Should Exercising Horses Receive Supplemental Antioxidants?

Among many other benefits, regular exercise enhances antioxidant defenses in horses. During exercise, aerobic cells generate reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are unstable atoms or molecules produced during normal cell metabolism. An overabundance of ROS can crush antioxidant defenses, leading to detrimental effects on muscle function. In an effort to quell the damage caused by ROS, researchers set out to determine the effect of N-acetyl cysteine and coenzyme Q10 supplementation on ROS in skeletal muscle of exercising horses.

Seven Thoroughbreds were used in the study, all engaged in the same training program: galloped 1.5 miles on the track three days a week, and walked and trotted on an automated exerciser three days a week. Horses were allowed access to pasture four days each week, three hours on exercise days and eight hours on their rest day. Horses were fed timothy hay ad libitum and a performance concentrate based on weight three times a day. Horses were supplemented daily with 10 g of N-acetyl cysteine and 1.6 g of coenzyme Q10.

Thirty days after supplementation began, horses performed an exercise test that consisted of a half-mile breeze on a racetrack at top speed. A second exercise test was performed at 60 days, with the same experienced rider instructed to replicate the speed from the earlier exercise test.

Muscle samples were taken the day before both exercise tests and one hour after each exercise test. Concentrations of antioxidants, cysteine, and ROS were measured. Blood samples were pulled prior to the exercise test and 10 minutes, one hour, and four hours after the exercise test.

The researchers concluded that supplementation of exercising Thoroughbred horses with N-acetyl cysteine and coenzyme Q10 for 30 days influenced antioxidant status without detrimental effects on performance.

Athletic performance and muscle diseases such as myofibrillar myopathy, equine motor neuron disease, and vitamin E responsive myopathy are affected by antioxidant status. Kentucky Equine Research has formulated multiple antioxidants designed for equine athletes, notably MFM Pellet, a palatable source of N-acetyl cysteine; Nano-E, a natural-source, water-soluble vitamin E supplement, and Nano-Q10, a highly bioavailable form of coenzyme Q10.

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“We have already seen the impact of this research, and horses diagnosed with myofibrillar myopathy are now being supplemented with MFM Pellet,” explained Marisa Henry, the lead author on the research paper. “We have heard glowing reviews from the owners of horses who have seen much improvement with MFM Pellet!”

This new study represents another chapter in the longstanding association between Kentucky Equine Research, Stephanie Valberg, D.V.M., Ph.D., and her colleagues, including Henry. Valberg is the director of the Equine Neuromuscular Diagnostic Laboratory and Mary Anne McPhail Dressage Chair in Equine Sports Medicine at Michigan State University, Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences.

*Henry, M.L., D. Velez-Irizarry, J.D. Pagan, L. Sordillo, J. Gandy, and S.J. Valberg. 2021. The impact of N-acetyl cysteine and coenzyme Q10 supplementation on skeletal muscle antioxidants and proteome in fit Thoroughbred horses. Antioxidants 10:1739.

Article reprinted courtesy of Kentucky Equine Research (KER). Visit for the latest in equine nutrition and management, and subscribe to The Weekly Feed to receive these articles directly (   

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