Nutrients involved in red blood cell production
Written by Nia O’Malley
What do red blood cells do?
Red blood cells carry oxygen to the working muscle where it is used in the production of energy and muscle contraction. If there is an issue with red blood cell production this can have a direct impact on energy levels and performance. Nutrients involved in red blood cell formation include iron, copper, zinc, and B vitamins, and deficiencies in any of these can have an impact on red blood cell formation.
Most of these nutrients are provided adequately through a performance feed. However, if your horse is receiving less than the recommended amounts suggested by your feed company then deficiencies may occur, and red blood cell production affected.
And there are times when your horse’s requirements for certain nutrients are increased eg during periods of heavy work, travel, changes in diet, workload, environment, illness/injury, increased stress, etc.
But there are times when the diet is in fact meeting requirements but the uptake and utilization of some of the key nutrients involved in red blood cell production are affected by excesses or deficiencies of certain minerals in hay, or over-supplementation of certain minerals eg iron.
What can you do?
It is advisable to always have your hay tested for any nutritional imbalances and to supplement if necessary, to rectify these imbalances, or to source new nutritionally balanced hay.
A horse is seldom deficient in iron unless there is a bleed or a parasite burden. Care must always be taken when supplementing with iron to avoid toxicity. Always seek the advice of a nutritionist or veterinarian when supplementing with iron.
More often than not performance horses are actually deficient in copper. Copper plays a role in the uptake and utilization of iron so a deficiency in copper can easily present as a deficiency in iron, when in fact there is plenty of iron available. Horses have a high tolerance for copper, supplementation can take place without too much worry of toxicity.
Key vitamins involved in red blood cell production include multiple B vitamins, in particular B12 and B6. Grazing provides a good source of B vitamins, and many B vitamins are synthesized in the hindgut of the horse, so supplementation is usually not necessary.
However, if grazing is limited or if the horse is suffering from possible hindgut issues than supply of B vitamins might be limited and supplementation would be advisable to assist in the formation of red blood cell production.
These nutrients support the formation of new red blood cells, but antioxidants support existing red blood cells, prolonging their longevity and function. Like all tissue and cells in the body, red blood cells are also affected by the rigors of hard work and training. Antioxidants vitamin E, selenium, and ubiquinol CoQ10 can play a vital role in supporting existing red blood cell function.
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And finally, red blood cells are formed in response to anaerobic work ie fast, explosive, sprint type workouts. Make sure to always incorporate some fast explosive work into your work program to stimulate the body to produce more red blood cells.