Could a small daily dose of white willow bark protect against the onset of laminitis?
The use of metabolomics is a fast track to discovering underlying causes and mechanisms of disease in humans and horses. This technique is a rapidly growing area simply because of the technology available to detect and identify the signaling and inflammatory chemicals that are released during a disease process. Many of you are in a state of complete shock when a previously completely well horse suddenly develops a devastating laminitic attack often causing death and certainly causing devastation, these attacks occur even when the diet is strictly managed and every care is taken to avoid the event. In a very recent paper scientists have recreated the ‘food poisoning’ event that occurs in the hind gut which allows toxins to flood through the gastro intestinal tract, leading to multi organ failure which eventually causes the failure of the sensitive laminae in the feet but which originally occurs during a failure event in the gut. It is very important to understand that this type of laminitis is different to endocrinopathic laminits relating to EMS which appears to have a build- up time and relates to adipose tissue raised insulin/glucose levels and the release of inflammatory chemicals from the fat pad deposits. It is entirely possible to have both of course.
The scientists found that ‘well’ horses release one chemical signaling marker ( determinable by blood testing) in the small intestine which remains stable, but the level of this chemical falls prior to an attack of the ‘food poisoning’ type of laminitis which also precedes the failure of the gut barrier prior to the laminitis/ colic event. There appears to be a correlation between the production of this chemical, the level to which it falls and the symptoms which occur after. Making it possible for the first time to predict whether the horse is likely to have multiple organ failure, ie if the levels drop below a certain measurable amount the horse will develop colic like symptoms followed by a devastating attack of laminitis, it can also predict those horses which will survive and those which are likely to die. This means that owners will be able to know and understand that there apparently ‘well’ looking horse is in fact ‘sick’ with the potential for a life threatening ‘food poisoning’ event
This also means that there is a potential window of opportunity to manage the gastro intestinal event before it hits the feet. Very surprisingly it was also discovered that a horse will produce two chemicals that are identical to compounds occurring in white willow and one other common hedgerow plant both prior and during the devastating inflammatory event without being fed either plant. This was a completely unexpected result and one which may present an opportunity for prevention and intervention. As the science is going to take some time to trickle through from the research labs to the stable yard, it may be worth examining the subject of prevention more closely, the doses of both compounds are very small and if given as an oral supplementation require both careful management and purity of compounds. If anyone is interesting in knowing more please let me know as the area of inflammation is complex and will require some unravelling before safe doses can be recommended. We are currently funded for research in the area of metabolomics/ respiratory bleeding in racehorses but have been offered a follow on year if enough of you are interested it may be possible to include or put together another study. With the technology available it might also be possible to develop a test using saliva rather than blood which would make management much easier and would serve to test whether the dose of the two natural compounds are doing the job.