Without optimum joint health, this isn't possible.

Feeding for Joint Health

Joint heath embodied: Lionheart (at age 20) running in the field

Lionheart (at age twenty) running in the field.

Several years ago, a friend of mine had a total knee replacement.  He had osteoarthritis from the bangs and blows of playing college football — not an activity known for supporting joint health.   When I asked him how the recovery was going, his answer surprised me,  “The hardest part of recovering from this surgery has been my diet,” he said.

He explained that his surgeon and his sports medicine doctor had rather strongly recommended he change his eating habits to more fruits and vegetables, less red meat, eliminate processed sugars, stay away from processed foods, drink more water, add more omega 3’s to his diet, and to loose at least 30 pounds through managed diet and exercise.

The Food-Joint Connection:

The everyday expression, “garbage in, garbage out,”  can be applied to the GI tract.  After all, in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, the focus of health begins with the GI tract.

In our body systems, some of the “garbage” consumed may set off a chain reaction of imbalances like inflammation and stress that can affect the liver, the immune system, the digestive tract, and joints.  The more stress on the GI tract, the less time the body has to heal and repair.

The essence of whole food is reducing stress to the body system at large, particularly the GI tract, plus providing the necessary nutrients and co-factors for joint health and mobility.


Studies show that 60% of all equine lamenesses are related to osteoarthritis.  It can affect any horse at any age.  Osteoarthritis is the result of the physical breakdown of articular cartilage.  It can be the result of repeated cycles of athletic trauma,  inflammation of the lining of the joint and the capsule, normal aging process, and OCD.  Osteoarthritis is not curable, but it is manageable.

Glucosamine Sulfate:

Glucosamine sulfate is made by the body using the amino acid Glutamine, a sulfur molecule, and a sugar molecule.   Glucosamine sulfate’s primary biological role is that it is an essential substrate for the biosynthesis of the glycosaminoglycans, and the hyaluronic acid backbone needed for the formation of the proteoglycans found in the structural matrix of joints.  If the body does not have enough Glutamine or sulfur, it cannot make glucosamine sulfate.

Kale is a food high in sulfur, supporting joint health in horses.

Kale is a food high in sulfur.


The Free Radical Connection:

Free radicals are unstable molecules that cause inflammation, stiffness, and pain in joints.   Antioxidants bind with free radicals and control oxidative stress and inflammation.   The potent antioxidants include vitamin A and the carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin E, the polyphenols, and the minerals zinc, copper, and selenium.


MSM and the Sulfur Connection:

Commonly found in joint supplements for horses, MSM, is 34% sulfur by weight.  Sulfur is becoming more widely appreciated as a critical nutrient, as it is considered an integral part of maintaining the structural integrity of connective tissues, cartilage, nails, skin, hair, certain enzymes, hormones, antioxidants, and immunoglobins.  Sulfur has anti-inflammatory properties, and some studies even suggest it may provide some analgesic effect on pain relief.  The MSM used in most equine joint supplements however is made from petroleum waste and methane gas.  It is not harvested from the ocean or the atmosphere making the bioavailability vastly different.


Supporting Joint Health Through Food:

Reducing inflammation, reducing free radical damage, and supporting the body’s ability to make its own glucosamine sulfate can be supported with whole food and the diet a horse consumes.

The first step is by cutting down, or eliminating processed sugars. These include molasses, cane sugar, dextrose, and sucrose often added to supplements.  These kinds of sugars can aggravate and increase the inflammatory response.

I recommend caution with grain or grain by-product carbohydrates. These can increase inflammation in some horses.

Omega 3’s are very helpful in reducing chronic inflammation: flax or chia seeds are excellent sources of omega 3’s in addition to pasture grass. Commercial feeds can often have an inverted ratio of omega 6 to omega 3’s, so it is important to know what the particular ratio is in the feed you are using. If necessary, you can add flax or chia to the feed to balance the ratio.

Cabbage is  high in the amino acid, glutamine, which the body can use to make glucosamine sulfate.  In addition, it can provide vitamin C, copper, and selenium. Feed 1/4 to 1/2 cup per day.  Horses prefer cabbage chopped, not fed as whole leaves.

Kale is  high in sulfur which the body can use to make glucosamine sulfate, as well as helping to support connective tissue and cartilage.  Kale is also high in the antioxidants vitamin A, vitamin C, and copper.  Feed 1/4-1/2 cup per day.  Horses prefer kale chopped, not fed as whole leaves.

Alfalfa is another high sulfur source. It provides the antioxidants vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc.  Please take note that alfalfa has become a major GMO crop. If your horse has chronic joint issues, it would be best to feed an organic source of alfalfa.

Antioxidant foods should absolutely be fed and enjoyed in the pursuit of better joint health. These include pomegranate (food processed including the peel), blueberries, oranges (with peel for higher amounts of bioflavonoids), strawberries (are highly sprayed fruits, so wash thoroughly or buy organic), almonds (sliced or ground), mangoes (without the pit), blackberries, pears, carrots,  sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast, specific medicinal mushrooms, and apples.


Chia seeds support joint health by balancing the Omega fatty acid levels in the body.

Feeding chia seeds can help balance the Omega fatty acid levels in the body.


Anti-Inflammatory foods:

Among the best anti-inflammatory foods are flax, chia, turmeric, boswellia (also known as Frankenscense), bromelain (an enzyme from pineapple), hemp seed oil, and oregano.


Increase Circulation:

Movement is critical to joint health, and dealing with osteoarthritis.   Circulation is the body’s way of sending specific nutrients and co-factors to areas that need support.  Specific foods that increase nitric oxide, the master circulatory molecule in the body, can be extremely helpful in increasing joint health and mobility.  These foods include brewers yeast, oranges, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds.

Other vaso- dilators include ginger, parsley,  Jiaogulan, and Schisandra.


Supplements for Joint Health:

There are a lot of choices in joint supplements.   If you want to follow the whole food path, consider BioStar’s Optimum JS, which provides the cabbage, kale, chia, strawberry and pomegranate for total joint support.

For increased circulation, there is BioStar’s Furnace, which provides the substrates for nitric oxide production from brewers yeast, oranges, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds.  It also provides the vaso-dilator: ginger root powder.

BioStar's Flex-Well EQ for joint health in equines

BioStar’s Flex-Well EQ


Diet and Joint Injections:

You can extend the life of common joint injections with diet.  We have found that horses injected routinely twice a year can go a year or more without a repeated injection.  This is because a whole food diet puts less stress on the GI tract, providing the body more time to heal, and repair.   Remember, stress reduces available healing time, and the body can only repair and heal when it is at rest and not overworking to digest processed feed.


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2 Responses

  1. Tigger says:

    By processing we mean with a food processor; to chop everything up and make it easy to feed and easy for the horse to eat. I generally feed 1 pomegranate per day, divided into 2 servings. Some horses like pomegranate juice (without sugar added). Can be fed at 1-2 ounces once or twice per day.

  2. Rebecca says:

    When you say to feed pomegranate (food processed including the peel), What do you mean by “processed” how much or how many pomegranates should be fed per day per 1000 lbs horse?