Laminitis vs. Sugar

Laminitis vs. Sugar
Carrie Griffith
July 19, 2020


                                      Laminitis vs. Sugar



           What is laminitis? It’s an inflammation of the laminae. These interconnecting layers of tissue act to support and secure the coffin bone to the hoof wall. The laminae contain extensive nerve networks and blood vessels.

In the face of inflammation, the laminae cannot swell since they’re confined within the rigid hoof walls. As a result, disturbances of blood flow, aggravated nerves, and weakening of the connections between the coffin bone and the hoof wall occur. In severe cases, the added force of the deep digital flexor tendon can cause the coffin bone to sink, rotate, or protrude through the sole.

           What is the reason that laminitis occurs? One singular cause is not the culprit. Instead, laminitis is considered to be a multifactorial syndrome. This means numerous elements likely contribute to the development of clinical signs.


           Question: Are carbohydrates, like sugars and starches, partly responsible for laminitis? The easy answer is yes; carbohydrates are one of the main risk factors.


What are the RISK factors that correlate with carbohydrate loads?


1.   Diet

2.   Changes in diet

3.   Grain overload

4.   Obesity

5.   Grass

6.   Equine Metabolic Syndrome


What are other CONTRIBUTING factors to laminitis?


1.   Older age

2.   Ponies

3.   Cushing’s Disease

4.   Cortisone administration

5.   Intestinal diseases: e.g., surgical colic, severe diarrhea

6.   Sepsis: e.g., pleuropneumonia, septic peritonitis, retained placenta that leads to an infected uterus

7.  Certain breeds: Any breed of horse can get it, but more often noted in Arabians,Morgans, and some warmbloods

8.  Poor hoof conformation

9.  Incorrect trimming or shoeing

10.  Unaccustomed arduous exercise

11.  Repeated excessive injuries to the feet(=road founder)

12.  Weight-bearing lameness—the leg bearing the weight is susceptible

13.  Black walnut bedding


How do carbs affect the occurrence of laminitis? The exact means is not known, but there are a couple of theories that may help explain the process:

           A. When a horse ingests a high load of carbohydrates, it can unbalance the normal hindgut bacteria. When this happens, the harmful bacteria make toxins that enter the bloodstream. Toxins cause inflammation. The sensitive laminae are unable to respond to inflammatory insults and laminitis results as a consequence.

           B. Diets high in carbohydrates cause an increase in the level of insulin released into the bloodstream, which leads to the development of laminitis. Excessive insulin in the blood is called hyperinsulinemia.


In the above second theory, the question is, how does excess insulin result in signs of laminitis?

           First, let’s examine insulin’s role in the body.

           Sugars and starches convert into glucose in the stomach and small intestine after the horse has eaten. Glucose then crosses into the bloodstream, where it becomes energy for the body’s cells. The glucose, however, cannot get into any cells without the help of insulin.

           Insulin binds with receptors on the cells, “opens the door,” and lets the glucose inside. If there are faulty connections to those doorways, the glucose can’t get in and do its job. Glucose thus remains high in the bloodstream, and the pancreas responds by pumping out more insulin to lower the blood sugar.


Research is still ongoing, but the following theories on how hyperinsulinemia causes laminitis are listed below:

           A.  High insulin levels decrease blood flow to the laminae causing inadequate oxygenation and nutrition to the foot and subsequent weakening of the laminae.                

           B.  Excess insulin decreases the amount of glucose that enters the tissue cells within the foot, thus contributing to poor nutrition and function.

           C.  When adipose tissues become overloaded in their fat-storing capabilities, inflammatory factors are released.

           D.  Certain breeds, or individuals, may have a genetic predisposition for defective receptors that prevent insulin from opening the door to glucose.


What actions can prevent laminitis from occurring? Here are some suggestions:

           1. Minimize carbohydrates.

                       **Feed diets low in starches and sugars and high in fiber.

                       **limit grass intake, especially in spring.

           2. Prevent obesity

                       **minimize calories.


           3. Prevent as many risk and contributing factors from occurring together.              

           4. Contact your veterinarian for routine physicals and blood work to monitor for the early signs of laminitis and discuss options for maximizing health and minimizing occurrences.















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