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Too Much Salt Might Be Killing Gut Bacteria

The last two weeks has seen extreme weather conditions for us in my local area in Australia. In the last 14 days, 7 days have been 40 degrees celsius or higher (104 F +) and of the other 7 days only one was below 37 degrees C (99 F). To make things worse, the nights will not cool down, with most nights remaining over 20 degrees C (68 F) and a couple of nights being 26 + degrees C (79 F). On more than one occasion I have checked temperatures between midnight and 3 am and it has been 30 degrees or more in the middle of the night! It is HOT!!!

My horses are crusted in salt from continuous sweating. I took pity on them today and instead of having them out grazing with muzzles on they have hay in their hay pillows so they can at least stay in the shade.

But back to salt. I normally just let my horses eat salt free choice. Their balancer pellet gives them about 5 grams of salt per day and the rest of what they need they eat as loose rock salt.

BUT, the last couple of weeks I have been adding it to their feeds so I know they are getting enough to keep sweating. If horses run low on sodium or chloride they can’t sweat, and that, in these conditions is life-threateningly dangerous.

There is a trend at the moment though for people to add large amounts of salt to their horse’s daily feeds, despite actual requirements or what may be coming from the rest of their diet. Blanket recommendations like ‘add 10 grams of salt per 100 kg of bodyweight’ seem to be commonplace, yet don’t seem to take into account a horse’s specific situation.

Take Poet’s diet for example, shown in the graph below. If I add 10 g/100 kg of BW to his diet his sodium intake is well over 200% of what he needs. In these extreme conditions this may well be accurate, but once it cools off a little this is way more sodium than he needs.

While I was out just now giving them hay I had the thought ‘I wonder what this excessive salt might be doing to the bacteria in their gut’?? Salt is, after all one of the best known and most widely used anti-bacterial agents in the world.

So I did a little research… and while not much came up, there is a recent paper, published in ‘Nature’ (i.e. one of the most reputable journals in the world, so we can trust it) showing that in both mice and men adding more salt than normal to a diet affected the gut bacterial populations, in some cases it entirely wiped out certain strains of bacteria! Eek!

What is really interesting (from a human perspective) is that the researchers were then able to link those shifts in gut bacteria to high blood pressure, which may help to explain (the as yet poorly understood) link between high salt diets and hypertension.

Back to your horses though… feeding excessive salt is unlikely to have any benefit and may be negatively affecting the good bacteria in your horse’s gut. So when using FeedXL, just meet your horse’s requirement for sodium with salt that is added to the diet. Then leave free choice salt (preferably as easy to eat loose rock salt) out so they can top up any extra requirement they may have.

The paper is here if anyone would like to read it in more detail: https://www.nature.com/articles/nature24628

Questions? Comments?

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Gastric Ulcer Medications and Their Effect on Digestion

Q: Does gastric ulcer medication reduce nutrient digestion in horses?

Someone asked me this in a recent seminar and it reminded me that when I was studying during my PhD tenure we had looked at the effect of pre-incubating grains in equine stomach fluid on the digestion of starch from those grains.

And what we found was that starch from grains that were exposed to equine stomach fluid before being digested by small intestinal enzymes was between 17% (extruded rice) and 104% (cracked triticale) MORE digested than starch that wasn’t exposed to the stomach fluid. So the stomach fluid was having a definite positive influence on the digestion of starch.

What we can’t say from this research was how much of this increased starch digestion was due to the stomach acid and how much was due to the protein digesting enzymes the are present in stomach fluid that would be starting protein digestion and making access to the grain starch easier for the starch digesting enzymes in the small intestine.

The thing to remember though is that the protein digesting enzymes in a horse’s stomach fluid rely on the stomach acid to activate them. So regardless of whether the improved digestion was due to the acid itself or the protein digesting enzymes, if you stop acid production using ulcer medications you will lose both the acid and the enzymes.

So, if we use medications like ranitidine and omeprazole to reduce gastric acid secretion in horses we are very likely reducing the digestion of at least some nutrients further down the gastrointestinal tract.
What to do??? Well, if your horse has ulcers this is by far the most important consideration, you need to medicate to get rid of the ulcers as quickly and as effectively as you can.

BUT, once the ulcers are gone it is recommended you use good management practices to keep your horses chewing, their stomachs full and buffered with saliva and their minds calm instead of constantly using medication to prevent ulcers. That way you are allowing their gastrointestinal tract to function the way it was designed (albeit I would love the opportunity to redesign parts of their gut!) and allowing the digestion process to be as effective as possible.

