Neuromuscular Support: BioStar’s New Neuro-Plex EQ
I hear a lot from riders, veterinarians, and sports therapists about horses dealing with neuromuscular disorders, nervous system imbalances, muscle tremors, or unsteady balance. Some of these horses are also unfocused or uninspired to work.
The brain is like a computer that controls the body’s functions. The nervous system is the processing center. The body requires communication between the brain and the nervous system, which sends messages to the muscles through a network of nerve fibers. When these communication pathways stop working correctly, we see the development of neuromuscular disorders.
Various types of neuromuscular disorders can be found in horses. One is equine motor neuron disease (EMND) caused by long-term vitamin E deficiency. Another is equine degenerative myeloencephalopathy (EDM), also vitamin E-related but with a genetic component as well. Other disorders include:
Polysaccharide storage myopathy type 1 (PSSM type 1) is seen in draft horses and quarter horses, and is caused by a genetic mutation that leads to sore muscles and tying-up episodes. Fortunately, these horses can be managed with a low-NSC diet and exercise.
Polysaccharide storage myopathy type 2 (PSSM type 2) presents with the same clinical signs as PSSM type 1, but the type 2 horses don’t carry the genetic mutation. These horses also are managed with a low-NSC diet with healthy fats and exercise.
EPM, Lyme disease and relapse
There appears to be a rise in horses diagnosed with equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM) or Lyme disease, along with an increasing rate of relapse for these conditions. Neuromuscular issues often occur in horses diagnosed with EPM or Lyme Disease, but it can also happen without those diagnoses.
An estimated 50% of horses in the US have been exposed to the protozoan that causes EPM. It can stay dormant in the body for years. Researchers suspect that horses with weakened immune systems are at greater risk for clinical signs of active sporocysts.
A decade ago, it was estimated that 1% of horses with EPM would eventually relapse. Now the estimate is 10%. I think the relapse rate, particularly in competition horses, is even higher.
Lyme disease, which used to be concentrated in the Eastern US and Great Lakes regions, has now been confirmed in 43 states. This condition can become chronic in many horses, requiring ongoing maintenance. Also, horses can be re-infected because having Lyme disease once does not convey immunity to the bacterial strain that causes it.
Research on stress and the equine immune system
One of the major contributors to EPM relapse and chronic Lyme disease is stress. Stress affects the immune system and its function.
Research in both humans and horses highlights the role of stress on the immune system. A 2022 University of São Paulo study verified the impact of training and racing on Thoroughbreds, elevation of cortisol, and how it affected the immune function.1
Another study on short-term transport stress of horses showed that short-term transport significantly affects numerous aspects of equine immune function, thereby contributing to the onset of bacterial or viral infections. The study showed that the stress response in the horses in this study became activated fifteen minutes before the horses traveled. Both body temperature and cortisol were elevated.2
Trailering, competing, and training can all cause stress in horses. Other potential stressors include isolation, a new barn environment, lack of harmony with a neighboring horse or horses, stress present in caretakers, separation from an equine friend, change in routine, weather changes, and pain.
The stress on the body from metabolic conditions including IR and Cushing’s can also lead to immune system suppression over time.
Horses in individual stalls (referred to as single housing) may experience greater stress than horses living in a group. One study states, “… [I]ndividual stabling is an intense stressor leading to acute and lasting alterations in blood counts of various leukocyte types.”3
Stress and the GI tract
Eighty percent of the equine immune system is in the GI tract. Stress can impact the stomach with increased gastric acid production, which can damage mucous membranes, possibly leading to ulcers.
Stress can also cause an imbalance among beneficial microorganisms, leading to a rise in pathogenic, opportunistic bacteria in the gut.
Stress and EPM
A 2001 study in which horses were fed the sporocysts from feral possums carrying the protozoal parasite Sarcocystis neurona resulted in all developing clinical signs of EPM. However, one group of horses was additionally subjected to transport stress, and the results showed that those horses presented the most severe clinical signs. According to the researchers, “[T]his investigation suggest[s] that stress can play a role in the pathogenesis of EPM.” 4
According to the Association of American Equine Practitioners (AAEP), “Horses, especially those under stress, can succumb rapidly to the debilitating effects of EPM.” 5
Stress and Lyme disease
Horses with chronic Lyme disease, or those who have relapsed, have already contended with an ongoing physical stress to the body; the bacterium that causes Lyme (Borrelia burgdorferi) has already worn down the horse’s immune system.
The brain and muscle connection: acetylcholine
The brain plays a critical role in immune system health and neuromuscular disorders, along with the stress response.
Acetylcholine is the biochemical compound that drives neurons of the central and peripheral nervous systems, acting as a chemical messenger to propagate nerve impulses between the brain, spinal cord, and muscles. As such, acetylcholine is an important neurotransmitter and neuromodulator. It plays a role in functions such as memory and learning as well as neuromuscular movement and contractions. Acetylcholine is also the chief neurotransmitter of the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. These systems contract smooth muscles, dilate blood vessels, and support regeneration, digestion, and rest.
Acetylcholine can be compromised
Long term stress, as well as oxidative stress, can deplete acetylcholine levels by increasing the activity of acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme which reduces acetylcholine availability.
Certain antibiotics and diuretics can affect acetylcholine. So can a magnesium overload or deficiency; too much magnesium (hypermagnesemia) impairs the release of acetylcholine by inhibiting calcium, while too little magnesium can cause a decrease in brain acetylcholine content.
