Inflammation and Insulin Dysregulation Equine Research

The premise of the study is that long-term, starch-fed diets in horses can elicit low-grade systemic inflammation with the potential to develop ID.

The premise of the study is that long-term, starch-fed diets in horses can elicit low-grade systemic inflammation with the potential to develop ID. iStock/Melissa Anne Galleries

At the current time, it is thought that insulin dysregulation and high insulin blood levels increase the risk of laminitis in horses. With that in mind, equine dietary recommendations focus on limitations of high starch and high sugar diets as strategies to reduce insulin secretion following a meal.

The Morris Animal Foundation, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Melbourne led by Nicholas Bamford, BVSc, PhD, DACVIM, are investigating the effects of low-grade systemic inflammation as a contributor to insulin dysregulation (ID). Blood samples from 49 horses involved in previous diet studies at the University of Melbourne and University of Minnesota are being analyzed for adiponectin and serum amyloid A (SAA). Reduced adiponectin levels correspond to insulin dysregulation in horses. SAA is an inflammatory marker and might help with identification of ID. 

The study recognizes that 90% of laminitis cases are attributable to insulin dysregulation. Studies have identified that 15% of horse owners experience laminitis in their horses, with 5% of the cases being euthanized.

The premise of the study is that long-term, starch-fed diets in horses can elicit low-grade systemic inflammation with the potential to develop ID.

Previous dietary studies assessed the response to feeding high-sugar or high-starch diets for seven or 20 weeks. While not all horses were sampled for adiponectin and SAA, in those that were, the high-starch, 20-week diet resulted in ID along with decreased adiponectin and increased SAA. The horses on the high-sugar diet did not develop insulin resistance despite development of obesity.

All blood samples from horses in the dietary study will now have blood samples evaluated for adiponectin and SAA and how it correlates to ID.

Results from the research could help fine-tune dietary recommendations for ID affected horses.

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