More info on feeding to prevent ulcers in our article ‘Avoiding Gastric Ulcers’ here https://feedxl.com/8-avoiding-gastric-ulcers/

Happy to share the method for the in vitro assay used to conduct this work with anyone who would like the details!

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Gut Bacteria and Human Health

We talk a lot about a horse’s gut bacteria and how they impact health… have you ever stopped to think about your gut bacteria and how they might be influencing your health?? This relatively new area of science quite literally blows my mind. These tiny critters control us in so many ways and have such a massive impact on our life that it is truly worth thinking about how what you eat affects them (and then how they affect you).

Here are a few very quick bits of info that are quite amazing… you ready?!

1. Bacteria in your body outnumber your human cells by 10 to 1, so in actual fact, we are 10 parts bacteria, 1 part human.

2. Bacterial DNA in our body outnumbers our human DNA by 100 to 1, so in that respect we are only 1% human (Don’t think about that too much!!)

3. Bacteria like to tell us what to eat. Certain foods are their favorites so in order for them to survive, they will make us go and eat their favorite foods! This is OK if you have a nice healthy population of fibre/vegetable loving bacteria in your gut. But it becomes an issue when you have accidentally bred up a sugar or fat loving bunch of microbes. Next time you are craving sugar or fatty food you can probably blame your bacteria! In saying that, if you starve the ones you don’t want in there (e.g. stop eating sugar) the cravings should lessen!

4. Bacteria produce mood altering hormones like dopamine and serotonin. Studies suggest half of these hormones in our body come from our intestine! Get the wrong bacteria and you could very likely be in the ‘wrong’ mood!

5. Bacteria can reduce or increase anxiety. In mice, taking the gut bacteria from nervous mice and introducing them to calm mice made the calm mice anxious! Scary huh!!

This list could go on (and on… and on!). There are known relationships between diseases like asthma and Type 2 Diabetes and gut bacteria for example. Suffice to say they are important little critters and probably have far more of an influence on you (and your horse) than you realise.

Eat well! Keep those bacteria healthy … I can’t help you much here (other than eat more real food and less junk) but certainly when it comes to feeding your horses, always think about how what you are feeding is affecting their gut bacteria. If you have time, have a read of our article on feeding for hindgut health!
https://feedxl.com/15-keeping-the-hindgut-healthy/

And if you’d like to read some more about all the amazing interactions you have with your own bacteria, this article is good! https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4270213/

Enjoy!! Nerida

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The Link Between Regular Forage Meals and Gut Health

Poet and I (Nerida) headed out a few weeks ago to do some real work mustering sheep (not that we did anything useful, we were just along for the ride!). There were 5 of us on horses, saddled up by 6:30 am and in incredibly steep, rocky, tough (but stunning!) terrain for 6 hours. At various points we dismounted and slid (feet sideways) down parts of the mountainside because it was too steep to ride. Sheep were tripping and rolling down the hill (amusing! but gives you an idea of how steep it was!!).

Anyway, here is me, very conscious of gastric ulcers, giving my horse lucerne/alfalfa as I saddled up, letting him pick what grass we could find while out riding if we were stopped for any time so he at least salivated a little bit and immediately giving him water and more lucerne/alfalfa on return to where we had saddled up… meanwhile stifling my panic at watching the other horses eating nothing and trying not to think too much about what was going on in their stomachs.

I asked one of the guys, an experienced horseman, if he worried about ulcers, and it soon became clear that there was no understanding of how a horse’s stomach worked and the negative impact of not feeding them for such long (long!) periods of time (his horse had a couple of hours trip home).

I also asked recently at a seminar who could confidently sketch a horse’s gut or explain how it works and no-one was able to. And I get this… I had no idea what a horse’s gut looked like or how it worked the entire time I rode in my pre-nutritionist life!

The thing is, a horses stomach never stops secreting gastric acid. So even when your horse is not eating it is filling the lower part of its stomach up with acidic gastric juices. While the stomach is full this isn’t an issue as the dense matt of fibre in the gut will stop the acid from splashing around and burning the unprotected lining of the upper section of the stomach.

Problems start though when horses are off feed for long periods like this and end up with a pool of acid and an empty stomach. Combine that with the movement of being ridden and you get acid splashing up and quite literally burning holes (causing ulcers) in the top part of the stomach.

