As a step toward catching up with the International Equestrian Federation's drug free policy, the United States Equestrian Federation made revisions in its drug and medications rules that include the addition to "prohibited practices" three popular drugs (dexamethasone, ketoprofen and methocarbamol) which now cannot be administered any sooner than 12 hours prior to competition. The change went into effect Dec. 1, 2013.
As founder and chief nutritionist of Cavalor® Feed, Supplements and Care Products, Peter Bollen has an interesting perspective on how herbal and natural products fit into this picture. Here are his answers to some timely questions that affect all competitors at USEF-sanctioned competitions.
Q: Are there natural products that serve the same purpose as these three drugs? Are the natural products imitating the medications?
Peter Bollen: The supplements and the drugs have the same purpose, but they work in a different way. While the mode of action might be different, the result for the horse will be similar.
Take, for example, the "prohibited practices" drugs. Dexamethasone is an immunity increaser. As shown through blood tests, our research has proven that the use of very specific herbs, particularly those with vitamin C, vitamin E, antioxidants and beta carotene, have a positive effect on the horse's immunity. Our natural alternative to the drug is our product, Resist, which stimulates the body to produce its own immunity.
Another example, dexamethasone and ketoprofen were not developed as calmers, but we have heard from riders that a side effect of the drugs is that the horses get quieter. If the situation calls for the horse to be calm in the face of stress, would it not be better to use a natural product?
A natural product, such as Take It Easy, is a calmer based on the amino acid tryptophan, a building block for protein. Tryptophan in high doses is illegal. However, it is found naturally in alfalfa at a legal level. Some people think that tryptophan is going to produce a positive reaction in a doping test, but it is only positive if used in very high dosages, much higher than in normal nutrition or in our supplement.
Q: The USEF has cautioned against the use of natural products. What is the relationship with natural products and USEF rules? Should competitors assume that all natural products, in any dose, are safe from positive testing?
Peter: I agree 100 percent with the USEF warning. You often read that if the product is natural, there is no problem with doping testing. That is not the case. Some active ingredients in herbs will also test positive. At Cavalor, we only use extractions from natural products that contain the active ingredient. That way we can ensure the same level of that active ingredient is in each batch.
When you use the entire herb, the active ingredient in the herb can be very different from one harvest to another one. With an extraction, you know how much active ingredient you have. It is a standardization process.
Q: Is there an advantage to using a natural product over a drug?
Peter: The main advantage of a natural product over a drug is that you don't have as many side effects. For example, medications, such as the NSAID phenylbutazone, are harmful to the stomach. We have a product similar to 'bute' that does not harm the stomach and does not test positive for doping.
Q: Then why doesn't everyone use it?
Peter: It's a matter of education.
Q: You guarantee that all of your products are proven safe for FEI competition. Please explain.
Peter: Safety is part of our product development. After the field trial for a product, we feed the product to a couple of horses at three times the amount we would normally administer, and for a time that is twice as long as normal. Then, we take blood and urine samples from the horses and send them to a laboratory to check if the samples are beyond the legal level for competition. This way we can guarantee any product we put on the market is safe to use.
We also do this testing for existing products two to three times a year to monitor continuing safety. And of course all products are tested in the market because we sell a lot to the highest level horses and they are tested a few times per month at competitions.
We guarantee anyone using our products will not have a problem with doping testing, as long as they administer the recommended amount. In our 25 years in business, we have never had a positive doping test.
Q: What are your research protocols?
Peter: Our head of research, Dr. David von Doren, has worked for us more than 15 years. He is also at the University of Utrecht as head of equine nutrition. We have very good relations with that university. We also have two people running our research full time at the University of Ghent, which is 10 minutes from our office in Drongen, Belgium. They monitor equine nutrition and health research worldwide.
Our own research is conducted at mainly University of Ghent, some at Utrecht, and places outside our home country of Belgium, like the University of Kentucky. At Kentucky, we just finished research testing different feeds in the market for glucose resistance and insulin response. We have really good results, but I can't talk about that for a few months.
In Belgium, we are running part three of a large research project to develop a new combination of ingredients that will reduce inflammation and improve joint health. First, we did research in mice and rats. Then we did in-vitro research with living cells. We just finished research on a group of 50 horses. One group received a placebo, and another, the real product. We created inflammation in the joint. Then we measured on pressure plates the difference in how they put their feet on the ground. Next, we are now taking synovial fluid out of the joints to measure different metabolic reactions. That will be done in three months.
We continuously have two to three scientific research projects going on at once each year. Most companies are doing field studies, which we do, but the real result comes from scientific research. Field studies demonstrate how horses react to an ingredient. Sometimes you measure parameters in blood. Sometimes you base it on a rider's experience. But it's not 100 percent objective, as in controlled scientific research, which, like our anti-inflammatory and joint product research, can take more than five years.
Q: Can the use of natural products allow the horse to need fewer medications, and is that good?
Peter: Horses are living longer. Good nutrition and medication can make a better, longer life. But medication has to be used in the right dosage and the right moment. I see in the market considerable overuse of medication. In the short term, it will help the horse, but in the long term, it is can be very harmful to the horse. It is the same in humans. A really healthy diet can be more powerful than any medication.
Article provided by Cavalor Feed.