Many of us grew up with vitamin tablets being forced into our diet by our mothers against our will (at least, I hope I wasn’t the only one...). They were tart, grainy, and all around unpleasant to ingest. Why did we have to take those? Because without the vitamins and minerals within that small tablet, we would suffer major bodily function failures, and perhaps even die. Disclaimer, though, as long as we eat a balanced diet, those little tablets of extra vitamins are a waste of money (but that is for a human nutrition article, I will spare us all from that here). That’s right, unless a living thing is chronically deficient in a vitamin or mineral, there is no need for supplementation. Another point to note is that obtaining adequate levels of certain vitamins and minerals is much more complicated than taking a supplement of straight calcium worth 240% of the daily requirement, because absorption is more important than intake. As I will explain briefly, it doesn’t matter how much volume of a nutrient your horse ingests if it can’t absorb adequate levels of it.
Allow me to refer back to the calcium example. The unique thing about this nutrient is that the horse’s body can control how much calcium it absorbs, and that is dependent on the body’s need. Many people worry about calcium for their animals – which is a legitimate concern – as it is one of the most well-known minerals in their diet. However, now that you know the horse’s body only absorbs what it needs, how “worth it” do you suppose it is to purchase a supplement of straight calcium worth 240% of the daily requirement? That’s the flaw in consumer thinking that often makes the supplement companies a lot of extra money.
The next thing to be aware of is interactions between vitamins and minerals. Again, with the calcium example, calcium works very closely in the horse’s body with phosphorus. Since the two minerals are absorbed by the same area of the small intestine, if there is an excess of Phosphorus in the horse’s diet, it will affect (negatively) the absorption of Calcium. This can lead your horse to an actual calcium deficiency. What does that effect? Bones of course, but also muscle contraction, cell membrane functions, and metabolic enzyme processes just to name a few. Just to throw you a number; to avoid this scenario, the diet should contain a Ca to P ratio of 1:1 – 2:1.
This is just one specific example of the many differences between the functions of vitamins and minerals, but also the importance of their interactions with each other. That is an aspect the supplement companies seem to always fail to mention. If you are interested in looking deeper (or at more vitamin/mineral requirements and interactions) there are tons of tools out there that will provide you these numbers. As always recommended, consult an animal nutritionist if you feel this is something you need to adjust in your horse’s diet. Hopefully, though, a grand overview of the concept here allows horse owners to be more aware, and understand what academia is talking about when they begin their debates, and share their constant research, on how to keep your horse happy and healthy for as long as possible!
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