So here is my plea! Please help us to educate people on how a horse’s stomach works and what they can do (really simple things) to keep their horse’s stomach and therefore their horse healthy and pain free. Share this article on Avoiding Gastric Ulcers with them and have them understand that a horse’s stomach should never be empty and that as much as is practical you should never work a horse on an empty stomach.

Thank you!! From us and from all of the horses who will be so much better off when their owners understand how they work just a tiny bit better.

The Impact of Proton Pump Inhibitors on Gut Bacteria

An interesting read about the impact of proton pump inhibitors (PPI) like Omeprazole (the major drug we use to treat equine gastric ulcer syndrome) on the gut bacteria in humans! https://gut.bmj.com/content/early/…/12/09/gutjnl-2015-310376

While these drugs are a huge help in setting up an environment in the equine stomach where ulcers can heal, they are overused in many horses (some racehorses are never taken off these drugs) to prevent ulcers in place of management systems that will reduce a horses risk of ulcers (like feeding a forage meal to fill the stomach prior to work).

Makes me wonder what PPIs may be doing to the equine gut bacterial populations… one study I can find (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/eve.07_12792) shows no impact on equine fecal bacterial populations, but use of omeprazole in these horses was only short term and the study doesn’t specify the dose used. The fecal microbiota also aren’t necessarily reflective of what is happening further up the gastrointestinal tract.

Something to keep in mind if you have a horse on a PPI medication long-term. Needs some more research!

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How to ‘Measure’ Gut Health

Gut health! It’s so important but also really hard to ‘measure’. One way to get a bit of an indication of what your horse’s hindgut health is like is to check faecal pH.

A healthy hindgut will stay at quite a neutral pH, close to 7. At this pH the good fibre fermenting bacteria will be living happily ever after and doing an amazing job of digesting fibre for your horse.

A high pH (over 8) may indicate that there is not a lot of fibre fermentation happening in the hindgut for some reason, while a low pH (less than 6.5) may indicate that there is too much fermentation of starch and sugars happening. The good fibre fermenting bacteria don’t like living in these lower pH conditions and will be starting to shut down. If pH goes below 6.2 you can be almost certain that a lot of your good fibre fermenting bacteria will be starting to die and your horse will lose the ability to digest fibre (which then causes all sorts of problems including weight loss and vitamin deficiency).

So if you want to do a quick check on hindgut health, grab a ‘soil pH test kit’ (google that, you will find plenty of options for inexpensive kits) and use it on a fresh pile of your horse’s manure. You might find that pH is just right, or you may just find that something is a little out of kilter and you need to adjust the diet to get it back to a more neutral pH.

Have fun! I spent three years of my life measuring faecal pHs, fond memories! 😂

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Enzymes, What Do They Do for Your Horse?

When a horse eats, much of its feed is made up of LARGE carbohydrate, fat and protein molecules. The horse can only absorb tiny little molecules from its gut (because if big stuff was able to cross from the gut into your horse’s body all sorts of bacteria, toxins and general muck would pass into the body and cause disease havoc!).

So before absorption from the small intestine can occur, the big stuff must be chopped up into little stuff. And it is enzymes in your horse’s gut that do this chopping.

It is easiest to think of digestive enzymes as little pairs of scissors. Let’s look at starch as an example. Starch (found in cereal grains like barley and corn/maize) is made up of lots of glucose molecules, all joined together. The job of the starch digesting enzymes in your horse’s small intestine is to cut starch into single pieces of glucose. Then it is the glucose that your horse is able to absorb.

Each nutrient has its own specific set of enzymes in your horse’s small intestine. So there are specific enzymes to digest/chop up starch, protein and fats/oils.

To learn more about enzymes and your horse’s digestive system, read https://feedxl.com/31-the-gastrointestinal-tract/

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Trypsin Inhibitor in Soybean

Soybean naturally contains an anti-nutritional factor called trypsin inhibitor. Trypsin inhibitor is a compound that actually blocks the action of trypsin (which is an enzyme, or as I call them, a little pair of scissors, in the horses gut that cuts up protein so it can be absorbed by the horse). When trypsin is blocked by soybean a horse can no longer digest protein… not very useful right?!

So if soybean contains stuff that stops a horse from digesting protein, why on earth would we use it in a horse’s ration???

This is talked about a lot and often given as a reason why soybean should not be fed to horses. BUT, if you’ve been hanging around us here at FeedXL for a while you will have heard us say many times that if soybean is cooked properly trypsin inhibitor is destroyed which then makes soybean perfectly safe to feed. And given it is the best of the best when it comes to quality plant protein it makes a valuable addition to diets in so many ways.

