L-carnitine likely isn’t something horse owners have spent much time considering. Sure, many of us have probably seen it on a list of supplement ingredients somewhere, but what is L-carnitine exactly? And how does it benefit our horses?
Let’s begin with the former question: carnitine is an antioxidant derived from an amino acid and found in nearly every cell of an animal’s body. It exists as several different compounds including acetyl-L-, propionyl-L- and L-carnitine. However, in horse antioxidant supplements, you will usually find it as acetyl-L- or L-carnitine.
Carnitine compounds play an important role in energy production by transporting long-chain fatty acids into the cell’s mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell) so they can be used as fuel.
This antioxidant is synthesized almost exclusively in the liver, and it prevents the accumulation of toxic compounds by transporting them out of the cells. High carnitine levels are found in both skeletal and cardiac muscles since both use fatty acids as dietary fuel.
Though the average horse naturally produces a sufficient amount of carnitine on their own, genetic conditions such as Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM) may affect production, and performance horses in hard work may require more carnitine than their body can produce.
The benefits of L-Carnitine for horses
Hard-working horses can benefit from L-carnitine supplementation since exercise greatly increases the demand on muscles to produce energy from glucose, glycogen (stored glucose), and fats. A high quality L-carnitine supplement can help horses better adapt to training, reduce muscle soreness, and shorten recovery time.
According to Dr. Keith Latson, equine surgeon and Fullbucket co-founder, “L-Carnitine in horse supplements provides an important nutritional link in exercise recovery due to its role in fatty acid oxidation and energy metabolism. Often we think about nutritionally supporting equine athletes with the right energy to perform. Feeding and supplementing our animals with critical nutrients like L-carnitine promotes overall performance and muscle health, while optimizing recovery from oxidative stress, in both the short- and long-term.”
L-Carnitine for managing PSSM
Since PSSM horses have a genetic mutation which leads to abnormal glycogen levels in the muscle cells, they need a stable supply of glucose in order to keep their cells functioning correctly.
L-carnitine addresses this problem by encouraging the burning of fats as fuel and also leading glucose to be burned by the mitochondria (instead of being stored as glycogen). Supplementing with as little as 10 grams per day for a 1,000 lb. horse has been found to improve symptoms of PSSM.
Because L-carnitine is so important in muscle health and recovery, it’s one of the top ingredients in Fullbucket’s Medical Muscle supplement, which is designed for hard-working performance horses as well as those with muscle disorders such as PSSM or recurrent rhabdomyolysis.
Medical Muscle also combines L-carnitine with the powerful antioxidant, astaxanthin, since studies have shown that these two specific ingredients can lead to a reduction of tying up in exercising horses.
With antioxidants such as L-carnitine, it’s important for horse owners to understand when supplementation might be needed. The average horse is likely fine without additional L-carnitine in their diet, but many performance horses, as well as those with muscle disorders, can benefit from this incredible nutrient through select equine antioxidant supplements.