With an Easterly-Beast threatened for next week, or at the very least some seriously flipping cold temps heading our way, our horses’ lungs are going to notice the difference.
We’ve got both lung function and lung capacity to think about, especially when the temps are heading to below zero. And there’s a subtle difference between the two - lung function is how the body uses air, while lung capacity is how much air the body can use.
- Lung function determines the amount of air the lungs can hold and how quickly the body can take in and release air from the lungs, as well as the body’s ability to oxygenate and remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the blood.
- Lung capacity determines the maximum amount of oxygen the body can use.
Lung function begins to decline with aging, with body changes that could contribute to a decrease in lung capacity including:
- The diaphragm muscles can become weaker.
- Lung tissue designed to help keep the airways open may lose its elasticity, causing the airways to become smaller.
- Rib cage bones may change, leaving less room for the lungs to expand properly.
- Air sacs lose their shape and become baggy.
We can help optimise our horses’ breathing, which in turn will have an immediate and beneficial impact on the lungs.
- Regular exercise – sounds obvious I know, but an hour’s worth of moderately intense movement daily, such as a brisk walk out, is really beneficial for the lungs, not to mention muscle toning, a healthier heart and circulation, and a better mood by boosting dopamine levels.
- Hydration – another obvious, but staying well hydrated helps keep the mucosal linings in the lungs thin, which helps the lungs function better.
- Sunshine! A 2018 Australian human study states that higher vitamin D levels are associated with better lung function, showing there’s a link between vitamin D and respiratory disease. The study authors state, “Low levels of (vit.D) were independently associated with asthma, bronchitis, wheeze and chest tightness … Higher vitamin D levels were associated with higher levels of lung function.”
The best way to naturally raise vit.D is by regularly exposing large amounts of the skin to sunshine. Of course, here in the UK this isn’t always possible (!), but if we get one of those glorious frosty, sunny days where the temps don’t get below zero, get rugs off and let that coat soak up the sunshine.
For our delicate rugged-up flowers, you could look to supplement with oral vitamin D3. Bear in mind, though, that vit.D is fat soluble (so needs fat/oil in the feedbowl), and … it needs vit.K2, calcium and magnesium to work synergistically. All four are needed to ensure proper balance and maximum effectiveness, but the good news is that it’s likely you’ll find a supplement with either all four in, or at least the vit.D3 and K2 together. Here's a link with more info on the subject of equine vit.D requirements: https://ker.com/equinews/vitamin-d-equine-diets/
So here’s to getting out there and moving, and basking in the sunshine, to improve lung capacity. It’s worth every breath 😊
The truth about fats
The truth about fats
Fats/oils, and this is a bit of a subject. We’ve been taught to think of fat/oil in the feedbowl as a creator of body fat, but nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, good fats/oils are super healthy, yet most of us label all fats/oils as bad. The truth is that all fats are not created equal - just like the many different feedbags out there, there are good fats, questionable fats and downright bad fats, aka FrankenFats, typically what you see on the supermarket shelves, man-made, and highly processed.
Vets and doctors are usually confused about fat, clinging to myths and misinformation that prevents them from understanding the latest science to achieve optimal health, as well as not recognising the ability to actually lose weight with fat in the diet under a controlled eating plan.
So, let’s remind ourselves of the myths that we’re no doubt familiar with:
· Fat makes us fat.
· Fat causes heart disease.
· Fat raises cholesterol.
· One of the most common - fat leads to obesity.
· And finally, the infamous myth, that saturated fat is bad.
Simply put, these and other fat myths are completely wrong, but thankfully the importance of fat is finally starting to catch on. Eating healthy fat speeds up metabolism, releases fat from fat cells and cuts hunger, while eating carbs does the exact opposite. It’s carbs and sugar that store fat in the body and slows metabolism, while creating cravings and hunger for even more carbs.
Here are just some of the benefits of healthy fat:
· Fats help the body feel full and satiated.
· Fats regulate inflammation and metabolism.
· Fats are needed for healthy cell membranes and to make immune cells.
· Fats are needed to make hormones.
· And, fats are needed because would you believe that over 50% of the brain is fat, which is a whole other subject in itself.
We all know that fat is needed for turmeric digestion, because being fat-soluble means it can’t be digested and absorbed unless fat is present. But perhaps even more importantly for our horses, fat and grass are the perfect pairing, because many of the important nutrients in grass – Vits A, D, E, and K - are also fat-soluble. Without fat in the feedbowl, these fat-soluble vitamins in grass won’t be well absorbed.
Fat is one of the body’s most basic building blocks. The average human is made up of between 15 and 30 percent fat, yet for decades, we’ve diligently followed low-fat diets that almost always equate to highly refined carb diets which simply don’t work. This contributes to insulin resistance, obesity, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and many other health issues. The real truth is that if there's quality, healthful fat in the diet, the better the body will function.
So what’s the difference between all these fats?
Astonishingly, there are hundreds of thousands of studies, as in over 600,000, on fats and their effects on health. Interesting when you consider we’ve been led to believe that all fats are bad ... To understand how fats affect health, we need to understand that there are fats that heal and fats that don’t. Simples.