To check soybean products to see if they have been cooked properly there is a test kit called Soycheck (http://lsbproducts.com/…/46/understanding-soybean-processing)… this kit gives a rapid visual check on whether soybean has been cooked enough to destroy the trypsin inhibitor. Soybean products that still have active trypsin inhibitor will show red coloring while properly cooked products will have no red coloring at all.

The photo above shows a test we did on Tuesday this week. We had completely raw full fat soybean on the left which is clearly bright red indicating it has all of its trypsin inhibitor still present. The product on the right is Pryde’s Protein Pak, which has been extruded and shows no hint of red coloring to demonstrate beautifully how, when done properly, trypsin inhibitor can be destroyed without destroying the actual soybean and all of its amazing protein! Happy days for those of us who love the benefits soybean can bring to a diet!

Gut Bacteria, Vitamin B1, and Behaviour… Are They Linked?

The short answer is yes! Here is how:

Vitamin B1 has been observed to have an influence on behavior in multiple animal species, including horses. A horse will meet its vitamin B1 requirements via the vitamin B1 it eats in its diet and from vitamin B1 produced by the bacteria in its hindgut.

There are two main families of bacteria living in your horse’s hindgut:

1. The fiber fermenting bacteria who love to ferment fibre from the forage your horse eats. These little critters are the ones we consider the ‘good bacteria’; and
2. The starch and sugar fermenting bacteria who prefer to ferment starch and sugars. These we generally consider to be the ‘bad bacteria’.

The good bacteria PRODUCE vitamin B1 that your horse can then absorb and use.

On the other hand, the bad bacteria produce a compound called ‘Thiaminase’ that actually destroys vitamin B1 (also known as thiamine) that is in the gut, making it useless to your horse.

If your horse has too many bad bacteria, and not enough of the good ones your horse may not get enough vitamin B1 and behavioral changes may occur.

How do you avoid this? Keep your horse’s hindgut healthy with an abundant population of good bacteria. The main two things you should do to achieve this are:

1. Feed lots of forage!; and
2. Never feed uncooked grains (with the exception of oats for some horses)

For more tips on keeping your horse’s hindgut healthy head on over to https://feedxl.com/15-keeping-the-hindgut-healthy/

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Meal Size: Why Should it Be Little and Often?

We have all been told ‘Little and often’ when it comes to feeding horses. But why?

Well, when you consider horses are ‘grazers’ and their gut has been designed to work best with small amounts being consumed constantly over long periods of the day and night (they eat for up to 17 hours a day, can you imagine having to do that!) it makes sense that they should be fed small meals frequently.

But let me give you a visual (in words) on why it is best to feed little and often… In the horse’s small intestine there are things called enzymes, which are like tiny pairs of scissors. An enzymes job is to cut big things like protein, starch and fats up into very small things like amino acids (the building blocks of protein), glucose the building block of starch) and fatty acids (a building block of fats).

Unless the enzymes chop protein, starch and fat up they will not get absorbed as they are far too big to cross the intestinal wall intact. So for absorption to occur, these little enzymes MUST chop the big stuff into little stuff!

Now, imagine I was to give you a pair of scissors and then held up a long piece of ribbon. If I walked past you very, very slowly holding this ribbon and said ‘chop the ribbon into small pieces’, you would have plenty of time to chop the ribbon multiple times into small pieces. This is what happens in the gut. If a piece of protein for example goes moving through the small intestine very very slowly, the little enzymes have plenty of time to chop it up into amino acids so it can be absorbed.

Now imagine if I held up another piece of ribbon, exactly the same as the first, but this time I RUN past you and tell you to chop it up… you might get one shot at it (I am not very fast!) before it is gone. And this is exactly what happens in the gut. If feed is moving too quickly through the gut the poor little enzymes simply don’t get enough time to chop anything up. Meaning it simply won’t be absorbed.

So back to meal size and the little and often concept… when you feed small meals, the feed will move nice and slowly through the gut and the enzymes will be able to do their job and fully digest it so your horse gains full benefit.

Feed large meals and all of a sudden you increase the speed with which it will travel through the gut and reduce the amount of time the enzymes have to do their cutting… meaning your horse misses out on a lot of the value from that feed. It will be digested to some extent in the hindgut but a lot of value is lost.

So while not the only reason you should feed little and often, it is a really important one to keep in mind.

If you have a horse struggling to gain weight eating huge feeds, you might find you get better results by feeding less! Something to consider 

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