Deciphering the Marketing Language of a Gastric Supplement - BioStar US

Deciphering the Marketing Language of a Digestive Supplement

Recently, Purina released a new digestive supplement called Outlast™ which will, according to the company’s literature, “support a healthy gastric environment.”  Intrigued, I went online to read the marketing information:

“Outlast™ supplement contains a proprietary mineral complex with a unique honeycomb structure.  The porous structure of this natural and bio-available source of calcium and magnesium increases its surface area and enhances its capacity to support proper gastric pH.”

Did I read that correctly?  Purina has seen the light of plant-sourced minerals?  Hurray!

The term “honeycomb structure” used to describe plant-based minerals is not new; in fact, one of the biggest and oldest companies in human whole food supplements, New Chapter, describes their bone formula thus:

“Typical calcium supplements are derived from rocks (limestone). Simple, rock-based calcium has a flat, basic architecture and lacks many other bone-supportive nutrients…  Bone Strength Take Care™ is different. Plant-sourced and porous, our calcium is part of an intricate matrix of minerals that are organized in a natural honeycomb structure.”

honeycomb cellular structure

photo by Fernan Federici

I immediately jumped to Outlast’s ingredient list at the bottom of the page: “sun-cured alfalfa, wheat middlings, seaweed-derived calcium, cane molasses, magnesium oxide, citric acid.”

And then I began to chuckle… seaweed-derived calcium plus alfalfa….maybe Purina has seen the light?  Companies like BioStar and Nouvelle Research (the makers of Cur-OST) have been educating consumers on the bioavailability of plant-sourced minerals versus ground-up rocks for a decade.  Also note that whole-food supplement companies tend not to use molasses, wheat middlings, magnesium oxide or citric acid, all of which are in Outlast™.

In a way, it’s ironic.  Once, after I gave a seminar on whole food, a woman came up to me and introduced herself as a Purina representative.  She told me that there was no proof that calcium carbonate in a digestive supplement was less bioavailable than amino acid chelates or plant-derived calcium, and that there is no science behind whole food.  The best nutrition comes from companies like Purina, she said.

Although I didn’t say it at the time, I was thinking, I wonder how horses survived these thousands of years without eating commercial feeds… but I digress.

I am thrilled that Purina has made its first steps toward whole food nutrition with this digestive supplement, confirming what BioStar and other whole food companies have been saying and providing all along.  But before running out to buy a bag of Outlast™, read on for some important considerations.

The marketing
The Purina literature provides a graph showing that in a simulated gastric environment, Outlast™ increases the pH of the stomach better when compared with three other supplements and alfalfa.  The question that arises is, how much alfalfa versus how much Outlast™?  The Outlast™ feeding recommendations range from ¾ cup three or four times per day, to 2 cups three or four times per day based on the horse’s weight.  In the marketing graph, was it a day’s worth of Outlast™ for a 1,750 pound horse (6-8 cups) versus just a cup of alfalfa pellets?  The answer is, we simply don’t know.  Hopefully the research will be published for this study and we can learn more about the testing methods.

Nature and equine biology
When horses graze or eat hay 20 hours a day, the combination of forage provides the alkalizing mineral calcium plus the bicarbonate of saliva to buffer the acid in the stomach, particularly in the upper portion the squamous mucosa.  This area of the stomach does not have the protective factors that the lower portion, the glandular mucosa, has.

Eating hay and grass continuously provides bioavailable calcium from plants.  Consuming plants with higher calcium content, like alfalfa, increases the buffering action.  In fact, researchers at the University of Tennessee conducted a study in 2000 and found that alfalfa buffered the stomach better than a diet of grass hay.  German researchers discovered that horses produce twice as much saliva when fed hay and fresh grass than when fed a grain-based meal.

Deciphering the Marketing Language of a Digestive Supplement - BioStarUS

Horses under stress
A stressor such as a trailer ride can trigger the adrenal gland to release cortisol, which impairs the normal reproduction of cells in the stomach lining and exposes the underlying tissue to harsh stomach acids, which can result in the formation of an ulcer.