The myth that all fats are bad comes from one type of fat, and that’s trans fat, aka hydrogenated fat, and it’s important to know that these aren’t natural fats. Trans fats are adulterated fats in that they’ve had hydrogen molecules injected into the fat-making process to make a non-saturated fat a saturated fat. You’ll no doubt be relieved to know that trans fats/hydrogenated fats are no longer permitted in food production, although there are still some sneaky manufacturers that loophole through the regulations and include it, but that’s another story.
Anyway, trans fat or not, the whole fat subject can be almighty confusing, so let’s try to clear up the fat myths and mystery, and explain the difference between saturated fat versus unsaturated fat. Importantly, we’ll also immediately dispel the myth that saturated fat is a bad fat and about to clog arteries.
Put scientifically (here's a tiny Science Alert), a saturated fat has multiple (natural) hydrogen bonds, meaning that there’re so many hydrogen bonds that the fat is literally ‘saturated’. This is why butter is solid at room temperature, and coconut oil is solid above 72-deg F.
This means a saturated fat is stable, which is good; the more structure it has – the more structure anything has - the more stable it is. What it doesn’t mean is that it’s going to clog arteries – it has nothing to do with this. The word saturated is simply about the stability of the fat.
Now to monounsaturated fat, i.e. avocado oil. The mono means it has one bond that isn’t bonded to hydrogen, so it’s almost saturated. It’s still a very stable fat but not quite as stable as a saturated fat.
Now to polyunsaturated, aka PUFAs, i.e. vegetable oils, the type you see in the supermarket, and this includes olive oil*. These fats have many bonds that aren’t occupied by hydrogen so what happens is that they can be occupied by oxygen and become oxidised, i.e. toxic.
Now for the non-scientific way to look at it, yay! Picture a large dining table, totally, er, ‘saturated’ with everyone sitting down at the table for dinner, all the seats occupied with no open seats available. Meaning the Oxygen Boogie-Man can’t take a seat and turn everyone bad.
But what if there’s one seat free at the table? There’s a very small chance, but still a chance, that a bad oxygen molecule will take a seat. This is your mono-unsaturated fat.
However, if there are multiple seats available, it’s like Open Day for the multiple bad oxygen molecules to come in and turn the whole table bad into unstable PUFAs. TaDah!
Pulling this together
A saturated fat is the most stable, the most secure, the least likely to go rancid, fat. There’s a tiny chance that mono-unsaturated may become rancid although not that big a chance, but the polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are very unstable, or as some like to call them, ‘fragile’.
* A quick note on olive oil. It’s the highest quality PUFA but because of its fragility we really shouldn’t cook with it. Although it’s a healthy oil, its PUFA status makes it unstable to cook with because, as it’s heated its fragility breaks apart so it becomes rancid and unhealthy. It should only be added to food at room temperature or slightly warm. The only fats we should use for cooking are butter or coconut oil.
Here’s the thing with PUFAs; they’re unstable/fragile, yet we think they’re durable enough to sling into the frying pan. So much damage is done to these oils when they’re processed for shelf life; they’re one of our most sensitive nutrients and need the most care when being handled, yet they’re highly processed with harsh chemicals used to 'wash' the oil, so they become very damaged. So many health problems come from these damaged, inflammatory oils which is a tragedy as they begin their life as a natural plant product. If they were manufactured with health in mind, it could be a very different story.
Healthy fats for our horses
Let’s talk EFA’s – Essential Fatty Acids, aka the omegas, which are the building blocks of fats. Mini-Science-Alert again - dietary fats are made up of 3 (tri) fatty acids (omegas 3, 6 and 9 EFA’s) attached to a glycerol backbone, hence the term ‘tri-glyceride’ – you’ve probably heard of short-chain triglyceride, medium-chain triglyceride and long-chain-triglyceride.
In horse-world there are two classes of EFA’s, omega-3 and omega-6, which need to be in the diet for optimal immune function. Omega-3 contributes to normal homeostatic balancing of inflammation, as well as vision, the nervous system and cellular membrane integrity. However, as with minerals, omega-3 and omega-6 must be in the correct ratios to each other of 2:1, otherwise a higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 creates an inflammatory state.
This means that good fats/oils will be high in omega-3’s, i.e. coconut, linseed and some olive oils, but beware the cheaper olive oils as they’re blended from many oils of lower quality. For a reasonably priced, safe olive oil, Tesco’s do their own organic brand, 500ml for around £3.50 (as at summer 2018).
Bad fats/oils are the other way round, higher in omega-6 than omega-3 which means they’re inflammatory. Generally, it’s best to avoid any oil where you see ‘polyunsaturated’ on the label, or to make it easy, simply avoid the supermarket oils such as corn, sunflower, canola, or worse, when it just says ‘vegetable’ oil.
My fats/oils of choice
I think everyone knows I'm a fan of Copra and Linseed (the micronised linseed itself, not the plain oil). Copra is rich in natural coconut oil, which is a highly beneficial MCT (medium chain triglyceride), so a superior healthful fat. Stance Equine’s Coolstance Copra provides coconut oil in its natural form as an equine feed, alongside a good source of fibre and nutrients.
Linseed is best known for its high omega-3 fatty-acid content, with the low-heat micronisation process preserving this valuable EFA. Linseed comes in at around 30%+ fat, with the same high omega-3 profile as fresh grass.
For more info on my feed preferences, see the Feeding Our Horses chapter in the Content section, and specifically the page What I Like To Feed.