Choline as a precursor
Choline is a water-soluble nutrient and is classified as a vitamin-like substance. It is the precursor to acetylcholine, and therefore helps boost acetylcholine-dependent functions. Foods that provide choline include: eggs, sunflower seeds, soybeans, and some whole grains. Choline is also commonly found in supplements and feed in the form of choline bitartrate or choline chloride.
Lipids (fats, sterols, and phospholipids) are potent modulators of acetylcholine receptors.6 The most bioavailable form of choline comes from lecithin (found in egg yolks, sunflower seed oil, soybeans, and some whole grains.) because it contains phosphatidylcholine. Phosphatidylcholines are phospholipids that play a large role in the health of biological membranes, and assist acetylcholine receptors.
BioStar presents Neuro-Plex EQ
Neuro-Plex EQ™ is a unique formula made to support a healthy brain-to-muscle neurovascular system. It combines the ancient wisdom and holistic practices of Eastern medicine with modern Western science and research. It provides:
A healthy immune system is supported with Bovine colostrum (38% IgG) with high concentrations of antibodies IgA and IgG.
For the body’s natural synthesis of acetylcholine, Non-GMO sunflower lecithin is a source of the precursor, choline (in its phospholipid form of phosphatidylcholine). The chief neurotransmitter of the nervous system, acetylcholine also supports memory and learning.
Adaptogens that support healthy stress hormone (cortisol) levels, such as haritaki, brahmi, siberian ginseng, and Indian gooseberry (amalaki):
Organic haritaki is a revered rasayana (rejuvenating) plant in Ayurveda, and is also known as “life giving”, “the restorative”, and the “divine fruit.” Haritaki is used traditionally as a nervine tonic for stress management and GI tract support. It is part of Triphala, an ancient rejuvenation formula in Tibetan and Ayurvedic medicine. Haritaki is “tridoshic”, meaning that it is capable of balancing all three doshas (vata, pitta, kapha). Haritaki is known to boost prana, the life force.
Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) is another Ayurvedic rasayana providing rejuvenation. Western science has identified some of brahmi’s effects on the body, including acetylcholine level increase through acetylcholinesterase inhibition.7 Other research has highlighted Brahmi’s efficacy as a neuroprotective substance.8
Siberian ginseng (eleuthero) has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine. Classified as an adaptogen, it’s capable of re-balancing the body system at large, particularly when the body is under stress. Eleuthero provides neuroprotective actions through its antioxidant mechanisms, including the reduction of oxidative stress. Reducing oxidative stress can support acetylcholine function.9
Amalaki (purified Indian gooseberry extract, Capros®) is a celebrated Ayurvedic adaptogen and a potent rejuvenator, supporting the immune system, digestion, healthy blood sugar levels, and circulatory support. Research has identified amalaki’s actions on neurodegenerative conditions. Scientists have also recognized amalaki’s ability to promote increased acetylcholine production by providing anti-cholinesterase activity.10
Healthy cellular support from Shilajit (purified extract Primavie®), a bioresin from the Himalayas used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. Its name in Sanskrit means “conqueror of weakness.” Shilajit supports the mitochondria of the cells thereby increasing ATP — the energy currency of the body — and providing energy to fuel a multitude of cellular functions including muscle contraction, nerve impulse conduction, and metabolism.11
Nerve protection and support from Lion’s mane mushroom, which help protect nerves, including the brain and spinal cord. Lion’s mane is able to stimulate the synthesis of nerve growth factor (NGF), promoting the process of myelination. Myelin is a protective layer that forms around all nerves, including those in the brain and spinal cord. The myelination processes are essential for signal transmission between neurons, and for the function of the entire nervous system, central and peripheral. A study in the Journal of Neuroscience reported that lion’s mane can promote nerve growth and improve cognitive performance.12
Specific ingredients for GI tract support are also in Neuro-Plex, because stress and the immune system have everything to do with the gut. Beneficial bacteria are easily affected by changes in the gut environment, while pathogenic bacteria can be opportunistic, crowding out beneficial bacteria when the gut environment allows it.
Support comes from active probiotic strains B.coagulans, B. subtilis, B. licheniformis, and the mushroom chaga, which acts as both a prebiotic and helps reduce inflammation in the gut. Additional support comes from fulvic and humic acids found in reed sedge peat.
Beta testing Neuro-Plex for neuromuscular support
We tested Neuro-Plex in Wellington, Florida during the 2023 Winter Equestrian Circuit. Our test horses included 6 hunters, 4 jumpers, and 3 dressage horses. Of this group of 13 horses, 7 horses showed signs of EPM relapse. Only 1 horse in the group had chronic Lyme disease, while the other 5 horses exhibited neuromuscular weakness.
All 13 horses responded positively to Neuro-Plex — in attitude, muscle coordination, and overall body balance. Muscle tightness in 8 horses was measured by an equine physiotherapist both before and after a 3-day administration of Neuro-Plex. After treatment, the muscles were found to be less tight and the horses appeared more comfortable overall.
Eleven horses improved their results in the competition arena. Two horses did not compete during our beta testing, but their trainers reported improvements in their mental focus and way of going.
Try Neuro-Plex with Chi Tonic
Neuro-Plex works very well in combination with BioStar’s Chi Tonic. We had several horses in Wellington this season experiencing chi stagnation (dry stools, pale tongue, lack of energy and willingness), who also showed neuromuscular weakness. Giving Chi Tonic and Neuro-Plex is a dual-action approach, removing stagnation to support prana and chi, while also providing support for the neuromuscular system.
(Neuro-Plex EQ™ is Show Safe)
Also Available: Neuro-Plex EQ POWDER!