Monday, May 03, 2010

Carbs: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Dunc's Diatribe -

Monday, May 3, 2010 by Duncan McLaughlin
(Or, does my endurance horse have sub-clinical laminitis?)

So, before we begin, some terms:

Carbohydrates, or ‘Carbs’, come in a variety of forms. They can range from simple structures (glucose and fructose) to slightly more developed forms (sucrose, maltose, lactose), all known as simple-carbs (sugars). There are also more intricate carb structures – complex-carbs - that are utilized and stored by animals (glycogen) and plants (starch). Plants also create and utilize some other carbs (cellulose, hemi-cellulose, lignin) as building blocks – these carbs are known as structural-carbs (fiber).

Sub-clinical laminitis is an oft-used term in barefoot circles. The idea is that your horse is experiencing an ongoing, mild – that is, 'not clinically significant’ – laminitic event. Generally, anytime your trimmer can’t get your horse moving comfortably barefoot in a reasonable time frame and your horse remains stubbornly tender footed to ride, he is assumed to have sub-clinical laminitis. I often think we are at the stage where sub-clinical laminitis is for barefooters what navicular syndrome is for shodders – a debased catch-all term used whenever your horse isn’t traveling right.

Horses are, more than almost every other mammal, a walking digestive tract. The evolution of a trickle-fed, hind-gut fermenting digestive system has enabled wild (and feral) horses to survive and thrive eating energy poor – that is, low in sugars/starches, high in structural-carbs/fiber - forage on which most other herbivores would starve. Think frozen Mongolian steppe, harsh Shetland Isles, dry Middle-East desert. Remember the digestive capacity of an average size horse approaches 200 liters, some 65% of that is the fermentation vat that is the hind-gut.

Horses can digest carbs in the form of sugars/starches directly. These are digested almost completely in the small intestine. Structural carbs cannot be digested directly by your horse, indeed by any mammals. Instead, microbes in the hindgut ferment structural carbs, producing volatile fatty acids (VFAs), which are then absorbed by the horse and are a significant source of energy.

So what is all the fuss about carbs? And how do carbs affect your horse’s feet?

full article -

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