There are other stressors, of course: showing, training, lack of turnout, not enough hay, lack of socialization, environmental changes, and illness.

Horses produce more saliva when eating hay or grass than when eating grain.  Feeds high in grains, such as the oats that some performance horses may need for energy, produce volatile fatty acids (VFAs) in the stomach, which increases acidity.   A better alternative to grain for energy is fat, because it slows the rate at which the stomach empties, and it is a prolonged energy source for the horse.

When horses are ridden
This is one time during the day that the stomach is unprotected because the horse isn’t eating.  Giving a handful or more of alfalfa pellets as you tack up will help reduce gastric acid.  Remember, the calcium in alfalfa is more bioavailable than the calcium in Tums.  You can also add the GI tract protection of Tum-Ease bars, which coat the entire GI tract with a medical, micro-crystalized aloe that works similarly to the drug sucralfate.  Give two as you tack up.  Make sure, as soon as the horse is cooled out, to provide hay or pasture to continue the buffering action of saliva and forage.

Looking at the ingredients 

Alfalfa and seaweed-derived calcium
I love a good marketing brochure and marketing materials, as well as an intriguing advertisement.  I confess, I have purchased non-horse products off of Facebook ads.  Yet when it comes to equine products, particularly feed and supplements, I am 100% focused on ingredients.  The guaranteed analysis is helpful, but it doesn’t tell the whole story like the ingredients do.

In the ingredient section of this new digestive supplement, the alfalfa is clearly not organic or non-GMO.  There is no stated source of the seaweed.  The reason this is potentially problematic, is that seaweed can contain heavy metal contaminates depending on where it is harvested.

What kind of seaweed is Purina using in their digestive supplement?  Seaweeds are marine algae and there are about 10,000 kinds in the world.  They fall into three main groups: green, brown, and red.  Green seaweeds live in the shallowest seawater and prefer warmer, tropical waters.  Many of the brown seaweeds live at fairly deep depths of cold ocean waters, while others live closer to the surface anchored to rock or coral like kelp, a member of the brown seaweed group.  Red seaweeds live in the deepest and coldest ocean waters.

The next question is, of course, what country is the seaweed harvested from?  China produces most of the world’s seaweed harvest (over half), followed by Indonesia, South Korea and the Philippines in that order.  Interestingly, the state of Maine leads the US in seaweed harvest, eclipsing California, which used to lead the nation.

Wheat middlings
Wheat middlings are also known by grain industry insiders as “floor sweepings”.  I did a quick search of bulk wheat middlings prices from several Midwestern mills including Archer Daniels Midland, and the prices as of June 29th, 2017 ranged from four to six cents per pound (before shipping).  No wonder wheat middlings are in nearly every commercial feed formula.

Cane molasses
This ingredient contains 70% sugar.  Along with grain carbohydrates, the high sugar content from molasses can increase acid production in the stomach.

Magnesium oxide
This is an inorganic compound like calcium carbonate.  It is classified as a periclase and is a major component of refractory brick (a material that retains its strength at high temperatures, used for furnaces, kilns, incinerators and reactors).  Magnesium oxide is also found in marble produced by the metamorphism of limestone rock.  This is not a plant-sourced magnesium, and therefore has low bioavailability.

Citric Acid
A component of citrus fruits, commercial citric acid is made through fermentation of the yeast Aspergillus niger.  The process includes corn starch, which is why citric acid cannot be considered non-GMO.  There are sources of citric acid still made from fruit or from non-GMO corn from small specialty companies.  China leads the world in commercial citric acid production; as of 2015 it produced 59% of the world’s citric acid.

The takeaway
It is great that a big company like Purina is embracing plant-derived calcium in formulating their new digestive supplement.  With this product release, they have confirmed what we and other whole food companies have been saying about whole food nutrition and bioavailability.  Okay, so Purina has not yet embraced 100% whole food. Still, this is a start, and an important one.

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