Leaky gut syndrome occurs when the gastro-intestinal tract is affected either by damage to the cells that make up the lining of the intestine, or by breakdown of the tight junctions that join the cells. Disruption of the lining of the intestine allows harmful substances, such as toxins or disease causing organisms like bacteria, to cross the gastro-intestinal barrier and be absorbed into the bloodstream. This leakage across the lining of the gut into the bloodstream, results in inflammation of both the intestine and the rest of the body and this inflammation results in multiple problems appearing as symptoms in the horse. The damage to the lining is often small to begin with but if left untreated, as is commonly the case as the signs are subtle, the effects only become visible when significant damage has been done.
Symptoms of leaky gut syndrome in the horse include, but are not limited to, colic, weight loss, diarrhoea, ulcers, behaviour changes, skin allergies, bone issues, joint issues and reduced performance.
The specific causes of this damage to the lining of the tract are various but include diet changes, heat stress, training, travel, certain bacteria and the build up of toxins. When a horse is exposed to a few of these stressors at once, or for an extended period of time, the leaky gut syndrome can result.
The best way to heal leaky gut syndrome, or to prevents its occurrence in the first place is through good nutrition. There are several nutritional options that may help including mineral supplements and free fatty acids. In terms of minerals, several studies have shown that zinc supplementation can help to strengthen the junctions between cells of the intestinal tract, creating a stronger intestinal wall. One particular fatty acid, which holds much promise in promoting gut health is butyrate. Butryrate makes a great energy source for the cells that actually line the gastrointestinal tract, and therefore can help promote a healing process in these cells after they have been damaged. Other potential helpful repair agents include probiotics and amino acids. Focussing on and managing gut health can reduce the issues caused by leaky gut syndrome and ultimately improve the health and therefore performance of your horse.
Speak to your vet if you think your horse may be affected by leaky gut syndrome.