Gum Acacia Prebiotic
What is a Prebiotic??
Gum Acacia Prebiotic Page Title
Prebiotics are foods, or parts of foods, that cannot be digested by the horse, but instead function as fuel for the trillions of beneficial microorganisms such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli in the horse’s digestive tract. These microbes then increase in number and activity which is important for keeping the lining of the gut healthy, and for improved digestive function, lowered inflammation and enhanced immune function.
What is Gum Acacia?
Gum Acacia (GA), also known as Gum Arabic, is the natural raw sap from the bark of shrub-like acacia trees growing wild in southern Saharan Africa. GA from Acacia Senegal trees grown in North Kordofan, Sudan, is considered to be the best quality.
Cutting into the bark of the tree causes a resinous liquid sap to exude from the wound that slowly thickens on contact with air. A hard and glassy gum is formed over a period of 3 to 8 weeks in a process known as ‘gummosis’.
The gum is then harvested and mechanically rolled to form a powder. No chemicals or other substances are added to the powder. The powdered pure gum from Acacia Senegal trees is a fine texture, and off-white in colour. Powder that is a darker, reddish colour and coarser texture is likely to be from other varieties of acacia, and may include some material from the bark or inner cut surfaces of the trees. This is usually referred to as acacia fibre powder rather than Gum Acacia. Whilst highly soluble, pure Gum Acacia does not initially dissolve in water easily, whereas acacia fibre will dissolve easily in water.
Ancient Egyptian and Arabic civilizations used GA to treat a variety of medical conditions including coughs, colds, burns, cuts, and digestive problems. For the past hundred years or more, GA has been used for both food and pharmaceutical applications including cake baking and decorating, making hard candies and chewing gum, soft drink syrups and wine fining, and edible adhesives.
Benefits from consuming Gum Acacia
Formal trials to assess the benefits of GA specifically for horses have not been done, but numerous studies have found a distinct benefit for people. For example, a 2008 study over four weeks found that the numbers of beneficial gut bifidobacteria and lactobacilli were significantly higher for participants taking gum arabic than for those taking inulin.1 A 2011 study concluded that GA ingestion causes significant reduction in BMI and body fat percentage among healthy adult females, and that the effect could be exploited in the treatment of obesity. 2
Dr David Perlmutter lists GA as a preferred prebiotic in his book ‘Brain Maker’ (Hodder & Stoughton 2015, ISBN10: 1473619351); it is also recommended by numerous other respected health researchers and writers.
Why use Gum Acacia as a Prebiotic for Horses?
Prebiotic foods that cannot be digested by the horse are fermented by gut microflora to produce fatty acids that can then be utilised by the horse.
Numerous prebiotic supplements for horses are commercially available. Popular products often include forms of fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) such as inulin, and/or manno-oligosaccharides (MOS), and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS). Fructo-oligosaccharides are chains of fructose molecules that are not broken down by digestion but can be metabolized by some gut bacteria. Depending on the length and composition of the FOS chains, they are described as fructans (shorter chains), inulins (longer chains) or levans.3
Whilst there is no doubt these products have benefited many horses, some owners are concerned about giving their horses supplements based on inulin. Both inulin and fructan are FOS foods that ferment rapidly in the gut; grazing high-fructan pasture may have been implicated in the development of laminitis in some horses, and high dosage of a form of inulin has been used to induce laminitis in laboratory experiments.
Many humans are also unable to tolerate inulin and fructan, either as supplements or whole foods, especially people who are sensitive to the FODMAP range of food items. The resulting gas and bloating is uncomfortable, and also disruptive to the gut microbiome which defeats the purpose of taking a prebiotic.
In contrast to inulin, Gum Acacia ferments slowly in the gut which is why it is the only prebiotic generally recommended for people with digestive problems such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). On this basis, GA may be a safer prebiotic option for anyone owning horses who are susceptible to digestive problems or hoof issues of unknown metabolic origin.
What effect does Gum Acacia have on horses?
Gum Acacia can be found as one of several ingredients in commercial digestive supplements marketed for horses, but as it is mixed with other items in those products it is not possible to attribute any benefits from those supplements specifically to Gum Acacia.
However, pure Food Grade Gum Acacia has now been used in Australia as an equine prebiotic. As little as one teaspoon of Gum Acacia powder added to the daily feed has produced remarkable changes in the small number of horses involved in informal trials over the past four months.
Horses that have had a significant ‘grass belly’ (the pot-belly look even though not necessarily grazing pasture) for many years have lost the bulging belly very quickly, in some cases within the first 24 hours. In other horses, the same effect has appeared after several days of supplementation, and in yet others after several weeks. Horses who were not thought of as having any ‘grass belly’ have nevertheless streamlined their belly profile, taking on a more athletic look.
Gum Acacia appears to be having very individual effects in each horse; easy-keeper type horses with a tendency to be overweight have slimmed down without any dietary changes, and some underweight horses have easily put on weight with no dietary change.
Surprisingly, many of the horses that have been given Gum Acacia for several months, have changed in their need for magnesium supplementation. Some have been able to reduce their daily intake by as much as 85% despite having unlimited access to new spring pasture growth, and some horses who have received daily magnesium supplementation for many years are now maintaining their strong, bare feet with no magnesium supplement.
Suggested use for horses
As with any dietary change, it is advisable to begin supplementing Gum Acacia very slowly. One teaspoon of the powder added to the horse’s regular feed once per day appears to be well tolerated by most horses. This amount can then be increased as necessary. Many horses appear to do well just with the one teaspoon per day, but others have needed one tablespoon twice daily. As always, monitor the horse carefully.
Feeding a good quality equine probiotic at the same time as Gum Acacia may provide additional benefits.
1. Gum arabic establishes prebiotic functionality in healthy human volunteers in a dose-dependent manner.
Br J Nutr. 2008. Kerry Group Nutrition Technical Center Almere, The Netherlands.
2. Effects of gum Arabic ingestion on body mass index and body fat percentage in healthy adult females: two-arm randomized, placebo controlled, double-blind trial.
Nutr J. 2012; 11: 111. PMCID: PMC3570285 Published online 2012 Dec 15. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-11-111
WHERE TO BUY PURE FOOD GRADE GUM ACACIA
Go to the SUPPLIERS page for information about where to buy Gum Acacia in your country