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CoolStance copra is a unique horse feed because it has low Non Structural Carbohydrate (NSC), and yet has a high digestible energy content.
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Low NSC feed for insulin resistant horses

What is Insulin Resistance in horses

Insulin resistance in horses is similar to Type II diabetes in humans, and describes the condition where the cells in the muscles and liver lose sensitivity to insulin, and are unable to continue to take up glucose. Insulin resistance is directly related to the high intake of sugar and starch (Non Structural Carbohydrates, NSC).

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas to control blood glucose levels. When feed containing non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) - like simple sugars or starches - are eaten, they are digested and absorbed into the blood as glucose. Insulin is then released to signal to the muscle and liver cells to absorb the glucose, and to promote glycogen formation. Once glucose is absorbed and the glucose concentration in the blood drops back to normal levels, the insulin is broken down and insulin levels also return to normal.

Resistance to insulin can then be defined as where the body's cells become less sensitive to the effects of insulin on glucose uptake. The cells become more resistant to the effects of insulin on glucose uptake, and so higher levels of insulin are required to maintain normal blood glucose levels after a high-sugar or high-starch (high NSC ) meal.

How do I know my horse is Insulin Resistant

The most serious implication of insulin resistance is laminitis. Recent research conducted by Pollitt and co-workers at the University of Queensland has shown that high levels of insulin circulating in the blood induced Obel grade 1 laminitis within 36 hours which later progressed to Obel Grade 2 laminitis in all 4 feet in otherwise clinically normal ponies. Thus it is possible that if your horse is overweight and has insulin resistance it will be at a much higher risk of developing laminitis.

Research suggests that exercise, a controlled diet and a healthy weight-loss program can help to restore a horse's insulin sensitivity in obese horses. In a study conducted by Freestone and co-workers in 1992, they found that within 2 weeks of commencing controlled feed intake and an exercise program (which was 1 minute of walking, 1 minute trotting and 8 minutes of extended trot or canter) the ponies lost weight and regained some of their insulin sensitivity.
For horses with a lean body but patchy fat distribution it is possible that exercise will help to reduce the severity of insulin resistance. However, for horses with Cushing's Disease, insulin resistance is part of the syndrome, and careful dietary management is required to avoid the risk of laminitis.

What causes Insulin Resistance in horses

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas to control blood glucose levels. When feed containing NSC - like simple sugars or starches - are eaten, they are digested and absorbed into the blood as glucose. Insulin is then released to signal to the muscle and liver cells to absorb the glucose, and to promote glycogen formation. Once glucose is absorbed and the glucose concentration in the blood drops back to normal levels, the insulin is broken down and insulin levels also return to normal. This is termed insulin sensitivity, ie the cells are sensitive to insulin.

Insulin resistance is where the body's cells become less sensitive to the effects of insulin on glucose uptake (1), and the cells become more resistant to the effects of insulin on glucose uptake, and so higher levels of insulin are required to maintain normal blood glucose levels after a high-sugar or high-starch (high NSC ) meal. Eventually the cells become resistant to insulin, and the concentrations of insulin and glucose rise and stay elevated.

How diet helps Insulin Resistance in horses

Insulin resistance is the reduced sensitivity of the cell to the effects of insulin on glucose uptake. If the supply of glucose into the bloodstream is increased, by feeding high NSC feeds, then the effect is exacerbated. High NSC feeds will supply high levels of circulating glucose. It is also postulated that the high levels of digestible sugars in the intestines can cause DYSBIOSIS, ie the overgrowth of normal populations of organisms, which can lead to "leaky gut syndrome". Under these conditions, there is flooding of sugar into the blood, which in turn cause irregular insulin production, or insulin resistance. The high levels of blood sugar can also cause the adrenal gland to increase cortisol production, in turn causing laminitis.

Recommended Stance Horse Feed for Insulin Resistance in horses

A feeding program for insulin resistant horses should aim to:

For horses needing to lose weight, feed a low NSC hay or fibre such as weather damaged lucerne, a very stemmy/mature grass hay , or a low NSC fibre based food such as CoolFibre together with a vitamin/mineral supplement as required. This diet should be combined with a gentle exercise program to help with the weight loss.

For leaner horses with insulin resistance, leaner horses that have previously had laminitis, horses prone to insulin resistance who are in work, or affected horses that just have trouble maintaining weight, a higher quality diet will need to be fed in conjunction with low NSC hay or pasture. The dilemma is to select a low NSC feed with a high energy content. A list of suitable feeds and forages and a list of those that should be avoided for these insulin resistant horses can be found below. The NSC content is a range of Australian horse feeds as measured by Dairy One is also shown below.

Avoid feeds with NSC >12% since these feeds release glucose into the horse's bloodstream which triggers the release of insulin.


Suitable Feeds

Feeds to Avoid

  • Weather damaged or mature lucerne hay
  • Ryegrass hay or any very rich grass hay
  • Stemmy/mature pasture hay
  • Oaten hay
  • Feeds with NSC (<12%) eg CoolFibre, Coolstance
  • All feeds containing ANY grain or grain by-product (with NSC>12%)
  • Beet pulp (soaked then drained) and soybean hulls
  • Any heavily molassed feeds
  • Soybean hulls
  • Pastures that are stressed or growing under cold temperature but sunny conditions

Why should these feeds be avoided?

Avoid feeds with NSC >12% since these feeds release glucose into the horse's bloodstream which triggers the release of insulin.

Getting the Balance Right

Getting the dietary balance right is critical to maintaining insulin resistant horses in the best health possible.

The Stance Equine Feeding System outlines several low NSC feeds suitable for insulin resistant horses. These include

Depending on the cause of the resistance to insulin there are many ways in which it can be managed and avoided. For obese horses a feeding and exercise program should be adopted for weight loss. Avoid feeds that elevate blood glucose levels , ie feeds with NSC levels >12%.

Look for any of the feeds with a low NSC (<12%), which can include some hays, beet pulp. These feeds have low NSC, however they are also low energy. CoolStance is the one of the only feeds that provides both low NSC, and a high level of digestible energy. Coolstance also contains MCT, which are thought to have antimicrobial and antiviral effects, that may have implications in  dysbiosis.