Nutraceuticals 101: A Trainer's Guide

POSTED ON  |  12-04-2019

The Basics of Nutraceuticals
What are nutraceuticals?
Nutraceuticals are a type of oral supplement. The term is a combination of “nutrient” and “pharmaceutical.” Nutraceuticals include foods that are purported to provide health benefits beyond nutrition. They are often marketed as supportive of the health of the horse in various ways (e.g., digestive, joint, hoof, and immune system). Nutraceuticals are available without a prescription through a range of sources: internet vendors, tack shops, feed stores and veterinarians.

Are nutraceuticals regulated?
In the United States, animal supplements are either considered food or medication. If they are intended to treat a disease, they are regulated as medication. If not, they are considered feed. Feeds are not as closely regulated as medication. There is no pre-marketing approval process and their approval is based on safety – not proven effect.

What are the risks?

Efficacy – There is no guarantee that a nutraceutical will be beneficial to, or even have any effect on, horse health. Many claims of effect are unproven.

Purity – Some nutraceutical companies do not test their products, and thus cannot ensure that illegal or prohibited substances are not present. Additionally, there may be significant active ingredient variation from batch to batch and from different sources of nutraceuticals.

Safety – There are safety requirements for feed supplements. Testing, if performed, for nutraceuticals is not to the same level of testing required for prescription drugs. For example, in an FDA-approved drug, the manufacturer must show efficacy and purity of the substance. That is not required for nutraceuticals. Contact the manufacturer for information regarding safety testing.

Clinical Testing – The specific substance may not have been tested in horses and its effect is therefore unknown. One significant concern in horses is whether a substance is absorbable in its gastrointestinal tract. If it is not, the result will be expensive manure

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