Inflammation and Osteoarthritis


By Nancy Smorch

As promised, I wanted to share a little more insight into inflammation.  This time I wanted to talk about arthritis in connection with inflammation.

An excellent article in Well Being Journal (January/February 2010), discusses the long-documented connection between infection and osteoarthritis.  This was news to me.  But as I was reading this, all sorts of light bulbs were going off in my head.

You see, we have a Friesian horse, Otto.  We’ve had him since he was about 6 months old.  When he was 8 years old I took him in for x-rays because the muscles in his hind quarters had atrophied.  I had a hunch he wasn’t using his muscles in his hind end like he should, and that it might be due to some sort of injury in his hind quarters.

According to the vet, the x-rays showed severe osteoarthritis in his right hock (a joint in horses’ hind leg) and moderate osteoarthritis in his left hock.  This was not good news - especially at such a young age, and considering we hadn’t ridden him much, so it certainly wasn’t because of wear and tear or overuse.

The vet said the arthritis would just continue to progressively get worse and there really wasn’t much we could do except make him comfortable.  That didn’t sit too well with me.  I was determined to figure something out to help Otto heal.

One of the first things I did that seemed to help him was to change his diet (along with the diet of our other 5 horses).  They were eating grain twice a day which consisted of cracked corn, oats, molasses and vitamins and minerals.  I wrote about this previously, but when I found I was gluten sensitive and did my research on gluten and its effects on the human body, I theorized that it must have similar effects on a horses’ body.  I had talked with some very knowledgeable horse people about lactic acid build up and inflammation in horses, especially in the intestinal tract and realized there was probably a connection between the grain and that inflammation.

I also took him off of alfalfa hay.  All of our horses used to get a mix of orchard hay and alfalfa, but I switched them all to hay without alfalfa (orchard and timothy).

Within a few months, his coat started looking more smooth (he used to get a lot of swirls in his  coat), and he started looking more proportional - his hind quarters were filling in and he was building muscle.

A year has gone by and he still looks OK, but I know he could be doing better.  I knew there must be something else I could do to help heal him of the osteoarthritis despite what everyone was telling me.  Then I read this article.  I was so excited.  Here’s the connection.

The biggest cause of osteoarthritis is infection.  Antibiotics will only help if it’s a bacterial infection.  If it’s viral, fungal, or parasitic, they won’t do any good.  Otto always had a high parasite count when I would get the horses’ stools tested.  Various natural worming remedies weren’t working.  Interestingly, a few months after taking him off grain, I had his stool tested again for parasites and they were close to zero (after being extremely high!).

So, once source of possible cause - parasites - under control.  Now, with this new insight, I am developing a “protocol” as if there is another source of infection.

Here’s how infections can lead to osteoarthritis.  Candida, for example, is a commonly found in the digestive tract.  This can be caused by antibiotics (which he was on when he was younger), diet, and other lifestyle choices.  This can lower the immunity and allow the fungus to grow out of control, and sometimes spread beyond the digestive tract and affect other areas of the body.  If it gets into the blood it can travel to the joints and become encapsulated in the joint capsule.  Here it is sheltered from the body’s defense mechanisms and most medications.

Another possible source of infection is from the mouth.  Bacteria in the mouth can also work their way into the blood stream via a tooth experiencing decay or gum disease.  It enters the blood stream by this route and can also spread throughout the body and can penetrate the joint capsule, again causing osteoarthritis.

Treatment in these cases is suggested as building the immune system by eating a healthier diet.  In humans this would look like lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, healthy fats, low sugar, organic meats, low processed foods and grains.  In Otto’s case, I strongly believe the change in his diet helped.

The author of this article in Well Being Journal suggests that coconut oil is a key component to incorporate into the diet to help with osteoarthritis.  Coconut oil supports the immune system and helps fight infection.  The medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil have potent antimicrobial properties.  The nice thing about the medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil is that they are deadly to harmful bacteria, but do not affect the friendly gut bacteria.

So for Otto, I am now researching coconut oil and horses.  I’ll keep you posted as to what I find out.

Another strategy I am going to use with Otto is the use of essential oils.  I am going to use certain oils that may be antimicrobial on Otto (along his spine as well as his coronet band, an area along the fur on the top of his hoof).  I am going to try using oregano, thyme, basil, marjoram, wintergreen, cypress, and peppermint.  If he has an infection inside the joint capsule of his hock, my theory is that the size of the molecules of essential oil are so small that they will be able to cross this capsule, where many other drugs are unable to do this.  Essential oil molecules are small enough that they can cross the blood brain barrier, so I’m assuming the same will be true with the joint capsule membrane.

We shall see, and again, I will keep you posted.  But these new developments may be exactly what I was looking for to help Otto.  I may be doing dressage on him someday soon after all!