Iron Overload

Harmony. Balance. Stability. We’re all on a never-ending quest to find this in our own lives, but how can we get closer to attaining this in our horse’s nutritional regimen? 

It’s well known that a diet predominantly inclusive of hay or pasture, with little to no grain, usually results in a healthier horse. This is because it more closely aligns with how the horse would eat in the wild, offering them more omega-3 vs. omega-6, naturally occurring nutrients vs. lab synthesized chemicals, etc. So what can we do to perfect this more natural diet, while working within modern day limitations (i.e., purchasing hay from suppliers vs. growing our own, testing soil for health and pH, increasing grass species diversity, etc).  

Likely a result of poor soil quality, today’s hay is commonly very high in iron (Fe) with insufficient amounts of copper (Cu) and zinc (Zn). As a result, our horses aren’t receiving adequate amounts of the right trace minerals to properly metabolize the large amount of iron from their daily hay ration. Below is the average Fe:Cu:Zn content calculated from all grass hay sample analysis’ submitted to Equi-Analytical Labs over the past 18 years:

@ 20 lbs hay / day:

Iron: 1,796 mg

Copper: 77 mg

Zinc: 275 mg

At 1,796 mg of iron, ideally the horse should receive 449 mg of copper and 1,347 mg of zinc (optimal ratio is 4:1:3). In this example, if we supplement with 300 mg copper and 900 mg zinc, that will bring us much closer to the ideal amounts with 377 mg copper and 1,175 mg of zinc. 

Why is Fe overload / Cu, Zn deficiency a concern?

Excess iron with inadequate amounts of copper and zinc can lead to development of insulin resistance (IR), worsening of IR, laminitis, hoof abscesses, poor quality hooves / slow hoof growth, an impaired immune system more susceptible to environmental pathogens, hives, arthritis, elevated liver enzymes, malabsorption of other minerals and vitamins, bone disorders, reproductive disorders, liver disease, potentially Cushing’s disease as changes seen in the brains of horses with Cushing’s are virtually identical to those seen in human brains with iron overload, and more.

Who is impacted?

According to Dr. Eleanor Kellon, “If you ask any veterinary pathologist they will tell you that finding black, iron loaded livers at necropsy is common in horses. The color comes from iron deposits called hemosiderin. This is so common it is considered “normal”.” What this tells us is that most horses are impacted by iron overload and a lack of proper trace mineral supplementation to support iron metabolization.

How does this impact horses who are metabolically challenged? 

Iron excess is of particular concern for horses with metabolic disorders (EMS). Sugar and starch are often closely monitored in these cases, however, Fe:Cu:Zn ratio is sometimes overlooked. Nutrient imbalances can result in even more detrimental health effects for an EMS horse than for a healthy horse. “If your horse is overweight, diagnosed with insulin resistance, or suffers from equine Cushing’s disease, here’s a word to the wise: You may want to reconsider giving {supplements which contain iron}. Studies have shown a direct correlation between iron intake and insulin levels in the blood, making it an important factor in managing the diet for these horses.” -Dr. Juliet M. Getty, Getty Equine Nutrition, LLC

Can we test for iron overload?

Blood tests for iron toxicity may be unreliable if not done correctly. “The only way to accurately diagnose iron overload is with the correct blood work. Serum iron alone is not accurate. It reflects iron in the diet but not how much is stored. Transferrin is the protein that carries iron in the blood. When transferrin and iron are both measured, the percent transferrin saturation can be calculated by dividing serum iron by transferrin and multiplying by 100. That % is useful in interpreting the third test that is needed, ferritin. Ferritin is a measure of the body’s total iron content. High ferritin can mean iron overload, but chronic disease involving inflammation or infection may also elevate ferritin. With true iron overload, transferrin saturation is high normal or elevated. There is currently only one laboratory in the world that can measure equine ferritin, the comparative hematology laboratory at Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. An alternative to blood letting {for reducing iron overload} is very tight mineral balancing to the forage, grass, hay or haylage fed. The ratio of iron:copper:zinc must be no higher than 4:1:3. In some cases even higher copper and zinc intakes are needed.” -Dr. Eleanor Kellon, VMD. 

Horse hair analysis is another way to test for iron overload and various deficiencies, however, one must be cautious to find a lab with expertise in this process, having mastered protocol such as properly washing the hair to eliminate dirt and minerals from the surface which could skew results. We recommend Dr. Mark DePaolo, DVM in Texas.

How can Yucc’ It Up! Hay Harmony help?

Hay Harmony is a high-quality copper and zinc supplement made with the safest, most bio-available forms of these minerals (NO sulfates!). We’ve also included biotin to further support hoof health, vital metabolic functions, normal blood glucose levels (potentially decreasing insulin resistance) and more.  All in a base of ground flaxseed which is naturally rich in beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids.

Hay Harmony Serving Size (40 g)

•300 mg Cu (Copper Amino Acid Complex)

•900 mg Zn (Zinc Amino Acid Complex)

•20 mg Biotin (Vitamin B7)

•Ground Flax Seed

Hay Harmony can help to balance the iron from the average horse’s daily hay ration, strengthen the immune system, help to avoid development of insulin resistance, laminitis, hoof abscesses, create shinier coats, stronger hooves (no hoof, no horse) and much more!

Now available with apple flavoring!

Place My Order!