What is all the fuss about free radicals, and what does it mean for your horse's health? A free radical is a very unhappy molecule. Although it was once stable, it is now missing an electron. Determined to become whole, it sets out in search of another vulnerable molecule and steals its electron. The original bad guy is now neutral and can relax. But in its wake, it has created another free radical that is just as desperate to steal and destroy.
In your horse (just as in humans) a small number of free radicals is normal, but factors such as stress, nutritional imbalances, illness or injury can cause these outlaws to multiply beyond the body's ability to cope. Most commonly, we see the result as decreased immune function, inflammation and pain.
The only way to stop this destructive rampage is to call on a nearby "free-radical neutralizer." This hero sacrifices itself by giving the free radical the electron it needs, thereby protecting defenseless cells from harm. Since our hero doesn't seek his own stability, his own demise is without consequence. Without these noble molecules, free radicals would be entirely unchecked in devastating healthy tissue. These selfless champions are known as antioxidants.
Antioxidants should be part of your horse's nutritional program. Vitamins C, E, and beta carotene are the most common, and are plentiful in fresh, healthy pasture. Once living grass is cut, dried, and stored as hay, it loses these precious nutrients, creating nutritional gaps that should be filled through supplementation.