Dr. Stephanie Wood, Director of Science & Nutrition
Feedmark are continuously investing in new product development (NPD) to ensure they can provide horse owners with the products and ingredients they want to feed to support their horse’s health. One ingredient that has increased in popularity for feeding to horses over recent years is Boswellia, more specifically, the resin from Boswellia trees, which is extracted from the trees, dried and then ground into a powder and fed in small amounts. This popularity is due to increased understanding of the health benefits of consuming Boswellia resin, which are mainly due to its anti-inflammatory action (Ammon, 2010; Daly et al., 2011; Roy et al., 2019; Al-Harrasi et al., 2021). The anti-inflammatory action makes it particularly beneficial for horses affected by osteoarthritis, muscle inflammation, digestive issues and respiratory issues, and in humans it is also being used to treat some forms of cancer.
The anti-inflammatory action is due to boswellic acids which are present in the Boswellia resin. Research has identified multiple types of boswellic acids, with up to 12 acids being identified within the resin of the two most commonly used Boswellia species, Boswellia serrata and Boswellia carteri (Al-Harrasi et al., 2018; Roy et al., 2019). Research indicates that 11-keto-β-boswellic acid (KBA) and 3-O-acetyl-11-keto-β-boswellic acid (AKBA) are the most potent and effective boswellic acids at down-regulating inflammatory enzymes (Roy et al., 2019).
Optimising absorption of boswellic acids is an important factor for any effective Boswellia supplement. Research in humans showed that consuming boswellic acids alongside a high-fat meal increased absorption (Sterk et al., 2004), whilst research in rabbits found that Piperine, a compound found in Black Pepper (Piper nigrum L.), also improved absorption of boswellic acids (Vijayarani et al., 2020).
Over the past 12-18 months there has been interest in the boswellic acid level in equine Boswellia products and customers wanting to feed a specific amount of boswellic acids. The dried Boswellia resin is a natural product that varies in its composition, much like forages vary. Products containing a known amount of boswellic acids are available as Boswellia extracts with a stated percentage of boswellic acids. What is often overlooked is that the products currently available on the market containing a specific percentage of boswellic acids do not provide any information on which boswellic acids are contained in the product. Research has shown that AKBA and KBA are the most potent boswellic acids, so an extract containing a known amount of one or both of these acids will be superior to one that does not contain them or contains very low levels.
Feedmark response to customer demand
In response to repeated requests for a Boswellia extract, Feedmark developed Boswellium™ which contains a Boswellia extract that has 80% boswellic acids, and 10% AKBA. Development of Boswellium™ incorporated current knowledge about improving boswellic acid bioavailability, with the highest boswellic acid extract available to us. The product underwent 12 weeks of trials to ensure the final product is functional and effective.
Twelve horse owners and 14 horses were selected to participate in the trial after a request for trial participants via the Feedmark Facebook page. Owner and horse details were gathered, and permissions gained so all owners understood they could leave the trial at any stage. Horses were to remain on the same management and feeding regime as they were normally on to make participation in the trial as easy as possible for owners. Horse health was assessed using four main categories of common health issues (joint, respiratory, digestive and skin issues). Horse health for each of these categories was gathered at the start (week 1) and end (weeks 11 and 12) of the trial to determine product efficacy, and feedback on product useability and handling was gathered during weeks three and six of the trial.
Online questionnaires via Google Forms and online discussion sessions via Microsoft Teams were used to gather all information. Horse health was assessed by owners using categorical and ranked questions. Categorical and ranked questions were also used to gather information on useability of the product. Email correspondence was used to keep in touch with participants and gather any additional information participants wanted to provide.
All horses found the product palatable with no horses refusing to eat it. The initial product tested comprised of all ingredients in a single formulation, however the hydrophilic (fat-loving) nature of boswellic acids combined with the high-fat ingredients included to optimise absorption, resulted in a product that clumped. A new formulation was developed that enabled all the benefits of the high boswellic acid extract and the high-fat ingredients to be fed together, producing a product that is simple to feed, palatable and with a high-specification.
Support for Horse Health
At the start of the trial joint issues were the most common health issue affecting trial horses (86%) followed by respiratory issues (57%) and digestive and skin issues (both 43%). The high proportion of trial horses with joint issues was unsurprising as joint issues are viewed as common amongst domestic horses. Joint supplements are also the most popular supplement fed to horses. At the end of the trial owners reported positive effects of Boswellium™ on their horse’s mobility, with owners stating their horses had freer paces, were move comfortable when ridden and moving in general, were better able to cope with hard ground and more forwards and willing when exercised.
The most common respiratory issues trial horses experienced were recurrent airway obstruction (RAO) and pollen allergies, with coughing, rubbing of the face and headshaking being the most frequently displayed symptoms for both conditions at the start of the trial. At end of the trial owners reported considerable reductions in all respiratory symptoms, with the most marked improvements being reduced/elimination of coughing, reducing face rubbing and reducing headshaking. Such findings indicate a positive effect of Boswellium™ on respiratory health.
Positive effects of Boswellium™ on digestive and skin health were also reported. Horses were less sensitive around the girth and flank area and less reactive to dietary changes. Reduced reactivity to fly bites was also reported at the end of the trial compared to at the start of the trial, with owners also reporting a smoother, softer coat.
Overall, results of the trial indicate a positive effect of Boswellium™ on a number of health issues that commonly affect horses.
Feedmark would like to sincerely thank participants and their horses for being part of the trial, and for their time in providing feedback on the product, it is truelly appreciated.