses.
Key Nutrients in Spirulina:
Spirulina provides the essential amino acids, vitamins A, E and K, the B-complex including B12, macro and micro minerals including: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, selenium, manganese, potassium, iron, zinc, sodium and copper. Spirulina is an excellent source of SOD, the powerful antioxidant. The high content of polyphenols and phenolic compounds provides additional high antioxidant activity.
Spirulina contains the nucleic acids (RNA/ DNA) that can assist in the repair of damaged genetic material in cells. According to Dr. Bernard Jensen, Ph.D: “ when RNA and DNA are in good repair and able to function most efficiently, cells are able to repair themselves and the energy level and vitality of the whole body is raised.” This may contribute to a slow down of the aging process.
When nutrients come from food, they cause less stress to the GI tract and the body system at large. Nutrients that are made from coal tar and petroleum are less bioavailable and they lack the co-factors and enzymes for absorption.
My horse Lionheart has been on spirulina for the past 10 years. Lionheart was not a candidate for a long life when he was younger: he had chronic foot issues, joint issues, stomach issues, back issues. He was a walking vet bill. When I retired him at 17 I hoped he would make it to age 20. He is now 28 years old. He has no health issues, no metabolic issues, and still chases the dogs out of his paddock. Spirulina isn’t the only reason he is living long and comfortably, but it is an important part of diet and lifestyle. I wish I had taken spirulina for horses more seriously and fed it to him when he was four years old.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.