How important are Electrolytes for your horse?

Electrolytes and their importance – Part 1

Horses depend on certain electrically charged minerals to maintain the balance and flow of vital body fluids, the transmission of nerve impulses, and the healthy function of the muscles and the circulatory system. Their positive and negative charges help to control the body's pH (acid/base) balance and transport nutrients and waste products in and out of the cell. The minerals sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium collectively are termed electrolytes.

What are the functions of electrolytes in the body?

Electrolytes are involved in a multitude of physiological functions including muscle function, circulatory system function, transmission of nerve impulses, fluid exchange, acid/base balance, and transport of nutrients/waste in and out of cells etc.

Specifically, each electrolyte has its own roles:

Sodium (Na+)

-         Nerve cell function -         Muscle cell function -         Role in maintaining hydration -         Acid/base balance -         Fluid regulation of cells 

Chloride (Cl-)

-         Acid/base balance -         Fluid regulation of cells  -         Essential component of bile and hyaluronic acid – major secretions necessary for digestion.

Potassium (K+)

-         Maintain normal sensitivity of nerves and muscles -         Small changes in potassium can affect athletic performance. -         If blood potassium drops, it ‘robs’ the inside of the cells. This means a blood test is not always a reliable indicator of potassium issue as it does not tell you the levels inside the cells. If blood levels are low, you can be sure levels inside the cells are in worse shape!

Calcium (Ca+)

-         Bone and teeth formation. Most of the calcium in the body is found in bones and teeth. -         Critical to normal function of muscle and nerve tissue -         Like potassium, levels of calcium in the blood are closely regulated by the body to be kept in a narrow normal range. If need be the body can ‘rob’ itself from the bones and other body cells to maintain its calcium blood levels.

Magnesium (Mg+)

-         Co-factor for over 300 enzyme reactions within the body. If magnesium is not present, or is insufficient, each of these 300 reactions suffers. -         Critical co-factor in metabolism of glucose to create energy for all physiological functions. Also involved in the metabolism of fats and proteins. -         Involved in the communication between DNA and the cell -         Required for normal muscle function, especially for relaxation of a muscle -         Interacts with the immune system, however, in horses this has been poorly investigated so we do not fully understand the link -         Deficiency in horses has been linked to bone weakness, abnormal mineralisation of soft tissue – particularly in the aorta - and increased risk of disease.

Phosphorous (P-)

-         Involved in the formation of bone. About 85% of the body’s phosphorous is located inside the bones. -         Inside the cell phosphorus is essential for normal metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins as well as storage of energy

Manganese (Mn+)

-         Present in smaller amounts than other electrolytes -         Essential to the formation of normal connective tissue & joint cartilage -         Plays a role in fat metabolism, the creation of DNA and the manufacture of cholesterol. A certain amount of cholesterol is needed to form the backbone of many of the body's most important hormones.

Copper (Cu+)

-         Present in smaller amounts than other electrolytes -         Involved in the utilisation of iron to make red blood cells -         Formation of the protective outer coating on nerves -         Skin pigmentation -         Healthy collagen – the major component of tendons and ligaments. Healthy joint cartilage can only be produced when there is adequate copper available


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