Green lipped mussel extract (GLME) might seem an unusual substance to eat or give to your horses. But it might be a useful compound for joint support with some evidence in humans, and there is a little evidence in horses too. It might also be useful for horses with recurrent airway obstruction (RAO), which used to be called COPD.

GLME comes from the large, seawater green-lipped mussels – scientific name Perna canaliculus – local to New Zealand, where they are an important seafood crop. They are produced to very high standards and come from very clean waters. The extract that is used for therapeutic purposes contains amino acids, carbohydrates, minerals and also glycosaminoglycans and omega-3 fatty acids, which might explain its anti-inflammatory effects on the joints.

Studies of GLME in asthmatic humans have shown beneficial effects and no side effects. Its action of inhibiting inflammatory mediators is believed to be why it helps reduce wheeze and improve airflow in asthma.

It would be interesting to study whether GLME could have beneficial effects in horses with RAO because this disease is very like human asthma.

GLME is best known for its use in osteoarthritis, although research studies in humans have showed variable results. A small clinical trial of 21 human osteoarthritis sufferers taking 3 g GLME daily for eight weeks showed benefits in mobility, reduced joint pain and stiffness, and a reduction in adverse gastro-intestinal symptoms. It was a pilot study however, with no placebo control. Reviewers recommend that further research is necessary. A study of GLME for arthritis in dogs showed good results, with an alleviation of symptoms.

The dose of GLME for humans is believed to be about 1 g daily, so a horse would probably need at least 7 g daily.

A research study carried out in New Zealand by Cayzer and colleages and published in the Equine Veterinary Journal in 2012, showed that a product containing GLME ‘significantly alleviated the severity of lameness and joint pain and improved response to joint flexion in horses with osteoarthritis of the fetlock’. The study was high quality – it was randomised, double blind and placebo controlled. A total of 23 horses with primary fetlock lameness were involved and they were given 25 mg per kilo bodyweight of GLME or a placebo (equivalent to 12.5 g of GLME) daily for 56 days. The dose used was high, but the results were impressive.

More research is required to confirm the usefulness of GLME for horses but this ingredient shows great promise for joint support in horses, and would be worth investigating for respiratory support in horses affected by RAO.

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About Clare MacLeod

Clare MacLeod MSc RNutr is one of the UK’s few registered independent equine nutritionists who also has expertise in health and fitness. She advises private and commercial clients in all sectors of the horse world and is a hands-on horse owner herself. Clare is passionate about correct nutrition as a foundation for good health, without which peak fitness is not possible. She states “Good nutrition isn’t everything, but there’s nothing without it”.