By Patty Wilber
There are a lot of busy horses in this world and a boatload of products that claim to have calming effects. We have looked at equine appeasing hormone (EAP), tryptophan, magnesium and fat. So far, tryptophan had no supporting evidence for calming effects, fat had one old study supporting its effects in horses, EAP had one small study supporting its effects in horses and Mg had lots of research supporting its overall importance to living organisms, but only one that I could access supporting its calming effects in horses.
This week, I am going to look at vitamin B.
Vitamins are micronutrients that are essential for survival of an organism, and they have to be ingested. They cannot be produced by the organism.
In humans, B vitamins are often touted as having anti-anxiety effects. This article, reportedly looking at real science, but failing to provide citations, says that of the eight B vitamins, (see wikipedia for more info on all eight), the only ones with documented calming effects are B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folate) and B12 (cobalamin). B12 has the most evidence.
There was no evidence that B1 (thiamine) was anxiolytic (= drug that has anti-anxiety effects–cool word–had to try it out) in humans, but in horses B1 is a big fan fav.
I really enjoyed this 2007 article in Equisearch. Regarding calmers in general, they said, there is “little solid equine-specific information is available….In our own field trials and experience with horses and calming supplements, we’ve found the best results with thiamine, magnesium or combinations of the two (my emphasis) when dealing with horses that are excessively nervous, easily startled and over-reactive. Horses that became pushy or aggressive when worked up also responded but not completely.”
I would recommend reading that whole article.
And for more of the same:
In 2010, Sue McDonnell, PhD, Certified AAB, in The Horse said this : “Concerning the efficacy of vitamin B treatment for panic behavior, I can’t find any published reports of research specifically in horses. ….“
According to Kentucky Equine Research, 2012, Vitamin B1 (thiamine) has historically been used as a calmer in horses and there is some published evidence that it works (not cited in this article, of course.) Vitamin B12 also has some supporters, but with no published evidence of efficacy in horses.
I found this article from 1972 “Drugs, performance and responses to exercise in the racehorse. 2. Observations on amphetamine, promazine and thiamine.” but it is not available on line so I sent for it via interlibrary loan. Haven’t seen it yet. I don’t expect it to say much, but on the other hand, maybe it is the one piece of research everyone is relying upon!
Thia Cal is a product sold commercially as a calmer and it contains these ingredients per 1 oz. serving:
Calcium (min.): 100mg
Calcium (max.): 160mg
Salt (min.): 2800mg
Salt (max.): 3200mg
Sodium (min.): 1000mg
Sodum (max.): 1400mg
Potassium (min.): 1500mg
Magnesium (min.): 100mg
Thiamine (min.): 490mg
Anecdotal evidence (i.e. product reviews) suggests it works in some horses, but is it the Mg or the B1? I was hoping the liquid form was in some sort of oil base, to add in the calming effect of fat, but that does not seem to be the case…
Many other calmers contain B1 and Mg.
Thiamine, Vitamin B1 3977 mg, Magnesium 1357 mg, Pyridoxine B6 1193 mg, Riboflavin B2 994 mg. Niacin B3 298 mg, Folic Acid B9 538 mg.
The only B vitamin missing is B12!
Perfect Prep Gold, which I have used, and did work on LT:
Magnesium, Inositol, Thiamine, L Tryptophan
Inositol was formerly considered Vitamin B8 but it got kicked out of the vitamin club because it is made naturally and vitamins, by definition, are not.
(But then what about Vitamin D? We make Vit.D…The Society for Endocrinology cleared that up. Vitamin D is NOT actually a vitamin. It is a hormone. But don’t expect people to stop calling it Vitamin D any time soon.)
Back to inositol: In humans, this study (the only one I looked at) showed “…inositol has therapeutic effects on…. depression, panic and OCD, and is not beneficial in schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s ADDH, autism or ECT-induced cognitive impairment.”
So… it seems like many calmers for horses are formulated based on research in humans and unpublished trials.
Those that “work”, according to product reviews, seem to consistently contain Mg and B vitamins, particularly B1 (thiamine).
Thus, if we just mix Mg and B in a lot of oil, pour that over their food and stick EAP up their noses, we ought to be set.
That, of course, was tongue in cheek.
I briefly looked into Vitamin E. It is an important dietary component and is helpful in nervous system function, and combating soreness, according to everyone, but is not generally billed as a calming agent.